Road to the IGF: Blendo Games' Thirty Flights of Loving

As part of Gamasutra's Road to the IGF series, Chung discusses how a short 10 minute long title can be nominated alongside more lengthy endeavours, and why his games tend to be just that little more diverse and different.
Brendon Chung of Blendo Games has produced some of the most exciting and unique video game experiences of recent years, from the delightful Gravity Bone to IGF 2012 finalist Atom Zombie Smasher. Now the indie dev has yet another game as an IGF finalist. This time around it's Gravity Bone sequel Thirty Flights of Loving, and it's just as intriguing as its predecessor. Clearly the IGF judges agree, as the game has been nominated for the Narrative award, while also gaining honorable mentions in both the Nuovo and Seumas McNally Grand Prize categories. As part of Gamasutra's Road to the IGF series, Chung discusses how a short 10 minute long title can be nominated alongside more lengthy endeavours, and why his games tend to be just that little more diverse and different.

What is your background in making games?

I got my start by making mods for first-person shooters, then I moved on to the AAA space for a number of years, where I worked on third-person action games. After that, I started Blendo Games, where I currently do all the art, design, and programming.

What development tools did you use to develop Thirty Flights?

Thirty Flights of Loving uses the KMQuake2 engine, which is based on id Software's Quake 2 engine and an add-on named Lazarus. Models were created in Blender, audio was edited in Audacity, texture work was done in Photoshop, and levels were made in GTKRadiant.

How long did you work on the game?

Content creation took about three months and polish & bug-fixing took an additional few months. Thirty Flights of Loving leveraged a lot of existing assets from its predecessor, Gravity Bone, so that sped up development.

How is it that such a short experience can go head-to-head at the IGF with other titles that are on a much larger scale?

That's like comparing a 20-minute short film to a feature-length film, or a short story to a Dostoyevsky novel. You get something different from each of them, and each of them have different goals. When I was younger, 20+ hour length was part of my criteria of how good a game was. Now that I'm getting older, with more responsibilities and less time, I look toward to games I can play and finish in a shorter amount of time. I suppose they're called short-form games, though I think as games start to encompass a more varied demographic, they'll become a substantial part of the eco-system.

It's particularly special that Thirty Flights is nominated for the Narrative award, given that the game features barely any text or written story at all. When it comes to telling a story through actions rather than words, what do you think is the most important thing to remember?

Limitations force you to be creative. If your short story is limited to one sentence, you'll have to make every word count. If you're making a sci-fi movie with a shoe-string budget, it forces you to be clever as to how to represent Alien Diplomat from Bojo IV. In the case of Thirty Flights of Loving, forgoing dialogue forced the game to find alternative ways of conveying information. I think it's easy to use certain things as crutches - walls of text, floating objective markers. These things become crutches for a reason - they're proven to work. As a developer I enjoy the challenge of seeing what happens when you erase a crutch. The replacement might not be as effective, clear, or robust, but it's almost always interesting.

The game was originally launched as part of the Idle Thumbs Kickstarter. Was there anything particularly interesting that you learnt about the way in which you initially put the game out to the public?

It was exciting to see the limited Kickstarter release generate buzz that eventually burbled up to the public release. Word-of-mouth plus a generous amount of time led to a great release.

Your games are always so diverse and different. How do you come up with your ideas?

Film has its language. When the camera is placed close to a character, you're seeing things from that character's perspective. When the perspective is consistent, you recognize it; when it's perpetually shifting, you recognize it. You might not recognize it on a conscious level, but there's a part of your brain that picks up on it. thirty flights 1.jpgLiterature has its language, comics have its language, music has its language. Video games, I think, is still generating its language. And that's exciting to me, and it's part of the reason why I love jumping from genre to genre.

Are there any elements that you experimented with in Thirty Flights that just flat out didn't work with your vision?

I had a fairly tight deadline for completing Thirty Flights of Loving, so I kept its scope under a microscope. There were a few parts either removed or replaced. I find things sometimes only become clear once you see something moving on the screen.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you particularly enjoyed?

I was lucky enough to play a build of Gone Home, and was very taken with it. It's exactly the kind of game I wished would exist, and I'm so glad it's being made so lovingly. FTL was definitely one of my favorite games of 2012. It has a clean presentation and has everything that's great about roguelikes - dire situations, improvisation, and no shortage of stories created on-the-fly.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

I like that there's a lot of games that prefer to be interesting rather than good. We have plenty of good games that are guaranteed good times with proven mechanics. Then you have interesting games, that probably stumble at every possible step, but ultimately lead toward new territory.

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