Lume is immediately visually unique, its colorful dioromas hand-crafted out of cardboard and paper, lit with doll house bulbs, and transformed into a 2D adventure game full of puzzles for you to solve.
The game's heroine, Lumi, is a young girl that seems assembled out of shapes cut from construction paper and glue. As players explore the world and admire its textured details, they'll help Lumi restore power to her granddad's home, and solve the mystery behind the blackout.
State of Play, a two-man operation comprising Luke Whittaker and Katherine Bidwell, released the point-and-click adventure title to Windows and Mac last May. The London-based indie developer earned an Excellence in Visual Arts nomination for Lume, and are release a port to iPhone, iPads, and iPod Touches this week.
Here we talked with Whittaker about how he came up with the game's aesthetic and concept, what those visuals communicate about State of Play's intentions, and the developer's plans for Lume's upcoming sequel.
What background do you have making games?
Luke Whittaker: I started back at university where I began using Flash, and my final project, a music creation game called A Break in the Road, which I released free on the web. I worked for a while making Flash games at a company in London, and then the success of A Break in the Road persuaded me to go freelance soon afterwards.
We set up State of Play in 2008 to create a space where we could make bigger, better work, and work with good people. We've been creating games ever since for the like of Mindcandy and Miniclip, and released the game Headspin: Storybook for iOS, which made it into Apple's Best of 2010.
We've also been mixing the games work with animation work for Oxfam and other charities. It's led quite naturally towards the creation of Lume, where all these skills came into play.
What development tools did you use?
The development environment was Flash, but we used quite a few other things along the way. Do pens and paper and cardboard and glue count as development tools? And miniature doll house lights? That was all to build the sets.
After that, we shot the sequence in HD with a Canon 650D, then worked on the footage in After Effects before bringing it into Flash for extra treatment and making it interactive.
How long had your team been working on the game?
The idea had been kicking around for quite some time. Low level thinking-about-it-when-on-the-bus kind of work probably started early 2010, but actual production didn't begin until late 2010. So, proper production-wise, it was probably around three to four months.
As I did the coding myself too, that helped keep the process nice and efficient (as long as I was efficient, which was not as often as I'd like).
How did you come up with the concept for Lume?
Lume went through a number of stages before it arrived where it is now. We originally played with a story about a girl in space who has to rescue her granddad. It was provisionally titled, in a fit of brilliance, Space Girl.
But we'd wanted to do something which explored the idea of re-using found objects and renewable energy, and setting it in space had started to pull the project in a different direction. And as we started experimenting with the visual style, the story seemed to naturally emerge.
And how did you develop its unique visual style? Why do you think it fit for the kind of experience/story you wanted to convey in Lume?
Back when we started, it wasn't going to be a real 3D set, just designed to look 3D, a bit like Headspin: Storybook. After a few tests of what was possible, I wondered why we were faking it, and so the idea of a real paper set was born. I've always been interested in architecture too, and it seemed like a good opportunity to play around and make whatever I wanted.
The distinctive wedge-shape of Granddad's house in Lume began with the idea that, if you wanted to power your house with solar panels on the roof, then surely it's best if your house is all roof. The different levels and the basement all then flowed from that idea, once we had this shape to fit everything around.
Because the story, the style, and the puzzles all grew at the same time, I think things naturally seemed to fit. So, we wanted solar panels -- that gave us the shape of the roof. Then it made sense for one of the panels to need fixing -- that gave us the solar panel puzzle.
The handmade aesthetic also matches the do-it-yourself nature of what Lumi's doing in the game -- making something special out of objects she finds.
Other than its different aesthetic, what do you think a game with handcrafted visuals like this is able to communicate, that you wouldn't get with a more traditional look?
I think it's able to communicate affection. We loved making this, and I would hope that's something which radiates from the game. And I think that, in turn, communicates that the ideas in the game are presented with honesty and care.
Are there any worries at all for you with its upcoming iOS port, that its impressive visuals won't be appreciated as much on a smaller screen?
We've been testing it on the iPhone today in fact, and we're incredibly pleased with the result. Somehow the smaller scale, and the fact that it's touchscreen, makes it feel even more like a model you can really play with. We're also making it for iPad2, and this will actually be in even higher resolution than the original Mac and PC game, so you'll be able to see even more detail.
The game was designed originally with the iPhone and iPad in mind as well, and we planned it so the aspect ratio would match and porting would be simpler. We were just waiting for the right time for this port, and we're really pleased, it's looking even better than we'd hoped. It's also given us the chance to add extra things like additional sound effects, which work really nicely to give touchscreen feedback.
Are there any lessons you took from classic or even modern/indie puzzle games, while building Lume?
The game was probably originally inspired by our love for age-old puzzlers like Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island. Recently we've loved the Professor Layton titles. We tried to bring together the best of both, so you get standalone puzzles like in Layton, but rooted in the world itself, and you still get the sense of exploration and discovery you had from those older adventure games.
What's next for State of Play?
Well, first off will be the iOS launch of Lume. But it's always been part of a larger story, and work on that had been going on in the background whenever we could fit it in. It's starting in earnest now, and so we'll be working on that pretty much full-time this year.
The next installment will be much bigger, and we'll be able to do so much more. We're planning all sorts of things: motion control cameras, electric motors, and weather effects.
It's very exciting. This is where we get to work out how to pull together all the ideas we want to see happen, and everything is kind of puzzle-solving for us. As games designers, at least if we never really get to enjoy solving the puzzles when they're done, we get the enjoyment of working out how to build them in the first place.
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?
I love GIRP. The control method is inspired. And we're playing Joust at the Wild Rumpus night in London, really looking forward to that. And then there are those which haven't been released, which I can't wait to get my hands on, in particular Fez.
What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?
Creatively, there's no other industry I'd rather be in. It's really healthy, and getting better all the time from what I can see. I love that everyone supports each other We're all genuinely excited to see new and interesting things. It's not about looking for a gap in the market, as you could argue the big studios battle for.
The scene's strength is that everything is different. It's an industry of ideas and interesting people.
Are there any other interesting developments/experiments you've seen lately in animation in games, either from indies or bigger studios?
I think in animation there's always been a love of handmade things. But the games industry, having arrived where it is driven by technology, we're only now starting to see it. The direction has always been moving towards 3D realism, and of course we're still not there yet. Walls are still mostly flat, and you still get unrealistic jaggy corners on PS3 games, which remind you it's computer generated.
Of course there was the fantastic The Neverhood, all made out of plasticine, but it didn't stop the rush for the latest 3D cards. Personally I'm bored with the impersonal cleanliness of so many 3D games. I want more of a connection to what I'm supposedly connecting with.
Little Big Planet was the first big budget title to do it, and everyone fell in love with it. You can love Sackboy, he's made out of something you feel you can touch. So I hope we'll see more craft in games in the future, whether they're indie titles or games from bigger studios. I'll know we've won when they crochet the next Gears of War.