Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Lifless Planet interview with Dave Board

Kingwhybrow:
Hello Stage 2 Studios, could you give some details about your company and how you started off making games?

Dave:
Well I’ve been playing games since the 80s. My family’s first PC was actually a Commodore VIC-20 with 3 KB of ram and you saved your programs to an audio cassette tape! I started making games back then and then turned more towards graphic design and then web development. I’ve done some Flash games, but nothing like a full feature-length game. Then about 15 years ago I discovered mapping for the Source engine and I was hooked. It took the discovery of the Unity engine, however, to realize I could make a full game.

Stage 2 is a joint venture that produces video and interactive media, especially for nonprofits and education. I handle the interactive side (apps/web) and my partner John Conn does the (amazing) video production work. Lifeless Planet originally started as a proof of concept project to show what we’re capable of...but it quickly took a life of its own and became so much more!

Kingwhybrow:
What made you port the game over to XboxOne from the PC?

Dave: 
Xbox has always been my platform of choice, but it really was Microsoft who reached out to me at PAX Prime a couple years ago. Microsoft really is working hard to help indies through ID@XBOX. It’s a good time to be an indie dev as the big platforms are competing for indie talent. It was a challenging but rewarding experience. The game is selling extremely well!


Kingwhybrow:
How long did it take you to make Lifeless Planet?

Dave:
I started work on it over four years ago! However, the core development took more like two and a half years, and some of that was because I had other projects competing for my time. The downside of owning our own company was sometimes client projects took us away from game development. But the upside was it helped to fund the project so there was never a danger that we’d run out of funding. And boy did it cost more than expected!


Kingwhybrow:
What inspired you to come up with the concept for this game?.

Dave:
Well the secret there is that I purposely picked a theme that would help limit the scope of the world. I figured a barren landscape would help to make the production go a little easier vs a Far Cry type of world since I was a one man team. But then it forced me to come up with a backstory that made sense? Why would you go to a lifeless planet? You wouldn’t... so what happened that caused the planet to become lifeless when you thought it was Earth-like? And that was the first of many mysteries.

I often find that production limitations often lead to creative inspirations. Sometimes when the tools or talent are restricted, innovation steps in with interesting story or narrative elements.
There were other elements of the story that came later as I started to think about what would be interesting to find on an exoplanet. I realized aliens or bizarre life forms might not be as surprising as finding evidence of a human presence. This just seemed like such an interesting hook, and it was definitely inspired by my interest if classic science fiction from the Cold War era.

Kingwhybrow:
The gameplay itself is really basic but challenging. Did you want to add other features to the game?

Dave:
Yes, I left a few items out, but also added a few other I didn’t originally have in my game design doc (yes, I wrote a pretty long design doc and it really saved my butt). I tried to err on the side of light puzzles so players would be encouraged to play through the whole game and not get stuck. I loved games like Myst and Riven, but I didn’t finish them because the puzzles were so abstract and then life would step in and I didn’t make it back to them. Lifeless Planet is so much about story and experience that I didn’t want to break that flow. I think it worked because so many people say they play through in one or two sittings.


Kingwhybrow:
Each level is really well disigned, looks like a desolate planet but makes you feel like your alone all the time. How many level disigns did you come up with?

Dave:
I did a little bit of sketching on paper, and I had plot points and written descriptions, but a lot of it happened in Unity with just sculpting terrains and seeing what worked. I spent a lot of time composing “shots”... areas where the player walks out of a tunnel or over a ridge and is presented with some new, interesting or strange scene. It’s hard to to because the player is in control of the camera, but I tried to compel the player to look in a certain direction based on the flow or the lay of the land.


Kingwhybrow:
Why weren't the levels bigger, for example I enjoyed exploring each area and trying to find everything. Could this of been option?

Dave:
I tried to strike a balance of creating a sense of vastness but without a sense of vast boredom. So some levels are more open in design, but there’s always an indication of where to go next, or what the objective is and how to get there. I actually think some of the levels should’ve been tighter. There’s a few spots where you have to walk or run or jetpack a few seconds more and I wish I could’ve shortened those up. There are actually a number of side areas to explore, but it’s easy to miss them on the first playthrough. The bottom line though is that the game is about the story, so I tried to lead the player through without them feeling too much like they’re being led. It’s a tricky thing to pull off and I know I wasn’t perfect, but I’m pretty pleased with the flow.


Kingwhybrow:
There's an achievement for completing the game under 4 hours, what's your best time you have seen?

Dave:
Honestly I believe it’s been done in under 2 hours but I’m not sure of the fastest time right now. There are some areas where you can sort of cheat your way through an area and so it will be interesting to see what the fastest run will be. Of course, fast runs should be on replays and not the first time through! =)


Kingwhybrow:
Could we see a Lifeless Planet 2 maybe or any other titles from you in the near future?

Dave:
I have some really exciting ideas for the future, but I’m not ready to share those yet!

1 comment:

  1. Good interview! It's always great to see the human side of developers.

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