This interview is by Acep Hale.
My Dear Unknown Friend,
When Mike Davis asks me, “Are you a video game guy?” I know what’s coming. By the time he sends me the url I have phone in hand, because lets face it, most Lovecraftian projects on Kickstarter tend to blur together. Gibbous had me booting up my laptop and downloading its demo within seconds of scrolling through their page.
What follows is one of the easiest and most enthusiastic interviews I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. In an industry where jargon filled non-speak is considered clever, Stuck in the Attic’s passion, love for the material, and strong drive for excellence shine through not only in the speed of their responses during late hours on the other side of the world but also with off the top of the head deep knowledge. These cats aren’t just slapping Uncle Howie’s name and a few tentacles on a slipshod Flash game to jump on a trending cash cow, this is a passion project that has them burning the midnight oil and sacrificing their own blood, sweat, and tears.
Q: First of all congratulations, when Mike Davis sent me to your Kickstarter page the first thought through my head was, “Holy crap, mid-90’s Lucas Arts!” Then I saw not only Grim Fandango but also Richard Pryor in your thumbnails and all was right in the world. So what inspired you crazy cats to give HPL the adventure game treatment?
A: Thank you for having us! We were fortunate enough to start making a game with complete creative freedom, so, inevitably, I was tempted to mix in apparently unrelated things that I love into a single whole, as coherently as possible. To me, adventure games are the ideal genre to make a Lovecraftian game in: it’s all about the atmosphere, the tension, and the exploration of strange surroundings. It also leaves a little wiggle room for us to mix in some comedy, which is especially tricky to pull off if you’re doing cosmic horror, but I think that if you play the demo you’ll be convinced it can be a fun combination. The wide range of influences, from Pryor to Twain to Hitchcock, helps me keep things fresh and interesting while writing the script and dialog, and ensures Gibbous doesn’t become a one-note story.
I’ve also made a video that details how we’ll be approaching this uncommon marriage of Lovecraft, comedy and adventure games.
Q: The game looks amazing and the high standards that you’re holding to are quite frankly mind blowing on multiple levels. Since we’re on the topic, would you mind telling us what cosmic horror means to you?
A: Cosmic horror is the best kind of horror! I like my thrills multi-layered, and the subtler the better. The best thing about cosmic horror, especially in literature, is that it relies heavily on atmosphere, and it hints more than it describes. It also plays into the cold reality that we are but puny dust particles in the universe, which lends the genre a good degree of “this could actually be happening”-ness. The hinting and never actually going into detail is one of the reasons cosmic horror’s translation into the visual arts is very tricky, and when it comes to video games, the difficulty’s amplified even more. Even though we’re making a comedy / cosmic horror hybrid, we’ll be extra careful to not diminish how intimidating and awesome (in the obsolete sense of the word) our cosmic abominations are, and how that will contrast with the significantly weaker, bumbling, human characters.
Q: Were there any specific stories from the Lovecraftian canon that the team at Stuck in the Attic are utilizing in designing Gibbous?
A: All of them! …Just kidding. My all-time absolute favorite is “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, so that will be heavily referenced when our characters travel to Fishmouth. I might say “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, “The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward”, and “Herbert West, Reanimator” are the main inspirations for Gibbous‘ plot, but it goes beyond just referencing them or paying homage. We don’t want it to just be a mish-mash of nods to the Master’s work, but blend all the influences and themes into something that makes sense in and of itself. We want people who aren’t at all familiar with Lovecraft’s work to enjoy the game and fully understand the plot, and maybe we can also nudge them toward reading his incredible work while we’re at it.
Q: The decision to go with frame by frame animation over tweening speaks volumes to the high standards I wrote of before, the comparison of the two you show on your Kickstarter page should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind on that issue. I see on your devlog that you list Steve Purcell as an influence. Who else in animation would you count as an influence?
A: Yeah, Steve Purcell is an incredible artist and animator, a major influence on our work on Gibbous. From the Lucas ranks I’d also mention Larry Ahern, Day of the Tentacle animator and lead on Curse of Monkey Island (who’s been playing the Gibbous demo, which is incredible!). Chuck Jones and other Warner Brothers legends are also an important influence on Gibbous, just like they were on games that inspired us. We’re also hardcore fans of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, we watch them religiously! And, last but not least, Glen Keane, the legendary Disney animator, who is one of the best there ever were – a true living genius. They’re all people we really look up to, and they inspire us to try and make Gibbous‘ animation better with every frame we draw.
Q: I also read that you are writing unique lines of dialogue for every possible combination of inventory item and environmental hotspot. Do I detect a hint of Maniac Mansion influence in this decision? Does this mean we may see some of MM’s style of non-linear gameplay based upon our character choices?
A: I’m a little hesitant to experiment with Maniac Mansion’s non-linearity, even though that was revolutionary, what, 30 years ago? We are very ambitious, but at the same time it’s good to know your limits, and it’s ideal to foresee pitfalls that you might encounter as first-time adventure game developers. So, we probably will go the classic 90s, linear story-telling way, but the unique lines of dialogue will definitely be a thing – and, if we hit our Ultra Fully Voiced stretch-goal, each of the tens of thousands of lines will be professionally voice acted. That will be so cool.
Q: I think you have made a great decision on knowing your limits yet at the same time the results on the demo are impressive. I read that in your city’s population you’re limited in finding skilled animators, yet the music and voice acting in the Gibbous Demo are quite simply outstanding. Would you mind taking a moment and breaking down the processes you’ve used for the voice acting and on composing the game’s soundtrack?
A: Sure! The voice acting is the one thing we won’t do ourselves – well, there will definitely be some local voice talent present (we are going to Transylvania in the game, after all), but we wanted really strong performances in English. I didn’t really know where to turn to at first, but I contacted a very talented voice actor who’s also a casting director (he plays the Taxi Driver in the demo), and from there on he really helped out by recommending actors and providing samples of their work, which was very helpful and stress-free. As for composing the soundtrack, both Cami and I are really into making music (we played in a band together, too), so we are handling soundtrack duties ourselves. So far, it’s mostly virtual instruments plus guitars, but we hope we can hit the stretch goal that will allow us to replace the virtual instruments with real ones played by local talented musicians.
Q: I saw that the game has already been green lit by Steam with the game being available on Linux from the beginning. Can you speak on the experiences of going through that process with Steam and were there any special hurdles you’ve had to overcome in releasing a demo for PC, Mac and Linux at the same time? I have to tell you, as a long time Linux user (Ubuntu 16.04) when I saw that I did yet another, “These cats are alright.”
A: Steam was surprisingly fun and fast: we got Greenlit in 10 days, and the feedback in the comments was positive and very encouraging. Linux was something we really wanted to offer upfront, starting with the demo – it’s an incredible community that deserves having more games developed for them! The Mac and Linux ports were a little bit more tricky – there are so many Linux versions out there, and we didn’t have time to test it on all of them; same in Mac’s case, but in regard to the hardware part. All in all, folks appreciated our effort to try and make Gibbous available to as many people as possible, and that’s what we’re aiming for: make a polished, fun game, and, even if the genre is a little niche, make it enjoyable and available for everyone.
Q: The Pixie’s video that you created is wonderful. How did it come about that you came to work with such a legendary band?
A: Thanks, that was such a thrill! We just sort of reached out to them and told them we’d be honored if they’d consider us for a music video. It just so happened that they were releasing new material, so they shot a song our way, with one catch: circumstances made it so we had exactly one month to make the video. That is an *extremely* tight deadline per se, let alone for a fully animated video. But hey, we worked hard, sometimes up to 12-14 hours a day, and did it! What was very exciting about it was that they gave us complete creative freedom, and we didn’t show them much of anything until the video was 99% done, which was a very risky move… But they loved it! And it was extra tricky, since the song’s lyrics are, ahem, let’s say strange – so we made sure the video really reflected that. The video was nominated at the International Music Video Awards Festival in Paris in 2014, so we’re pretty proud of our month’s worth of work.
Q: Finally, I would like to thank all of you for one of the easiest and most fascinating interviews I’ve enjoyed in a long time. Any last words you’d like to share with our readers in the last days of your Kickstarter push?
A: Thank you, Acep, good questions make for fun answers! I’d just invite your readers to give the campaign a look, give the demo a try, and assure them that we’re putting a pretty interesting spin on the Lovecraft plus gaming thing. Swing by for the cosmic horror, stay for the point and click fun!