On January 15th 1919, at the Purity Distilling Company factory in the North End district of Boston, due to dramatic changes in temperature and inferior construction, a 50ft tall storage tank of fermenting molasses burst, sending a 35mph wave of sweet smelling syrup cascading into the streets below. 21 people lost their lives and 150 were injured, as the sticky sludge spilled out into Boston, covering several blocks with up to three feet of goo.
“It’s indicative of the kind of stories we want to tell. Stories that instantly have you scratching your head and saying ‘what?’” says Forrest Dowling, CEO and co-founder of the Cambridge, MA based studio which use the flood as its namesake. He continues – “It’s almost funny at face-value, but once you dive into it, it’s a super grim story. That felt like the right tone for what we wanted to do. The more you look into it, the interesting it becomes, the complicated it becomes.”
The Molasses Flood describe themselves as “a company of AAA refugees”, formed in the wake of the high profile closure of Irrational Games following the success of Bioshock Infinite. “We all found ourselves out of work in Boston, which is a town that doesn’t have a whole lot of game development jobs available. It hasn’t been a very good time for game development in Boston, there’ve been a lot more layoffs than hires.” says Dowling.
“We were in a position where we could get work elsewhere, but that would mean picking up our families and leaving our friends behind. So we decided to stick around.” Irrational Games closed its doors for the last time in February of 2014, after the release of the wildly successful Bioshock Infinite in March of the previous year, which, according to the game’s distributor Take-Two Interactive, has sold over six million retail copies to date.
Irrational alumni make up the majority of the roster at The Molasses Flood, but the team show real pedigree from all corners of gaming when it comes to the titles they’ve worked on, ranging from Bioshock, Rock Band and Homefront to Halo 2 and Marvel Heroes. The small team of six has all the bases covered: Forrest is joined by fellow designer Chad LaClair (Bioshock Infinite, Medal of Honour: Airborne), as well as artists Scott Sinclair (Guitar Hero, Bioshock) and Gwen Frey (Bioshock Infinite, Marvel Heroes). Engineers Bryn Bennett (Freedom Force 2, Titan Quest) and Damian Isla (Third Eye Crime, Halos 2 and 3) complete the set, with each integral member applying their wealth of experience to fit a wide variety of roles.
“The company started in conversations between myself and Scott Sinclair, who was the art director on Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite. So we were the starting point of it.” Dowling says. “We were specific about the people we reached out to and the people we wanted to work with in the future. There were certainly people who were interested in working with us that we didn’t think we had a spot for on our small team. We were careful about who we extended the offer of coming to work with us for nothing to.” he jokes.
The Molasses Flood’s first game, The Flame in the Flood, comfortably achieved its $150,000 Kickstarter goal, raising $250,000 by its conclusion on November 7th 2014. While still a brilliant achievement, this sum pales in comparison to the rumoured budget for Dowling’s last project, Bioshock Infinite, which a New York Times analyst estimated cost $100m to develop – a claim which Infinite’s creative lead Ken Levine denies.
“The main difference that I see between the two is what resources that you have at your disposal. Working on a big AAA game, there’s a sense that you can set your sights on anything and you can do it. You can spend your way through any problem.” Dowling explains. “With the six of us working off of, initially, savings and now, the money we got from Kickstarter, there’s never been a point where what we can do is anything. From the beginning we needed to think very explicitly about scope, how much can we do in a reasonable amount of time, what we can do well.” he adds.
The Flame in the Flood is slated for a July 2015 release.
Be sure to check back for part two of our interview with Forrest on Saturday! Following this first interview, our next interviews will air on Mondays and Wednesdays, with the next interview airing on the 12th and then on.