I’d love to kick this interview off with an introduction. Could you let people who don’t know about your company know a bit about yourselves? Where you guys are, how long you’ve been an active team, and how many people are on a said team?
Broken Window Studios was founded in 2014 to coincide with the successful Kickstarter for our horror title, Grave. We are a scrappy but dedicated group that includes myself and my wife Aby, who co-founded the studio with me. We are based out of Tempe, Arizona and have fluctuated in team size from 7 at the peak to 3 for our current level.
After reviewing and playing Reflections for myself, I’d like to know if there was an inspiration for it. If so, please go as in-depth as you’d like.
There are actually a lot of inspirations for the game, and that process has evolved over the course of developing the game, which was actually started as a prototype in 2012. From a game development perspective, I've always seen choice and consequence as major aspects of what makes interactive entertainment great, and we have been experimenting with our Storyteller Engine to create narratives in a different way. Reflections doesn't use "branching" the way most other games do; instead, it creates a profile of player behavior and picks the story that best suits them. I see this as a really important step to solve the content creation problem for branching stories.
From a personal level, the game began around my graduation from college in 2012 when I was reviewing my life choices and options. I realized that where I came from and how I planned to move forward was based less on the big choices and more on what I did day-to-day. For example, I went to a video game school, and the choice to attend that college seemed to play a large role in my future career. However, a lot of the people I went to school with didn't go into making games, even though they made that choice to study games. I realized that the difference really came down to what motivated us on a day-to-day basis. I got up most days and sat down to work on games. Those minute to minute choices were really what determined my future, not the "big choice" of college. Reflections, in that way, represents my worldview about how our lives progress.
What inspired the unique art style of Reflections?
We didn't explicitly use any references for the style outside of what the game required, but we did take a look at some examples of stylization that worked well, from Disney's Paperman short to Bioshock Infinite. Ironically, many people have referenced the movie Pleasantville when describing Reflections visually, but we had never done that intentionally. Our focus was on finding good examples of art styles that we could build with our team, utilizing stylization to emphasize the elements that mattered most. That's why we settled on a style that looks somewhat like a moving oil painting.
Reflections has the game mechanic built into the visuals because everything you see is black and white until you flush it with color through interaction. This gives you a progress marker but also helps you to understand that your actions might be affecting the world and, eventually, the path your story takes. Because of that, the art style makes the most sense if it's impressionistic instead of totally literal. We tried a few different version of this but always had the goal of making it feel more like a painting than a simulation.
I know the game is currently in Early Access, would it be possible for you to expand on the features that’ll be added in the full release?
We're constantly expanding on what the full version will be, based on the feedback we receive from the community, but there're a few things we know for sure. The current game is about an hour long and contains three branches in act 2, with a large variety of endings coming mainly in the text format. It's fully playable from end-to-end, but there isn't a lot of meat. The final version of the game will be about 3 hours long and feature much more content. We're going to have 5 different versions of Act 2 with at least 13 different endings in Act 3, which will all be fully playable. The game currently begins as you are about to leave for college, but the full version will provide more context for your starting point and include playable segments spanning your early life.
When do you think Reflections will be fully released?
We are still debating the release date internally but are shooting for either the end of 2016 or the early part of 2017. This will basically depend on our budget and a team, as well as what features we are trying to get into the finished product.
In your guys’ opinion, what was most difficult in the development of Reflections?
I think it depends a bit on who you ask, but for me, it's that we are trying to build a game around a mechanic that isn't proven to work yet. We're trying to experiment and innovate, but that comes with it a lot of risks. Reflections is the only game that I know of where your decisions affect the outcome passively, and where all your actions are taken into account instead of an explicit "decision branch." Some people have said they want to know more specifically how their choices affected things, but that's not how life works, so we have to constantly walk this line between giving users enough feedback and making sure that the system is realistically surprising.
Should the people out there expect another game like Reflections?
The backbone of the Storyteller Engine in Reflections is part of a larger strategy for our studio, and we plan to use it in all subsequent titles to varying degrees. Obviously, we hope Reflections does well so we can continue making bigger and better games. I would very much like to transition the Storyteller into a more traditional AAA game in the future, so we can see how the dynamic story system plays in a game where you are constantly being pressured about what types of responses you want to have to combat or dangerous situations. We'll see what that turns into, but I can say we definitely have a long list of games that would make good use of this system.
What are you guys most proud of with Reflections?
There's a lot of ways I could answer that because the game is very personal to me. I think, honestly, I'm most proud of the game when I see someone at a loud, busy event like Comicon or GDC sit there and play the game for 20 or 30 minutes. There's something about the interaction with the game that seems to attract people and hold their attention, partly because it's so immersive and detailed. I think it defies a lot of the common "best practices" for game design yet still creates an engaging experience. Our goal is to keep improving that engagement as we get closer to the full launch.
In regards to your company, where do you see yourselves in 5 years?
That can sometimes be hard to predict, but we see ourselves continuing to make more and more ambitious game projects that test the boundaries of storytelling. We are really excited about VR and are incorporating it into all of our titles, so we also hope to see that market take off and present new opportunities. Who knows, we might have the Holodeck in five years, which would definitely change things a lot!
If there’s anything you’d like to tell the readers, we’d love to hear it.
The process of building a game studio from the ground up has been a really challenging one for us, even though we had prior experience in game development before we started the company. We honestly greatly appreciate the support and encouragement we receive from our community and from gamers in general. If you want to see games trying new, crazy stuff with gameplay, story or technology, I really recommend taking the time to encourage or support developers who are pushing the boundaries. We couldn't do it without our players, and we're very thankful for them.
For the developers, thank you so much for doing this interview. And for the readers, make sure you check out Broken Windows Studios and their game lovely game, Reflections. Stay tuned for new articles and interviews here on KeenGamer! And make sure to read our review!