FRAMED…in a Loveshack

by Brooks Weaver. 0 Comments

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What happens when you have complete control over the events of a story? Typically, this kind of freedom is only available to authors who create characters, establish a setting and then throw them together to make events occur.

But thanks to the trio of creative minds at the Australian – based, indie game development company Loveshack Entertainment (Twitter: @loveshackers), you will soon have that very ability at your fingertips with their noir puzzle game FRAMED.

So what exactly is a “noir puzzle” game anyway?

I caught up with the trio at Loveshack to find out just that and more.

FRAMED is a narrative puzzle game.  It’s an animated graphic novel.  It’s a noir crime story.  It’s a panel-swapping game where players simply rearrange the order of frames on the page to change the story and solve the puzzles.”

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But let’s take a step back a minute.  Let’s change the order.  First let’s get to know more about how FRAMED came to be. To do that, we need to know more about the trio of “Loveshackers”: Adrian Moore, Joshua Boggs and Ollie Browne.

Moore, a game designer / composer from the United Kingdom, reflected on how his career started with his interest in board games:

From as early as I can remember I was fascinated with card games and board games – having a lot of fun playing them with my Grandmother during summer holidays as a little kid.  I invented my first card game at the age of 14.  Around then I’d become obsessed with early arcade games like Space Invaders, Defender and Arkanoid.  Once I convinced my Dad to buy me a personal computer (a BBC Model B), I was hooked on many games on there and used to stay up until the wee hours of the morning during school holidays playing games and creating my own games using the BASIC language.”

For Boggs, a programmer/game designer from New Zealand, it began with the desire to not only make games, but to not be an accountant:

I’d always dreamed since I was 13 of running my own studio.  I made some pretty comedic games in RPG maker while I was in high school.  At that time my teachers and parents said I would be a great programmer or accountant, but I didn’t want to be some ‘geek’ that worked with numbers all day – no, no, no!  That’s not what I wanted at all!  I had dreams of being a game designer!  So in my youthful arrogance, I shunned all that and set out – figuring someone would ‘just hire me’ to come up with ideas (ha-ha).  That obviously didn’t work out too well, so after a tasting of humble pie, I packed my bags, flew to Australia, and decided I was going to learn how to code and make games myself.  Turns out coding is actually quite creative!  It didn’t take long for me to start coding and designing games from scratch, cursing myself for not listening to anyone around me.”

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The Suitcase Man peers through the blinds in FRAMED.

With Browne, an artist/game designer from Australia, it all started with fitting in game testing / quality assurance (QA) jobs here and there while focusing on his rock bands:

I started in QA in 2003 when a friend of mine (a designer at Atari Melbourne House) asked me to do a focus test on a Transformers game for the PlayStation 2.  I played the game for a week straight and wrote 10,000 words on what I thought could improve it even though it was already a fun game.  Atari then offered me some ongoing, part-time QA work (first in localisation testing and then in general QA).  I continued in QA for the next 5 years at different studios around Melbourne as a way of earning some extra cash in between tours for the bands I was playing in.  QA was a REALLY great job to have as an itinerant musician.”

Between the trio, they have worked at such companies as Electronic Arts (EA), SQUARE ENIX EUROPE and Atari. They’ve been on the teams that have developed Flight Control (Arcade), Real Racing 2 & 3 and SPY mouse. But now it’s time for their own creation to change how we see narrative in games today.

When I inquired as to why they would make such a game, the responded appropriately:

We felt it was time to show the world how narrative can be dealt with differently – that all bets are off and that there’s a brand new way to tell a story in a game.”

Well said. Creating something new and fresh is not easy (I can definitely attest to that). To date, a lot of time has been put into developing a unique, noir artstyle, creating animations that work seamlessly between the tiles that make up each section of the game and even the tiles themselves – gameplay, including the storyline, has been painstakingly tweaked so that when the game finally launches to the masses it will be a true ‘game-changer’.

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The way forward is unsure. How would you change the order / change the outcome?

As with any creative endeavor, there’s always something that fuels it’s creation – an inspiration.  Wondering about their inspirations behind FRAMED, I asked the trio to elaborate on this subject:

 A major inspiration is the book “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud, which Josh first read and now we’ve all read. The Gutters are pivotal in a comic book – the gaps between the story moments are where readers must tell their own story in their imaginations in order to make sense of the contents of the panels. As for the style and mood of the game, we were inspired by many other forms of art such as the CowBoy Bebop series and (Alfred) Hitchcock movies.

FRAMED is all about mixing up the story to make it work for the player. It’s a puzzle, or rather a challenge, that the player must solve to win the game. As Loveshack is an indie game development company and not a triple-A company with 500+ employees, it goes without saying that they have challenges to overcome on an almost daily basis to develop the game and to keep the company running. Wondering about their specific challenges, this is what they told me:

One challenge that we face everyday is develop a game that has never been developed before.  So to initially answer your question, it’s ‘originality’ is a challenge.  There’s no other games to refer to for comparison – the game itself and every level inside it is a new invention.  There’s a lot of design in this game and it takes a lot of collective grey matter to work it all out.  There’s no shortcuts we can take, we have to work it all out on paper before we build anything.”

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The Loveshack working out some narrative details for FRAMED.

Another challenge is the marketing of the game.  We don’t have a corporate marketing budget so we’ve had to really try hard to get FRAMED out there.  With that said, the freedom of how we market the game is beautiful.  There are only three of us at Loveshack (although we collaborate with others such as the amazing animation talent Stu Lloyd), but the buck stops with us.  Every detail of the business is decided by us and, most importantly, the creative direction of FRAMED too.  It’s a lot of hard work, but the freedom is like breathing fresh air.”

With the freedom that they have had being an indie developer, as well as, the challenges that they have had to endure, Loveshack has always kept their finger on the pulse of the Community supporting the game. Publishing a behind the scenes “Making the Trailer” article on their website, Loveshack provided a glimpse into just what it takes to bring, at least a portion, of the game to life.

Asking them about their involvement with the gaming community, this is what they had to say:

It has been very well received and we think it may partly be because people love to see something completely fresh and new.  The community of developers has been extremely supportive, including the Indie Fund backing us.  Our local Melbourne dev. friends are cheering us on which really helps us.  But most of all, the biggest excitement is the reaction from gamers at the game shows.  We’ve watched countless people pick up FRAMED and play through a cross-section of it.  They really seem to love the game and we have actually tweaked the game since hearing some of their thoughts – so there is an element of community input there.”

FRAMED is coming this year (2014) to mobile devices.  Are you ready to “Change the Order / Change the Outcome”?

Thank you for reading.  Follow Brooks on Twitter for more links to articles on the interactive entertainment industry.

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