Today I interviewed Carlos Coronado and Dani Navarro of Coma Studios about their upcoming game and current Indiegogo project Coma. Coma is an atmospheric “First-Person Puzzler” according to the devs at Coma Studios. In the game you are a coma patient, trapped in your own mind, trying to solve various weather based puzzles to make it out. In game you have to utilize different weather patterns, such as rain and fog, to solve puzzles to access new areas of your brain. However, things aren’t so simple. A haunting event that plagues you often. Here are a link to the Indiegogo page, a tutorial, and ten minutes of gameplay.
So before we begin tell us a little bit about yourselves, and how you got together, and what brought you to this game. What do you hope to accomplish?
Carlos: Three years ago I decided to sink my free time into trying to make games with the knowledge I had acquired doing 3D modeling. The first thing I did was a Left 4 Dead map –to be honest, it wasn’t very good, although I felt such a sense of fulfillment for finishing the project that I was inspired enough to bury myself into something bigger. After months of going back and forth on the idea, I finally decided to gather a team of people in the same situation I am –trying to get into the industry- to create a very ambitious Left 4 Dead 2 campaign: Warcelona.
This was when I met Dan Navarro, whose work on Warcelona was vital for the project. After finishing this campaign, I took some time off to learn the workings of the Unreal engine and the UnrealScript programming system, as well as experimenting with new ideas for a single-player game. This was when Coma started to take shape –it had enough potential that I decided to contact Dani to work on this project together.
Dani: Mostly, I work on graphic design, illustration, artistic direction and other creative areas in videogames, cinema, comics, marketing and such. After Warcelona I started working as a graphical designer, alongside some odd jobs as a general and artistic director for some short films. Shortly after I started looking for a new experimental project that allowed for more artistic freedoms –and luckily enough, that’s when Carlos contacted me to create Coma.
Carlos: Our goal with Coma is to create a single-player game with a slow, easy-going pace, although not so contemplative that it is boring. To be honest, Portal 2 is one of my favorite games, and in a way this unites the kind of creative puzzles that game provides with the much more open-ended, breathtaking landscapes Unreal enables and the human, personal, close story that I would love to tell.
Dani: We hope to create something that truly touches people while they are still entertained –after all, we are players first and foremost, and we want to enjoy creating it as much as we will playing it.
Do the different weather patterns in the game have a direct correlation to different emotions, or are they merely game mechanics?
Carlos: The weather patterns have more to do with the story and the protagonist’s background than with his immediate mood. However, the setting itself will be directly linked to the emotional state of the character, so in the end, changing the aesthetics of the scenery so drastically with different climatic events does have a lot to do with his state of mind.
I noticed that you have make use of set pieces (the car crashing into the swing set). What kind of story do you want to tell using this game? Are you specifically going to just tell us about the “something horrible in the past”, or are you going to integrate what leads up to the crash?
Dani: From the beginning we wanted to create something that allowed for experimental freedom. There is nothing as enthralling and mysterious as the human mind and the motivations that push it. That is why this framework was chosen to develop a story. At the very early, experimental stage, we had ideas for many Matrix-style elements, but I soon realized that the best way to truly touch people is to tell the story with the language of everyday life. The emotions that we all feel everyday are rich and deep enough by themselves. That’s why the story is so emotive and personal –it’s about someone who has to grow out of his tormented past by either surrendering or fighting for forgiveness.
The car scene has a lot to do with all of this mysterious past –but it is not exactly what it looks like. It is not a car accident, but an event that happened long ago that the protagonist will relive little by little all throughout the game. This event caused a family tragedy –and this is what gives cause for what will happen in this story.
Furthermore, the script of the game took advantage of the climate-changing gameplay to leave a subtle message on global climate change –ladies and gentleman, our planet needs to be taken care of!- and, in the end, of our ability as human beings of facing the dilemma of either worrying about everything or only the most immediate issues.
What are some of the differences between working on this game, a standalone, full release, as opposed to working on Left 4 Dead 2 projects? Which do you enjoy working on more? How did working on Left 4 Dead 2 projects help you in the development of Coma?
Dani: Working on Warcelona was a good start –it helped us learn our respective methods and build the trust in each other. Still, we debate all the time –and the best ideas sprung up from these arguments.
Carlos: It’s not easy to say which project has been more enjoyable. Working on Left 4 Dead 2 has many advantages –everything was already programmed for us, from the players and the zombies to the events. We had a good baseline. In Coma he had to do everything from scratch –although, of course, this allows for much more control. While the fun of Warcelona was in translating my hometown into a post-apocalyptic zombified city, Coma is more fulfilling and inspiring in the sense that is truly our own game.
Dealing with Left 4 Dead 2 helped us know what worked and what didn’t so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. For example, with Warcelona we tried to have the whole campaign fully playable from start to finish in the first two months of development –the aesthetics were non-existent and the setting was barely recognizable, but the gameplay levels were done – “all” that was left was to actually make the setting believable and polish up the gameplay. In Coma we are doing the same –and in two or three months the game will be playable from start to finish. Beautiful? Not yet. Finished? Not by a long shot –but fully playable.
How is using the crowd source model helping you? What are some negatives that you have run into so far?
Crowd funding has a lot of advantages –we can remain an independent company, as we don’t depend on investors whose ideas on making the most money possible would clash with our ideal of making a unique game with its own personality. The main problem we’ve had dealt with is the Kickstarter policy: as great as that webpage is, we soon discovered that only citizens of the United States could upload their project there –at least, only people with an American bank account and an Amazon US account.
So we did a formal crisis meeting and decided to go for what we ended up considering the best choice -Indiegogo.com. Among other things, Indiegogo allows for a crowd-funding model by which you still get some of the money even if you don’t get to your goal. This is perfect for us, as Coma is designed to be adaptable to whatever funding it gets.
Did you have an idea for a story before you made the game, or did the game and the world come first and then the story was built up around it?
Dani: Actually, in this case the game mechanics came first. Then, after experimenting with a bunch of demos, it was established what we wanted to achieve –this is when the script came into play. We did not want to simply link a bunch of gameplay set pieces via a lousy unconnected story –we reorganized all the mechanics we had been experimenting with to make them coherent with the story, conferring some personality to the game. That’s how you link the gameplay with the world you have built: What you are playing has to be coherent with what you are living and vice versa –so the player evolves alongside the game itself.
Actually, the script evolved quite a bit because of this approach too –it started with a few ideas that were discarded because the gameplay mechanics were begging for something different, and when the story was better formed new gameplay ideas appeared that aided in the telling of this story.
You list Dear Esther, Portal 2, Shadow of Colossus, and Journey as inspirations for the game. Which of these do you think is the best? Which do you think most resembles Coma? Do you think Coma can live up to the games that you just listed?
Carlos: These games are our most immediate referents. The best for me is Portal 2 because of its very intelligent use of level design. Although Coma is aesthetically much closer to Dear Esther, its gameplay is much more prevalent and elaborate, akin to that of Portal 2. We hope to make a game that does justice to these games. We know we have the potential and the creativity to accomplish that goal and we are working as hard as we can to do it.
Dani: Exactly. Although these games are taken into account in the creation of Coma, we don’t want to copy them –we respect them too much to do that. None of them is better than the other because they are just so very different –each has one particular aspect that inspires us. We don’t have the means to create something of the magnitude of some of those games, but having them as referents makes us give our best.
You mention enemies in your descriptions, but there is no video of them yet. What can you tell us about the enemies in the game? Have they been developed yet? There’s that one drawing of the large, golem, is that going to be an enemy? Are there going tobe multiple types of enemies?
Carlos: Enemies will not be the stereotypical gun-toting soldiers that patrol around the level and shoot you or wait for you to come for them. We are testing some of the enemies, and we believe we have found something really original in their simplicity –they are of simple mechanics but have great gameplay potential. The Giant will be one of the enemies, maybe the most vital and unique of them all.
Dani: Any enemy that you encounter in Coma will make sense in terms of our gameplay mechanics and the story we want to tell. This is an interesting part of the game to study, as it will greatly vary on the resources we have available and of how we end up balancing the action gameplay with the puzzles.
What kind of challenges do you hope to create with enemies? Will you be killing them, or disabling them in some way? Are the enemies going to symbolize something significant about the character’s psyche?
Enemies will symbolize different parts of the protagonist’s psyche: fear, trauma, disappointment. As to the gameplay mechanics, we don’t want to spoil anything yet, but the challenges these enemies will present are to be completely integrated into the puzzles –quite often, you will have to use your opponents to overcome the puzzles.
Are you worried about people trying to troll the ARG you guys are setting up? Do you think you are giving people too much power over your story? What are you looking to accomplish with this kind of crowd sourced story writing?
Carlos: Trolling is not a concern in the ARG we are planning, as it is designed to avoid such eventualities. For example, those who contribute by paying 100 dollars will be able to help in the design of a level, but it will be in relatively subtle ways. Simply, there will be no place for a forum thread in which someone demands a level with big boobs and booties the player has to get into.
The ARG will be a system of making choices, not unlike the Mass Effect saga. Has the contributing player a lot of power over the story? Yes, but within the constraints established by us the designers.
Dani: We barely have the means to create what they truly wish. We need people’s help to make it possible. And we believe that, if you put your trust in us and lend us a hand, you have the right to get involved somehow into the project. Obviously, there are some core pillars that will not change –but we want to give people the chance to experiment with us. It won’t be easy to get this done, but we will do our best to make it happen.
Commencing screen shot dump.
I hope you enjoyed this interview.