Lacuna Passage – An interview with creator Tyler Owen Kyle Arsenault July 13, 2013 Features, Games, Indie Stash, Linux, Mac, PC 1 Comment Pre-Amble: Random Seed Games was founded by Tyler Owens in 2010. After developing an IOS game (Iceberg Frenzy) and a puzzle-shooter on Newgrounds (Protobotic), work on Lacuna Passage was started. I recently sat down with Tyler and proceeded to grill him on this new, mysterious title. Here is the result of that interview: ME: Hello Everyone! This is Two Dash Stash and here we are interviewing Tyler Owen, founder of Random Seed Games. Today we’re gonna talk about their kickstarter project Lacuna Passage. An exploration/survival game based on Mars. So Tyler, tell us a bit about your past games and what those games will bring to your project Lacuna Passage. TYLER: Sure, well i’ve been developing in Unity for several years now, for a couple of different companies, and that’s really what brought me to developing for Lacuna Passage. I realized pretty quickly that Unity is a pretty powerful game engine, especially for independent developers who may not have a big team to help them develop, and so I kind of just wanted to develop my dream project. I decided, go big or go home. “I decided to go big or go home…” ME: That’s a very good sentiment to have. A lot of games nowadays, the ones that go big, and the ones that achieve their ambition, they are fondly remembered. I remember some games called Proteus and Dear Esther, which incidentally, when I was looking at your kickstarter page, that was the first game I thought of (as a primary influence). TYLER: Yeah, those were two really big influences for us. ME: I swear to god, As I was perusing your kickstarter page, the first thing I thought of was Dear Esther. I scroll down to see some of the quotes in your press kit, and i’m like “oh, I guess I wasn’t the first one to think of that”. TYLER: Yeah, I think that style of gameplay, I don’t think, has been fully explored. I think there’s a big market for games that allow you to just walk around and explore different areas, especially areas that you might never be able to explore on your own. ME: I own Dear Esther and Proteus. I think a lot of gamers do appreciate the ability to walk around and immerse themselves in beautiful game worlds. Just looking at the assets that you are putting together, the terrain on mars, the ghostly isolation aspect, it seems like, that it is going to be a good experience. So, what other influences did you have for the game’s design? And what are the limits that you hope to push with this game? TYLER: Sure, I think one of the other, I think, really major influences for us is the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think for me that, that movie embodies a sense of kind of reaching out and exploring beyond our earthly, human, capabilities. So I was trying to figure out how we could, maybe, encapsulate that in a game, that allowed you to kind of take on a role of an astronaut doing something like that. Reaching out into areas that we haven’t explored before and letting you play that role. And then another aspect of inspiration for us is, actually, from a few different games like Pokemon Snap or Fatal Frame, where a lot of what you do is you kind of capture imagery of your surroundings and almost get to play amateur photographer in the areas that you’re exploring. ” What you do is you…get to play amateur photographer” ME: Yes, it seems like when i’m watching some of the videos (of gameplay footage), you are using the photos to get a lot of screenshots, or take images of the gameworld. Are those (photos) significant factors in solving some of the puzzles? Is it more of an immersive game option? Or will it integrate itself into the game as a solid element? TYLER: It’s a little bit of both. I think that, for some people, they may not be interested in the story and they may just want to walk around and take photos, but it is actually a very important mechanic in telling our narrative because it allows the player to essentially document everything that they find. So, instead of having the player need to write things down or pick up an object, they can actually just take a photo of it and reference that photo later. That even goes into a little bit of the meta-game, where when you take a photo in the game, that image is saved onto your hard drive and it has a file name string that references the time and location that you took the photo in the game. So if you wanted to share that information, or a clue that you’ve found, with someone else who’s playing the game on their own, you could just send them that screenshot and it would tell them exactly where you took that photo and at what time. ME: That does sound like it would be a very interesting mechanic to implement. Is there a meta-game where you can actually interact with friends, with this element? TYLER: We’re not designing any specific multiplayer type features, but we hope to encourage a kind of community around the game, that is focused on solving some of the larger mysteries and working beyond just what they, alone, can figure out. ME: It seems that this game is also, besides being a story based exploration/adventure game, it’s also got some heavy survival influences. I notice in the videos you have oxygen meters, you have battery power displays, as well as a few other things. Tell us a bit more about the survival aspect of your game. TYLER: Sure, it’s actually something that…we’re not looking to be the most hardcore survival simulator out there, it’s more of just trying to inject a little bit more reality into the concept of survival. So, I don’t think that many people will find it difficult to survive, it’ll just feel more immersive because they’re looking at statistics that relate to the actual health and well-being of your character, rather than just a health bar, or stamina bar, or something like that. It just helps to immerse you in the role of an astronaut, to see things like blood glucose levels and other health related statistics. “It just helps to immerse you in the role of an astronaut…” ME: That shows an impressive attention to detail in your game. Looking at some of the press kits , some of the videos, it also seems like your game will be accurate to potential future technologies used to land on mars, it’s accurate to the terrain by using satellite maps of the entire region (of mars). So tell us a bit more about the amount of detail you’ve managed to pack into Lacuna Passage. TYLER: For us it’s a way to easily utilize existing information to immerse you into that role. So, if you’re going to be an astronaut you’re going to expect to see things that you see in all the imagery sent back from the mars rover. So we’re specifically using the terrain data from the highrise experiment through NASA. That gives us a level of fidelity for the landscape that is only really seen in the shots that you see from the mars rover. So it really feels like you’re there and it gives us, kind of, an excuse to not have as much art production to do in sculpting that terrain. It adds a level of detail that we couldn’t get any other way and it prevents us from having to do extremely time consuming levels of detail and art sculpting. “it really feels like you’re there” ME: That kind of leads into my next question, which is…I notice that Random Seed Games is composed of an entirely volunteer team at the moment, with some contractors thrown in. And on your kickstarter, you are asking for the the 40,000 minimum pledge. Tell us about the pressures of the volunteer team dynamic working on this game and what impact the kickstarter goal will have on your team. TYLER: Well I think, for the most part, a lot of our volunteers are doing this because this is the kind of game that they want to see made. They want to play something like this so for them it’s very much a passion project, but at some point I would like to compensate them the work they’re doing, and the art and everything else. I personally have experience in just about every realm of game development, so i’m confident that I could do a majority of the work on my own, but they are able to help me out along the way with little bits and pieces that I can’t do. Then I’ll be specifically bringing on a contractor to do additional programming and then one more part time artist, just to cover all of our bases. In general, with using the Unity engine to develop the game, I think people are often impressed at how much you can do with such a small team. “… people are often impressed at how much you can do with such a small team” ME: I notice that you already have a composer, Clark Aboud, and he is hard at work, he already has a lot of music done. I’ve been listening to some of the music and it’s very much giving me a Dear Esther-ic vibe, if you will, and it’s because of that that I really think that this game will be as immersive as you guys are planning. Dear Esther and Proteus, those games were immersive because of their musical design, soundtrack and sound design, alongside their art and gameplay. Is that what you’re hoping to achieve with your music? Are you hoping for that to drive the experience or merely glide over it? TYLER: I think that for the most part it is going to be a very integral part of the game. A lot of comments on our Kickstarter, and other places where we’ve demonstrated the game, bring up the concern that the landscape might be a little bit boring to explore and in my experience in building the game and testing it, I think that when you have the music driving you, it’s more of a meditative state. It’s not about having giant set-piece objects to view every ten feet, it’s more about the journey of going from one place to another and when the landscape is that desolate, having the music to drive you and keep you thinking about what your next target is really neat. I think Clark’s been doing an excellent job of getting that mood and feeling of loneliness that we’re looking for. ME: I also notice that there are reportedly no enemies or weapons in the game. TYLER: That’s right. When I think about exploring outer space I try to avoid the cliches of Hollywood science fiction that any kind of space mission is gonna run into violent aliens or something like that. Our mission does have its pitfalls and failures and crashes and stuff but, those are things that might be reasonable to have happen for a first mission to mars. It’s grounded in reality but there are some elements there to keep the tension built up. “…there are some elements there to keep the tension built up” ME: The passion that you guys are bringing to the team is like, there have been lots of games developed by smaller teams and the focus they bring is astounding. You have games like Fez, Proteus, Dear Esther, Dust: An Elysian Tale, all developed by small teams of one to ten people. Your team seems to have a lot of passion and they seem to have a good idea of what they’re trying to accomplish and I think that Lacuna Passage will be a great game to experience. …”Lacuna Passage will be a great game to experience.” TYLER: Why thank you. Yeah, I think, when I started this project with just myself and a couple other close friends, we didn’t quite know what the reaction would be and when we started to preview the game and show it around, that’s when all these volunteers started coming out of the woodwork and we realize that we kind of hit on something that a lot of people are looking for. It really wasn’t difficult to find people passionate about helping us out. ME: You have Lacuna Passage on kickstarter, as of the time of this interview it has reached 15,000$ of its goal, and you still have almost a full month to go. If this game doesn’t meet its goal, what will happen to the game? TYLER: I think it’s highly unlikely that we’d be able to fulfill the full vision for the game. What I would probably focus on doing if we were unsuccessful in our funding goal would be to package what we’ve completed so far and throw in some things we are currently working on, just to show “this is what we’ve managed to accomplish in the time that we’ve spent on it”. I currently have a full-time job and without this kickstarter I just wouldn’t be able to devote the time required to complete it. It’s be unfortunate but i don’t think it would come to a completion if we were not successful. ME: On the flip-side of the coin, if the game actually succeeds, what are you planning to do after that? What do you think this path will lead to if it is a success, which I very much hope it will be. TYLER: I honestly have no idea, it’s so hard to gauge. Obviously we’re finding a base of people interested through kickstarter and other places, but I have no idea what the reaction would be throughout the rest of development or up to release. My only real hope would be that we’d be able to make enough to feed ourselves and maybe even make another game. ME: Alright, this has been TwoDashStash interviewing Tyler Owen, Thank you very much for joining us, for the game Lacuna Passage. It’s on kickstarter right now. It will be released for PC, Mac and Linux. Do you have a release date in mind? TYLER: It will probably be the end of 2014. ME: So, go and vote for it, go and back it, it is a very promising game. Thank you very much for reading and we’ll see you next time! Dev Site: Random Seed Games Links to the kickstarter: Todd Black Hey Kyle nice job on this! I like the look of the game. Oh and that he mentioned Pokémon Snap was awesome as well. Will definitely check it out!