A game about an improbable hero! That's one of my first impressions about A Little Less Desperation: a successful Kickstarter project for a game I was glad to learn about some days ago while browsing my Twitter feeds. And there are more cool definitions offered by the developers themselves, such as A comedic Sci-Fi point & click adventure game about a hapless organic vegetable farmer and A classic point and click adventure game about Jacob, the last guy you'd abduct if you were an alien from outer space.
Once I noticed this slight degree of mockery to the very idea of what it means to be a hero from those definitions, I felt compelled to talk to the developers. I was impressed! They were very good at bringing their project out in the daylight on their Kickstarter page. No wonder they got fully backed long before their deadline had been reached (which must have meant a little less desperation for that team of developers to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to work). No wonder the next thing I knew, I was sending them a message saying: "hey, can I interview you for IndieWatch?". No wonder I also asked one of them to write an article on how to come up with a successful crowdfunding campaign. I have to say that's probably a trait mastered by whoever came up with their Kickstarter page (a question I just now thought about asking. Anyway, the comment section is open for that, guys). Is there a category for the best crowdfunding campaign page in those indie game awards already? Somebody should get those guys a nomination.
So now that nobody was no longer desperate, I could fire my questions their way by using my non-journalistic weapons. I have to warn you, though: if you're reading this in the expectation of learning about the technicalities of their game mechanics or some cool insights into how to crack the code of crowdfunding campaigns, I'm sorry to disappoint you. That's not what the house is offering today. Hopefully, your urges for more technical accounts on A Little Less Desperation will be satisfied by other writers out there more qualified than myself for that task.
And there are many interesting angles to that story. First, the lead game designer behind this game, Marian Cerman, works at health services and came to the field of art and illustrations while still in college, when his skills with Adobe Illustrator got him a part-time job as a graphic designer. Even already making a living on health services, he woke up his game design urges one day and decided to use them to give life to something. He describes his workflow in game design in a very similar way to what I'm used to myself, which will usually drive some of my fellow game developers nuts for the overload of subjectivity. It's like aimlessly painting on a black canvas to see where this will take you:
The first thing I knew was that I wanted to make an adventure game with classic gameplay. The next, a little more specific idea was, that I wanted an "escape from the room“ puzzle to be part of it, but I still didn’t know what the game would be about. Actually, at first, it was a dungeon in a castle. That was before I chose to have the story set in space and I exchanged the dungeon for a prison cell on a spaceship. But I still didn’t know who would be in that cell and why. Some kind of hero maybe? Huh? Why not someone who got there by coincidence? Maybe even someone who has no business in space at all, someone who got abducted! This is when Jacob was born, an organic vegetable farmer, resembling an Amish, in any case, somebody you wouldn’t expect to be flying through space while trying to save the galaxy. Basically, the whole story was created the same way: See where Jacob is and what he’s doing and try to imagine a funny or absurd reason for this and see where this gets him. We were in no hurry, and we could stitch together quite an amusing story about Jacob, who decides to help an alien, who crashed his flying saucer in the woods, just to be abducted and to find himself tangled up in a fight between good and evil in space.
And he apparently subscribed to that same mantra of going with the flow while coming up with the concept art for his game:
We’ve been asked for the concept art earlier, but there is no real concept art. This is due to the production process of our artwork, which is done with 3D software. It’s possible to use concept art, but not really necessary. Maybe it’s the easiest to take a look at our short making of video:
So you see, apart from the little bit of experience in making illustrations, I know about as much about making games as anybody else who has played some.
Nevertheless, he did very well so far. Take a look at some screenshots of A Little Less Desperation:
But if you're still frustrated because of the carefree way Marian goes about making decisions on his game art, here's a valuable and surprising tip advice for you:
When it comes to artwork, the way we do it, there is something I can recommend reading, but you mustn’t laugh: Illustrated books for children! I always found them to be a great source for inspiration!
Ok! We'll take note without laughing...
All of this work hasn't been done solely by Marian. According to him:
[The team of developers has] Stefan Schütz and Thorsten Weinz, two friends of mine from town who sorted out the music. I just asked them whether they’d be interested in working on the game with me and I was lucky they agreed! Lee Clarke is a freelance game developer from the UK and lives in Spain. He was very helpful in the Visionaire Studio forum, our game engine, when I had questions about how to operate it. Finally, he joined our team as our lead programmer. I have never met him, we just have contacted via Skype and by email.
Marian's team was brought together out of passion. He claims to be mainly in it as a hobby and he has some advice for you who's reading this and thinking about becoming a game developer as well:
I’m sure if you pursue a career in the game industry, our approach is not the best, because the industry is always about profit. As I do this as a hobby beside my daytime job, I can’t be as focused on the topic as someone who does game development as a main job. I home some general thoughts about it for the sake of advice: there’s always the difference between "can"and "must". When you do something, game developing or something else, try to stay on the "can" side as much as possible. "Can“ means, you don’t have to, no obligation. This means, that if you do it anyway, you do it because you want to, it’s something you like doing. That's a great starting point for creative work! It’s joyful, satisfying and motivating and it will very probably result in something nice, by absorbing a bit of your character and devotion; something that is more than the sum of its parts. If you do something, because you have to, it’s "must“ and it may mean that you don’t really want to, which can be really demotivating. You’ll get a result, but probably without soul, just something that will fit the required specifications. So from this point of view, when it’s about the game and not about profit, maybe our approach is not the worst. We see our game as our hobby, almost pure "can“, so we hope it will be really nice. In my eyes this is the core idea of indie games.
Do you want to try A Little Less Desperation before its release date? Try a demo now:
DEMO LINUX: (Prototype: Tested on the following releases: 64 bit Ubuntu 16.04, Ubuntu 16.10, contemporary Manjaro)