[DEV INTERVIEW] The Mind’s Eclipse’s Donald Campbell

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The Mind’s Eclipse is a stylistic visual novel told with text and stark black-and-white imagery by an indie dev team from Durham, N.C. It’s due out this fall. The team’s leader, Donald Campbell, took the time to answer some questions about their project.

Q: What’s the premise of The Mind’s Eclipse?

A: The Mind’s Eclipse details one man’s journey to find his family in the aftermath of a technological catastrophe. With a large focus on narrative, the game’s story unfolds via beautiful hand-drawn scenes, engaging dialogue, and uncovering hidden messages left behind by those that came before you.

Q: How has the story evolved? Did it start with a plot, a single line of dialogue, a vision in your mind?

A: The concept for The Mind’s Eclipse started a couple of years ago when I was writing some short stories. I had ideas for two separate science fiction shorts. When I decided to make a video game, I took the basic concepts from these and combined them into something grander. Very quickly, I realized that I would need help, so I enlisted Chris (Howell) and Langdon (Herrick) to help make this a reality. When they came onto the project, they really helped to show me the story I was trying to tell. They helped to make this monster of a sci-fi opera simpler and more relatable.

Q: What inspired the pen-and-ink visual style?

A: I love black and white photography and reading black and white graphic novels. When you take out the flash and distraction of color, you can really boil a scene down and ask “Ok, what are we really trying to say with this scene? What are we trying to communicate to the player?” The minimalist style has us make some hard decisions when it comes time to compose those scenes, but I think the overall experience is better for the player.

Q: What tools are you using to build the game? (Engine, art software, etc.)

A.

  1. Ren’Py – an open source visual novel engine.
  2. Tears.
  3. And probably some Photoshop.

But for those really curious – Ren’Py (Engine), Photoshop (Char/BG), Pixelmator (BG), Affinity Designer (UI), IMovie/SonyMovieStudio (Trailers), Ableton Live (Sound/Music), Google Docs(Story), Trello (Project Management), Pencil/Paper (concept art). I think that covers it. 😉

Q: How big is your indie team? How did the team come together?

A: There’s five of us now. I had this crazy idea to make a short story into a video game, but I wanted some help to make it as good as possible, so I just went out and asked people “Hey, you wanna make a video game?” I think it worked out pretty well. We’ve got some really talented people working on this.

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Q: I’ve seen the game compared to Infocom’s classic “A Mind Forever Voyaging.” Was that sort of game an inspiration for The Mind’s Eclipse?

A: Actually, no. I had not heard of this game until after we launched to Greenlight. Another misconception is that we were inspired by System Shock or SOMA. None of us had played those games until we were far along into development. I went back and played these two after getting some feedback from fans for the very early builds. It’s fun to see how writers approach similar science fiction topics from different angles. I hope to play “A Mind Forever Voyaging” in the future, though.

Q: What video game has left the most lasting impression on you?

A: Homeworld. Love the gameplay, the spaceship design, and the little narrative bits at the beginning of the game. I remember the first time I watched that opening cutscene. Very powerful.

Q: What did you learn during the Steam Greenlight process?

A: I think we were atypical of a lot of indie games. We were greenlit in about 1 week which is crazy when you think of some of the other great projects out there that are taking longer.

However, I believe our visual art style really helped us stand out on the main page and reinforces the idea that people love to see something unique, especially in this increasingly crowded space. In terms of the visual novel genre, I really do think that we are making something special when you take a look at the vast majority of the other visual novels being placed on Steam.

We made a really entertaining (and short) video that did a great job communicating to people the tone of the game and what gameplay to expect. This is crucial since (supposedly) the time people spend on your Greenlight page is very, very short.

We tried our hardest to get press coverage and YouTube Let’s Plays during the Greenlight week. We went as far as to get an article on Kotaku and a nice 10 minute mention on theMature Gamer Podcast (UK). These things really helped drive traffic to our page after the first couple of days when traffic slows to a halt.

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Q: How have you been marketing the game in the lead-up to launch?

A: Social Media, Social Media, and Social Media.

Like the vast majority of indie devs, we need to do this better. We have a strong Twitter presence, and I constantly tell the team to go out there and “share, share, share.”

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We also love a face to face interaction with our fans, so we travel to conferences. We were recently at the East Coast Gaming Conference in Raleigh. This was the same week as our Greenlight launch. We wore shirts with COSy’s face and handed out flyers about our game. You have to do this stuff or no one is going to know about your game.

We will be attending Gameacon in Atlantic City in October. We’ll have a booth and physical copies of The Mind’s Eclipse Demo available as take-homes.

Q: How do you think AI will change the way our world works in the next two decades?

A: I’m not altogether sure. But I do have an idea about the Eclipse. You’ll just need to play our game this fall to see it. 

Wes Platt is the lead writer/designer for Prologue Games. Their first game, an episodic narrative adventure called Knee Deep, launched its final act on Steam in March. Before that, he was a professional journalist for the St. Petersburg Times and Durham’s Herald-Sun. He designed collaborative real-time adventures at OtherSpace, Chiaroscuro, and Necromundus for players at jointhesaga.com. He also worked as a design lead on Fallen Earth, a post-apocalyptic MMORPG, from 2006-2010. He’s on Twitter at @DougPiranha. Reach via email at wes@prologuegames.com.

[KNEE DEEP] Official Fiction No. 2: The Long Haul

Act 3 Screenshot - The Murk FinalAs a reward for our players posting 75 Steam reviews about the game, we’re sharing a bit of Knee Deep fiction. The next official fiction piece will be released after we hit 100 reviews on Steam. Enjoy!

The agent sitting across from K.C. Gaddis sips his coffee. He sets the cup down next to a manila folder. His partner, the woman with the no-nonsense ponytail and short-clipped fingernails, presses her hands on the table in the interrogation room.

“Tell us more about your father’s dealings with the Church of Us,” she says.

Gaddis doesn’t look at her. Keeps his eyes on the gray porkpie hat resting on the table in front of him. “No,” he says.

“C’mon, Mr. Gaddis,” the male agent says. The cup’s got a motto on it: WORLD’S BEST WAFFLES. “It’s relevant to our investigation.”

“Is it?” The private investigator gives a dark chuckle. “Dad’s dead. Been dead a long time.”

The female agent stands straight, crosses her arms, and paces behind the detective’s chair. “Motive, Mr. Gaddis.”

Gaddis rolls his eyes. He sees her in the mirror on the wall behind her partner. She’s stopped now, scowling down at him. “Oh, give me a break. I didn’t kill the guy. Certainly not over Dad.”

The manila folder opens. Slender fingers pluck out a photocopied page. The male agent says, “We’ve got the incident report from 1980, when he killed himself.” He slides the paper across the table to Gaddis. “You talked to Cypress Knee’s police chief at the time.”

“Chief Groves,” Gaddis replies. He moves the porkpie so it’s on top of the paper. “So what?”

The male agent shrugs. “Your father sank a lot of cash into the Church of Us. Nearly cost your mother the house. You’d taken, what, two part-time jobs to help the family survive?”

“Three if you count the paper route for the Notice,” the detective says. “But that was decades ago. A long time before I met the vic. As far as I know, the church reps who got their claws into Dad are still out there, scamming people left and right with their crazy cult religion.”

“Still,” the female agent says, “you’ve clashed with him before. Maybe he just made a convenient target for a lot of pent-up rage.”

Gaddis shakes his head, letting out a sigh as he laces his fingers together. “You’re fishing, lady. Maybe it makes a convincing story for you two, but I don’t have much stomach for killing, even in anger. I just want to do my job and get paid.”

“So you must really be mad about your gig going south,” the guy with the waffle cup says.

“How does that go to motive?” Gaddis asks. “That was after our pal died. Donovan Miller delivered that news. Wouldn’t it make more sense for me to shoot the messenger?”

The woman rounds the corner to the other side of the table to stand next to her partner. “Crimes of passion don’t always make sense. You’re an ex-cop. You know that.”

“Wrong,” Gaddis says. “They’re usually pretty clear, unless the perp’s a nut. She left me. No one else can have her. He called me a chicken. He cut me off in traffic. Everybody’s got their reasons. And even if the killer’s a lunatic, they’ve got some kind of twisted logic at work. So let’s cut through the bullshit, all right?” He slides the chair back, stands, and picks his hat up off the table. “I’m done answering questions. I’m done listening to you accuse me of a murder I didn’t commit. It’s been a long goddamned couple of days. I doubt I’ll ever get this swamp stink out. I want a shower. I want a lawyer. I’m done here.”

The man clears his throat. He rests a palm on the folder. Looks toward his partner. She shrugs. He says, “That’s the thing, Mr. Gaddis. You’re not done here. Not by a sight.”

“Excuse me?” Gaddis frowns. He jabs a finger at the agent. “I know my rights.”

The woman offers a thin smile. Crosses her arms again. “They don’t apply here,” she says.

“That’s kidnapping,” Gaddis replies.

“More like protective custody,” the man says.

“Bullshit. I don’t need your protection.”

“We’re not protecting you,” the woman says, her smile fading.

“So you might as well get comfortable, Mr. Gaddis,” the man suggests. He raises the waffle tribute cup in a grim salute. “We’re in this for the long haul.”

[REVIEW] Beam me back up, Scotty

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I confess: I went into Star Trek Beyond ready to hate, hate, hate it.

I’m one of those people that didn’t like Star Trek Into Darkness, of course. So my expectations for this third outing of the rebooted Enterprise crew were inherently low.

But, another confession: I wanted to love, love, love it – because this franchise celebrates its 50th birthday in September, just like me.

Now I want to thank director Justin Lin and the cast and crew for a rip-roaring ride of a birthday present. Star Trek Beyond features dizzying space combat sequences, a relentless and motivated villain, and opportunities for every member of the crew (new and old) to act like heroes as they play to their strengths.

The most cringe-worthy moment of the movie – using Beastie Boys music as a weapon – also worked out as one of the most gratifying.

Can’t wait to see it again.

[CREATIVE WRITING EXERCISE] It’s in the mail

On July 25, 1792, the Second Continental Congress of the United States established the Post Office Department. Eventually, that would become the U.S. Postal Service.

With that in mind, today’s exercise calls for you to write a letter as your character – it can be a journal entry, a captain’s log, a report to a superior officer, or any other sort of missive you can imagine to any recipient of your choosing.

Send your exercise to jointhesaga@gmail.com and I’ll share it as time allows!