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Interview: Inside State Of Play's Charming Indie Title  Lume

Interview: Inside State Of Play's Charming Indie Title Lume

March 22, 2011 | By John Polson

March 22, 2011 | By John Polson
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More: Console/PC

[John Polson speaks with Katherine Bidwell of State of Play Games about upcoming PC and Mac game Lume, indie development philosophy and how Kinect can help in the future of animation.]

Luke Whittaker and Katherine Bidwell are the full-time duo behind State of Play Games. Before the company was officially established in 2008, Luke developed the critically acclaimed A Break in the Road. The company has since worked with big-name clients such as MTV, BBC, ESPN, and Shockwave.

Their latest games include A Short History of the World, a collection of 36 mini games which cover a different period in history from the Ice Age to present day, and Headspin: Storybook, a spot-the-differences game that comes to life in the form of a pop-up book.

Katherine and Luke are very excited about their next major project, the puzzle adventure game Lume, which they will release soon on PC and Mac as a downloadable title. The team urges fans to express interest about possible iPhone and iPad ports in the future.

State of Play Games has finally offered an exclusive sneak peek at the in-game play, where the paper created models come to life and the puzzles seem to fit the context of the story.

In the following interview, Bidewell explains how the team hopes to achieve more realism with its artistic approach compared to the multi-million AAA studio 3D model graphics approach. She discusses the future of animation, implementations of devices such as Kinect, the relevance of "indie" in today's industry, and lessons learned as well as lessons large companies can learn from a small indie studio.

What kind of game is Lume?

There are elements that will be familiar to many fans of point and click adventures. We've tried to be as intuitive as possible with the control scheme for example, and people will feel right at home there.

The style and overall concept are the places we've really gone to town, building a model rigged with miniature lighting and placing the character in a real setting that just feels more tactile than any we could have created with 3D software. We can't compete with consoles in their 3D graphics technology, but we can actually make something more realistic by going about it a different way.

With the puzzles, we wanted to deviate from the traditional and often obscure 'use hamster in blender' type, as bizarrely fun as they can be, aiming for self-contained and practical puzzles more akin to the Professor Layton games. Unlike those, however, the puzzles aren't just inspired by events in the game, they make sense in the game world. All the puzzles are also made from paper, so everything should just fit.

What is the scope of the Lume project?

It is designed to feel like something completely new. In fact, that's what gets us excited when we sit down and think about designing games. Doing something which doesn't test us doesn't interest us as much. Lume has definitely been exciting -- model-making, rigging a lighting setup, HD camera work -- all of it is something new and challenging.

In terms of length, Lume is the first installment of a larger adventure. It leads you into a story we've written about a village mystery, which features in this game but in the background. There's plenty of scope for the game to expand, and we're hoping it's got a good future.

Your games seem to be the antithesis of the hyper-realistic AAA titles that fill up game shelves. Is there anything you learn from these titles? What should these titles learn from you?

We look at these AAA games as almost a different industry; they often have very different aims and ways of going about developing, scheduling, and publishing. However, the principles of good game design are just as important to both.

We look at titles like Uncharted 2 as fantastic examples of what can be achieved with linear storytelling and a talented group of enthusiastic people. Games like Heavy Rain show a more experimental way of thinking about stories and show what can be done with it when coupled with big budgets.

However, we also learn that these things can be big risks, with years of people's creative energy going into one product. That makes us value our ability to adapt. If they can learn anything from us, perhaps it's that experimentation coupled with adaptability can help a company thrive and keep everyone excited about what they do.


Where do you see the future of animation headed? Can devices like Kinect or a yet unmade device help you achieve a richer fusion of gaming with animation?

Wow, the future of animation, a biggie. Obviously, the big screen films are heading towards computer generated films, such as Toy Story, and now towards using stereoscopic 3D, but there's also a lot of hand-made stuff which has appeared recently in response to all this. We love all that tactility. Having said that, we'd love to do something with stereoscopic 3D sometime.

I don't think the films are using it particularly effectively at the moment; they're the same blockbusters storyboarded in the same way, because they have to work with both 2D and 3D. Perhaps if 3D becomes accepted technology, we can make in indie 3D film. I'd love that. I'd start with a remake of Tim Burton's remake of Alice in Wonderland. A great 2D film, but a wasted opportunity as a 3D one!

Does a device like Kinect help achieve anything else you'd like to make?

We've seen Kinect hacked and played about a bit with it but not done anything creative with it yet. We do quite a bit of rotoscope work, so I wonder if Kinect could feed into that somehow. Wouldn't it be cool to map onto yourself an animated character? It could look like the film A Scanner Darkly but you could control it.

Were there any points in history you wanted to include in A Short History but could not? If so, why was that?

Aptly enough in a game about history, time was a big factor in the decision. We had a few more we couldn't make or were dropped in favour of others because of time. MY favourites we missed? The Black Death, where you were a character having to run around avoiding the spread of the disease. Too dark? Maybe, but fun. We dropped Live Aid from the 80s, and we dropped one about Andy Warhol, because his estate has been known to crash down on anyone using his images.

So, about that vocally talented girl that hums in A Break in the Road...

Her name's Tolu Obidipe. She was at university with us, but as far as I know she hasn't made any albums. She should, though; her voice is just amazing. She could just talk and you'd want to listen. The world is missing out.

What lessons have you learned making your games?

Um, lots! We've now got a good idea of how to approach different projects - the best people to work with and how to arrange the work. That's all good practical stuff you only really learn through doing it, getting some stuff right and other stuff wrong.

We're always working in different ways and testing ourselves, so we probably don't always work with the efficient production schedule those AAA titles are on. Sometimes you just need time to experiment and do something you love.That's how Lume started, in fact.

Are all the games you make "indie"?

It depends on the definition, I guess. We do make casual games for clients like Miniclip and Spil Games, but that still feels 'indie' to us - we're the ones going to them with the ideas and working in an independent way.

Do you feel "indie" is still a relevant term in the gaming industry?

It does embody a certain way the creators think about their games I guess, as long as the term isn't hijacked by larger companies to get some of the artistic credibility the term sometimes implies.

Practically I guess the term should mean those companies who are independent from the traditional publishers, but to me it embodies a striving for independent creative thought more than anything else. If you need a publisher to continue making great games you care about, so be it.

Which Indies do you know play nicely with each other? Not so nicely?

In my experience they all do, although others may have found otherwise. We meet and work alongside each other at Game Jams, sometimes making connections then going on to work with each other, and we talk at games events like friends. There's no competition really, just excitement when you see something really good you'd like to be a part of.

What questions would you like to ask other indies?

These Game Jams are turning into fertile ground for developing new games ideas. With just a couple of days to get something done, you just go for it and don't worry too much. So I'd ask other indies, "Want to come to some Game Jams and make something cool?"

We're always after gifted AS3 and iOS coders with game design skills, ones who can run with ideas and build them, even just with squares and circles. If you're one of those people, let's collaborate!

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