Posted on April 22, 2014 AT 05:00pm
Welcome to Under the Radar, a column designed to expand your gaming horizons by highlighting the most interesting work from small and independent developers. Each week, you’ll get a rundown of indie-centric news stories and announcements, a game recommendation to help build your indie street cred, and the Main Event—a rotating segment featuring developer interviews, gameplay impressions, opinion pieces, or whatever else I feel like sharing.
While you’ll no doubt hear about the aggressively hyped juggernauts of the indie world from time to time, I’ll also strive to give you info on the deep cuts and the up-and-comers, the interesting fringe where weird meets brilliant. Let’s dive in.
This week, I chat with Tristan Moore, a man whose only goal in life is apparently to give children nightmares.
EGM: What’s your background? How’d you get into indie development?
Tristan Moore: I have about four or five years of experience now working in games, simulations, and film. I did some theatre when I first started out, and I worked on the movie Due Date as a production assistant, and I was also an extra in the movie Year One with Jack Black.
EGM: I don’t know if I would tell people about that.
Moore: Yeah, I don’t know if that’s a good thing to share. I started working in games and simulations in 2010. The first job I actually got was a military contract, where we were doing an AI simulation, and I did the 3D graphics for it. After that, I did an internship with Massive Black, then I got a job at THQ just before it shut down. Then I ended up working for a year as a designer at Redacted Studios, which is a bunch of former Namco Bandai guys who worked on Afro Samurai and Crash Bandicoot and a bunch of stuff like that. Now I want to move on with my own project, Grave, which my wife and I are working on [along with] a couple of our work colleagues.
EGM: So what would tell someone who hasn’t heard anything about Grave yet to sell them on the experience?
Moore: Grave is basically a surrealist survival horror experience set in a world that is constantly changing. The game uses a day/night cycle, not just to change how the confrontations are engaged but also how the world evolves through play. You actually see the world shifting and changing as you experience the game. And that’ll ramp up much more as the game progresses. Our goal is to basically create a surreal, supernatural reality that breaks most of the rules you would normally have in your head for how a game environment works. We’re looking to capture some of the feeling of old school horror experiences where you’re not afraid because something is jumping out and saying “Boo!” at you but because of the context that you’re currently in, the situation and how prepared you are for it.
EGM: What are some of the aspects of modern horror games that you guys want to avoid?
Moore: There’s actually two layers to that. There’s the modern AAA horror game, and then there’s the modern indie horror game. There’s a couple of things in both that we wanted to avoid, to be honest. The biggest thing with AAA horror games is that they just can’t resist a situation that emphasizes combat too heavily. You will always feel somewhat overpowered by the time you reach the two or three hour mark in a standard AAA horror game.
One of the things we did to avoid that is get rid of the idea of there being guns at all. But we didn’t want it to be [like many indie horror games, where] you’re completely without options. You still have tools—they just behave a little bit differently. You have a flashlight, and that flashlight can harm some creatures, but it doesn’t harm all of them. You still have resources, but it’s not about how much ammo you can stockpile. It’s about what you’re doing in a given situation and how you react to the creatures you encounter.
A lot of games have kind of a one-note system, where you figure out how you deal with one type of creature and that extends into every other encounter. With Grave, we want each creature type you encounter has a drastically different interaction with your inventory. One may be repelled by flares, one may actually be attracted by flares. One may be hurt by a flashlight, one may become more angry when you hit them with a flashlight.
EGM: You guys are currently running a campaign on Kickstarter to fund further development on the game. You’re getting closer to your funding goal, but you’re not quite there yet and there are only a few days left. If you don’t make it, is that the end of Grave?
Moore: So, we just got accepted into the ID@Xbox program, and it looks like we’re actually going to be greenlit on Steam, so it wouldn’t make any sense for us to stop working on Grave if we didn’t get our Kickstarter funding. That being said, I don’t want to discourage people from caring about the outcome. We don’t know for sure how we’re going to get there if we don’t get the Kickstarter funding, but there are other options. It may take us a lot longer, but we plan on making sure the game comes out regardless. It’s something we’re really passionate about bringing to light.
EGM: What made you guys decide to go with ID@Xbox as opposed to other platforms?
Moore: We’re not in a mutually exclusive deal with them. Actually, it was really just kind of timing. We ended up meeting a Microsoft rep [at GDC] who was really excited about the game. At that point, we really hadn’t been planning anything in particular related to consoles, so it kind of blindsided us. We actually would like to get on PS4 as well. We just didn’t make the right connections to be able to move that forward quickly. I would fully expect that we would be moving to PS4 soon.
EGM: What’s the scariest anything—film, TV, game, book—you’ve ever experienced?
Moore: Oh, man. I would say Requiem for a Dream, the Darren Aronofsky film about drug abuse. A close second to that would be Takashi Miike’s Audition. Those are probably my top two.
EGM: Last question: What’s your favorite game of all time?
Moore: It depends on how far back I have to go. If I really am being fully honest, I have to go with a boring answer and actually say The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It’s probably the most formative game that I’ve played. I still think that, even now, if we hadn’t had that particular game, like half the game genres we have wouldn’t exist. I also think that the original Half-Life was a huge inspiration for me, and the original Silent Hill was actually the moment I decided I wanted to make videogames.
If you’d like to find out more about Grave, check out the game’s official website, Kickstarter campaign, and Steam Greenlight page. If you’d like to try it out yourself, you can download an early (but still pretty damn unsettling) work-in-progress demo for free over at Indie DB.
This week, it seemed like most of the indie game community was swept up in the aftermath of PAX East. That means there was news breaking during the show (like a new game from Drinkbox!) and a bunch of hands-on impressions that have gone up since, but not a lot of lingering headlines to cull for you. Since I didn’t get a chance to make it out to Boston, I can’t give you much in the way of my own recommendations, so I’ll just use this space to direct you to Chris and Eric’s rundown of the best indie titles they saw at the show. I’m not just being lazy, either. They saw some interesting stuff I’d never heard of before, so take a gander when you get a chance. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled roundup next week.
My past two recommendations have been all touchy-feely and pixelated—a little conventionally indie, if you like—so this time I thought I’d mix things up by highlighting Receiver, an experimental first-person shooter roguelike. The game was originally made for a week-long game jam, and while developer Wolfire Games (of Lugaru and Overgrowth fame) has expanded the concept a bit from that original prototype, it’s still not quite as polished I’d hope for. It’s definitely playable and feature-complete, though, and its fresh take on a stale genre is well worth enduring a stuttering framerate and some overlapping textures.
Essentially, Receiver makes interacting with its guns as naturalistic as possible. Want to reload? You’ll have to eject the magazine, place it in an inventory slot, pick up another, slide it back into the gun, and pull back on the slide to chamber a round—all step by step, all with a key press dedicated to each specific action. At first, it’s a little overwhelming, but as you grow accustomed to it, you get a feel for how and why the weapon works on a deeper level than other FPS games. At the very least, Receiver makes an interesting case that even the most well-worn genres still have a lot of interesting design innovation waiting to be discovered. If you’d like to give it a shot, you can pick up the game for $4.99 through Wolfire’s official site or on Steam.
Are you an indie developer? Are you making a game that reveals the secret evil nature of capitalist society that’s been right under our fat, lazy noses this whole time? Would you like it to be featured on an upcoming installment of Under the Radar? Shoot a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with “UTR” in the subject line and I’ll do my best to make your dreams come true.
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