Even though I had heard about Krillbite Studio’s Among The Sleep previously, it wasn’t until the developer unveiled its latest project – Mosaic – that I really started to pay attention to the Norwegian outfit. And after having recently completed Among The Sleep (which took me about 6 hours to complete at a leisurely pace), as well as the free to play title The Plan (which took me about 5 minutes to complete), it’s fair to say that Krillbite have proven themselves to be one of the more promising indie startups that gamers should be paying attention to – especially when one realises that the studio mostly consists of young university graduates who are barely out of their teens.
I had the chance to interview Krillbite, and got to ask the fledgling developer about its formation, its games, and why it tends to make shorter games – even if this strategy tends to irk some gamers who only want to invest in 15+ hour epics. Enjoy!
How did Krillbite Studio form and what difficulties did the indie developer face in its early days? How did this shape development of Among The Sleep as your first proper game?
We started out in university college. Among the Sleep was a Bachelor project at the college and we decided to roll with it and create a company after graduating. We had to work part-time jobs while developing, so the development naturally took much longer than anticipated. Also, we hadn’t developed a video game before, so it was extreme amounts to learn, and also (not the least) learning how to run a business. Our big break came with our Kickstarter which made us able to work full-time on the game, and made a lot of people aware of the game.
Whilst working on Among The Sleep, you worked on The Plan – a free to play side project that “was made in the afternoon and evenings in the winter of 2013, with no money put into it”. What inspired you to make such a game, and what are the chances of gamers seeing any more experimental free to play side projects from Krillbite in future – like a VR project maybe?
We wanted to do something completely different. Working on the same project for several years can be very tiring. So we made something short and cool to catch some fresh air, so to speak. We still game jam from time to time and create weird and cool stuff, but we haven’t published any of it. Yet. So there is a good chance you could see something like this again! Not sure about the VR, it’s hard to predict the future.
Among The Sleep deviates from the traditional template of what a first person game is, in that the player is controlling a defenceless baby as opposed to an armed adult marine. At the same time, the game is very much a “walking simulator” as opposed to being a “corridor shooter”. What made you decide to take this approach, and opt for a game that is less gung-ho action and more of a slow-burning suspenseful horror experience? In short, what was the inspiration and what influenced you to appropriate a macabre fairy tale setting for the game?
We always want to create something that is an experience unlike others. An experience that does more than “just” entertain. Nothing wrong with “just” entertaining, we just want our cake and eat it too. We had the idea with the toddler in the horror world, and it felt wrong to try to action that up. We also wanted to work with the feeling of helplessness, the eerie suspense, instead of jump scares and weapons. It was part of our storytelling.
Among The Sleep received fairly polarising reviews upon its release, with media outlets like Eurogamer giving the game 4/10 and arguing that the game was stylistic yet devoid of substance, whilst Destructoid gave the game 8/10 and praised its level design and story. Why do you think critical reaction was so mixed, and if you could go back and re-do Among The Sleep, how would you go about improving the game?
It is a very peculiar game, maybe you could compare it to liking only dogs or cats. Some people just have a preference, even though there is nothing wrong with either (don’t ask a dog or a cat lover that though). If people go into Among the Sleep expecting a horror game with monsters around every corner and action, you most likely will be disappointed. If you’re not pleasantly surprised as many have been! Of course there are things we would like to do better now, just because we have a ton more of experience and are able to do things better. But we had to make the “mistakes” we did in Among the Sleep to learn it all, so it’s all part of us and our evolution.
Among The Sleep deals with some fairly complicated socio-political issues, where the player has to deal with the traumatic effects of the nuclear family breaking down. Even though some people praise the manner in which the game deals with certain themes (such as mental illness and alcoholism), others however are a lot more critical of its overall narrative – especially with regards to the main monster’s gender. In a world in which feminist-centric thought control has made it increasingly difficult for women to be criticised – lest the person be accused of “mansplaining” and sexist misogyny – what sort of triggering fallout have you encountered whilst openly expressing yourself in a nuanced manner, especially when some would argue that Krillbite has no business making its “politically incorrect” opinions (on single motherhood) known as the bulk of its development team is largely male?
The fact that you call it a “feminist-centric thought control” reminds me that we still have a lot of work to do. That sounds very aggressive and negative. We will always fight for equality. I do not believe there is any harder to criticize a woman than a man. In Among the Sleep we don’t criticize, we shed light on situations that are real and painful every day. We haven’t gotten any critique from people about being politically incorrect. Some people have been pleasantly surprised that we have made a caring father character, but also he has a complex character, as we see in the DLC.
The mother elicits a lot of love and empathy from the audience when she sings Trollmors Vuggesang. What made you decide to use the lullaby as opposed to opting for another song, and how do you think its use was effective in conveying character and mood within the game?
It is a very well-known lullaby in Norway, and we thought it was a nice and creepy addition. We wanted to use the cosy vibe of the song and develop it into a horror tune through the game.
With the DLC content for Among The Sleep acting as a prequel to the main game, what is the likelihood of a proper sequel ever materialising in future? How would you go about improving upon what has come before?
We have no plans to create any more content for Among the Sleep.
The world of Among The Sleep is viewed from the perspective of a two year old baby, but your latest project – Mosaic – has the player assume the role of an adult who is suffering from a Marxist form of alienation. What made you decide to appropriate such a vastly different theme from what you’ve done previously? At the same time, and despite the huge amount of interest that Mosaic has received as a result of its teaser trailer, Krillbite has disclosed very few details about the game. Why is this?
We always like to make new and different things. We don’t want to be a studio of a specific genre. We also have a different main designer this time (we have two in the studio). We have revealed very little because it is a complex intertwined game and we don’t want to spoil anything.
It could be argued that the reason as to why Among The Sleep has sold over 100k copies is because it belongs to the incredibly popular first person genre. But Mosaic however is “something of a point-and-click adventure game” – a genre that hasn’t been commercially viable for most developers since 3D graphics became popular nearly 20 years ago. Why have you opted to make Mosaic a point-and-click adventure and why do you think the genre is a good fit for the game? At the same time, what difficulties have you encountered in transitioning between the two genres – especially as a young studio that has little development experience?
We are very inspired by games like Kentucky Route Zero, Firewatch, Inside, The Longest Journey, Gone Home, and other narrative strong games. We want to tell a specific kind of story, and we believe point-and-click is a good fit that creates an engaging and interesting game. We are aware we are taking a risk, as all projects are, but we would not like to live without some risks. We had to create new code bases for our new game anyway, no matter the genre, so it hasn’t been an unexpected transition. We want to learn, and we learn by doing.
The Plan was a side-scroller, and because of its experimental nature as a free to play side project, was seen as being a low risk project that Krillbite had little stake in from a critical and commercial perspective. Now that Among The Sleep has raised the profile of Krillbite immeasurably, what pressures is the studio experiencing in relation to ensuring that Mosaic lives up to fan expectation?
We aren’t experiencing any specific pressure, thankfully, and we don’t want to hype up our project. We have gotten wonderful feedback from fans and other developers, which is highly motivating.
Your previous games The Plan and Among The Sleep are 4 minutes and 4 hours long respectively, and this trend for making shorter games continues with Mosaic being only 3 hours long. Why does Krillbite choose to make shorter games, even though some players would argue that the lack of substantive content would discourage them from ever wanting to invest time and money in your gaming products?
There are a lot of gamers that don’t have time for 15+ hours games. Only 10% of people starting a 15+ hours game finish it! What’s the point then? Bigger and longer is not better. We don’t understand why anyone would dismiss a game by its length. A lot of gamers have full time jobs, family, and other interests that fight for their time, and we want to appeal to them.
Among The Sleep was initially announced for PC, Mac and Linux, before being ported to PS4 and (eventually) XBox One. With Mosaic having been announced for PC, Mac, Linux and (recently) PS4, what is the likelihood of the game appearing on XBox One and Switch?
We’ll just have to wait and see!
Krillbite Studio helped establish Hamar Game Collective and currently resides within its offices in Hamar, Norway. How do you think the organisation has benefited Hamar’s games community, and what is the Norwegian games development scene like as a whole?
For a long time, Norwegian game development was held back by the fact that people weren’t working together, they weren’t organised. The companies were tiny, and people didn’t share experiences. Hamar Game Collective has strengthened Hamar’s game community because you now have someone to turn to for questions and learning, which is very important. The Norwegian game scene is very much rooted in indie development. It is a small business at the moment, Norway haven’t had the big boom like Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland, but we are working hard at the moment to make that happen! We have had a handful of big stuff happening, like Funcom, DirtyBit, and PlayFish, so we know we can get there!