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An Outcry explores the importance of a single personal choice

An Outcry sees a nameless character locked out of their apartment for the night, dealing with bigot neighbors and debating genocidal birds about their right to exist.

Joel Couture, Contributor

February 10, 2023

9 Min Read
A person smoking. Their eyes are covered with scratched black lines, like someone has drawn over them with a marker
Game Developer and GDC are sibling organizations under parent company Informa Tech

This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. The IGF (Independent Games Festival) aims to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize independent game developers advancing the medium. Every year, Game Developer sits down with the finalists for the IGF ahead of GDC to explore the themes, design decisions, and tools behind each entry.

An Outcry sees a nameless character locked out of their apartment for the night, dealing with bigot neighbors and debating genocidal birds about their right to exist.

Game Developer spoke with Quinn K., Kitet Frog, and Leaflet from the Nuovo Award-nominated game's development team to talk about dealing with the emotional challenges that come from working on a game about disturbing real-world political movements, why the crux of the game comes down to a single choice, and why it's vital that we strike at cruel political subjects head-on to affect actual change.

Who are you, and what was your role in developing An Outcry?

K.: I'm Quinn K., a 28 year-old indie developer and writer from Austria. I did a bit of everything on this game: the sprite portraits, the environments, the bulk of the writing, and team coordination. I even composed a small number of the music tracks on the OST.

Frog: Hi, I'm Kitet Frog, I'm the co-director/visual director for An Outcry. I did most (but not all) of the cutscene art, helped instruct other artists on the team, tossed ideas back and forth with Quinn, and so on.

Leaflet: I'm Leaflet, and I worked as a composer and FR Translator on An Outcry (and did a bit of sound design).

What's your background in making games?

K.: This was the first long-form game I've ever created. Before then, I started and abandoned a number of fangames, contributed to many ill-fated projects led by other people, and made a half-hour long Twine adventure.

Frog: I've wanted to make games ever since I was a pre-teen and learned that there are easily-accessible tools for doing so. Most of the time, though, I focus on contributing visual assets for friends' projects. I've dabbled with RPGMaker 2003 before, so I already had some understanding of that engine's graphical limitations.

Leaflet: I'm a games freelancer specialized in audio (Splatter, There Swings A Skull) and narrative (The Cartomancy Anthology), and a self-taught game dev on the side.

How did you come up with the concept for An Outcry?

K.: In late 2016, I lived at Vienna's city belt. That was one of the most turbulent times of my life. One day, I locked myself out, and with my roommates away and no cell phone, all I could do was wander and smoke the pack of cigarettes I had left my apartment to smoke. I saw a pile of bricks in the courtyard of the building, and imagined many animals on it watching me.

This was the first impulse towards making An Outcry, which would first be translated to a rudimentary Twine sketch (now lost). From there, life happened to me and politics happened to the world, and the idea grew into something more complex than that initial impulse.

What development tools were used to build your game?

Quinn: As far as my roles are concerned, I used RPG Maker 2003 to script the game and GraphicsGale and Aseprite for my graphical contributions. As far as the others are concerned, we used Clip Studio Paint, Blender, Paint Tool SAI, Ableton, and others.

An Outcry takes players to a fictional world dealing with many disturbing real-world issues. What made you want (or feel you needed to) explore such topics with a narrative horror game?

K.: Twice in my lifetime, Austria had a far-right government in office. I helped at a communal safe space the second time, and talked to a lot of people. Shortly after the story's original impulse, Donald Trump was elected in the United States. Simply put: I lived life with people who were frightened and directly affected by the policies instated by these governments, and realized that many people (among them myself) were living their greatest fear in these times. In framing this as horror, this game intends to speak to them.

An Outcry is unflinching in its explorations of these hard topics. What made you strike these topics head-on? Why is it important to face these subjects head-on?

K.: Because they are a very real and, to many at the margins, very scary aspects of our real lives. In displaying them unflinchingly and without obfuscation, we hoped to remove ambiguity and make those who are affected by them feel seen, and to cause those who aren't to confront them.

Frog: Well, with topics as difficult as An Outcry's focus, subtlety isn't always the best idea. Too subtle, and at best, the majority of your audience misses the metaphor. At worst, your work could get taken as a positive symbol for people who resonate with the antagonists' ideals.

As a creator, what difficulties do you face in creating a work that tackles these subjects? How do you deal with the emotional toll it must take on you?

Frog: This is going to sound silly, especially since I wasn't the main writer, but I made a LOT of goofy joke doodles of the characters during the production of this game. I did it just because I wanted to, but I think it kept the team's spirits up. It's a little harder to be emotionally wrecked by the game's story when you have a drawing of the protagonist smoking a blunt bigger than their entire body backing you up.

K.: All my life, I have absorbed shock after shock. As a result, I was galvanized; I learned to manage my own emotions through creation. Really, your question has it backwards: Creating stories that tackle these subjects head-on is what helps me handle their real-world counterparts. These topics aren't easily ignored to somebody who experiences their influence in their day-to-day life. If anything, my creating stories with this subject matter is less harmful to me than the ensuing harassment from reactionaries.

Leaflet: I was fortunate to have the opposite experience coming into An Outcry. I was lucky to be in a very stable, positive and healthy place physically and mentally while working on the game and it felt as though being involved in something very strongly political and, at times, very hard-hitting with its themes and narrative, was a way to put that good fortune to good use, if that makes sense.

What drew you to have the game split into two very different routes based on a single choice near the start: "Ignore or Follow"? Why was such a single choice so important to you?

K.: First: Because when a person is faced with injustice, there are only those two options. You act, or you stand by. We rephrased this as "follow" and "ignore" to be more concise, and for the selection screen to properly display the choice.

Second: This game is strongly inspired by the works of Bertolt Brecht (taking inspiration from several of his own, and his "disciples'" works); Brecht wrote some of his plays twice, accounting for a single response of a character—a "Yes" or a "No", for example—being different. These plays were intended as social teaching tools, and so is An Outcry.

What thoughts went into the design of the birds, visually and as characters?

Frog: Something that was important to consider was the separation of the Shrikes from normal, innocent birds. They needed to seem normal enough to be deceiving, but monstrous enough (aside from their speech and ideology) to avoid players feeling bad for using violent self-defense against them.

We ended up conceptualizing the Shrikes as being made out of cigarette ash, so their "feathers" have this very flaky, layered look, with an orange glow of smoldering fire behind their masks. Since the art in the game is fairly low resolution, this design facet is usually pretty subtle, though it seems to have worked out anyway!

What made birds feel like an appropriate symbol for the tide of hatred and hateful people that are on the rise?

K.: Among other reasons, this came from my reading Max Porter's novella Grief is the Thing with Feathers, in which one of the narrators is a bird speaking in a free-associative, inattentive rhyme; quick to lose interest, hasty in its judgment, spontaneously violent. Additionally, bird eyes have always given me the creeps, and the problem of being seen is another at the core of An Outcry's themes. Birds also come in flocks, and this "strength in numbers" proved another useful metaphorical tool.

The game features a defense-based combat system for when the crows (interviewer accidentally called the birds crow here) decide to get in your way. What ideas went into designing this system? Into focusing 'combat' on protecting yourself?

K.: They are shrikes, not crows. Shrikes are a type of songbird, one that impales its prey on thorns.

The main idea with combat was to make a system that emphasized survival ahead of killing the opposing team. It was also supposed to reinforce a core tenet of the Shrikes as a concept: the fact that their power grows exponentially the more of them you are faced with. A battle with one Shrike is easy as pie, but once there are two, or three, or five, it becomes a fight for survival.

Conceptually, this was supposed to underline that ensuring one's own survival is an act of resistance in a society that is hateful of you.

Leaflet: I don't have much to contribute to this topic, but I *will* take this opportunity to brag about being

the first person that found an exploit that makes the Unnamed invincible.

An Outcry feels like a call for compassion as well as outrage. What do you hope to evoke in the player with this experience?

Frog: I see it as a call to introspection, as much as it is a call to action. Any game, any story, can tell the audience to get out there and make a difference—but how effective is that call, when it's heard by people who haven't questioned what their idea of "making a difference" is?

K.: A desire to act when your action can help somebody society abhors. If we could make even one more person speak up next time they walk past the public harassment of a Muslim woman, or add one more body to a crowd of protestors against racist policies, our goal will be achieved.

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