Interview: Compulsion Games On Contrast, An Intriguing Game Of Light And Shadow
It’s common knowledge that we at eGamer love indie. In enormous, cuddly teddy amounts. This year we’re strengthening our focus on the indie scene to an even greater degree, and we want you guys and girls to be aware of all the awesome and exciting games getting made too. One such game is Contrast, a soon-to-be-released, exciting BioShock-inspired platformer from indie developers Compulsion Games. The team is quite experienced, with its members having worked on notable projects such as Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3, Valve’s Orange Box, and Vigil Games’ Darksiders. We hope what you learn in the following interview gets you as excited about the game as us, so let’s get into it.
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eGamer: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. Tell us a little bit about yourselves and your team. What notable projects have you worked on?
CG: Not at all, thank you! We are Compulsion Games, a small indie studio housed in one room of a disused gramophone factory on the mean streets of Montreal. We were started by our studio head, Guillaume Provost, and grew from a team of 1 into a team of 8 plus some fantastic external contractors. Our team’s previous experience ranges from working with Valve on the Orange Box to Ubisoft with Far Cry 3. To raise money for Contrast, our team worked on projects such as Darksiders, Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale, and even Arthur Christmas: Elf Run for iOS.
eGamer: Congratulations on getting Greenlit! Tell us, what is Contrast about?
CG: Thank you! Contrast is set in the 1920s, in the era of film noir, performance art and gangsters. You play Dawn, the imaginary friend of a little girl, Didi, who has the power to turn into her own shadow. She can do this any time you want, provided there is a lit area where you can see your shadow.
eGamer: To rip the bandage off quickly: what’s the biggest reason to play Contrast?
CG: Well, remember when you were a little kid, and you pretended to be your shadow, running along the walls? Or where you created shadow puppets on a wall, and acted out the latest act of your shadow puppet soap opera? Contrast is one way to experience all of that again, except this time you’re in a much more adult world, with shadowy, dramatic and complex characters.
eGamer: What was your vision for the game? What were you trying to accomplish when conceptualising it?
CG: Guillaume worked a bit with Valve, around the time that the original Portal was released, and was really inspired by how Portal encouraged people to think about space in different ways. The idea of 2D shadow/3D world interaction came to him in a coffee shop in France, and seemed to be a great way of exploring new puzzle mechanics. The film noir world, and the narrative, all flowed from this simple concept.
eGamer: Let’s get more technical. The main gameplay feature is the use of shadows, and light manipulation. How do these work as gameplay mechanics?
CG: Very simply, you can turn yourself into your shadow, at any lit wall surface. You can then traverse the shadow landscape – jumping on the shadows of things seen in the 3D world. You can move those things in the 3D world, and even the light sources, resulting in an ability to dramatically alter the 2D shadow platforming environment.
eGamer: The setting is extremely intriguing and attractive. Could you tell us what your sources of inspiration were for Contrast?
CG: The film noir setting is heavily shadow based – imagine the classic detective, standing in the doorway, with half his face/body in shadow. But, we also took a lot of inspiration from Tim Burton’s films and style, and Dark City and Pan’s Labyrinth.
eGamer: I see a bit of BioShock in Contrast. Would you say it influenced your game in any way? If so, how?
CG: We get the BioShock comparison all the time, which is a really great compliment! Bioshock took you to an “old time” world; a 1950s/1960s setting that really hasn’t been canvassed by video games very much. Most games are modern settings, world war 2, fantasy, science fiction, etc – Bioshock showed people that you can tell a fantastic story in non-familiar settings, and that’s probably what we took most from it.
eGamer: Are you able to reveal anything about the story?
CG: Only a small amount at this stage – as I said above, you’re the imaginary friend of a little girl, Didi. Didi’s family isn’t typical, and it’s in a bit of trouble. It’s your job to help her make sense of the adult world around her, and help her help herself. We have also mentioned that a central theme of the game is fatherhood – we’re looking to talk more about that soon.
eGamer: I’ve read that your choices impact the protagonist, Didi’s future, and light reveals “what stories remain in shadow”. Could you elaborate on this? Will there be an element of player choice? Can you miss out on story elements by not discovering them?
CG: We can’t elaborate on this too much at this stage (truth be told we’re still finalising a couple of these elements), but I can say that you can’t miss out on anything major :)
eGamer: How long will the game be?
CG: I’d expect something along the lines of the original Portal – some people may finish the game in a few hours, others may take 10. It won’t be a 40 hour marathon, but it should keep you occupied on a rainy day.
eGamer: What are you most proud of with Contrast? What is your favourite aspect of the game?
CG: That’s hard to say actually – I think the whole team is most proud of different aspects (naturally, given that they have all done such great work in their respective areas). Personally, I love our narrative scenes, because I’m a story guy. I also love a couple of specific levels, which we’re hoping to talk about soon :)
eGamer: Could you tell us about some of the big challenges you faced in developing the game?
CG: Probably the biggest challenge is trying to start a studio without major funding! You can spend a lot of time not actually working on your game – it’s pretty common in indie studios to contract for other studios, from time to time. At one point, Guillaume had built the team to 5 members working on Contrast, but was personally working on a different project to earn money to keep us going. It’s a big sacrifice when you have to temporarily abandon your baby (so to speak!).
eGamer: We know that recently you showcased the game at an IGDA event in Montreal. It must have been exciting, and maybe a little scary too! So, how did it go? Can you tell us all about your experience there?
CG: It was fantastic! When we first shifted Dawn into shadow, and ran her along one of the early platforming moments, we got an audible gasp from the audience. It’s a pretty great feeling to see people respond so well to something you’ve poured your heart and soul into. But we should also shout out to the other devs there – being part of the indie scene and seeing all of the passion from the other developers is the reason why we’re all in the industry :)
eGamer: The release date is currently scheduled for Q1 of 2013. What percentage of the game still needs to be completed, by your estimation? And how much will the game cost when it’s released?
CG: Basically, we’re in polish mode – I won’t give a % figure, but the content of the game is in, but we’re now adding the finishing touches, for example adding the final recorded dialogue, touching up little bits of the puzzles; the little additional things that can make a game great. We’re still working out a price, but it won’t be $50 – we are indie, after all!
eGamer: Are you considering developing the game for other platforms?
CG: Absolutely – but we’re focusing on the PC version first.
eGamer: What are your hopes for the future of Compulsion Games, what comes after Contrast?
CG: Honestly, we’re not looking too far ahead. We’re hoping Contrast will be a great success, which would allow us to create new games for people to enjoy. But the likely first practical step is to look at ports, to try to bring Contrast to as many people as possible.
eGamer: As gamers, what would you do if your studio was attacked by a killer whale? How would you fight it off?
CG: We’re pretty adept at cold weather fighting (snowball creation/throwing, wearing extra layers of protective clothing), etc. Our first action would be to jump out the window, use one of the team members (dressed in heavy snow gear) as bait, then do a 360 surround snowball circle strafe. The killer whale would inevitably slip on the ice in the confusion, and we’d finish it off with the two office nerf guns. We might need to do some sort of battle plan diagram for this.
Contrast looks like an exciting and fantastic game from an experienced group of indie developers, and we’re intrigued by nearly all aspects of it. From its awesome gameplay concept to its wonderful art direction and interesting story, Compulsion Games has something potentially magical on their hands. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long to play it! I’d like to wish Compulsion all the best for the last few stretches of development and of course for the game’s launch – we hope it’s a success. I’d also like to thank them for taking the time to do this extensive interview with us, it was a great experience.
Look out for the full review of the game once it’s out.