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The Flame in the Flood – The Rising Tide of The Molasses Flood | Exclusive Interview

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[dropcap size=small]O[/dropcap]n 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 aftermath of the Boston molasses flood.

The aftermath of the Boston molasses flood.

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.

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“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.

Lead Interview and Features editor. Eats, games, and leaves. Tweet at me! @Jiffe93

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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