I was very happy to catch up with Graham Ranson and Simon Pearce of Glitch Games to chat about their mobile adventures and their plans for releasing to the Desktop market.
JA: I really appreciate you taking the time to introduce yourselves and Glitch Games to the Just Adventure community. We’ve traditionally focused on Desktop gaming and this is one of our first forays into the world of iOS/Android offerings. I'm a big fan of the Forever Lost series (Read my review of the Forever Lost series) and am delighted to find out more about how your games evolved and what your plans are for the future. Would you tell us a little about yourselves and how Glitch came to be?
Graham: We started Glitch in January 2012, Simon was fresh out of Uni whilst I had been out a couple of years, both sharing the similar dream of “not getting a real job”.
We had originally planned on making educational apps for children, and actually did make some, but after just a few months we found ourselves working on what would become Forever Lost: Episode 1.
Simon: We both went to the same school and college so we already knew each other quite well when we formed Glitch Games. We’d meet up occasionally when I was home from university and one night over a few drinks the idea of making apps cropped up, the rest is history.
JA: For someone unfamiliar with Forever Lost, how would you describe the game(s)?
Graham: In short, it’s a psychological adventure game played through a first person perspective. It is split across 3 episodes and one short prequel episode; however, all of these have already been released so there will be no waiting for the next episode.
Simon: All of the games are filled with puzzles of varying complexity, ranging from audible and light-based puzzles through to pun and riddle style puzzles. It’s very much story-driven without force-feeding the player mountains of text and dialogue.
JA: Forever Lost is a perfect blend of artwork, story, music and puzzles. How did you bring it all together and how did the story of Jason, Hugo and Alice evolve?
Simon: It’s just like building blocks. We’ve always known how the game would begin and end, so we set the foundations with the story. From here we could create a location and start adding in the puzzles. Once we had all of this we needed some music that would help set the tone. Richard J Moir did a great job with the soundtrack and it certainly helps add to the isolated and haunting feel of the game.
JA: The puzzles you’ve created are some of the cleverest that I’ve ever encountered. Who is the brainchild behind these and where do you get your ideas?
Graham: I’d like to say it’s a 50/50 split between the both of us; however, I honestly feel that it swings more towards Simon. I quite often come up with an idea for something, which Simon then takes and transforms into a much better, often completely different, idea.
It is still very much a collaborative system though where we work together to refine the ideas down until they are workable and interesting.
Simon: I would actually say that it is a 50/50 split. Some of our best puzzles have grown from a simple observation or statement that Graham or I make, and then our brains run wild until we settle on an idea that actually works. I think I have a slight advantage because all of my work is visual. I can see the way shadows fall, items appear, puzzles work; which all lead to new ideas because they are almost always evolving and presenting new options to me visually.
We always work best when we are bouncing ideas off each other. I usually hit creative roadblocks when attempting to create puzzles alone.
JA: Ferris Meuller’s Day Off is an equally delightful adventure with a completely different look and feel. My guess is that you must have had some real fun creating it. Can you share a little about it?.
Graham: Haha yea that was a lot of fun, we really pushed gaming to new heights of puns with that one. We really just wanted to do something a little different before working on Episode 3, as it can get a little gloomy, and hit upon the game completely by accident.
Simon and I were discussing films via email and somehow we got onto the topic of John Hughes and then, one accidental typo later, we had the title of our next game. We didn’t know what we were going to do with it but for some reason, quite possibly sleep deprivation, we decided it was too funny not to take further.
Simon: Creating Ferris was the most fun I’ve ever had creating a game. I think it’s actually a solid game with some of our best puzzles. I don’t think the art style is appreciated by many and I would like to redo this one day. Regardless of its lack of success, it offered us some much needed rest from the gloomy desolate Forever Lost series.
JA: The tag line at your website is “We make adventure games.” What made you decide to focus on this genre?
Graham: When we first started Glitch, back in December 2011/January 2012 we decided to work on educational apps for children, and then in February we took part in a 48 hour game jam with the intention of making an interactive story book.
Our first app, My Colourful Life, was in the same vein so we figured we could use the same framework we’d written for that to make a quick interactive horror story for fun. As the hours went by this interactive story book evolved into a basic point and click adventure game, it really was basic in that it didn’t have a visual inventory - you just magically used any items you had if you select the right item after having picked something up
We ended up winning the game jam and decided we’d release our submission, called The Hauntening, on iOS, mainly just for poops and giggles, but also to see if people actually enjoyed the game.
It turned out that quite a few people liked the game and so we decided to re-focus our efforts on adventure games.
We’ve always loved adventure games growing up, and both always wanted to make one in the back of our minds, but just never thought we’d be able to.
Simon: Falling into the adventure game genre was very much a serendipitous encounter. We never explicitly said aloud that we should create one, but a series of fortunate happenings led us to Forever Lost.
We have created many games outside of the adventure category; such as Blox - a fast paced multi-touch arcade game, and Mixis - a simplistic ambient music creator. We’ve only ever received high praise for our adventure games, so I guess we take that as a sign as to where we belong.
JA: Where do you see adventure gaming heading and how does that impact you, as a development team?
Simon: I’d say adventure games are one of the slowest evolving genres around, which is probably because very little requires changing. We attempted to improve upon the genre ourselves and add our personal stamp; this came in the form of the Glitch Camera which we now integrate into all of our games.
I think adventure games are one of the most robust and transferable genres; they adapt well to almost any platform. The massive injection of touchscreen devices over recent years has almost revived the genre and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
The genre has altered over the years and you can see that the majority of games are now tailored towards a different audience, but there will always be a demand for games like ours .
JA: In your opinion, what are the elements that are required for a game to be a truly great adventure?
Graham: Personally I feel that there are two elements, story and puzzles, I know there seems to be a push recently for adventure games that are more story-based than puzzles, however I feel that they work best when completely intertwined.
Great puzzle design isn’t just making a puzzle that’s hard, it’s about making the puzzle work in the context of the story, not just an arbitrary distraction between story points.
Now, I’m not saying we’re perfect at doing this, but it’s at least what we’re striving for.
Simon: I think immersion is one of the greatest things a game, or any medium can achieve. I grew up playing a lot of RPGs but I never really cared for the battle elements. I understood that it was an important aspect to truly involve the player, but I always longed for the exploration and puzzle-solving parts. I think this is why I have such passion for the style of games we make, because they are exactly the type of games I’d choose to play myself.
JA: Other than Forever Lost, what is your favorite adventure game and why?
Graham: Personally for myself it’s The Secret of Monkey Island, however that routinely flips to Monkey Island 2 and back again each time I replay them. I grew up on these games so they will always hold a special place in my heart.
Simon: I’d probably say my favourite adventure game is also The Secret of Monkey Island; it has the perfect balance of humour, puzzle solving, artistry and story. A game I have really enjoyed recently is The Silent Age, which I think has some great puzzles and a superb simplistic art style
JA: The market transition to gaming on portable devices, coupled with distribution through channels like Google Play and the App Store, has resulted in an overwhelming number of games to choose from. As developers, how do you get attention focused on your game and build a following?
Graham: Marketing has always been our weakest point, I used to make excuses saying that it’s hard for indies to get noticed on zero budget, which, although true, is still a poor excuse. The simple fact is that yes, we can’t compete budget or reach-wise with the big players, however small nimble companies can do things that they can’t.
We can do the more grassroots, direct customer communication that companies stuck behind PR departments have trouble doing.
We are still by no means any good at it though. One of our issues is that we never want to show off screenshots of in-development things until they are nicely polished for fear of giving off bad first impressions, but by the time the screenshots are ready to show it’s simply too late to build up hype. This is something we really need to get better at.
Cross-promotion between similar titles is also something that can be used to great effect and this is something that we’re going to be looking into more thoroughly very soon and hope to have something baked right into Serenity, our adventure engine.
Our plan for survival is to simply keep putting out good quality adventure games, something we love to do and players seem to be really liking, and then build up a loyal, if not massive, fanbase that way. We’re not going to go chasing the next big mobile hit - that rabbit hole goes very deep and we really don’t want to get trapped down there.
Simon: I’m certain that we got very lucky with Forever Lost. With next-to-no marketing, we were completely relying on the game's quality to speak for itself. Luckily it reached the app stores adventure and puzzle game charts, received some favourable reviews and has pretty much stayed there since. This is not a method I’d recommend but it seemed like all we could do at the time.
Maybe we should give marketing a try one day.
Graham: Probably yea, I hear it can be pretty helpful.
JA: You mentioned “Serenity,” what is that?
Graham: We develop all our games with the Corona SDK which in itself is a great tool for 2D development. On top of that we have created a framework of sorts for developing these adventure games. We’ve called this Serenity.
Currently it only allows for the 1st-person adventure games that we’re focusing on, but in time we hope to build it out to support 3rd-person games as well; however, as would be expected, these games require quite a bit more than just a new view and as such we’re holding off from doing one until we believe we can do it right.
JA: What impact, if any, has the ability of any player to post a review had on the way you market and support a release?
Graham: I suppose for us, it’s hard to really say. We’ve only ever released on mobile platforms so we’ve never known anything different.
What I do know is that it’s great to get direct feedback from players so quickly and easily.
Simon: It’s a great thing, whether it’s a good or bad review we can use them to improve on all aspects of game development. If we get mostly great reviews then we know we’ve done something right. The negative reviews (most of them) help us to fine-tune and improve on what we already have. It doesn’t necessarily change the way we market the app, but it does have an impact on how we develop future games because we always want to achieve the impossible task of pleasing everyone.
JA: Now that you’ve had success on the iOS and Android platforms, do you have any plans to make your games available for the PC?
Graham: Well, now that you mention it… :-)
We have wanted to bring our games to PC for a very long time and now, we are finally able to. As such, all 5 of our adventure games are coming to Windows and Mac on the 1st of October, which just happens to be 3 years to the day that Forever Lost: Episode 1 was originally released.
They will be available on the Mac App Store as well as itch.io at first, with more outlets coming soon.
JA: Are you currently working on a new project? Can you give us any hints about what we can look forward to?
Graham: The short answer to both these questions is “yes.”
The slightly longer version is “yes, we’re working on another adventure game currently, and have more in the pipeline. So if you like what we’ve already done, you will most likely like what we’ve got coming; however, if you don’t like first-person adventure games then you might not like it (but you just might, so please still check it out ).”
Simon: We think we’ve found our niche, so yes, it will be yet another point-and-click adventure game. We have been working on it for the last few months and it is coming together nicely. The game takes place within a single room that is densely packed with puzzles and items to explore. It’s another light-hearted game that offers a nice escape from the bleakness of the Forever Lost series.
JA: Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with me! Before we close, is there anything else that you’d like to share with the Just Adventure community?
Graham: It’s great to be here! We know that, as Cindy said, JA doesn’t cover many mobile games, so we thank you for being so kind as to take an interest in Glitch, even though it may not be your usual topic of interest. Now that we are releasing our adventure games for the Desktop as well as Mobile, we really hope you will come along for the ride!
Simon: Although we began developing for mobile devices first, we do not want to be considered mobile developers. We are adventure game developers and we think we have a lot to offer in this area.