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Postmortem: 'The many mistakes we made while making Little Inferno'

Kicking off the IGS this morning, Tomorrow Corporation's Kyle Gray talked candidly about the development, launch and marketing issues behind 2012 fireplace simulator Little Inferno.

Mike Rose, Blogger

March 17, 2014

3 Min Read

Kicking off the Independent Games Summit at GDC this morning, Tomorrow Corporation's Kyle Gray talked candidly about the development, launch and marketing issues behind 2012 fireplace simulator Little Inferno. In a postmortem subtitled "The many mistakes we made while making Little Inferno", Gray discussed how the original concept, "inspired by us ordering lots of things from Amazon Prime," was meant to only take six months to create -- but ended up taking around two and a half years. The game, which has sold 1 million copies to date across six platforms, was originally called "My Fireplace," and was going to be an adventure game with puzzles to beat and characters to converse with -- the fireplace element was only one part of the original idea. It went even further. A subway train would allow you to travel through time and cause your packages to arrive immediately, rather than taking days. And at some point, there was a Katamari-style minigame where you could roll all your stuff into a ball and eventually engulf the entire world. "We went crazy and overscoped," says Gray. "Fortunately, the Wii U became a thing."

We went crazy and overscoped... Fortunately, the Wii U became a thing."

The announcement of the Wii U, and the idea of being a launch title for the console, caused the Tomorrow Corporation to take a long, hard look at their game concept, and drastically chop it down in time for the Wii U. The message of the game was also a tricky subject for the team. Little Inferno is the kind of game where you don't want to say too much to someone who hasn't played it, as much of what goes on could be considered spoiler material. "We made a game that no-one could talk about," laughs Gray. People knew that you burned things in a fireplace, but otherwise it was difficult to market it outside of this description. Of course, anyone who has played the game knows that it gets that little bit different towards the end. "Another mistake: It's risky to put all your cool content at the end of the game," mused Gray. One cool element that did come from this mysterious angle, however, was the way in which players and the press talked back and forth about the message of the game, and what it all meant. "People thought the game was about global warming," notes Gray, since it's always snowing outside -- but that wasn't it at all. "We wanted to make a fireplace simulator, and it didn't make sense to have it in a place where it's hot," explains Gray simply. So was it a commentary of freemium games then, buying items to buy more items, and waiting long periods of time for them to arrive? "Not really," Gray answers. "I think a lot of people don't like freemium games -- that's cool. But it wasn't about that." In fact, the time limits were all about getting old, and feeling more concerned about what you do with your time. Little Inferno is more a commentary on realizing what time you have, and making the most of it. The final problem with the game turned out to be the fireplace itself. 90 percent of the game takes place with the view of the fireplace, and the background rarely changes. "It made a lot of people feel like it was a very small game," notes Gray. "That probably ended up hurting us quite a bit."

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