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Colorfiction Interview l Experimenting With Traditionalism

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Ode to a Moon, Colorfiction

Nobody makes games quite like Colorfiction. The one-man studio, who broke with its left-field effort 0°N 0°W, manages to blend experimental level design and hypnagogic aesthetics with an accessible, concise mission statement: to be a part of gaming’s creative merge with technology. Max Arocena, the brain behind Colorfiction, spent his formative years playing RPGs such as Diablo and Baldur’s Gate, so how did the young developer get involved in the wide-world of game development?

The answer, peculiarly, starts with architecture:

“I first dabbled with video game engines during my architectural thesis. I had this really big project and renders/drawings weren’t communicating the spatial sensation, so [I] decided to turn it into a small game. Cryengine had just become free to use for hobbyists and having played my good share of Crysis I thought ‘why not?’.”

The result of these years of artistic and architectural training was 0°N 0°W: a free-form, almost multimedia exploration of space and geometry. 0°N 0°W’s unique meditations become more understandable within this context. In many ways, Arocena saw video games as an avenue to combine his architectural studies and artistic leanings to a near-infinite canvas; in his words, video games allow him to “[craft] abstract landscapes that just couldn’t exist in the real world.” By matching his penchant for abstract art and architecture, Colorfiction’s output has an oddly uncanny, dreamlike feel.

Following this period of spatial experimentation, Arocena wanted to dip his toes into something a little more linear: Ode to a Moon. By melding his personal touch around a horror game in the traditional sense, Arocena seeks to find innovation in the cinematic:

“You know that feeling when you’re watching an amazing movie and you feel this deep emotional reaction in your chest when the story and music combine in a perfect amalgamation of sensations? Well I’m trying to provoke that. I’m going to craft a compelling tale that grips the player from the start and doesn’t let go until the title screen. I’m a huge fan of Cinema, from Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, Godard, and Kubrick. So while my previous titles explored the relationship of art and architecture, the nuances of space and what is one’s role within it, in Ode to a Moon I want to take inspiration from cinema and explore how narrative shapes space and in turn affects the player as they transverse it.”

Ode to a Moon, Colorfiction

The politics and implications of space are central to horror, with gaming’s horror highpoints – Silent Hill 2, Resident Evil 2, Fatal Frame, etc. – utilising camera angles, claustrophobia, and the uncanny valley to invoke dread. For Colorficition to move to horror, then, is not a surprise; in certain ways, a sideward shift to the genre feels logical.

In terms of non-linearity, however, Ode to a Moon will not be continuing in 0°N 0°W’s meandering footsteps, but this is not necessarily a bad thing in Arocena’s eyes:

0°N 0°W was a special case because I think the gameplay arises from that non-linearity: its unexpected nature and surprise factor is what drives the player to want to see more, and more. Interestingly enough at its earlier stages it was structured in a linear fashion of progressive open worlds but the more I played it and saw other people play it I thought ‘wait, why am I forcing a path when everybody should be free to take their own?’ In Ode to a Moon I want to experiment with an experiential concept that would only be possible if the journey is linear.”

An interesting timeline forms from arty experimenter to game designer, with the developer wanting to “explore a narrative grounded on reality for some time now.” His adoration for 0°N 0°W’s idiosyncrasies will be preserved or, rather, matured significantly in Ode to a Moon:

“[Ode to a Moon will include] some snippets of what made 0°N 0°W unique; i.e. the otherworldly dimensions of the unexpected. So, in Ode to a Moon, are moments of pure delirium where the protagonist loses touch with reality and that’s where the best of 0N0W shines through. Albeit with a very different emotional reaction in mind, whereas before I was aiming for a calming peaceful experience, now it’ll be a dreadfully anxious and horrific sensation. So, this continuous juxtaposition of the real and the abstract is what will define Ode to a Moon.”

The juxtaposition between lucidity and chaos is a hallmark of 0°N 0°W, yet Arocena’s other work, Sands of Voltark, had a linear concept, with the young developer looking back at titles such as Paratopic by Arbitrary Metric and Observer by Bloober Team, deeming them as “fantastic if not disturbing rides, very inspirational.” These games are relatively linear, yet do not hold back on maximalist visuals or concept. In a way, Ode to a Moon is setting up to the reserved cousin of 0°N 0°W, a look at the merits of minimalism than maximalism. In essence, “expect something along these lines with Ode to a Moon but with a heavy dash of 0°N 0°W‘s oneiric qualities.”

0°N 0°W - Zero North Zero West - Screenshot 2 Colorfiction

Speaking about Colorfiction’s games in these esoteric terms discounts how gloriously accessible they can be. Despite making these grand meta-statements on gaming, to play them is remarkably simple. This accessibility has been noticed by Arocena himself, who “strived to make 0°N 0°W as accessible as possible.” In terms of ease-of-access, Arocena sees it as a “process of elimination.”

“I started development implementing puzzles, things to activate, this and that and quickly realized I was just making another one of those games, which, full disclaimer, I love, but the essential emphasis of 0°N 0°W was ‘no barriers exploration’, so why limit discovery behind a complicated puzzle or activation process? So ever so slowly I culled the game of traditional elements until its current iteration, because a gaming convention in it of itself is a barrier to accessibility, it implies a prior knowledge of how a game works and therefore how you should act in a game. This brought some interesting discoveries such as the removal of invisible walls; we are so accustomed to encountering them in games and thinking ‘oh that’s not the right way’. So, I thought what if there is no wrong way?”

Speaking to Arocena gave OnlySP a feeling of a developer on the cusp of something. Each description, meditation on gaming, or speaking about anything in-industry at all is underpinned by a sense of excitement in the industry. Despite this, the developer returns to an experience outside of games that, in many ways, informs his ethos:

I’ll never forget the first time I experienced Turrell’s ‘Danaë installation in Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory. You walk into a pitch dark room without knowing what you’ll find and you see a blue rectangle of light in the far end of the large room. The rectangle glows like a small patch of the sky, and you think ‘cool, that’s a clever use of a spotlight and a blue painting’. So, you get closer and closer to the rectangle to check out this ‘painting’. When you’re basically touching it with your nose, something flips in your brain and you realize it’s not a painting but a window into a large blue room! It might sound silly in text but experiencing that ‘Whoooaaaaa’ moment first hand was mind blowing, just the way it toyed with your perception of perspective and colour.”

What are games besides “toying with perception of perspective and colour”? What’s the difference between the art of, say, Diablo and the paintings in museums? How much untapped potential do games have; has the peak yet been reached?

All these questions are brought about when games get experimental, which Ode to a Moon is guaranteed to be brimming with.

Meditating on his craft, Arocena said it best:

“I think it’s only a matter of time, videogames are the media of the future and we’re still at the early stages of what this new medium can really be. We’re also in the midst of a creative revolution where technology is becoming more and more accessible and as a result the creative expressions of what this technology can do are growing exponentially. And I’m not referring solely to videogames, music for example is likewise at this amazing transformational moment. It’s a great time to be alive!”

Ode to a Moon launches sometime in 2019. For more, check out the game’s trailer, embedded below, and follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

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Epic Expectations and Epic Games Store: Storm in a Teacup on Creating Close to the Sun — Exclusive Interview

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Close to the Sun

Storm in a Teacup’s Close to the Sun released a month ago, but much remains for fans to learn about the project. Though the inspired game has plenty of clear influences, its differences from what came before are what make Close to the Sun a standout title in its genre.

In OnlySP’s interview with Storm in a Teacup’s creative director and CEO Carlo Ivo Alimo Bianchi below, Bianchi talks about his influences, the studio’s future, Bioshock, and Epic Games’s contribution to the project.

OnlySP’s Amy Campbell gave Close to the Sun an impressive High Distinction, thus adding the horror title to a list filled with some of the best games available.

OnlySP: We see this happen all the time where indie games will get a lot of attention simply for the premise alone. Some are watching Close to the Sun for this very reason. What is that sudden pressure like and what is Storm in a Teacup doing to make sure expectations are met?

Bianchi: We’re incredibly humbled by all of the hype we’ve seen around Close to the Sun, we’ve been working hard with a small team to make sure we met the bar for a title like this, and the last six months have been spent polishing the title to make the experience what it is today.

OnlySP: Obviously, a lot of people are comparing BioShock and System Shock to Close to the Sun. What makes Close to the Sun similar but different when compared to those games?

Bianchi: It’s a flattering comparison which we feel comes mostly from the design language within the game—when you see Art Deco in a video game BioShock is by far the biggest point of reference for gamers, for us though, it’s more about what was visually right to bring to the game. In our version of history science has accelerated the progression of society—bringing 1930s styling to the end of the 19th century, it’s also a suitably opulent aesthetic for our Tesla who sees himself as a modern-day Prometheus.

When you look at the gameplay itself, it’s really very different—Close to the Sun is more like SOMA or Outlast. To be honest we tried to stay away a little from the BioShock comparison not because it isn’t an incredible game, (it is a masterpiece) but because we wanted to align the expectations of consumers for Close to the Sun—it’s not an FPS.

soma

OnlySP: What are some of the game’s that got you, not only into gaming, but into making games? What games are you looking toward for inspiration when developing Close to the Sun?

Bianchi: The first games I ever played were on Commodore 64 and, as every guy coming from that era knows, just launching games at the time took some experience. It was fascinating for me at the point that I started writing my first code in Basic for fun. After that consoles came out and things got much easier, just buy a NES game, blow inside the cartridge like there is no tomorrow. Games became just something to play with, not something to think over. Even by my 18th birthday games were just something fun to play—I could never imagine I would end up developing games.

The first game that made me think was Resident Evil, it was an action game with interesting puzzles, a good story and a horror mark that executed splendidly (for the times) all of its aspects. It taught me that games could be more than just a shooter OR a puzzle solver, they could be both if executed well. The second game that comes to my mind is for sure Final Fantasy VII, still today my favourite game of all time. That game taught me that story telling could be way deeper than what I was used to. I loved the combat system and still think it’s the best turn-based system ever, but the lore in that game together with characters’ depth was something else. Another game I want to mention is Tomb Raider, that has been the first 3D game where I really felt depth! I felt so immersed in its environments that sometimes I dived from higher grounds to certain death just to enjoy the amazing vertical depth of the game. Tomb Raider was the first game that made me think: what if I could create something like this? There are many more games I could mention but these three are for sure the most important for my life as a developer.

When we started our design work on Close to the Sun we had three key pillars we wanted to use to create the game, these were: we wanted to create a suspense filled horror game, we wanted it to be on a boat (it’s the perfect setting to convey vulnerability and isolation to the player) and we wanted to include Tesla as a historical figure (and personal hero of mine). When it comes to the titles that inspired the team for Close to the Sun, we loved SOMA, Layers of Fear, Firewatch—these are all incredible titles.

Epic Games Store

OnlySP: So, the Epic Games Store controversy has gotten the entire PC gaming market riled up. A recent press release not only doubled down on the fact that Close to the Sun will launch first on the Epic Games Store, but that the partnership with Epic actually “accelerated development.” Could you elaborate on some of the ways the partnership sped things up?

Bianchi: Epic have been pivotal in the creation of Close to the Sun—they’ve been behind the project from an early stage and even provided a development grant for the game early on with no obligation. With the support they had given us and the project it felt completely natural and right to bring the game to the Epic Games Store.

On a technical development level I think it’s really easy to underestimate the value of the tools they provide—creating a horror game requires a lot of testing to see the reaction you want from the player, our team spent a lot of time using Unreal to create rapid prototypes for the final version of the game, something stuck, some things didn’t, but what was left perfectly fulfilled what we wanted to achieve and with the visual fidelity the Unreal Engine provides.

OnlySP: What do you have to say to those who are bad-mouthing the game simply because of the exclusivity period?

Bianchi: We understand fully why players feel so passionately about their launchers, but we felt the Epic Games Store was the right fit for the game, for the reasons already outlined already but also for visibility. The game will come to other storefronts in time, but right now we’re working on the console release so we can make the game available to even more players.

OnlySP: How much time can players expect to sink into the game’s story mode on the first go around? Does the game’s story offer anything for players who dive back in for a second playthrough?

Bianchi: Your first play through on Close to the Sun will take between 4 and 7 hours depending on the type of player you are. The game is rich in environmental storytelling and collectables and if you want to find and understand all these it may even take you longer. As for replay value there are some environmental elements that you’ll only truly understand once you finish the game, these are great to look out for the second time around.

close to the sun

OnlySP: Where does Storm in a Teacup go from here?

Bianchi: We have some ideas; we’d love to go on to create another game in this same universe but for now our focus is on the console versions of the game that will launch later in 2019.

OnlySP: Forgive me, but I’ve got to ask: Do you have any updates for Switch owners who want to play Close to the Sun on that platform? The ‘accelerated development’ comment discussed earlier definitely had me wondering.

Bianchi: We’re always open to looking at new platforms but we don’t have any news to share on this at the moment.

OnlySP: Why should people who may not already be interested in your game look into Close to the Sun?

Bianchi: Close to the Sun offers a unique experience—looking at the ideas and inventions of Tesla and what he might have gone on to achieve if he hadn’t been outmaneuvered during his years in industry. Tesla died near penniless in a hotel in New York but the world could have been so different—in 2019 we’re still barely scratching the surface of his ideas.

OnlySP: Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

Bianchi: Thank you for reading and a special thanks to anyone who goes out to buy the game.


For all the latest on Storm in a Teacup, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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