In 2013, and as someone with over 9 years of experience in creating interactive experiences in both games and marketing, Colin Dwan decided to eschew the security of his day job at McKinney in order to go it alone and set up his own indie studio – Prologue Games. Since then, he has been hard at work on the company’s first ever game – Knee Deep – a graphic adventure title with a highly stylized art direction reminiscent of some of Suda 51’s more gritty cel-shaded offerings (such as Killer 7 and No More Heroes).
With the release schedule for Knee Deep mirroring that of episodic pioneers Telltale Games, Prologue Games garnered a lot of excitement and press attention after they showed off the game at Rezzed this year. And now that Episode 1 for Knee Deep is in the final stretches of development, I thought it was high time that Colin Dwan (owner of Prologue Games) took the time to answer some of my more probing questions. Enjoy!
Billed as a “swamp noir in three acts”, Knee Deep follows the episodic route as championed by graphic adventure stalwarts Telltale and games like Kentucky Route Zero. Why do you think the episodic model is so popular with developers looking to make graphic adventure games and what is it about the episodic model that lends itself so well to the graphic adventure genre?
Episodic is really attractive for us on a few levels. From a pure gameplay perspective, it lays out nice bite-sized chunks of content for our audience. Instead of building a sandbox world where you spend weeks inside, we’re creating tightly structured doses of great entertainment. You can approach an episode with the knowledge that you can play a scene or two at a time or sit down and binge for an hour and a half or two hours to power through an episode. From a consumer perspective, if you’re not sure about the game as a whole, you don’t have to buy the season pass up front. The price point for a single episode should make Knee Deep a very accessible test-drive and let a wider audience understand what this swamp-noir is all about.
Both Telltale Games (The Walking Dead) and Cardboard Computers (Kentucky Route Zero) are notorious for having episodes of their games ship late. What fail-safe procedures do you have in place to ensure that Knee Deep does not suffer from the same fate in terms of delays to its own episodic production and release schedule? At the same time, do you have a rough idea for how long a time-span it will be before all three acts are released?
We keep our team chained to their desks and feed them through a hamster bottle until the game is finished. No, we’ve felt the pain from other delayed releases and specifically set up our production pipeline to minimize risk of delays when we got started. We’ve actually been in pre-production for Act 2 for a while and will overlap Act 3 work to keep the release interval as small as possible. We’ve set up our schedule to keep releases about 4 months apart. Hopefully we won’t have to break out the shackles to make that happen.
After briefly skim-reading the profiles of the staff involved in production, it becomes acutely obvious that Prologue Games heritage (aside from Wes Platt) does not immediately lie with the graphical adventure genre. Given that most developers have difficulty in adapting their skillset to the demands of a genre outside their field of expertise, what steps has the studio taken to ensure that its Knee Deep game is able to live up to critical scrutiny and not be lost in an increasingly congested marketplace upon release?
The great thing about game development is that to a large degree, technical and creative skill is more about rapidly implementing what’s in your head rather than relying explicitly on the work you’ve previously done. Most of us have been in game development for 10+ years and during that time we’ve had great opportunities to implement a wide range of gameplay including interactive fiction, MMOs, FPS, flash games, mobile games and even arcade cabinets. When it comes to the specific work at Prologue Games, each of us brings a wonderful perspective to the creative process. A story arc or set of scenes may start with a script in someone’s head but it’s not until art, animation, engineering, and audio have contributed that it really reaches the full potential. We’ve specifically attacked the presentation of Knee Deep in a way that has been received as a unique and fresh take on storytelling and are incredibly excited to share it with the world.
Both Wes Platt and Colin Dwan previously worked together at Icarus Studios (Fallen Earth) and were able to solidify their working relationship before reuniting again at Prologue Games. But what steps did the studio take to ensure that future hires were a good cultural fit for the team and that the individuals concerned were able to make a positive creative contribution to its game projects?
We’ve actually had the pleasure of bringing on several other past team members from Fallen Earth in addition to our new hires so we had a great base to build on. For new folks, we usually look for a few key traits. Beyond base competence in their field, we’re looking for people who actively seek out collaborative opportunities. We don’t need someone who thinks they’re god’s gift to game developers. We’d rather take someone who is a fast learner and is willing to share the burden of creative input with everyone around them. We’ll often do a trial contracting period with strong candidates and have been extremely fortunate to find amazingly talented and supportive new teammates to join us.
With Knee Deep being developed on Unity for PC, do you have any plans for the game to be released on consoles (including Wii U) and tablets – especially given that the development engine lends itself so well towards cross-platform development?
We absolutely love the idea of bringing Knee Deep to consoles and have tried to leave that door open with smart interface design from day one. We went through several styles of movement, conversing, and interacting with the intention of keeping everything streamlined for controller support. This works in our favor even if we don’t end up having the chance to get onto consoles as more and more gamers are using controllers with their PCs (ala Steam Big Picture mode). The current game will ship with Xbox360 and XboxOne controller support on computers and has shown wonderfully with that setup at tradeshows so far. The biggest hurdle to getting on consoles at the moment is purely a manpower/budget one. We know the game will port quickly but want to give 100% of our attention to the base PC/Mac/Linux versions before turning our attention to any console editions.