The Last Door: An Interview with Indie Developer The Game Kitchen

The Last Door: An Interview with Indie Developer The Game Kitchen

Ray Ivey asks everything you've always wanted to know but were afraid to ask...

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Time to muster up your courage, light that candle and go explore that creepy sound you just heard from the dark hallway. But make sure to use an eight-bit, pixilated match, because the new Lovecraftian horror adventure The Last Door is retro, retro, retro.

I managed to catch up with the scary guys at The Game Kitchen, a Spanish independent game studio, to ask them some questions about their upcoming episodic adventure game.

1) I love the idea of a game inspired by Poe and Lovecraft.  Are there any particular stories by those masters that inspired you?

Thank you! We’re really proud and grateful that the inspiration behind “The Last Door” is so well-liked by so many people. Since the beginning, the idea was to create a game trying to replicate the immersive experience of reading a horror novel, where a player’s imagination is his/her main ally and responsible for creating the fear and unnerving atmosphere. Actually, that’s why “The Last Door” talks and breathes horror classic stories and imagery all around, especially from H.P. Lovecraft. The simple fact that the lead character progresses through the story to uncover a hidden, horrible truth is a clear reference to the Lovecraft works “The Survivor” or “The Shuttered Room.” Edgar Allan Poe is also present in the game in many ways, almost as if we are invoking his spirit. Without giving any spoilers, there are many winks to his work, especially to one of his most popular poems, “The Raven” and to the ill-fated protagonist of “The Black Cat” on the account of how he progressively lost his sanity.

On the top of that, there are many other influences on “The Last Door,” ranging from literature and video games to filmmaking. For instance, Guy de Maupassant, Arthur Machen, Doyle, Jorge Luis Borges and August Derleth are on the list of “The Last Door” leitmotifs. On the side of greatest film directors, we could name David Lynch, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Bergman, Rodrigo Gudiño and Peter Medak. We love the sounds of Andrei Tarkovsky and also Jodorowsky’s cinematographic images so who knows, there are little pieces from all of them within the game.

2) I have noticed in the last fifteen years or so that Spanish/Mexican film directors have an uncanny feeling for classic horror and ghost stories – Films like El Orfanato, The Others, The Devil’s Backbone, etc.  What is it about you crazy Spanish guys that gives you such access to these stories that deal with human fears?

Well, to give some explanatory hints and try to answer this question, we need some sociological explanation here. In fact, all the titles you’ve mentioned could be defined as the second golden Spanish horror generation. Actually, the original golden years of Spanish horror were the sixties and seventies, when we were suffering Franco's dictatorship, an oppressive and repressive reality that fostered the interest of people for fantastic and horror literature and, consequently, for horror films, too. Horror and fantasy was a breath of fresh air and it carried the Spaniards away from that time, secluding them from the cruel reality of dictatorship.

In those couple of decades (‘60s-‘70s), Spain terrorized the world, cinematically-speaking. Hundreds of horror movies were produced and reading horror literature was also popular. So the current creators and film makers have grown up in this breeding ground, watching horror movies in their spare time and reading horror novels in their vacation times. So, I guess it was unavoidable. Those teenagers are full-grown adults, and some of them have become great filmmakers and horror “specialists.” Not in vain, we have many important Fantastic and Horror International Film festivals in Spain (Donostia, Barcelona, Sitges, etc).

There is also a cultural thing, despite of being a relatively small country, each of our regions has local legends involving horror characters and fantastic figures; for example, werewolves, witches, or evil giants. And there is no Spanish kid who hasn’t heard one of these stories before going to bed. I guess that all these circumstances give us some advantage when it comes to talking about fears.

3) Are you guys fans of Telltale Games?  They’ve had great success with their episodic model.

It could be said that we’ve been somewhat influenced by them in the sense that they exclusively create episodic point-and-click adventure games and, due to their fantastic work, they have become a household name in the industry. In fact, they’re a good example to follow since they were the pioneers of the episodic delivery of digital gaming content and they have the ability to consistently deliver on a monthly basis but the truth is that, thanks to the advent of low-cost digital distribution systems, episodic production has become increasingly popular in the last ten years because it makes the production (and distribution) of a game financially feasible and, in our case, had a crushing logic to shape the game into this format because of the funding restrictions we had.

This way, the amount of money we needed to self-publish “The Last Door” was much lower. As the project progressed we realized that the format we went for was the correct one, where new chapters were not only bringing the story forward but also [introducing] new features. And once viewed from this angle, we think we got it right.

4) Any idea how many episodes the game will have?

We’ve been asked the same million dollar question several times and, to be honest, we have no idea about that. Initially, “The Last Door” was designed to be a webseries and, as such, there wasn’t a predetermined number of chapters. All will depend on the success of the series and whether the players continue playing and supporting the game, always provided that the series makes sense from the point of view of the story.

As long as the community continues supporting us, we will keep on producing episodes; but the truth is that we are quite self-demanding about what we do, and if we reach a point where the game doesn’t maintain itself from a narrative perspective, “The Last Door” will be closed. This is not going to happen soon, since we’re really lucky to have an outstanding community which is incredibly supportive (in both creative and funding senses). Right now, although there is an ending point, we have plenty of new appealing ideas to complicate and enrich the plot; our creative guys still have much to offer. They’re hoarding many ideas and mysteries to delight our players.

To date, we have four complete chapters which make up the first season of The Last Door. The first season closes the first narrative arc of the story, including about four hours of gameplay, and which will be combined together in a special edition that we’ve named: “The Last Door: Collector's Edition,” which will be available soon. Soon after that, we will release the first chapter of the next season (the fifth episode), which we hope it will be ready by this summer.

5) Are all of the episodes interchangeable, or will there be decisions the player can make which will reverberate through the other episodes?

Initially, the episodes follow a chronological order; this is to say, they have a timeline. However, that does not necessarily mean that the game lacks flashbacks and jumps in time. Actually, that’s one of our favorite narrative techniques and we use it frequently (which is just one of the many influences of the game coming from TV series and filmmaking). Independently of that, players can join the game at any time since each chapter stands by itself, but it’s obvious that we recommend following the story order, otherwise the player may miss some important details to contextualize the story.

With respect to the “The Last Door: Collector's Edition,” the possibilities are many, since the player will be able to choose where to start the game, enjoy and play mini-episodes, meet new characters and experience a different perspective of the story. And—why not say it—in a given moment, players will be able to return to old known milieus to unveil new hints and secrets that will help them to tie up some loose ends.

6) Are you guys retro gamers yourselves?  What retro games are you big fans of, or have influenced you?

Absolutely! Almost each team member is in his early thirties so we grew with the evolution of video games. We can still remember all those sweet afternoons playing classic Nintendo series like Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, Link and especially Super Mario Brothers 3. When PC arrived, we hooked into LucasArts adventure games, beginning with Loom and ending up with Grim Fandango. We confess that we lost many nights of sleep trying to solve their fiendish puzzles. Thus, yes… call us nostalgic, but sometimes we still freak out playing all these games again.

Do they influence us? Sure. Clearly those adventure games of the eighties and nineties marked us years ago and today come back in the form of ideas and inspiration. Some of these ideas are conscious some not, but we can’t overlook that they’re there, floating inside our minds. More namely, it would be unfair not to mention titles like Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones, Loom, Sam & Max, etc. We spent millions of hours playing these great classics of the golden years of adventure games and they defined the genre that we try to emulate today, so the influence is inevitable.

7) Can you tell me more about the perks your Kickstarter members will receive?

It’s been more than a year since we finished our Kickstarter campaign and right after that, we started the production of our first pilot chapter, "The Letter," releasing it in March 2013. The positive response from our hundreds of players and the critics encouraged us to continue with the project and to crowdfund the next episodes of the game independently, rather than using Kickstarter again, so we implemented the necessary tools within our website to make it possible.

To do that, we needed to create a good basis that supported user profile management: people needed to be able to register, log in, edit basic information and identify themselves as Kickstarter backers (or new ones) to access their individual perks. In that sense, and answering your question, all the backers who supported us in KS automatically became PREMIUM members within our own community platform (thelastdoor.com).

Thus, being a PREMIUM member (which costs 15€) corresponds to a backer who pledged £10 in the original KS campaign. There are many perks and rewards for this kind of community's members, for example: unlimited access to all current and future chapters, the whole series OST for free, chapter downloading, early access to beta versions of new installments, private forums to participate in shaping the game and much more. You can donate 25€ or more and we’ll get you pixelated and inserted as a talking character in our “Hall of Fame,” a featurette of the game where all the greatest supporters are waiting to say whatever they feel like.

8) What else should I be asking?  What else can you tell me about The Last Door?

Well, the interview is quite complete, but [we may want to mention] the amazing soundtrack composed by Carlos Viola. We’re absolutely proud to state that music and sound effects are two of the most important assets of “The Last Door.” They help in such a wonderful way to create the immersive atmosphere of the game. The orchestral music score has even been defined as an undiscovered composition by Chopin, which is a real compliment for the game, and the truth is that it masterfully ramps up the tension hand-in-hand.

In sum, modesty aside, “The Last Door” is a real gem for those who love the classic adventure games. So, if you love jumping from fright, experiencing fear, solving puzzles or unfolding a great and mysterious story, this is your game.

For those who haven't played it yet, the Collector's Edition will be the perfect starting point to go deeper into this story of horror and mystery -- a golden gate for adventurers to discover the blood curdling truth behind the last door.

9) Any release dates yet?

Well, we are running two races here. In one hand, and as you may know, we’re working together with Phoenix Online Publishing to release “The Last Door: Collector’s Edition,” which will include the first four episodes (first season) and will feature more than four hours of additional playable content (with exclusive new locations, scenes and puzzles) as well as enhanced graphics and visuals, new playable side-stories, new opening sequences, remastered soundtrack, achievements and unlockable content, and much more. On the top of that, it will be also available for PC, OSX, Linux, App Store and Google Play platforms. A real gem for adventure game lovers, this edition will be released soon.

On the other hand, as mentioned above, we are also working on the design of the fifth chapter and second season, but we haven’t a release date yet. As soon as we finish the Collector’s Edition we’ll start with the new season, which is scheduled to be out this summer.

11) How Storytelling is Back: Mobile and Desktop Devices

Well, from our point of view, storytelling never left. It’s true that for many years, with the advent of more powerful technologies, studios focused more in spectacular fireworks rather than on the plot and, somehow, big studios tried to emulate narratives in the image and likeness of Hollywood. However, video games are a different medium that needs its own language. In any case, storytelling may be the last border that video games need to cross in order to set their own identity and become an art expression in their own right.

What is crystal clear is that the arrival of mobile devices has completely transformed the way individuals consume and interact with digital stories. And this turn is increasing day after day. The audience is rapidly transitioning from desktop to mobile devices and nowadays, in contrast with PC, laptops, and consoles, you take the story with you wherever you are, changing the ubiquity and the momentum to consume it.

This fact multiplies the possibilities of co-creation, interaction, and construction of expanded and transmedia experiences. Thus, in this case, it means that instead of stealing the limelight, it increases the creative options where traditional visualizations give way to new visualizations for storytelling.

Storytelling in the video game medium is changing and it’s changing rapidly, not just because of new technologies. Mobile devices are more personal than desktop devices, so the experience of consuming stories can be even more intimate; for those of us involved in making stories, that’s an open door to our audience's hearts and imaginations as already occurs with books, and that’s exactly what narrative-driven indie studios like ours are trying to take advantage of.

12) The Death and Rebirth of Adventure Games

Adventure games have come back from the dead, as the “The Walking Dead” zombies. First-person shooters gunned them down from the PC market where they were absolute kings during the eighties and nineties.

They failed to conform to new technologies and players’ tastes who were, by that time, more prone to 3D graphics, blood, and exuberant action. Left behind, they didn’t integrate technology and their core value (storytelling) shifted to the background. In a desperate attempt to fight, adventure games developers started to exploit their last resource and introduced more and more complex and harsh puzzles which frustrated most of the players who often got stuck and weren’t able to comfortably progress in the game.

But now, after some years of ostracism, they're back. And they have returned with renewed strengths, in a kind of cyclical order. Digital technologies along with the advent of mobile devices and casual games have laid the groundwork for indie studios to rapidly and economically develop and distribute new and fresh adventure games, attracting a new, growing audience hungry for heartfelt stories.

And there are no complicated theories to explain this rebirth. Adventure games can tell powerful stories and introduce strong characters to empathize with. And that’s an anthropological human need: to create and consume stories. Thus, adventure games are far from dead, instead, this classic genre is finding its way back to win players’ hearts and provide story-driven amazing experiences.

13) Why Current and Rising Stars Are Going Indie? Don’t you think this question is particularly interesting considering Ken Levine’s recent announcement on why he was shutting down Irrational Games?

From our point of view, there are two main concepts here: creative freedom and personal satisfaction. Individuals who make video games are, above all, creative and passionate. And indie development, as we see it, provides important motivations that big name companies can’t, and that’s why it attracts industry veterans and, among them, current and rising stars.

In the first place, the absolute freedom to create whatever your dreamed game is only happens in the indie field, and that’s why interesting games are (most of them) being created in the independent arena where there is usually only one restriction: funding. But this is not even a barrier anymore since the rise of digital distribution and business models have allowed indies to have viable ways to sell and distribute their projects.

On the other hand, there are many other advantages revolving around personal satisfaction like autonomy and flexibility (blending personal and professional life). Moreover, taking part in something that is strictly yours, your own project, your own game, is a thousand times more intrinsically motivational than working for a big studio or publisher. If your motivations are extrinsic and you don’t care about pursuing dreams and prefer more job security, then indie mode is not for you because there are many risks, truth be told, and dreams may lead you to resounding failures. But with a dose of resilience and passion, the journey is worthwhile. Indie development can be challenging but from our standpoint, it’s worth it to pursue dreams, to live the life that resonates better with what we want for our existence and that’s exactly what we are doing here at The Game Kitchen.

14) Retro Movement: How Gaming's Past is Its Future

“Retro movement” seems to be very fashionable. But this kind of “back to the past” trend is happening everywhere, not just in video games. We see it in fashion, filming, music. It’s a cycle. I guess that good things always come back, somehow, in one form or another.

I don’t think it's a fad or just a matter of collective nostalgia, but a normal cycle of things. Actually, we have to bear in mind that creators have their own references, myths or idols that influenced them in past so it’s not surprising that sometimes old approaches come back (especially when a given genre falls into creative crisis), so a given genre can re-encounter its very origins, recovering its identity and growing again from the scratch.

In this sense, when a cycle ends and a genre is crumbling, they often end up back where they started, emerging from ashes into a renovated genre. In our case, we didn’t think in any other approach. From the beginning we knew we wanted to do it as you can see it today. We like this kind of retro aesthetic as a form of art and expression and it gives the game the suitable look-and-feel to help the player travel through time and contextualize the game’s story.

 15) The Future of Indie Game Publishing and Development

We all know that nowadays it’s much easier to make games and to find a niche audience for them. Thus, indie publishing and development are feasible (and potentially viable) for anyone. Every day, new tools facilitate novice developers entering their dream industry and, with the advent of new digital distribution platforms, disintermediation and the subsequent evolution of the business models, the industry is upside down. Entry barriers have been dynamited and the emergence of new small studies has proliferated and that’s wonderful, since new ideas, mechanics, and approaches arise, enriching the whole cosmos.

Thanks to new funding and business models, you can get ahead and survive by fighting in a global market with your own creativity and talent as your only resources, with no need for large resources. And this is, at the end of the day, the perfect breeding ground for creative destruction, to move forward and generate a stronger and more innovative industry in a kind of natural selection.

But there are also drawbacks, behind the idea of natural selection, we see that this paradigm is causing a market saturation (just use the App Store as example) where supposedly only the best and more creative will survive, but the truth is that something else stands in the way of pure creativity: the marketing skills and budgets which are an increasing challenge for indies and our survival.

16) Future of women in games.

If the question is regarding female gamers, we can say that nowadays women represent a big share of the total amount of gamer population. Depending on the type of game, that share reaches more than fifty per cent. We’re not sociologists, but as far as we’ve noticed, women are more into social and casual games and I wonder if there is any research relating Bartle’s classification of players and gender. In any case, we have to forget that incorrect prejudice of "girls don't play games.” The female gaming population is growing and that is a fact, especially taking into account that more and more, the games are being designed more gender-neutral and the use strong female characters is increasing day after day, fostering the appeal of the video games to women. In the case of “The Last Door” community members, about 20% of our players are female.

In regards to women in the industry, their presence is on the rise but, at least here in Spain, the video games sector (particularly on game development teams) is still a male-dominated one. This is undoubtedly changing, you only need to visit university classrooms and compare their composition to ten years ago and that’s an utterly good thing. We strongly agree with those researchers who argue for the improvement of the gaming industry to appeal and attract more female workforce. In addressing the future of the medium, the female point of view and fresh air is necessary to vitalize the industry.

Thanks very much, guys!  We will keep a close watch on The Last Door here at JustAdventure!

Dear Reader, you can find out more about the game here.

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