Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We believe they deserve a wider audience with the Joystiq Indie Pitch: This week, Eric Provan dissects the beauty of rain, hallucinations and mystery with Spate, coming to PC, Mac and Linux in Q3.
My game is called Spate. Spate is the journey of one man's descent into madness that is fueled by his addiction to absinthe, following the tragic death of his daughter. He is hired to investigate mysterious disappearances that have been occurring on an island offshore, and figures that he has nothing left to lose. The detective hopes to uncover some of the island's mysteries, but is finding it increasingly difficult to battle his own pain. As his absinthe use increases it becomes harder and harder for him to tell reality from fiction. Soon he finds he is fighting for more than just the missing people – he is fighting against the madness as well.
Out of all the drinks someone can be addicted to, why absinthe?
Truthfully, absinthe began as an excuse for me to make weird stuff. I love abstract art, and needed a logical reason to include it in the game. Today it is mostly debunked, but for hundreds of years it had been thought that absinthe caused hallucinations. This works for the steampunk theme, the gameplay, the story and the visuals. Spate tackles some heavy subject matter: In the end, is its goal to be fun or to deliver a deeper message?
Quite frankly, I don't think I am intelligent enough to deliver a deep message. Spate is an extension of myself, so it's not all serious. I mean, there's a pooping robot. That's not to say that there is no message in Spate, but I think the goal is to evoke a feeling in people, not to ram my ideas down their throats.
How has it been juggling your personal life with the development of Spate?
Its funny. I remember seeing Indie Game: The Movie, which is all about the unbelievable struggles of developing an indie game, and thinking, "Damn, these guys had it pretty easy." That of course isn't true, but the bottom line is that life is tough. In the time that I began developing Spate I have had two daughters, my father passed away, my family moved six times (two of those being 3,000-mile moves), my cat died, my daughter broke her leg, and I've averaged five hours of sleep a night.
The key for me has been my amazing wife, Holly, keeping my head afloat, and this passionate belief that Spate is something special.
What's the coolest aspect of Spate?
The rain. I jokingly call Spate the most damp game ever made. But it may just be true. Spate grew out of my love of rain. I began thinking of all the movies that I love and what they have in common. Stalker, Dark City, Blade Runner, Big Trouble in Little China. It was rain! I began thinking of the feeling that I get when I sit at my window watching and listening to the rain come down. It's a special feeling, and it's one that I am determined to achieve with Spate.
What inspired you to make Spate?
The inspiration for Spate is all over the place. When you work on something for so long (nearing three years), it becomes very personal, and it becomes an extension of yourself. For this, Spate is a combination of many things that I am interested in. Rain, steampunk, platformers, Bela Tarr films, Arrested Development, mysteries and more rain.
I should say though, that a big focus of inspiration for the past year has been Dear Esther and its writer/creative director Dan Pinchbeck. In short, I just think that Dan has tapped into something very beautiful with Dear Esther and this idea of allowing players to come to some of their own conclusions without ramming complex controls and a mountain of story down their throats.
How has your work with Jim Henson, Sony Pictures Animation and Disney influenced your approach to game development?
Besides the obvious art influences, I think the biggest thing I've learned working at these large studios is the importance of organization and having a pipeline. Even if you know every step in the pipeline, if you're doing something huge like making a game, you have to stay on top of everything.
A well-respected game designer recently asked me about my Kickstarter experience. I had a hard time recommending it for him or anyone else. Yes, Kickstarter helped me. I earned $15,000 and gained about 750 backers – backers that at times seem as passionate as myself for this game, which is so cool! But, I am essentially a one-man team (with composer Mike Raznick and part-time programmer Temo Kokiashvili), and managing all of the backer rewards, the money, the feedback, the press, and this huge friggin' game has been unbelievably hard and stressful.
Spate is very new to Greenlight, but things seem to be going well so far. The interest in Spate seems high. Here's to hoping it stays that way!
Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
Absolutely not. I accidentally stumbled into the indie scene. I was developing Spate as a short film, and a friend just happened to be playing around with the game engine Unity 3D. I was smitten. With the engine, not the friend.
I haven't looked back since, but I also haven't really proven myself. Until then, God bless the indies that are a part of the indie movement!
Spate is due out on PC, Mac and Linux in Q3, possibly on Steam if it gets through the Greenlight process. Check it out on Greenlight here, or keep your eyes on its main website.
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