I've been watching this one since the Kickstarter: Paradise Lost: First Contact. Enol Martinez of Asthree Works was generous enough to utilize multilingual superpower and talk about what life has been like him his team transitioning from conception through crowd-funding.
What is the story behind Asthree Works?
Asthree Works is the result of the passion three friends have for video games, science fiction, and comics. Some of the early ideas we developed were for iOS but, as the time passed, we realized that they weren’t the type of games that we wanted to make. We needed to tell our stories: to do something that challenged us in creating a solid narrative and crafting tight game mechanics.
Sigrid, our writer, came up with the original idea of an imprisoned alien plant. We instantly fell in love. Soon after, we decided to quit our jobs and launch a Kickstarter campaign to make Paradise Lost: First Contact a reality.
Would you mind telling me about the people who make up your studio?
Asthree is composed of a group of diverse individuals. I am Enol Martinez and I handle game design and art / animation. Sigrid Chánobas is responsible for story and environment design. Fran Blanco is in charge of programming.
We all share a great passion for deep stories and video games. Each of us has followed a different path that was lead us to game development. Our unique experiences are reflected in Paradise Lost, and we combine those influences to create something original.
When I was growing up, there were several local arcades in my neighborhood and I was fascinated with the art and animation of Capcom & SNK classics.
Raised with the PSX, Sigrid loves rich storytelling and enjoyed adventures like Final Fantasy or Vagrant Story.
Fran came from the PC world and is a big lover of graphic adventures and hardcore games.
Making First Contact
Tell me a little about Paradise Lost: First Contact.
Paradise Lost is an adventure where you assume the role of an alien-plant. It (crash) landed on our planet in an organic-like capsule and has subsequently been captured by a bioengineering company. Your challenge is to break free from the secret facility where you’ve been retained and possibly discover all that is hidden there.
*deep breath* The game is a metroidvania-style side-scroller that focuses on stealth/action game play with platform challenges. There will also be time attacks and puzzles mixed within a deep and rich story full of secrets to reveal.
Woah! That list is extensive! How much flexibility do you allow for players? For example, someone who wants to play 100% pure stealth.
We are working hard to give the players a wide variety of abilities, moves, and other tools to use in order to solve different situations. Originally, the game was planned as a stealth adventure, but it has grown into a big complex experience that allows players to make their own decisions and play as they want. You can choose to sneak and stay unnoticed or open your path by playing more offensively. I’s up to you.
Your narrative and cut scenes have a distinct cinematic feel. What made you decide to go that route?
We decided from the beginning to show a dark and mysterious story from a cinematic point of view (or at least all the cinematic that pixel art allows hahaha). I think that these kind of sequences result in a more personal atmosphere, giving you the chance to immerse yourself in the role of Subject W, feel its loneliness and curiosity as it discovers this strange, human world.
Subject W makes an odd protagonist. How do you expect to "humanize" it so that players can relate?
The plant feels pain, fear, sorrow but we don’t know if those are the same as human feelings, but it’s a sentient life form. We are representing those emotions through its movement and animations, so that its emotional state is visible to the player.
Most of my recent conversations have been with developers who are making open ended games. Do you have an opinion on open or closed narratives?
Open endings are very versatile because they give developers the possibility to make a sequel or simply continue to play forever. If a game has an absolute ending, the player has the option to create their own interpretation of the story. Personally, I prefer the freedom to draw my own conclusions after a game has “ended”.
Paradise Lost has a compelling (and closed) ending. I don’t want to give away anything for fear of spoiling it!
Is Paradise Lost: First Contact Subject W's story? Does the player discover any of the human character's stories?
For the most part, this is Subject W’s story. However, I think that the richness of a story depends a lot on the importance of secondary characters; each supplemental character breathes additional life the primary narrative. Every person, including some of the minor scientists and facility guards, in Paradise Lost has their own aspirations and leitmotifs.
What has the Kickstarter experience been like for you?
The whole ordeal was very stressful. You have to monitor people’s comments all the time, make enhancements to the project, and keep everyone updated. It was an overwhelming experience. But thanks to it, and the amazing support of those who funded us, we can make Paradise Lost possible.
Has the process been good, bad, a little of both?
Besides the extra hours that we had to spend on the campaign, it was a very good experience. You learn a lot during the process and obtain useful feedback from everyone interested in the game.
Do you think that funding Paradise Lost using Kickstarter has removed the fear of not being able to pay the bills while developing the game?
Of course. Now, independent studios have a great opportunity to make their projects come to life without producers or other intermediaries. It's also a great airbag for Indies: potential players are those who decide if your game's worth the money, and if that's not the case, you can consider their responses, and either relaunch the project or make something entirely different.
Do you believe that Greenlight, as a means to reach a broader market, and Kickstarter, as a means to generate funds, are a viable method for single or small developers?
Of course! They are the best platforms for an independent studio to make their project visible and start development without the need to shop their game around to bigger parties. It’s up to the gaming community to decide what will sink or float.
Our Greenlight campaign was a good source of player opinion before we launched the Kickstarter, and fortunately many of our supporters followed along during the transition.
Have you found that the buzz surrounding Paradise Lost has diminished after the Kickstarter?
A little bit. It’s normal because right now we are more focused on making the game than promoting it. Keeping a high profile in social media and having more presence in other gaming and development forums could help us more for sure, but we are striving to give something tangible to the people so they can make a well-founded opinion about the game.
There are now plenty of tools that are cheap and accessible so that practically anyone can make a game. Why do you think an individual would seek to crowd-fund their project?
It depends on every person or team. If you are living with your parents or simply don’t need a huge amount of money for a living, you can make a Kickstarter with a low funding goal to buy the development tools and little more.
In our case we fully committed ourselves to the project by quitting our jobs. To make that possible we needed financial help and the solution was Kickstarter.
Because crowd-funding is essentially an all-cash-up-front prospect, how difficult does it become for a studio to keep generating sales?
We are making sales through different packs on Humble who contacted us at the time we were doing the campaign. We also added a button from the Kickstarter page for the people that still want to support us. They aren’t big numbers at all, and I think that we are not going to see a big load of earnings until the game is ready, but they helped to break another stretch goal from the campaign to make a few new enhancements possible.
It also varies in the kind of project and the interest of the people to obtain rewards that they couldn’t handle on Kickstarter. Other games made a huge amount selling the same rewards on their pages or making early access of their projects on Steam, but I think that we’ll wait for the release of Paradise Lost to have real earnings.
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