Interview: Blaine Bowen Of PostMod Softworks

July 4th, 2014 -

 

The Old City is a game coming to us from PostMod Softworks and I have had the privilege to interview Blaine Bowen, who handles technical art, level design, and is the writer of the game itself. Please enjoy.

This project seems to be your first game, if not, what other projects have you been associated with?

  • It varies based on the team member, but, for me personally, this would be my first endeavor in video games.

What can you tell us about your studio?

  • We started this company about a year ago, me and John, and we never really expected the project to grow to this size. Along the way, we had quite a few other interested people jump on board. First, we had Ryan and Simon, and then everyone else trickled in. I remember, ages ago, before Ryan or Simon, when John and I would wonder which one of us would make a less terrible voice actor or what ambient music artist we’d have to beg to be able to use their work. So, you know, having people do work for us specifically was a huge step. I still don’t know if I would call it a studio, at the moment, as we are all working remotely and part-time. In other words, there’s no real money coming in at the moment, so we are all having to support ourselves otherwise, while trusting this to eventually support us further.

How would you describe “The Old City” to someone who has never heard of it?

  • Well, I would start by avoiding the term “video game,” unless said person has had enough experience with genre to know that the connotative meaning of “game” is actually quite a big larger in scale than the simple denotative definition. That is to say, games now mean something different than they used to. There does not have to be anything competitive happening for a game to be a game. At least, that isn’t the case anymore.With that said, The Old City is like a first person diary told in the form of an environment and the musings of a single character. You inhabit the mind of this character, a sewer dwelling isolationist, as you wander the bleak wastes of a decaying civilization. The character’s musings are directly related to whatever you are seeing in front of you. In this sense, the character is communicating with the environment, and the environment variously communicates back. The whole game plays out like a conversation. Seeing as you aren’t personally invested in this conversation, you are overhearing it, so making sense of it can require a lot of context. To get this context, you’ll need to explore. The more you explore, the more you’ll understand.

When watching the trailer for this my mind immeadiately went to a game called “Dear Ester”, were you inspired by other first person exploration games like this?

  • Dear Esther was definitely our largest inspiration. I loved the writing, I love how metaphor was layered like a cake, and I love how the tone was unrelenting. It really showcases what this medium can produce in terms of literary significance. Other inspirations came in the form of ancient near-eastern literature, as it is referenced quite a bit throughout the game. You don’t have to be totally aware of it, but it certainly adds to the experience.

What are some of the challenges of developing a first person game that focusses more on narrative and exploration rather than guns and explosions?

  • The challenge is more psychological, I guess. By this I mean that it can be somewhat difficult to maintain the idea that this is something people will actually care about. I realize a lot of people won’t, but this medium has so much potential for more than just action fetish. I have no problems with escapism or the like, but there is a whole world of possibility that exists out there, and games have barely scratched the surface. Games haven’t done so because the gaming community, and I realize that this is a bold claim, is actually one of the most conservative media related communities I have ever witnessed. We are conservative in the sense that we have a very hard time letting go of conventions that we feel define us. We conserve our gaming traditions. We produce the same type of game over and over and we call it “retro,” when all we are really doing is refusing to explore. What The Old City does is take another small step in a new direction. Any direction is the right direction as long as it is a new direction. I think of it like one giant step for us as a team and one tiny baby-step for the industry, amongst others.

Will the game be released regardless of a successful Kickstarter?

  • Of course! Somehow, and in some form, this game is going to be released.

If your stretch goals aren’t met, will you eventually add those ideas to the game post release? If not would you use them on a new project?

  • We’d like to, but it is simply a question of time. However, this time is something we now have, as we recently made a huge change to the project after realizing two things. 1. The game was going to be too long, and 2. there was no way we were going to fund a two year development cycle. What we have done is split the game up into a trilogy. The first game, which we are calling “The Old City: Leviathan,” is actually going to release in the fall. This game will deal with everything leading up to the actual Old City. That is, it deals with the character’s journey to the city itself, as he travels through sewers and industrial complexes, etc. This change actually made a great deal of sense in terms of narrative, as well. The original planned narrative could actually be split into 3 distinct parts (that is, outside of the Old City, inside of the Old City, and post-Old City), and each of these parts increased in size as you play, meaning that each addition to the trilogy will be a larger game. I hope people will be ok with that change, though I don’t really see why they wouldn’t be. The game will be cheaper and you’ll get it sooner. More importantly, we don’t have to fiddle around with stuff like “early-access” (a concept I dread) and we can just release full and finished products. It also means that I don’t have to spoil the game for two years to appease people who supported it and expect content updates sooner, as the story is very, very personal to me, making the act of spoiling really painful.

Beyond “The Old City”, what other projects would your studio like to work on? Are there any other genres you team would like to explore?

  • Other genres? Think bigger! We don’t just want to make different types of games, we want to make different types of media. I think of our team like a conglomerate of diversely interested people channeling that diverse interest and talent into a shared goal. That goal is our communal creative product (The Old City). But, if you were to rearrange the community for a different project, you’d end up with a different product. As an example, I am particularly interested in writing. It is something I enjoy, and I feel as though I am moderately capable of engaging in it. However, John is not interested in writing, at least not to the same extent I am, but he is very interested in creating 2D art. There are other forms of media that can use both of these things, like artbooks or comics or anything else, really. Our “endgame” is to eventually have “PostMod” simply be a hub for various creative interests within the team.

Once the game is finished and released for PC, are there any plans to release on any other platforms?

  • Not at the moment, no.

Do you like sandwiches? If so, with or without bacon? If not, what kind of monster are you and what are your plans for the human race you will most likely enslave?

  • Alright, here’s the thing about sandwiches. I do enjoy the taste of a good sandwich, but that’s like saying I enjoy the taste of good food. That’s what made the food good in the first place, and seeing as a sandwich can really be anything you want it to be, as long as it’s basically two objects with another object in between, I’d essentially be saying, “I enjoy food that I enjoy.” However, if you were to be more specific, as with, say, bacon, I would have to assert that my taste buds do not, in fact, enjoy bacon in sandwiches. Although, if it were an even more specific subset of this extremely broad category of “sandwich,” that is, if the bacon is in the configuration of a “BLT,” I would very much enjoy the taste of this sandwich.

It was a pleasure for us to interview Blaine. I know I am highly anticipating this game and hope that its 2nd attempt at a Kickstarter will be successful. Blaine tells me that the new campaign to fund the game will kick off sometime in August, so please look out for that. Also look forward to my demo impressions of the game’s first part when I receive it closer to the launch of the campaign.

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