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“Like a Cup of Coffee”: Leaving Lyndow, Emotions, and Starting Small

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Leaving home for the first time can be a fraught experience. The freedom of independent life wars with the weight of responsibility and this conflict gives birth to a vast array of emotions, ranging from hopefulness to sadness, excitement to anxiety. Similarly, family, friends, and acquaintances may respond to departure in various ways: offering support, expressing bitterness at being left behind, or celebrating the promise of the future. For both the individual and the people that surround them, the process of saying farewell to a childhood home brings forth a tumult of feelings.

With its portrayal of a young woman setting out from home for the first time in search of greener pastures, Leaving Lyndow, the debut game from Eastshade Studios, aims to capture this confused melange of optimism and uncertainty.

“It’s a coming of age story, and I think it will remind people of what a big life change feels like,” says the game’s director and Eastshade Studios’s founder, Danny Weinbaum. “[Clara] is leaving the only place she’s ever known, and will live on a ship. She’s sad to leave behind relationships, nervous to venture into the unfamiliar, but still optimistically dreaming about what the future may hold.”

Leaving Lyndow is a first-person narrative adventure, built in the same vein as Firewatch or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, but, unlike many other games of its ilk, it is less about unravelling a mystery and more about presenting a character and moment in time: Clara and her farewell to the past. In order to give the experience more emotional weight, Clara will have the chance to interact with a diverse array of characters, including “a doting mother, a supportive boyfriend, a discouraging uncle, a jealous classmate, a sentimental friend, an oblivious nephew, and a few other characters.”

Though its cast seems large, Leaving Lyndow is, in fact, a bite-sized adventure, and much shorter than all but the briefest games. With the game lasting only an hour, Weinbaum says that his intention was to make something that could be enjoyed “like a cup of coffee. You sip for a bit and then it’s gone, and you’re buzzing from it for the next few hours.”

Indeed, the desire to craft and release a small game, in order to gather launch experience ahead of the developer’s major project Eastshade, was the first factor that led to the creation of Leaving Lyndow. Weinbaum was “terrified of botching the release [of Eastshade, and] really didn’t want to do early access.”

LL-Hideout

While the business-based rationale behind this decision may beget cynicism and a belief that the artistic integrity of the endeavour is compromised, Weinbaum insists that this is not the case:

“I’ve been wanting to make a small game for a long time now, but ultimately never pulled the trigger on any ideas because I didn’t have that burning inspiration required to get the ball rolling. When the idea for Leaving Lyndow came to me, I was in tears with excitement (sometimes I cry when I get excited I know it’s weird), and I stayed up until 6 am trying to slap together a rough prototype to show my teammates what I had in mind. I hadn’t felt that excited about something in a long time. When a decision seems that right, and when your girlfriend, your mother, your brother, your former boss, all your teammates, all your friends and all your former colleagues agree it’s a good idea, you know it’s the right decision.”

Despite this sentiment, the build-up for Leaving Lyndow has been very low-key, announced less than a month out from release with only a single pre-release trailer and a handful of environmental screenshots to let people know of the game’s existence. The lack of press attention, however, is not meant to suggest that the team has lost its enthusiasm for the project; instead, it is for the fans who have already waited so long for Eastshade’s release.

A long, strong build-up, says Weinbaum, may well have led to fans thinking, “’Okay but where’s Eastshade?’” and such a sentiment could only result in a negative impact to both Eastshade and Leaving Lyndow. As such, the smaller game is meant as “a happy surprise, not something fans feel like they have to wait through before getting to what they were initially excited for.”

LL-Farmhouse

Leaving Lyndow is also a taster of things to come, though Weinbaum takes pains to express that it is not a demo for Eastshade. The two projects may share a setting, but the gameplay and guiding philosophy of the two are almost polar opposites. Eastshade is an RPG in a world of stories, but Leaving Lyndow is a single “very authored” story, so different in narrative design that it offers no real hint of what to expect from Eastshade, though the quality of the writing and overall experience will, no doubt, set fan expectations.

For now, though, the focus for Eastshade Studios is ensuring a smooth release for Leaving Lyndow and gauging fan reactions to this debut title. Weinbaum admits that it is not a perfect game—“There’s some things we wish we’d done, some small bugs we didn’t get to, and some aspects we wish we could have executed better”—but the achievement of having completed production overrides any regrets.

With Leaving Lyndow now available to the public, and attracting considerable praise, the future once again begins to beckon.

Lyndow-Construction

Finishing Eastshade is the next major project for the team, and Weinbaum says that the almost-six-month break dedicated to the production of Leaving Lyndow has “rekindled [his] passion”:

“I feel my perspective has recentered, and I’m once again burning to get back to the hugely exciting and massive island of Eastshade, with a better code base, more assets, more experience, and a more fleshed out world narratively. I’d say the whole team is feeling this rekindled energy. It almost feels like Eastshade 2 for us, I know that’s weird to say since it’s still the first one, but that’s what stepping away from something for a while can do.”

Taking a break from a long-term task can be invigorating, but having insight into a long-awaited project can be even more so. Leaving Lyndow offers just such an opportunity for fans of Eastshade.

“For three years we’ve been building a place. With Leaving Lyndow we want to invite people in for a short visit.”

This visit will certainly not be the last one. Although the future of Eastshade Studios is not yet decided, Weinbaum does suggest the possibility of further expansions to the beautiful, fascinating universe that Leaving Lyndow acts as an introduction to:

“I’m not tired of the Eastshade world yet though. Sometimes people can get burned out on something and desperately want to move on, and I’m not even close to there yet.”

The path ahead for Eastshade Studios is unclear, and that puts the team in much the same league as Clara, setting forth on a journey which could end in either success, disaster, or anything in between. Players will never experience Clara’s journey away from home, which makes the time they do spend with her, reminiscing and saying goodbye, all the more personal.

“In Lyndow you are Clara, and today you must leave on a boat.”


 

Leaving Lyndow is available on Steam.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

Exclusive Interviews

The Occupation Designer Reveals Game Length, Talks Design, Inspiration, and More

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The Occupation promo

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.

The Occupation

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.

The Occupation screenshot 3

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.

The Occupation screenshot 2

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!).

The Occupation screenshot 1

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.

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