Greetings everyone, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. I’ve had myself running to the ends of the earth these past two weeks, pursuing more indie developer interviews to satisfy your needs. This week I took some time to discuss the finer things in life with Richard Perrin, Design Lead and founder of Locked Door Puzzle. He is currently working on Kairo, a wonderful-looking first-person adventure mystery set amongst abstract architecture. Sounds neat, right? Read on to find out more!
Hey Richard! So, who are you?
I’m Richard Perrin, and I’m the lone developer on Kairo which I’ve been working on for the past two years. The only other person working on Kairo is the musician Wounds [Bartosz Szturgiewicz] who has been producing lots of great creepy ambience for the game world.
Why the name ‘Locked Door Puzzle’?
Locked Door Puzzle was originally the name of my blog before it became the new home for my game work. I’m a big fan of storytelling in games but ‘locked door puzzles’ are the bane of those types of games. A lot of the time you don’t feel like you’re advancing a narrative, just simply satisfying the arbitrary conditions to open a series of locked doors, however well-disguised they may be. My blog at the time was kind of game design critique and so the name made sense. Voila!
How did you get into game design, and when? Is your background more in programming, or storytelling?
They’ve always gone hand in hand for me. Since I was a kid I’ve wanted to make games and used to make all sorts of terrible stuff in BASIC back in my MS-DOS days. However, even then I was always trying to make worlds in order to explore and to have stories to tell rather than focusing on game mechanics.
I should declare I’m no great programmer. It has become my life long career but I still feel like I sort of muddle through. I’m always more interested in what I can make than the process it takes to get there.
You’re mostly working alone on Kairo. Do you ever think about teaming together with like-minded folk?
I actually prefer to collaborate, I just haven’t done it in a while. My first big game The White Chamber had me working with artists and a musician and I think it came out great. Kairo came about because I’d had a series of failed projects where the artists dropped out for various reasons. So I came up with a design I could do entirely on my own so if it failed, then I was to blame this time. After Kairo is finished I would like to work with other artists again.
“All the niches of gameplay that were being neglected are now being explored by people who are really into those type of games. We’re no longer limited to what will sell a million copies.”
Do you think it is an exciting time to be an indie developer? What sort of challenges do you face because of it?
The explosion of indie games has been really awesome from a creative perspective. We’ve got more and more people using games as a way to express themselves. So we’re seeing all sorts of amazing stuff we’d never have seen even five years ago. All the niches of gameplay that were being neglected are now being explored by people who are really into those type of games. We’re no longer limited to what will sell a million copies.
From a commercial perspective, though, that same explosion has been tough. There’s more competition than ever, meaning it’s getting harder to stand out and get noticed. It means I have to spend more time thinking about networking and marketing to make sure people know about my game. As a lone developer, I’d prefer to be spending that time working on the game. I can’t resent it though, and I’m glad all these games are out there now!
How was the Indie Megabooth experience for you?
It’s impossible to emphasise enough how great it is getting to watch people play and enjoy your game. When you’re sitting at home staring at a screen for years with only yourself to bounce ideas off, it’s a relief to see players actually connecting with what you’ve done. I had some truly great conversations with people who really seemed to get what I was doing.
However, the flip side is that it’s kind of an exhausting thing to do. I’m a reasonably social guy, but flying for ten hours across the ocean and repeating the same canned speech for my game over and over again all day for three days is not really my idea of a good weekend. I can see the advantage of having a publisher, replete with PR people who enjoy doing that, but to be fair a lot of the other devs seem to relish it. I’m still a designer at heart and would prefer to be sitting at home working on creating things, rather than talking about them.
That probably sounds like quite a petty complaint. Overall the Megabooth was incredible. I only mention all that so anyone interested in being a lone wolf indie dev realizes that you really have to do everything yourself – not just the bits you enjoy the most.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
Right now Kairo is in the final stages. The world is fully modelled and I’m getting the last couple of puzzles working, which I hope to have done within the next week or two. Then I’m going to be spending all of July polishing up the game to make it as slick and shiny as possible. I really wanted the content to be complete already but there always seems to be some unexpected technical problem or other that adds another few weeks. I feel like that’s been happening for a year now. Always so close to the goal but never in sight.
What inspired you to start Kairo and to imbue it with such an atmosphere?
There were a few specific inspirations for the game. The minimalist art style came from some images from abstract architects. I saw these photos of models and wondered about if I could make that a living breathing world to explore. I wanted the atmosphere of Ico - that sense of walking around an old forgotten place, with decaying stone walls everywhere. Finally, I wanted the sense of scale from a manga called Blame, that has a character moving through these immense structures. It kind of just mixed all that together into one thing.
It looks and sounds a lot like Myst to me. How close am I?
I was never really aiming for Myst but that’s where I’ve ended up. I loved Myst as a kid but I think back to a lot of confused frustration and that’s not what I wanted to create. However, the first person puzzle solving and exploration quickly brings you back to Myst and I won’t deny there’s a lot in common there at this stage. To be honest, at PAX I wound up focusing on Ico and Mystbecause they were simpler and more straightforward than explaining where all the deeper inspiration comes from.
How about the unique approach to storytelling. There is no textual narrative at all, right?
The lack of text and dialogue is very unusual for me. Storytelling is what I love most in video games. However when I started Kairo it wasn’t meant to be some huge two-year project. So I decided I would challenge myself to tell the story through the world itself. The things you find in the environment and the machines you repair should tell the story of what’s really happening. I guess it will be up for players to decide if that actually worked or not.
About a year ago I was having a crisis of faith with the direction of the game and started to reconsider every one of the restrictions I’d placed upon myself. This led to me considering how I could work in a narrated story into the world. However, once I went through this process I came out with a clearer idea of what I was trying to do and decided the environment storytelling path I was already on was what fit Kairo the best.
Which platforms are you looking to release on? Is release still set for July?
Kairo is initially going to come out for PC and Mac. Then I’m planning to spend a month or two porting it over to iOS. I’ve already had a proof of concept working quite nicely on my iPad. Also, since Unity, the engine I use, has just announced Linux support later in the year, I’ll hopefully being releasing a Linux build once that becomes available.
I’m still hoping for a late July release for PC and Mac but who knows to be honest. I’ve missed a lot of deadlines making this game. Even if I miss July, it won’t be much later. There really isn’t much left to do; mostly polish. I don’t want to put it out until I’m really happy with everything.
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
I try not to collect too much merchandise, and most of the stuff I had when I was young is long gone. Instead I have a very extensive games collection that i have put far too much time and money into. So, out of all that, my most prized thing is probably my collection of all the original LucasArts adventure games in their original big box editions. Most of them I got as a kid and played them with my dad. Those games are probably the thing that made me fall in love with gaming the most.
Thanks for your time, Richard!
Kairo is currently scheduled for release in July 2012 on PC and Mac, with Linux and iOS releases to follow thereafter.