Interview with Franklin Cosgrove and Archgame

June 21st, 2014 -

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a couple of architects turned game designers, and we discussed their upcoming game HomeMake, which is about halfway funded on Kickstarter. If you want to learn more about the game and the devs behind it, we’ve got you covered.

Who are Franklin Cosgrove and Archgame? Do either of you have a background in game development? How did you pick up your respective skills that you’re using to make HomeMake?

Franklin Cosgrove (Cory) and Archgame (Matt) are two architecture students who have found video games to offer an alternative way to explore their imaginations. Neither of us have a background in game development, but our architecture education has exposed us to a lot of software used in the video game industry. Cory has been using cinematics and animations in his architecture projects, while Matt always involves code when generating form. Obviously, both of us have had a great deal of experience iterating through digital models and learning new software quickly but video games are something new to us.

How would you describe HomeMake to someone who has never seen it before?

M: We like to call this question the how would you explain it to your parents question. We would say: HomeMake is a platform adventure game where you transfer your mind between bodies while exploring an endless spherical city. Or we would just bump some tunes and say nothing.

How far into development is the game? What programs are you using?

M: Currently the game is pre-alpha, everything from the camera script to the physics engine is up for redevelopment over the coming year. We sent a version to our friends where you can run around the sphere, the city is changing, and players could use the body swap gameplay mechanic and control the camera. Currently we are using Unity (C#), Cinema 4D, Rhinoceros 5.0 w/ Grasshopper, and Ableton.

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What is the inspiration behind the story? What about the game itself?

M: We are trying to draw inspiration from our own lives as much as possible, hence the Miyamoto answer below. The story we have laid out so far comes from our personal interactions with people important to us. We feel like this is always the case with anyone working through a narrative. Good stories to us should draw upon your relationships with friends, family and strangers, but should also be able to stand up even without knowing the source material. Good stories have inspirations but become something entirely new at the end of the process.

You mention the game is seen by different perspectives and in a constant state of change – does this mean it’s literally not the same if you were to play through it a second time? Or does it require you to play it in a different state of mind? I know I get a lot more things out of games I played in the past when I play them now, and enjoy them for different reasons than I did when I was younger.

C: If you play the game a second time, things will feel familiar, but each playthrough will be completely different. Cities change everyday and in HomeMake it is no different. The process is not procedural but there are codes in place that shift things such as street grids, building density, building size, building shape, etc,. These changes will be happening whenever that portion of the city is out of view. So the player can make a full loop around the sphere, reach the same spot where they started, and things will be ever so different. These changes will range in severity but our goal was to make an environment with no distinct beginning or end that could be explored forever, with the player always finding new areas of the city they’ve never seen before. Our hope is that HomeMake can be enjoyed when you’re really young and enjoyed in a different way when you are older; a lot of our inspirations and games we like have this same quality.

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What do you want people to experience and feel when they play this title?

M: We want people to have that feeling they had when sneaking out in their youth. It’s really the first time as American teenagers we felt completely free to do what we wanted. When you sneak out as a kid, the world is this completely new and different place, ripe for exploring. Our hope is that this exploration will lead to a more introspective state of mind as people slowly learn their place in the world and who they want to be. Since swapping bodies is key to the gameplay, considering identity in relationship to the world is a really key aspect of HomeMake.

The game looks absolutely stunning – will there be any major changes to game assets? Are there things that still need major improvements? The aesthetic feels so familiar to me; I’m trying to place all the inspiration you guys took from. Care to mention some of the bigger ones? I’m definitely feeling an anime vibe in addition to cyberpunk (which you mentioned).

M: Our city is generated by code so the city is actually changing constantly; every build we have ever made has a completely different environment. We are always adding more layers to the city and giving it more depth in an exploratory sense. Our current preoccupation is making the city not seem so random and allowing one to navigate the environment while still knowing which area of the city they are in without feeling the need to reference a map.

This game has been building in our minds since we were kids, so of course there is a lot of inspiration to draw from. As for cyberpunk, we are both really big fans of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Gibbson’s Sprawl Trilogy, and Snow Crash. Your anime vibe rader is strong, this is probably our main source of inspiration. Our three biggest inspirations from anime are Tekkonkinkreet, FLCL, and Kaiba. For character design and general graphics we really enjoy the work of artist Brandon Graham, especially for his work on the current Prophet series. Also, It’s probably not obvious to non-architects, but contemporary Japanese architecture and urbanism are easily the biggest inspiration for the game’s environment.

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When I look at the game, I wonder how it will actually play out. I feel like I’ll just lose myself to the world and OD on colors. How do you manage to keep the atmosphere of the game from being overly distracting?

C: Yes, we agree, sensory overload will be a constant risk when designing HomeMake. Our hope in avoiding this is that players will constantly be shifting their focus from the macro scale of the entire city to the micro scale of the platforming and challenges at hand. We really wanted the game to accentuate the notion of scale by shifting between 3 different conditions: character + city, character + building, and character + body. Each one of these states requires a different understanding of the player’s place in the world and shifts focus to a unique set of problems at each jump.

The Kickstarter estimate is September of 2015 for release – is that a goal, or just an arbitrary date?

M: The September release in 2015 is something we’re really shooting towards. The goal is to continue working on the project throughout this next school year before clearing up our obligations and dedicating our full attention to the game over the summer, with the release to follow shortly after. I mean, we could stay excited about this project and develop it forever but giving ourselves a deadline really motivates us to finish it on time.

Obviously HomeMake is at the forefront of your mind, but do you have any other ideas wandering your head once you’re done with this? Do you plan on changing genres? Do you have any plans to expand the team with future projects (If Cory doesn’t want to animate anymore, and I do, for example…)?

C: Is that an application or are you trying to take my job, Jason? We haven’t even reached our goal yet! We actually have been talking about other projects. Currently we have ideas for two other HomeMake projects, not in a Sonic, Sonic 2 sort of way, but more in an Ico, Shadow of Colossus, The Last Guardian sort of way. These are all ideas that develop as we get carried away during long conversations about the current design. It’s hard to really talk about these things until the first game is released!

Who are your developer heroes and idols?

M: Although I’m a Sega fanboy and it might be played out, Shigeru Miyamoto will always be my developer hero. I’m inspired by the way each of his games is designed out of a particular experience of his own life. I really hope that someday I’ll be able to hone my game design skills to make it work as smoothly as he does.

C: This also might sound a little played out but honestly all the small indie developers we’ve been paying attention to this past year since we started HomeMake have been amazing to watch. The dedication and conviction of these small teams and individuals really makes us believe we can make this game a reality.

What are your favorite games – currently and of all time?

C: Without a doubt, my favorite game is Shadow of the Colossus. It’s the perfect blend of music, gameplay, narrative, visuals, and was one of the first games that really convinced me of the potential for video games to affect their users in a profoundly emotional way.

M: My favorite game is and will always be Pokemon Red, although currently I’ve been tearing it up in Tokyo’s Club Segas with Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Ultimate; I’m totally a sucker for arcade fighters of any kind.

Do you like sandwiches? With or without bacon?

C: It’s funny that you say that because you know that fox character in the HomeMake trailer? Well, his name is Sandwiches…and he loves bacon.

Is there anything you’d like the public to know that we haven’t discussed?

C+M: First, we’d like to thank all our awesome supporters, without whom we would not be where we are today. We’ve had a lot of people encourage us to keep going with the game and providing critiques along the way, they have really been a big reason we’ve gotten this far. Second, our game music is free to download on our Kickstarter, so you should check it out! It’s got more anime vibes, specifically Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop. We hope it tickles your ears.

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