It’s arguable that in recent times, the advent of the likes of Steam and other digital stores has led to more opportunity for those interested in making a game but worried about the overhead costs that may have existed. The number of independent developers now attempting to make their ideas a reality is encouraging for an industry that needs to be as diverse as possible in the interests of creativity, and digital stores, along with the more affordable game engines that are now available, play a part in that.
Exploding Tuba Studios are another example of the positive impact of the range that now exists in the industry, allowing people who may not have been able to get a game made before to do so now. We spoke to director Chris Tilton, an accomplished musician who has worked on a wide range of scores in TV and games, about the team’s upcoming sci-fi adventure game, Divide; the circumstances in which it has been made; and his experiences making a game for the first time.
In this first part, we will be dealing with the start of the process, and how things started to look more plausible for the company. Find out more about Divide and what makes it so unique in the next installment.
Chris’ path to founding Exploding Tuba has not been a conventional one. He originally got started working as a musician in a different form of media. “I moved out to LA in 2001 and started working for Michael Giacchino, the composer.” he said. “I was and am a composer and wanted to get in to films. I started working for him on the TV show Alias. That was sort of my introduction to the industry, which allowed me to see how everything worked.”
From there, Chris elaborates on how he got in to video games and how music wasn’t his only interest. “I’ve always been a gamer and my roommate at college, who I had done music for, wanted to go in to games, and he ended up being the lead designer on this one.”
“We’d always talked about game design,” Chris continued. “I pursued a music career in games and TV but the opportunity eventually came where I could make the game that I wanted.”
Chris had entertained the thought of designing a game before, and while it didn’t seem plausible, he always didn’t let the idea go while he continued work as a composer.
“A lot of the time I never thought I would get in to this. I had fleeting ideas about game designs when it was totally infeasible to make them on a small scale and so I just never even imagined doing it, but I was always interested in how games worked, why things were working and how decisions were made. I decided to use that to make something.”
He credits timing for making the whole venture possible. “In 2012, the industry was at a place where it was feasible to get a few people together and create something, so I said if we’re gonna do it we should just do it. My old roommate, JD Straw, had been working in the industry for quite a while, so he helped me put together a small team of people who were dependable and experienced like him.”
Together, Chris and JD started to get the ball rolling. “We knew the pieces we were going to need, though the fine details probably went back and forth a lot. I knew I was going to be able to guide the ship, and I needed JD to help design it because he had a lot of experience and was very knowledgeable, so I knew he was going to help me with most aspects of making a game. Anything extra outside of that and any help we had for getting stuff in the game we just ventured out when we felt we needed it.”
What was it about 2012 that worked so well for him? A number of factors were involved in making the game possible, but the fact that it has become easier to get the process started is definitely one of them, as Chris explains.
“It was the timing of a lot of things. I had been doing the music for a TV show called Fringe for a number of years and that show was pretty much going to its final season, so I was thinking about what I wanted to do next. The game industry had got to a point where you could licence a game engine for a reasonable cost, not millions of dollars like it used to be but thousands. Consoles, which continue to be highly important to today’s gamer, were starting to have digital stores, which meant all this overhead of releasing a game was gone. You really could make a game with just a few people and actually get it in front of gamers who would realize it exists. It was actually viable from a business perspective.”
Like a lot of indie developers, the team is spread out, and relies on the internet to keep in touch and update each other. Chris told us about the situation.
“We all have our home offices. Our programmer lives in the LA area with us, but JD lives north of San Francisco, and our animators and environment artists were in Seattle. We would just use things like Google Hangout and Skype to keep in touch, and screen sharing has been useful too. There were certain situations where it would have been easier if we were all in the same room, but being able to do it remotely has worked very well for us.”
“Regular face to face check-ins via video are important,” he added. “If you couldn’t do that, it would be very difficult to make sure everybody was on the same page design wise, tone wise and so on. We all had to make sure we were on the same page and knew what the vision was.”
Chris mentioned earlier that they had assembled a team that knew their roles and could be relied upon, but the actual set-up was, and still is, more complicated than that. He gave us a rundown of his role in the company, as well as what the core members of the team are responsible for, and reminded us that because it’s only a small team, everyone has multiple roles so the team can get to the plethora of things that they have to address, so the roles are quite fluid.
“I started the company and came up with the idea for the game and most of the story,” Chris explained. “I have a friend, Chris Carle, who helped write a lot of the dialogue, which isn’t one of my strong points. I prefer coming up with the story and the emotional arcs involved, and Chris is definitely better at dialogue.
“We’ve slowly been working the story together for a long time, but I’ve also been collaborating with JD, who is our lead designer, on what the gameplay should be like. In the broad strokes of the game I’m the director but I also put together the environment, and am responsible for 80% of the rooms that you walk in throughout the game. JD did certain key sequences, but a lot of the places to explore fell on me to do while he was doing lots of actual design work.
“Then we have our engineer, Shai Kalev, who designed every tool and is the reason that you can see things on the screen. There is our environment artist, Chris Durso who was on with us for about two years and basically created all the art within the game. The way that worked with how I built it is that we deliberately created puzzle pieces that kind of fit together like Lego where he would design a style, which could be a certain kind of floor or wall or furniture that would fit thematically with the set so that I could go in and make multiple rooms out of this one theme.”
“For example it could be an underground themed area which allowed me to create environments and things to explore from just that set and then you go to a different location and we have different location sets. He created all these sets which allowed us to build any kind of room we wanted and made it easier for us to build rooms quickly and efficiently.”
“We also had an animator, Kevin Dalziel, who basically built and animated all of our characters in the game.”
It’s clear that as a team things came together for Exploding Tuba to be able to make the game that they wanted, and that the transition from music to directing a video game had so far been successful for Chris, having assembled the team and made his dreams more of a reality. Tune in for the second part of the interview TOMORROW for a whole lot more on how Chris came up with Divide itself, which includes his insights on the story, the gameplay, the challenges the team faced and are still having to deal with, and much more.
The Occupation Designer Reveals Game Length, Talks Design, Inspiration, and More
After a protracted development period, fixed-time thriller The Occupation is set to release in one month’s time. Between its retro aesthetic and immersive sim-inspired gameplay, the game is shaping up as one of 2019’s most unique titles.
In light of that, OnlySP recently spoke to Pete Bottomley, designer of The Occupation and co-founder of developer White Paper Games to find out more about the promising project.
OnlySP: I thought I’d start off with a fairly obvious question. Given the real-time nature of The Occupation, how long can players expect a single run through to last, and by how much can that time be shortened or prolonged by the player’s actions?
Bottomley: The core gameplay is designed around 4 hours of play. There are some sections that are untimed, whether it be for narrative impact or tutorialisation for the player. As we’re playing through the game as a team, it’s taking us around 6.5 hours to play through the game.
OnlySP: How many endings does the game have?
Bottomley: The game’s outcome is a reflection of the steps the player took through the game. I think when playing games, you always want the outcomes to reflect your approach and we’re massively inspired by how games such as Dishonored can tackle that. Our hope is that the ending you experience feels like it reflects their approach and actions.
OnlySP: Tied to that, approximately how many playthroughs would be required to see everything that the game has to offer?
Bottomley: Our intention wasn’t to design a game that required multiple playthroughs. I’m personally the type of player that plays through a narrative, gets an outcome, and that’s my story. That being said, we’ve tried to fill the world with a lot of content, and because of the real-time character simulating actions, hopefully with second and third playthroughs, players will uncover different ways to solve challenges or narrative threads they hadn’t picked up on before.
OnlySP: How did you come to settle on the politicised premise of an Act robbing citizens of civil liberties?
Bottomley: Since we invest so much of our lives into making games, you have to work on something you feel is meaningful and rewarding of your time. At the time of concepting The Occupation, there was a lot of friction between what was happening in the UK and abroad. It affects us all and we wanted to work on something that may put people’s views into perspective.
Our previous game Ether One dealt with the difficulties of seeing a family member suffering with dementia and our aim is to continue these important themes throughout all of our games.
OnlySP: Also, issues surrounding privacy and freedom of speech, among other civil liberties, are pertinent right now. How close to your mind were the modern concerns about the topic while you were concepting the game? And have real-world events impacted the story of The Occupation across the development period?
Bottomley: The world around us always inspires us, but we don’t really rely on specific events to drive any part of the game’s narrative. When you’re developing a game that tries to get its own narrative across but ground it in the real world, you have to try to distil them to focus on the story you’re trying to tell. In a sense, real world stories inspire us but it’s more of an observational thing rather than a particular event we want to depict faithfully. We tend to focus on the emotional and societal impact of the event itself.
OnlySP: How present will those sorts of themes be within the average player’s experience? Or should players expect to be able to lose themselves entirely in the investigation without really leaning on the context?
Bottomley: We aim to put context on all of your actions in the world otherwise there’s not much meaning behind the choices being made. That being said, you can choose to follow certain narrative threads over others, which allows the player to follow the most interesting lead they come across.
OnlySP: Players take the role of a journalist in the game; how accurate would you say your portrayal is of the technologies and general aesthetic of late ‘80s Britain? How much research went into getting the language and atmosphere of the era right?
Bottomley: It’s interesting you raise that point as we’ve just been speaking about the world limitations in this game. In our previous game, Ether One, we aimed to deliver a grounded narrative that had certain sci-fi elements. With The Occupation, we wanted to go even more grounded and aim to deliver a world that belongs in the ’80s so any aesthetic and technological choices were always taken into consideration. Surrounding yourself with these limitations can create really cool gameplay mechanics such as our pager as a message delivery system, public payphones to update your objectives, and fax machines to deliver information.
OnlySP: The game has been delayed twice now, both times quite close to the scheduled release. Is there any chance you could shed some light on the causes of the delays?
Bottomley: Delaying a game is a gut wrenching decision. You’ve put a promise out there and you push yourself to deliver. We’ve aimed incredibly high on this game both technologically and in the game’s design. On top of this, we wanted to deliver the game in as many languages as we could along with sim-shipping on PC, XB1, & PS4 and doing a retail disc submission so that people could pick up the game in stores if they wanted to hold a physical representation of the game. Because of these platforms, the game has to be ready a couple of months in advance to help distribution and all the different regions to have the version of the game you intend for them. With complexity always come more bugs and since our last game shipped in a buggy state, we didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. We’ve QA’d the game for months and had support from our publishers in helping to identify the issues. As with any game, we’ll no doubt spot some issues on launch, but we’ve already put processes in place to address these as quickly as we can and hopefully the execution of the game will immerse people and keep players engaged so that nothing disrupts the experience.
OnlySP: I recall on Twitter that you once wrote that you were testing the possibility of a Switch port. How seriously have you looked at that possibility and what’s the likelihood?
Bottomley: Right now we have a Switch development kit frustratingly gathering dust in our studio. Since we’re a small team, it can be a tough choice trying to figure out where to best use your resources. We’d absolutely love to get the game onto Switch but we’ve not tested a build yet. It’s the first thing we’ll be moving onto in March so we should be able to update people as soon as we know how The Occupation runs on it. Thankfully using Unreal Engine makes this process a lot more straightforward and we’ve seen a lot of developer friends find success on the Switch so it’s a great opportunity to reach a larger audience.
OnlySP: How does it feel for you and the team to be just about ready to wrap development after four years of work?
Bottomley: It’s not quite set in yet. Although we’re done with the game and excited to see the reception it gets from people, it’s really only 50% of the work, especially when you’re in a small team. We’re currently planning all the marketing and PR opportunities along with reflecting on the development cycle and figuring out what we can do better (to hopefully not spend another 4 years on a game!).
OnlySP: Finally, do you have any closing comments for our readers or anything else you’d like to say about The Occupation?
Bottomley: The whole team has put an incredible amount of energy into The Occupation. If you look at our previous game compared to The Occupation, you can see how far we’ve come. It’s been a huge learning curve for the studio both technically and in production and we’re excited to move onto another game to push ourselves. We’re unable to do that without game sales. It sounds corny, but we really can’t develop games without our community’s support. We value each purchase and we want to grow and keep pushing to create more interesting games. We have a lot of goals and drive and we’re focusing on growing and creating more experiences for the player. If you’re reading this and have purchased any of our games, thank you. It absolutely means the world to be able to wake up in the morning and be excited to develop games. Thank you.
The Occupation is set to release on March 5, 2019 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
- Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey Will be Exclusive to Epic Games Store for 12 Months on
- Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey Will be Exclusive to Epic Games Store for 12 Months on
- RUMOUR: Ubisoft Store Leak Reveals Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Ahead of Schedule on
- RUMOUR: Ubisoft Store Leak Reveals Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Ahead of Schedule on
- Days Gone is Not Bad, But It Raises So Many Questions on
- Chernobylite Ends Crowdfunding Campaign With Double its Initial Goal on
- Need for Speed 2019 Will Return to Racers vs Cops Mentality on
- New John Wick Game Coming Exclusively to Epic Games Store on PC on