[This blog is dedicated to my father for his birthday. Thank you Dad for giving me an appreciation for story-telling in all forms; including the works of Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock. You have and will always be a source of inspiration for me.]
I’ve been playing videogames for over 20 years now, and I’m still amazed at the amount of variety that exists in the industry. From games like DayZ (PC) to Tiny Wings (iOS) and from Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation 3) to Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery (iOS / PC / Mac), video games are truly a wondrous thing. They transport us to another world that, if done right, takes us over and presents another reality where we can do (almost) whatever we want. And thankfully, there’s no end in sight as to what kind of titles will be offered or how they will be made available; i.e., mobile, console, cloud, browser-based and so forth.
One game that recently took me by surprise, (proverbially) grabbed me by the neck and held me under until the final dialogue bubble faded away is the “unique horror adventure” otherwise known as Home , by Benjamin Rivers - an independent game developer, web designer, illustrator, part-time instructor and comic artist who has been creating downloadable games since 2008.
In that short time, Benjamin has definitely made his mark on the industry and been featured in such publications / websites as Indiegames.com, EDGE magazine, Gamasutra and Destructoid to name a few.
Ben was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy schedule ( Home has just launched on Steam ) to answer some questions about Home and about game development.
What was your inspiration(s) for Home ; i.e., novels, movies, art styles, etc?
“I wrote the first chapter of a short story over a decade ago, and when I found it again, I thought it might make a good premise for a game. That, coupled with the fact that my wife wanted me to make some kind of murder mystery, got me thinking about how I could make a game I would like to play.
I enjoy deep, unsettling psychological horror stories (in books, films and games), but in games there are so few.
Silent Hill and Human Entertainment’s Twilight Syndrome series were big inspirations in how to have that kind of a conversation with players.”
Why did you choose to go with the “8-bit” feel to the game, rather than with other animation / art styles?
“I approach every game project like a client project; in this case, the challenge I gave myself was, ‘Is it possible to make a genuinely creepy/unsettling/emotionally-engaging horror game with really lo-fi visuals?’
Originally the game was far, far lower-spec. But at my wife’s (correct) insistence, I bumped the game up to look more like a Super NES title (rather) than an Atari game.”
When you developed Home , what software packages did you use to bring your vision to life?
“ Home was created with YoYoGames’ Game Maker . Other than that, I only used (Adobe) Photoshop , Audacity (for sound editing / recording) and a whole lot of paper and pencil.”
With Home being a PC-based game (now on Steam as well), do you have any plans on porting it to iOS (for iPhone / iPad)?
“It is definitely a desire of mine. A lot of work has to be done, and I’m currently looking to hire someone to help with this. If it happens, it will be in the New Year (2013).”
My final question focuses on recommendations / best practices for people who are new to developing games. What recommendations do you have based on what you have learned to date?
“ Lots! I actually teach a game design class at OCAD University here in Toronto, Canada. The biggest and easiest advice I can give is: stop thinking about it, just do it . Join a jam, get something done in a weekend - anything.
I recommend a talk by Superbrothers’ Craig Adams entitled, ‘ Less Talk, More Rock ’ as a good starting point.”
In concluding my interview with Ben, I took it upon myself to read the ‘ Less Talk, More Rock ’ article.
Besides being stylistically cool (I have always liked Superbrothers’ art style), it also opened my eyes to something that has been right in front of me when it comes to my taste in games: Simplicity . No muss, no fuss. Just a clear, unique game experience that leaves you still remembering every sound and sensation years later. For me, Home does this to a T.
One quote I took away from the article that related to how I feel about Home is, “It speaks videogame fluently, it is audiovisually articulate.”
Home is a great title. Not because it looks cool, runs a chill up your spine at just the right moments or because it’s in the horror genre. It’s a great title because it “speaks videogame fluently” to the core gamer in us all.