Dan is back to answer some more of your questions, once again mostly focused on Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. The amazing Andrew (our designer) and the incredible Stu (our programmer) were down in Brighton this week for a series of super-secret meetings about our next game, so we missed a couple of days of #AskTCR goodness - so Dan took the time to answer a few more questions to make up for it!
As usual, feel free to ask your own question(s) in the comments below, or via Twitter, and we'll do our best to answer them!
Which areas of Shropshire did you use to inspire the story?
Yaughton is somewhere between Shrewsbury and Telford within a stone’s throw of the Wrekin. So it’s probably around the Rushton, Donnington area. Although obviously it’s pretty loose.
How do you pitch a game like this?
We had the major advantage of having Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs under our belts, so we could come in and say “we make really cool, successful story games and we’ve got this great idea for another one”. It’s always tough to pitch unconventional games though, and it’s really about understanding what the needs of the person you are pitching to are, what are their expectations or requirements, how does your game sit within their portfolio of products and so on.
So for Rapture we had a loose conceptual document that gave a decent understanding of the story, the setting, the basic gameplay concept, the style and production finish we were aiming for. We had some sample art and music, and we made a short (3 minute) video which had mainly greybox scenes of the world (which looked absolutely nothing like the final thing) and some pre-visualisations of things like the motes or time-of-day changes, plus an initial budget, schedule and staff plan. That’s probably a good set of basics – the key thing is selling the vision. If gameplay is the centre of the thing, a prototype is probably a good idea. If it’s a story-driven game, communicating the world, the sense of the game, the emotional tone is at least as important.
Why ‘the rapture’, and is it religious?
The rapture is an incredibly powerful image that I think has resonances beyond the immediate Christian meaning- it’s an old idea that you find in many different faiths and mythologies, like many of the ideas in modern religions. What we wanted to examine with Rapture was the simple question “how do you measure the value of a life? What is a life well lived?” and because we wanted to make a game that was about people, then we wanted to look at this question through the eyes of a diverse bunch of characters, some of whom were deeply religious, some of whom were deeply atheist. It’s important to me that, as a player, you bring your own understanding of those questions to the game, and I hope that everyone who plays it will find characters in the story that challenge their views as well as uphold them.
What inspired the themes and art direction?
You have a central vision for the game, which is about the experience you want the player to have, the emotional journey of play, the sense of world and place, the story. Everything needs to come back to this. The art direction of a game is about finding ways of visualising things to help that vision be as powerful and compelling as possible. It’s a real skill to be able to manage that, balancing all of the elements – does it work still as well as moving (harder than you’d think), does it work for 5 minutes but get old after 5 hours (equally hard), can you make environments and characters blend properly and consistently, can you balance the tech and its constraints against the vision, how does it blend over to gameplay, how long will the components take to put together and optimise… It’s never simple.
We wanted a rich and beautiful and very English world for Rapture to play off against the darkness of it being about the apocalypse, as we thought that it would give it a much deeper and richer emotional resonance if the world was gorgeous and detailed and alive. And of course, environmental storytelling is really important to us, so the art direction really needs to be part of the storytelling experience.
Who do I actually play as in the game?
See above about it being your story. It’s partially a mystery, but it’s not a problem to be solved for me, it’s about where your story leads you to as an answer. That’s something that is really quite special that game stories can do because of player agency, so it’s something that I love doing in our writing.
Can you tell us more about Jess and the company’s future?
Jess [composer & TCR co-founder Jessica Curry] is still involved with the company – she plays a critical role in discussing vision and ideas and what we are doing, she’s just not involved in the day-to-day operations, and is off very happily making unbelievably moving and beautiful music for her latest commission, working with the poet Carol Ann Duffy on a choral/brass-band piece for Durham Cathedral (it’s part of the Durham Remembers project: http://www.durham.gov.uk/article/7141/Durham-Remembers-programme). I’ve been lucky enough to hear it, and it really is on a par with Rapture in terms of being just amazing stuff. We’ll keep you posted as that develops and hopefully if we’re really lucky we might even be able to share some music when the commission is finished (and for those of you in the north-east or willing to travel for a live Jessica Curry concert, we’ll post the details when we have them). And yes, she’s going to do the music for the next project. A Chinese Room game without a Jessica Curry score is not something I want to imagine really. We’ve got the best composer in videogames to work with, so we’re going to make sure that happens!
Should I go to college or try for an internship as a game artist?
Right - I asked our art geniuses Alex and Rich about this, as both of them joined us fresh out of college, so they are much better placed to answer the question than me – and they said:
“Higher education won’t necessarily help you develop technically as an artist. As higher education is more around becoming self-taught, it will be up to you to ensure you’re developing skills that are required in your field. Higher education gives you the opportunity to develop professionally, interact with other disciplines and learn how to communicate, delegate and manage working with others. It offers you the chance to gain connections in the industry, attend events that are available exclusively to students and take part in collaborative work with individuals that share similar interests and goals to yourself. University can give you the necessary time to self-develop essential industry techniques and professionalism with support from academics in a structured course. Using the time at university, you have the opportunity to fail and learn and develop yourself as an artist whilst building a portfolio that will hopefully lead to an entry level position after the course. It can also be seen as an opportunity to specialise in a specific area and try out various specialisations before deciding on the final area of games development you would wish to work in.”
“In my opinion I would say university is not essential to game art. It can depend on the course but a lot can teach very outdated information, so you need to also be teaching yourself to make sure what you are learning is right. From my personal experience I didn't find university to be beneficial, but it helped to decide which aspect of game art interested me most.
After finishing university and realising how little information I had been taught I spent several years teaching myself and building up a portfolio, and wishing I had just done this from the start instead of university. Such a vast amount of invaluable information is available online now that it makes self-learning a possibility.
A university degree can be very helpful for getting a foot in the door to game art jobs, but in my personal opinion a strong portfolio is much more important.”