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Eternity's Child indie creator Luc Bernard is leaving game development, shortly after the recent PC release of his WiiWare-bound episodic platformer. But why? Gamasutra caught up with the controversial artist and designer, who admits he may have "b

August 19, 2008

17 Min Read

Author: by Alastair Wallis, Staff

Luc Bernard, artist and designer behind indie platformer Eternity's Child, recently made waves when he announced via his blog that he "won't be continuing in videogames," largely due to financial difficulties and his perception that "the press can really destroy you morally". After originally announcing the game as an XNA title for Xbox Live Arcade in early 2007, Eternity's Child eventually moved to WiiWare and PC formats, with the latter version having released on Steam late last month. Despite his plans to take leave of game development in the future, Bernard has firmly stated his intention along with development and publishing partners Silver Sphere Studios and Alten8 to keep releasing new patches and content for the game, intended as the first episode in a series. Meanwhile, the WiiWare version remains in development. In the wake of the initial wave of reviews for the game, a few of which took a particularly combative tone, causing further internet commotion, Gamasutra contacted Bernard to discuss his recent statements, the reactions to the game, and his own hindsight on the whole affair. Also discussed are his sometimes-rocky relationship with programmer Joshua Pearce, as well as future creative plans, which may include television and film -- possibly with notorious game-to-film director Uwe Boll. How did you move from the previous XNA version to getting the game on Steam and Wiiware? Luc Bernard: Well, at that time there was a lack of information about how how we were able to sell XNA games. Also at that time I was in America just, well, wasting time, so I was not working on the game properly. So, well, once I got back to Europe for a month I decided to go for PC and Wii because there seems to be more players on those machines. What was it that attracted you to XNA in the first place, then? LB: Mainly the HDTV and, well, Xbox 360. Most people like to play on consoles now, and for some weird reason people see you as a success if you get a game on a console rather than PC. Though, PC has some of the best games, and I prefer playing PC versions of Xbox games. How did the deal with Alten8 come about, and how did that lead to the game heading to Steam? LB: Well, I knew the CEO before, because we did a mobile game together, so knowing I wanted to try out the Wii, and they were developers for it, I decided to do that version with them. The Steam version came because a lot of people wanted it to come out on other machines than Wii, and all the original code was done on PC, so it would have been a waste to not put it out on PC. Plus, you get HD greatness! Are you glad you launched on PC first? It seems like it's given you a good chance to at least become aware of the issues that the game has, and have a chance to fix them up. LB: We fixed them up the first day. I think it was good, yes, but both ones are really different. The PC one will be never ending while the Wiiware one you buy it and when you finish it it's over, no updates. Was the $5 pricepoint of the game your idea, and do you think that's worked in regards to drumming up interest? LB: Yes, I always wanted it to be really cheap. I want as many people to try it out possible. That might have made people interested in it for sure -- more people are willing to give it a try. How many copies have you sold so far? LB: Haha, I have a contract with Valve that says no revealing numbers! So what other stats have you been able to gather from Steam? You can check the average amount of time spent playing and things like that, right? LB: Yes that is pretty neat. Steamworks is really awesome. Steam is taking PC games to the next level; now gamers need to get away from their consoles and play more on PC. When was the release date decided upon? LB: We kept on changing month for the PC version and then set a date and, well, got it out. As simple as that. Would you have wanted longer, given the reaction to the unpatched version? LB: Well, the jumping button worked fine. Angel just bends. The beta testers had no problems and neither did we, so that's what I'm still trying to figure out. The press never told us it wasn't working in the preview versions, and they didn't like the bending -- because we went for a more realistic jumping. But, well, we got a patch out the same day the game was released. I mean, what other devs do that? lb1.jpgHow do you feel about reviews noting that the game feels like a work in progress? LB: I totally agree with the Kotaku one: Eternity's Child Steam is a very different game than the Wiiware one. The Steam one is for users; it's going to grow with the community. Right now for only $4.99, people have got 15 hours of gameplay out of it, while with new chapters added and the level editor being made better and better the game will never end. So we are doing something new in terms of episode based games. You buy Eternity's Child once you get all the new episodes for free updated via Steam. That seems a little weird -- I mean, you could charge for them really, couldn't you? Why not price additional episodes as well? LB: Let's put it this way: I always wanted to do a cheap game so many people could buy it. And I wanted to do something different episode wise. My plan is to offer the best deal possible to gamers. I know you've mentioned in the Steam forums that you're interested to see where future patches take the game -- do you think this could effectively put potential buyers off, given that it suggests a lack of a "definitive" version? LB: What I meant by patches was new chapters. I wanted to see what fans wanted to see and know about the world. I mean, listen to your customers! Don't take them for granted. We reply personally to each message and make sure everyone is 100% happy. If someone is lost in a level, they tell us and we help them finish. Eternity's Child: Chapter 1: Mother Nature on its own is worth the $4.99, but with us always adding things, why would it put people off? They get a game that is always growing and one that listens to them. I mean, is it better to have a game that is always growing, or just one that once you play it, it's dead? There will never be a ending to Eternity's Child Steam. What do you see yourself adding in the future? LB: I want to do the sequel to Chapter 1, which will be very story based, and also a prequel chapter. I think we also need to add new features to the level editor and a website for people to upload their levels, since users love that. And maybe easier ways to make mods: so far I've seen people modding Eternity's Child with Half-Life and Spore. Did you expect that kind of modding to happen this soon? LB: None of us did. It went pretty fast, but it's really neat -- I am loving it. I can't wait until I see someone put porn pictures into Eternity's Child, I would find that really funny. But, I mean, this is really awesome. Plus, the custom levels will be great: we're starting to see some, and I am trying to set up a website for people to upload them with a Japanese translator who is good at website stuff. How many episodes do you expect the story to run over? LB: There are two others planned, but if Eternity's Child sells constantly all the time, we're just going to add episodes all the time. Are there particular points in the reviews that have criticised the game that you have problems with? LB: Well, there was one review that seemed more personal than anything else. That's the way I felt about it. Plus, I hate it when someone does a review without finishing the game. And you can tell, via Steam? LB: No, because one of them told me, since we made peace behind the scenes. Since I wanted a re-review, since you can't review a game without finishing it. lb1.jpgWhy do you say it was a personal attack? LB: It felt more like one with the comments like, "Do not mention this game, it will give it some sort of unholy power." I mean, that was not necessary, so for me it was a direct insult. Are there criticisms that you would agree with? LB: Yes, I need the next chapter to focus a lot more on the story. It's what is interesting about Eternity's Child, so even if some people find it cheesy, fans want to know more. Do you think you'll be getting the story across in different ways, given the problems that people seemed to have with the approach you took in the first episode? LB: You mean the fact that the first episode was about Mother Nature? Well, Joshua found that my original story was too cheesy and that I needed to hire a writer to help me because I talk like a retard, so for Chapter 2 I get to hire a writer and Joshua can't say anything if it's cheesy. People like cheesy stuff anyways. Are there more positive elements that you're glad to see acknowledged? LB: The thing I'm the most glad about is the community growing around the game. I mean, it's just great. It's not like we just released this and let it out there, we are looking after every customer, and I'm sure they are also having fun telling us what they want to see. Plus, loads of people write to us saying that they love the game, and that's it's the indie game of the summer. What about comments on your blog like, "as we speak Joshua is tightening up the controls and jump (about fucking time to be honest)"? Doesn't that imply a lack of workable relationship between the two of you? LB: We are both two different people, so we get into a lot of fights about what we think should be done like this or that, and there has been a lot of drama behind the scenes. I won't go out and tell our personal lives. But it's mainly different ideas, I mean I don't want to go any further into saying anything. That might sound bad. We are just different. Is there any chance you'll continue working together? LB: Well yes, on Eternity's Child -- we've still got chapters to do, and then the Wiiware one with Alten8. But Joshua has got some game ideas he wants to do, and I've got my own, so for the future we might not work together. But we might end up doing another game -- we just won't be doing all our games together. Haha, do you realise this question makes us sound like we were a married couple or something? What I meant, basically, is that it's kind of a blunt thing to say -- it's certainly not something I'd say publicly in regards to anyone I work with. Well, behind scenes you see me and Joshua insulting each other when we don't agree, so why can't we do it in public? Let's put it this way, I will always be honest with people. I can get mad at someone for something but then after a few hours I get over it and move on, but if I have a problem I will tell them. I guess it's not professional, but I mean, we're indies, I'm not employed by a company so I don't need to be censured. This is also probably the reason that I do not work for any company. I think what I have done several times on the internet -– well, no one would want that. lb1.jpgHow does Joshua feel about the whole situation? Surely the level of blame you've attributed to him can't be a good thing. LB: Well, I do wish he would listen to me on some elements, but yes, I did get quite angry and I was not nice to him. These questions really do sound like something you would find in a tabloid -- this is weird. Totally not my intention. I'm not trying to suggest anything – you've just clearly been working together on the game for a while. It's like Morrissey and Johnny Marr, or something. They worked well together, and not so well apart. But you're really in a position of creative control for the whole thing, right? I'm assuming you wouldn't exactly view the game as a team based exercise. LB: Well, I don't get to control as much as you think. I mean, me and Joshua -- it's really a partnership so if he disagrees with something he won't do it. He also designed a baddie in Eternity's Child. I mean, I need to listen to ideas from other people because they can bring in some cool ideas. But yes, I must admit, I would have preferred maybe to control everything, but then that would be like me being a dictator. But, on all graphical elements I got my say! Like, where things are placed, etc., and what is a big no and when there was graphical glitches. I'm just curious about his reactions to the blame that you seem to have placed on him, to a degree. LB: Hmmm, I think he was angry at me for a day or two. But he got over it, since I'm the public guy so I always have to deal with the hate mail. Why did you decide to remove the Destructoid robot? LB: Well, I put him in, because one of the journalists on that website was a friend so he asked me. So then, with the owner [of the site] we agreed to have him in. However, after the review where they did not finish the game, and well, most of the users telling me to fuck off and that they hope I die, and that then spammed my email account, why would I leave it in there? So I might just leave him in Chapter 1 and keep him out of the Wiiware one and other chapters, but I've got other better baddies planned that are part of the world of Eternity's Child. I'm not on bad terms with them, I still talk to some journalists there. But not all of them? LB: Well, I don't know them all. And the ones who reviewed the game I had never talked to before. Does the reception of the WiiWare version worry you? How involved are you with that version? LB: Alten8 is porting the PC one, and we are adding extra levels, making it easier and some other elements. The worst is trying to figure out how to compress everything. Last time, from what I heard, the engine is 80% ported. I am quite involved in that version -- they don't take a decision without asking me, because they want to be as close to my vision possible. Do you worry that your response to the situation might have influenced people's opinions of you negatively? lb1.jpgLB: Well, I will ask you a question: if loads of people came up to you, trying to beat you into the ground for fun with "fuck you" and "go and die" in your email. Would you be nice back? Or would you want me to put on a PR act and just pretend that everything is okay? I'm just human like everyone. I reply to every email of a fan personally, and I'm on the Steam forums all the time. The people who support us? I owe them the world, and I don't go and ignore them, so I think that's what matters is what people who have talked to me think. At least you know that I'll be honest with what I say, and I won't lie. Of course, I think that my publisher might be a bit angry, and other business people might run away from me now. But it's not the first time drama happened, and it's probably not the last. So, I'm keeping a low cover now! The only place people can find me is in the Steam forums. I understand the attacks are bound to get you pretty riled up – and I'd agree that they're really not necessary, and a sign of gross immaturity on the part of those who attacked you. But, I think you've also got responsibilities as a public figure. It sounds like you're aware of them to a degree, I suppose. Has the publisher actually said anything to you about it? LB: I'm a human, I'm not going to act like a PR guy and pretend everything's fine. If someone came up to you on the street and said, "Fuck you!" you would probably not just stay there, but you'd punch him. The bad thing is, why do people have to be so rude on the internet and in real life they act normal? Plus those were personal attacks. You know, since Eternity's Child got a lot of hype -- for some reason -- and it just made people feel better to be able to try and bash me to the ground. What's with the quitting, though? As I said, I think there's a great deal of immaturity out there, and I don't really think it's something that should be affecting you to the degree that it seems to be. LB: It's not so much about the stupid 14-year-olds. It's really about I'm not in a financial or personal position right now to do anything at the moment. I might have a bunch of fans, but the fact is this, it's really hard to work on games without any money! That's the main reason. Where do you see your career going from here? LB: Well, an industry friend who has a lot of experience told me that I have dug myself in a gigantic hole. And I basically destroyed my career. That's why I am taking a break from video games. I am just going to work on Eternity's Child, add new chapters to the Steam version, get the Wiiware one out, and on the side just maybe do some graphic novels. And then if those both sell well, I will be able to finance myself my dream video game. Getting financing, even if the budget is only $40,000? It's near impossible. Even if there are fans of Eternity's Child and what I do, there are also many, many haters. And, well, no companies take me seriously either! I mean, what I am mostly is entertainment to people, and I am aware of that. Are you working on other projects at the moment? I know a while back you told me that you were pitching a film to various people -– how's that going? LB: Well, I wrote a story in the Eternity's Child world that was perfect for a film. Okay, it would not be suitable for young children probably, and then I showed Uwe Boll -- since I was thinking, "Well, Uwe Boll's films aren't that bad. They are B-movies, and I love B-movies, and he's never tried 2D animation yet." But we'll see what happens; if anything happens or not. That's how Eternity's Child started out really. It was at first a pitch for a French TV channel as a series. There is just so much in the world of Eternity's Child: different species and side stories, and different parts of that planet. So that's why I want to also have a go at a graphic novel. Angel is not the only main character of the world. I did several, but I would really love to explore this as a 2D animated series, since there is just so much you can do.

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