MINIT was created by a collective of independent developers, consisting of Kitty Calis (who worked on games like Action Henk and Horizon Zero Dawn), Jan Willem Nijman (aka JW, also half of Vlambeer, makers of Nuclear Throne), Jukio Kallio (composer and musician), and Dominik Johann (graphic designer and illustrator, who also worked on Hotline Miami 2, among other games).
When Special Reserve Games and the MINIT developers teamed up to craft an exclusive limited-run collector’s edition of the game, we pulled out all the stops and brought the true fans a magical relic from the secret world of the game’s creation … bringing to life a map the developers had created to help them create the game!
SRG sat down to talk to MINIT developers Kitty and JW about the map, which are all silk-screened and hand-printed on cotton, and other parts of the process of bringing MINIT to life. In the course of the discussion, Kitty spilled the beans on a secret that fans haven’t yet found…
Jan Willem Nijman: I turned off my webcam so the FBI doesn’t see me naked.
Special Reserve Games: Perfect. What can you tell fans about the map that was created for the Special Reserve Games pre-order? Why was creating that map important to you?
JW: For me personally, that’s one of the things I was most excited about when we got this opportunity. When we were working on the game, we hacked together a little tool for the team, basically, that made a map of all the screens that were in the game, and just seeing that grow during development was really exciting.
Then, once the game was done, we realized this was a cool thing. I wished it was fancy and like a real map. The fact that we got to turn that into a reality was, for me personally, really exciting. I’m not very nostalgic usually, but that’s the kind of stuff I loved as a kid in video games.
Kitty Calis: Yes, having a physical edition with a booklet and going through it brings back good memories for me.
JW: Yeah, I was only allowed on the computer for 30 minutes as a kid, so I usually spent more time reading the booklet than actually playing the game, looking at maps and stuff.
SRG: One great thing about Minit’s core game mechanic is that you can actually accomplish something in a minute! In just a few seconds, you find something new and interesting because every screen has something fun and weird on it. Could you walk through the process of designing a screen?
Kitty: First of all, you want to know what area it’s going to be in and how does that fit in the story. When you have a story that already gives you something to hold onto.
JW: Right, like in the hotel area, for example, there are a bunch of lost guests that you have to find and then we just place the screens around and think, all right, these are all going to be little puzzles with funny NPCs. Then we would just start blocking them out.
Probably 75 percent of the levels we threw away because they didn’t work. It was very much about trying things, see if they worked, and then once it felt good, Kitty and Dom would start taking turns, going over each other’s work, making it look good.
Meanwhile, we’d be tweaking the puzzles and dialogue. Also, a lot was driven by what items we were going to give to players, what abilities. Once you get the watering can, let’s put stuff everywhere that can be watered. We just kept making the game denser and more refined over the whole process.
Probably every single screen has been worked on from the moment it was made until the game was done, pretty much. It wasn’t like, “This is fine, let’s keep coding.” We just kept adding on.
Kitty: Yeah, and adding fun things. You can water your dog. It doesn’t really make any sense, but I thought it was just fun and cute, so I edited it in.
You can water the clothing line and your socks start dripping. It doesn’t really do anything for the gameplay, but those funny little things I love.
JW: A lot of that came from playtesting, too, where we would watch people play. Every now and then we would think, “All right, which one of our friends are we going to spoil now? They’re going to be playing, testing the game for us and then we can’t use them again, because they know what it’s like.
Most of the playtesters were people who don’t necessarily play a lot of games. We wanted to make sure it was playable for everyone.
Kitty: One of my friends is an occupational therapist and he plays games, but not a lot. He watered the NPCs and I thought, “Oh, that’s fun. We should have watering dialogue.”
JW: Whenever we saw someone try something weird, we would write it down and then add it to the game. Someone tried hitting the trash can, so then we thought it should probably open or something when you hit it. We would add stuff like that to the game.
It was super fun. I love the feeling when you try something in a game and the game has anticipated you trying it and actually reacts to that. I think that was one of our rules, that if people try something, it should do something — as much as possible.
Kitty: I don’t know if you heard about the “light bulb test” in Triple-A games, but if you shoot a light bulb and it doesn’t break, it’s probably not a good game.
JW: What was also really fun about that is we did a lot of anticipating player behavior, but then we also tried to always keep surprising people.
There’s one screen in Minit that’s kind of hard to get to — if you draw a map, it would be kind of a blank spot, but you can swim there if you have a lot of hearts. It’s through the polluted river. Instead of putting a treasure there, there’s just an NPC that says, “Go away, this is my spot!”
Putting those little twists in there was really fun to do. A lot of the stuff in Minit, where we put rude NPCs there instead of being nice to the player — I think that is super funny.
SRG: The game is very dense and has a great sense of humor. Is that just an expression of your personalities or had you settled on this humor and tone intentionally?
Kitty: Some things we encountered in real life, like when you get an email out of the blue from someone who wants to work with you but they can’t afford to, but they say it’s “good for exposure.” Nowadays, I don’t know if it’s good for exposure.
JW: Yeah, I think it’s just an expression of the four of us and also the setting we went for, which is this mundane world that is also a bit magical. There are cursed swords and weird animal creatures, but also there’s a hotel with a mean manager and cars and a factory.
What we were going for with a lot of the world was trying to make something that would almost be boring, but then it’s weird and exciting.
SRG: Why did you decide to put a New Game Plus mode in there where it becomes much harder and your time cuts down to 40 seconds? And also Mary’s Mode, which is kind of the opposite?
Kitty: Well, Minit is basically designed so every run you can finish in 40 seconds. But to make it a little harder, I thought it was fun to scramble all the puzzles around and basically have JW design a Vlambeer-style version, because that’s one of the concerns I had. JW is from Vlambeer, so what if people think they can expect a Vlambeer game? That was my worry.
JW: What if they wanted something super difficult, very challenging? Nuclear Throne is a game that people play for hundreds of hours and they still don’t beat it sometimes.
Kitty: Yeah, it’s really hardcore.
JW: You play it to get your butt kicked. So Kitty said, “Design the New Game Plus like a Vlambeer game.”
Kitty: We also messed with expectations, because you played the game already, you think you know where everything is, but the puzzles are scrambled around, so you don’t.
JW: The second run is really hard, because everything is possible in 40 seconds but then we just made that the hard deadline. And you only have one heart.
Those are really simple things for us. It took maybe an hour to put that stuff into the game, but then mixing up the puzzles is where it got really fun.
Very early in the game you have to defeat five crabs for the bartender and we moved one crab into a really annoying spot on the second run. A lot of people just give up right away, right at the start of second run.
Kitty: They’re like, I can’t find the fifth crab!
SRG: I just found that crab this morning and it drove me nuts.
JW: Yeah, it’s really hard.
SRG: Then I got the heart from watering the plant, and the heart broke! And that broke my heart.
JW: Second run is crazy, and I think part of that is how Minit is quite an accessible game. We wanted it to be playable by everyone, and then second run is like, all right, if you want a hard game, here you go.
And then Mary’s Mode is the opposite, like you said. You just want to explore the place as this really nice ghost? Go for it. We won’t bother you. You can just play Minit without stress.
Kitty: The puzzles, I don’t think they’re necessarily too hard, but because you have a timer it’s difficult. For me, nothing stresses me out more than having a deadline or having to be somewhere on time and running late.
But even so, basically what we’re saying with Minit is, you know what? There’s always tomorrow, you don’t have to stress. It’s fine.
JW: Just do it your next minute! I also like what you said earlier about Minit, about it being possible to have an adventure in a minute. In a way, Minit is a game for busy people who want the experience of playing a game and solving puzzles, but they don’t necessarily have 60 hours.
I think the fact that the game is quite short and that you can go on this whole journey in such little time is something that seems counterintuitive, because people often still rate games, like, “All right, how many hours do I get out of my $10?” But I’m super proud that we made something where you can play for two hours and still get a full adventure.
And it proved to me that there’s a huge audience of people who want that sort of experience. So that’s really exciting.
Kitty: Also finishing games is a beautiful thing! I feel like you should finish as many games a year possible, or in your life as possible.
SRG: Has the game’s reception surprised you in any particular way?
Kitty: Oh definitely. We didn’t expect it to be like this! For me, sometimes you work on a game and you’re so in your own project that you can’t look at it from an outside point of view anymore.
At the end of last year, it all of a sudden popped up in a bunch of Game of the Year lists, and I was so excited. “People still think about Minit!” It was amazing to me.
JW: We were super scared before launching it, because we’re releasing a game with weird time constraints, basically a one-minute game, and then the whole thing is only a few hours long, and sometimes people can get stuck. We were worried that it would be too frustrating.
There were a lot of worries, and then when it was released, everybody liked it. That was really amazing and shocking. I don’t think we expected it to do this well and to get such recognition.
We got nominated for a BAFTA and we went there on a cheap airline, and I put on the cheapest suit I could find pretty much, and went to the BAFTAs and sat there between fancy British people drinking expensive champagne.
SRG: Were there any moments in the game’s development where you got stuck?
JW: There were a lot of details that Kitty and myself disagreed about, and that took a while for us to kind of iron out, because we work in different ways, but we never really got stuck and we always ended up with the best possible result.
For example, I wanted to make a little underwater tunnel with fish, and thought that would look really fun. Kitty said, “Let’s make it a submarine.” And I thought, “But a tunnel will be so easy, and we have to finish the game!”
And then Kitty’s pushed, “No, we need to make it a submarine.” So we added the submarine, and now it’s my favorite part of the game.
Kitty: It’s so much more special, and I think there were a lot of little things like that, where something needed to be ironed out, but we never had really big challenges or problems.
We just started building the world from the starting house, and in the end we had the whole game. That sounds very simple, and obviously it wasn’t easy, but that is pretty much how it went.
SRG: Are there mistakes you see new game developers making when they try to accomplish something like this?
Kitty: I feel like whenever you make a game — it doesn’t really matter if this is your first or your two thousandth millionth game — I feel like you learn so much by finishing a game, and every project is different.
Even for me, coming from different projects, I still learned a lot of things from Minit.
JW: Yeah, so a mistake I see is that a lot of people don’t finish games, because they’re very ambitious maybe, where they start a project and then it turns out that it will take them 10 years to finish.
And some people finish those games, and sometimes you see this amazing game releasing, but it took 10 years. In most cases, people would have learned more if they spent those 10 years making 10 really small games, one each year.
I don’t know if this is generally applicable advice, but if you’re making your first game, I would make something absolutely tiny, and finish it, and release it, even if it’s wrong.
Kitty: Yeah. I can look at the game, I can look at Minit and still see a million things that I want to change, but that’s probably something only I would notice. Other people don’t know.
If there was a tunnel and not a submarine, well, it would be fine. But for me it was a fun little thing to work on. It added a little charm to the game too, but it’s not necessarily something that other people would notice.
SRG: I think it’s noticeable in the sense that it elevates the experience of the game, but as you say, if it wasn’t there, then nobody would ask, “Where’s the submarine?”
Kitty: Right. For me, it is like having a hamburger. If you have a hamburger, and you’ve never had it with pepper and salt, you don’t know what it tastes like until you have it!
SRG: But you could still eat a hamburger without pepper and salt. It would work as food. It just wouldn’t taste as great.
JW: That’s one of the things that Kitty was super important for, setting the bar very high. If she wasn’t on the project, a lot of the game would have obviously looked worse, but also just been more boring.
Kitty: It probably would have been a smaller game then too.
JW: No, I think bigger and more boring.
SRG: What’s something fans don’t know about Minit?
Kitty: There is a secret ending.
JW: Yes, that nobody found yet.
It’s a very minor secret though. It’s not a big secret wedding where you marry the shopkeeper, but still — there is a different little ending that I don’t think anybody found yet.