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The deep game Manifesto (2001)

Knock-knock-knock (Igromania Magazine, 2012)*

Igromania Magazine, #2(89), 2005

On the Threshold of the Bone House, 2005

Enemy Is on My Back!








Knock-knock-knock (Igromania Magazine, 2012)

1. Please tell us a bit more about the letter’s author. Have you met them in person?

No, we have not. And even if there was a chance to look at them, moreover to speak to them... I’m not sure we’d do that, at least not until the development is done. We’re already into this experiment, and we like to work thinking it all is not just a prank. Now, when we’re done it’s quite possible I will try to contact them by answering that letter. By the way, I wonder whether they read this exchange.

I don’t know anything about them. I know that the idea got me, and I became interested in “chillers”, got into city legends, creepy tales, and so on. I’ve read hundreds of them. The site, for example, had been my home page for a long time, and I still read all their updates. I did look into their foreign likes as well. I approached this folklore as a philologist and have noticed this detail: when people want to render the speech of various supernatural entities in logs and chats they mangle orthography and characters on purpose, and it works. Indeed, at first you do feel the thrill (e.g. in stories like Blaccyee.avi or Vc666cv), but then the effect palls, and you see a good idea picked clean by copycats.


2. We like the way the game looks very much. Please tell us about the engine; what in particular would you like to point out?

Well, the engine is not the main thing about this game. For now we’re fine with the Unity one, and it’s quite possible we are going to stick with it.

3. How is building realized in the game? Do we build before attacks? Is there any editor?

The free house building idea was part of the earliest game concept, which has considerably changed since. In development we’ve realized that providing the player with an exciting adventure is ultimately up to us. So, we are most likely to give the players complete official levels – and release a new house editor in an update.

4. Give us some examples of rebuilding the house, some possible combinations.

See above.

5. What particular useful finds will help us survive? A couple of examples will do.

Any finds are practically useless by themselves. It’s “raw” material. There are... substances. Some are material, like a glass of water or a leaf picked off a plant. Some are elemental, like air or fire. And some are purely abstract: space, pain, memory...
Things become interesting when you start mixing them. Synthesis is one of the key game elements. Fire plus water makes boiling water; add herbs, and you’ve got some restorative tea. Join memory and pain, and get a childhood psychological trauma. Memory and water produce a homeopathic medicine (based on “water memory” concept), water and pain make acid. Such synthesis is not based on chemical or even alchemical principles. It’s a fantasy, a mental joining of two concepts by association. And the result, the product of such an association – that can be used by the player, on its own or for further synthesis.

6. Can the player kill the Guests? Shoot them or beat them?

Look, you’re playing hide-and-seek. And you ask whether, upon being found, instead of admitting defeat you can pull out a gun, shoot the one who has found you, take them down, finish them off with a bayonet and jump up and down on their dead body...
No. You can’t do that. Looks like there’s nothing to be done about them, you can only hide.

7. Please show us two Guest examples and tell what unique abilities each of them has.

What you definitely cannot do with the Guests is “show” them. When a Guest comes into the house you will immediately sense that. When it gets closer you will be able to guess that. But if you meet it face to face I’ve got some bad news for you: it usually means the game is over.

8. Please tell us about the cat. How can it help the protagonist?

I thought the cat could become a scout. A fearless one, which is a great advantage. An unreliable and unpredictable one, which can be considered a disadvantage. But, let me remind you, we never promised that there would definitely be a cat, and if it was there – that it would help.

9. We have once visited Tale of Tales, and they spoke of Ice-Pick very fondly. Are you keeping in touch?

Yes, I’d even say we are good friends. Just last week we talked on Skype. And I, too, would like to speak fondly of them. I have a great respect for people brave enough to veer so far from the tradition, from the conventional ideas of what makes a game a game. I feel they’ve got much further than me, seeking the answer to that question. Way to go, guys!

10. A straightforward question: who in your opinion is the best modern indie developer, and why?
11. What do you think of the work of Edmund McMillen and Jonathan Blow? Do you think they take indie games in the right direction?
12. What trends would you point out in modern indie games? Are they becoming better and more interesting – or cheesier and weaker?

I’d like to leave all these questions to journalists and game reviewers. That’s a profession quite separate from the profession of a game developer, and, what’s important, it allows one an objective and unbiased look at the industry from the outside. We, on the other hand, are biased in the extreme.

Readers’ questions (uncut):

1. Is the game going to be on Steam? Or at least up on Steam Greenlight for user voting?

We hope Steam will take our game on and, of course, we do everything to that end. We have just made Steam Greenlight, and I hope it is decided this very week.

2. Are the makers going to develop their own engine for games to come, or will they prefer to use the existing ones?

We are most likely to use the already existing engines. After all, technological breakthroughs are not our objective – not for the nearest future, at least. Large professional groups do it much better, and we should trust them. They provide good support for their products, and if we need to tweak the tech to suite our specific features they will surely help us with that. Our own goals are completely different.

3. How’s the Frost development going on?

It goes slowly. We have created the concept, and now need a prototype. To do that, we have to decide on the form of the game. Frost is supposed to be a grand epic with a large live world and lots of characters. When we took the concept to Cologne foreign producers had estimated its cost as several million Euros. The concept itself, in fact, was our answer to a suggestion from Atari Europe, still alive at the time, to make a “Pathologic-like RPG for a few millions”. But I’m being realistic considering our chances, and they are extremely low for such a sum. So now I’m thinking of releasing Frost as a game series – getting next parts out as the first ones pay off. It’s not an easy job, and anyway the pilot will require a considerable investment. And it’s very probable that Frost will turn out, tech-wise, less like Skyrim and more like South Park. ?

4. Is the game being made, as it always happens to games in the home industry of last years, to make as much money as possible, no matter what, or is it being done for the sake of the game, with profits to be made based on quality and further development?

We always make a game for the sake of the game. When we worked with publishers we were never overly concerned with financial gains – we let the publisher take care of making profit, certain that we would always find a partner and a profitable contract to support a good idea. And now our players have taken on the role of such publisher, all over the world collecting the sum announced on Kickstarter.
On the other hand, the very “for the money” versus “for the idea” logic is wrong, a vestige of cowed and embittered Soviet thinking. The world knows quite a few billionaires who have made their fortunes on something they were enthusiastic about. On the ideas they burned with. They have given mankind new thoughts, new technologies, new ways – and the world paid back in kind. Trust me, “let’s make crap for the money” business plans do not work out.

5. How had you come up with the idea to try your luck on Kickstarter? Do you have plans for any big projects? (and will it depend on the success of Knock-Knock?)

Dmitry Lyadukhin, a friend of mine who always learns all the news first (and I am usually the last), sent me a Kickstarter link via Skype. By habit I ignored it for about three months, though I did not forget. And then we started developing the game, and financial planning, and I remembered about Kickstarter. With all respect, we decided not to go to the publishers on principle – it was an experiment (and that is why we planned a small game; by the way, at first it was to be several times smaller than it turns out now).

We decided to give it a try – again, as an experiment (and Knock-Knock seems to be all about experimenting on ourselves) – and it has worked. I hope we haven’t run out of luck yet.

Our big projects demand very large budgets – it’s no longer the year 2005, and we’ve grown older. Of course, each game’s success contributes to the company’s reputation, attracting investors and prospective partners.

6. Have you ever played Limbo? What’s your opinion on the game?

We liked it very much. That’s one great game.

7. Ahem. It’s a Russian studio, so can one hope for a Russian dub or at least for subtitles (Cap Obvious, yeah)?

Aye, Cap. I can only once again quote what we have said on our social networks pages: “All our activity on Kickstarter might have created an impression of us going West for a fast buck, flirting with foreign capitals, and considering Russian-speaking players no longer worth our attention.
“That is not true! Time and again we have said and keep saying that we work first and foremost for you. We make Russian games about Russian reality (however strange that may sound) and in Russian language. And only then we get them translated into other languages, and pretty reluctantly at that – because, well, it just needs to be done.”

8. How is the game going to be distributed? On what platforms? Are we going to learn the back-story of how the character ended up alone in a house in the forest? Is there going to be any plot? What excitement besides new rooms and monsters can we expect? The project looks interesting, but it’s not clear what it offers, besides the given and predefined items and ghosts. Is there going to be some kind of encyclopedia telling about each monster and/or protection against them? How can one earn and open new elements of defense? Are the changes going to be visible in an improved room? Is there going to be an editor, an option to create your own rooms or houses? What are we gonna do during the “day”? Hope we won’t have to start the game all over if we lose?

One at a time.

1) Distribution will most likely be digital only. I repeat, Knock-Knock is a pretty short game. If a publisher offers us to release a collector’s edition (like it happened to Samorost, for example) we are very probably going to agree.

2) Definitely for PC and Mac, and only a capital force majeure can prevent the release of iOs and Android versions. As for the version for Linux – the subject of incessant questioning during our Kickstarter campaign – well, that depends on when Unity provides the announced Linux support.

3) No, there isn’t and cannot be any back-story, because we ourselves know nothing of it and find making stuff up unacceptable.

4) Yes, there is going to be a plot. A bit atypical for Ice-Pick Lodge, but I’m certain it will allow to interpret the game’s events in more than one way. Again, in this situation we have no right to go into a “flight of fantasy” mode, having to make do with cautious suggestions and hints.

5) You flatter us. Are you saying the Ice-Picks have managed to entertain? There was an attempt with Cargo!, and not a very successful one. )

6) No, there will be no encyclopedia, and no monsters in a conventional sense either – seems like there’s just one monster in all.

7) There’s no defense against monsters as well. No weapons, no escape. All such questions, I suppose, stem from a misinterpretation of the game’s genre. It’s not a tower defense, as has been sometimes assumed on forums and in announcement commentaries. It’s a pure survival game. The threat indeed acts differently in different circumstances, and it looks different – and these “manifestations” can be taken for different “enemy types” of sorts. But we’re doing everything to make it impossible to calculate an optimum fighting strategy. It’s a game of intuitive, not calculated decisions. However, you will be able to work out an optimum survival strategy.

8) Room improvement is a development vestige, to be discarded with a 99% probability.

9) The editor, now, is another matter. As I have mentioned, this game is a kind of reconstruction of one certain event. We re-create it. And when we’re done with that, then, I think, we’ll be able to release a DLC – and go to town with it, include an editor, an arena, whatever we can think of. We’ll see.

10) At “day” we’re going to sleep like a log after a dreadful sleepless night.

11) We’ll decide on that after the very first week of beta.

9. Do rooms open at random, or do we have some influence/choice in the matter?

We ourselves are not yet sure what version to pick. In fact, we don’t think it’s all that critical.

Thank you, and good luck with the project!

Linar Fetkulov

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