Combining physics-based play and classic arcade mechanics with a hand-drawn art style and vocalized sound effects, Loose Nozzles marks the end of a veteran game developer’s quest to turn his young son’s artwork into a game of chaos and comedy for all ages.
The game’s programmer, composer, and co-designer is Chris Foster, designer and programmer formerly of Harmonix and Turbine, and currently Game Director at Hidden Door, a new studio at the intersection of machine learning and immersive entertainment. “As a design lead on games like The Beatles: Rock Band or The Lord of the Rings Online, I worked with incredible teams while staying focused, understandably, on design.” After decades of game development, Chris decided to push back on some self-imposed limits. “Learning new things can be scary, and I decided to make a change and start running towards my fears. That meant building on a game on my own and learning how to do everything.”
… Or rather, not quite everything. Inspired by his father’s first 2D prototype, Chris’ son Ian drew a drawing of a rocket losing its nozzles after taking fire from a “cannon-shooter.” Better still he was able, at the age of five, to describe the game mechanics that would cause the rocket to break into pieces. Chris suddenly had a co-designer and (unpaid) artist.
Chris and Ian built a retro-inspired design that combines the physics-and-finesse-based play of Lunar Lander with the rescue objectives of Choplifter. Navigating intricate mazes with only two thrusters creates a challenge that increases as levels get tighter and players encounter new dangers such as toppling boulders, rotating gears, and flame-spewing robots. The difficulty is paired with an art style of child’s drawings and ripped construction paper, and sound effects vocalized by both Fosters. “When a player slams into a wall there’s a “POW!,” “BOOM!” or “CLANG!” that’s audible AND visible, and they laugh. If a game can make you happy when you fail, then you’re more likely to jump back in and get better at it.”
The game’s release comes after eight years of part-time, nights-and-weekends development, balanced with working full time at professional studios, teaching game development at Northeastern University, and being a father. “I never wanted this to feel like work for Ian, and I already HAD work to feel like work, so we kept things light, and took our time.” When asked to comment on the game, Ian, now 13, responded as expected for a teenager: “It’s a game. And it’s fun.”