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The developer of A Mortician's Tale talks death-positive game design

October 20, 2017 | By Bryant Francis

October 20, 2017 | By Bryant Francis
More: Console/PC, Design, Video

Many games have some portrayal of death, but not many games examine it too closely. So if you’re a game developer interested in the subject, you should know about Laundry Bear Games’ first release A Mortician’s Tale. It’s a small narrative game set in a funeral home that presents players with a view on death from the perspective of a character deeply entwined with its effect, but not its victims. 

Today on the Gamasutra Twitch channel, we were lucky enough to play A Mortician’s Tale with lead developer Gabby DaRienzo. Joined by her compatriots in Twitch chat, we sought out to learn more about the game’s development, and what other indies hoping to find success with niche games can learn from A Mortician’s Tale. 

The sometimes blunt conversation is worth a full watch, and we’ve archived it for your viewing up above. If you’re in a rush though, here are a few quick takeaways from our chat with DaRienzo. 

Engines can be a foundation for aesthetics

A Mortician’s Tale was originally conceived in the PICO-8 engine, which has an extremely limited color palette. At the time, DaRienzo and her cohorts were trying to figure out a reliable aesthetic for portraying death, and stumbled on a purple color that could be easily displayed in PICO-8. Though the final game uses a few more colors to depict certain inputs and characters, it’s a strong lesson in how your game-making technology can provide a foundation for your game’s aesthetic. 

Even small games deserve fair pricing

The Laundry Bear Games team decided to price A Mortician’s Tale at $15, a choice that some Steam reviewers have complained about due to the game’s length. Since game pricing is an important conversation for many indies right now, we asked DaRienzo how she and her colleagues arrived at that price point. According to DaRienzo, they decided on the (arguably not that high) price as a way of maintaining the value of her team’s polish, research, and craft about a very specific subject. It’s a strong argument for other developers working on small games to defend their worth, even as prices are pushed down elsewhere. 

There’s a method to linear-ness

On a spectrum of games that exist, one could imagine a mortician simulator game that allowed players to make all kinds of screwups on the way to preparing a body for a funeral. But DaRienzo explained they didn’t see that realm of possibilities as something they wanted to explore, and that the game’s linear nature forces the player to spend time with an idea (in this case, a dead body) that they might otherwise not be willing to face. 

There’s a lot more keen insight into the design of A Mortician’s Tale in the video above, so be sure to watch that and follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel for more helpful developer interviews. 

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