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Interview: Lifeless Planet's David Board Bursts Onto Indie Scene

Who says an indie developer needs to build up a presence in the scene before they can truly capture the imaginations of the close-knit community? Lifeless Planet's David Board discusses becoming an indie sensation overnight.

Mike Rose

September 28, 2011

6 Min Read

Who says that an indie developer needs to build up a presence in the scene before they can truly capture the imaginations and hearts of the close-knit community? Sometimes an indie title fires out of the blue, instantly grabbing the limelight and building up unfathomable intrigue. Just over a week ago, developer David Board launched a Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming indie title Lifeless Planet. It generated little buzz in the first few days, with a few hundred dollars rolling in -- as Board tells Gamasutra, it was "nothing truly spectacular." Undeterred, Board continued to fire out press releases and information about his game to whoever would listen. Days later, something remarkable happened: Lifeless Planet experienced the indie boom, and was away. "Things just exploded," he told us. "I received almost $8,000 in pledges in one day ranging from $5 to $1,500 each." Enough to pass his goal of $8,500 in less than 24 hours. And it didn't stop there, he noted. "I was amazed with the response. So far, over 400 people have pledged from $5-$1,500 each. One guy who pledged $250 said he was unemployed but just couldn't resist supporting the game." "You can't imagine the sense of responsibility I feel to try to create something great. But the fact that so many people have responded positively to the trailer gives me some confidence that I'm on the right track." Indeed, the combination of intrigue, story and a brilliant trailer for the game definitely helped put Lifeless Planet on the map. Board was all too happy to explain to Gamasutra exactly what his upcoming title is all about. "Lifeless Planet is a new action-adventure game I'm developing about an astronaut who travels to a distant planet in search of life, but instead finds an abandoned Russian laboratory," he explained. "He suspects his mission is a hoax until a mysterious young woman saves him from a strange and deadly phenomenon." "The idea stems from my interests in astronomy and the space race. I've been really excited by the recent discoveries of extrasolar planets (that is, planets orbiting stars other than our Sun). The count is up over a thousand now, and evidence suggests a few of those could be habitable for some form of life." Board is all too aware that video games have explored the vast regions of space many times before, but he's looking to put a new twist on the genre thanks to recent advances in the field. New Discoveries, New Sci-Fi "I realize the theme of a mission to a distant planet is a common one in science fiction stories and games," he noted. "However, these recent discoveries cast things in a new light; where once we thought there might be other planets out there, now we know there are." "So the idea for this game started with me wondering what it would be like if/when humans someday sent a mission to one of these newly discovered planets." As for the Russian-scented twist, Board told us that he wanted an element in the story that would completely blow the mind of the player. What if it wasn't aliens that are the mystery? "When I tried to imagine the strangest thing to discover on an exoplanet, it wasn't some weird alien life but rather...humans! I like the irony that one would travel all that distance from Earth only to discover evidence of humankind." "And I like the conflict this would create for our protagonist who is expecting something extraordinary but instead finds the very ordinary," he said. "There are a few more plot twists that add depth to this narrative, but I don't want to spoil the story too much." And why Russians? Is he looking to rewrite the space race? "I'm old enough to remember the cold war first-hand (though not the space race!)," he laughed. "It was an intriguing time and I guess I'm trying to recapture some of that intrigue." "Again, I don't want to spoil the story with too many details, but let me say the Russians in the story are not really the bad guys so much as representatives of humanity. I find that we humans usually mean well, but often we tend to muck things up." Inspiration From Ico The name Lifeless Planet stirs up images of miles and miles of nothingness is all directions -- not exactly the most exciting prospect where exploration is concerned. Fortunately, the name is simply toying with the player, as there's far more to the planet than first meets the eye. "The set-up is that telescopes and probes singled out this planet as one that was rich in life," explained Board, "but by the time our astronaut arrives everything is dead and gone. Well, almost everything..." Rather than using space lasers to cut aliens down to size, however, our brave protagonist will be using his brain to forge a path in this third-person action-adventure. Said Board, "The objective is to unravel the mystery of the planet and find a way out of progressively dangerous circumstances. There will be puzzles (and some platforming) that mostly involve finding your way across the planet through difficult and deadly terrain." "My favorite experience in games is completing a level and entering the next area or stepping out into some new sweeping vista. I'm designing lots of those moments into Lifeless Planet so the player always feels like they're going somewhere new and discovering something exciting." "I'm going for a sense of realism," he told us. "I want to create a very ambient experience. There won't be direct combat for that reason because it just doesn't make sense for an astronaut to carry a gun -- though he may have a chance to make use of a found object or two!" Board named Ico as a huge inspiration for Lifeless Planet, noting that he finds it odd than more developers don't attempt to produce similar results. "Seems like these days it's always FPS this or MMO that (and I'll admit to being a big Halo fan)," he said. "I hesitate to compare my game to Ico, and let me be clear that I'm in no way suggesting that I'm creating Ico 2 here. I'm simply saying I'm trying to create something in that spirit." "I might fail, but at least I'm giving it a shot! I wish more developers would attempt this genre -- I know I'd buy more games like this." The developer is looking to launch Lifeless Planet in July 2012. He noted that, while many developers simply say that their games will be released "when it's done," he wanted to put out a set period for release, to prove to fans following the game that it won't simply fizzle away. "If I need more time, I'll take it, but I think setting a target date is a healthy thing for me because it will keep me working towards that goal," he explained. Between now and then, Board will be looking to build up a name in the indie scene, and getting the word out about his game wherever possible. He is certainly confidence that he has something on his hands that people will want. "I think there is a place for this kind of game that promises to bring some true adventure to the action-adventure genre. And I think I've put a unique twist on the space-race and space exploration themes."

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