Today, we are fortunate enough to receive the wisdom of Benjamin Rivers, who kindly answered a few questions I had for him regarding his experience with game development, particularly Home. His answers are reprinted verbatim.
What would you say was the biggest technological impediment/problem/question you faced while creating Home? The biggest stylistic one? The biggest design one?
The entire design was the big question, because that's how I approached the project. The goal of the game was to create a lo-fi horror game that genuinely creeped people out and was engaging. So, really, just coming with all the elements I felt I needed to do that was the biggest challenge. Also, my relative lack of experience in programming. :-)
What are some major differences between how you initially envisioned this game and how it ended up?
The only major difference is the visual fidelity of the game; originally it was going to be an almost Atari VCS kind of quality. After much convincing by my wife, I decided to increase the visual complexity.
Home's focus is almost entirely on its narrative. Did you ever envision having more other mechanics, like combat, at play? If so, what steered you towards its finished form instead?
Initial sketches were much more traditional, yes--I had monsters skittering away from the flashlight beam, and things like that. But as soon as I reviewed these ideas, I realized I didn't want to make a shoot-the-monsters game. Sure, it's much harder to do so, but that wasn't my only concern; I just thought there was a better opportunity that hadn't been explored yet.
I noticed by way of your website and Wikipedia page that you've produced a long list of graphic novels as well as games, which makes me think visual and narrative art are closely linked for you. What do you like/dislike about working with both of those at the same time?
Yes, I routinely bounce back and forth, to keep me interested. I like hopping back into comics because it means less time in front of the computer, which I sorely need. But making games is a much more realistic business. :-) Comics are a really expensive hobby for me right now.
How do you feel Home compares to other games focused on choice in narrative? Did you set out trying to emulate or improve on anything specific that another game had done?
The creation of Home and its narrative style was really simple. I know a lot of folks like to put words in my mouth about why I did what I did--because I am a shitty artist, or a lazy programmer, or totally full of myself, etc.--but the reasoning was simple. I just look at games that I like and kind of feel them out--would I want to make a Silent Hill game? No, I'm not interested in a shoot-the-monsters scenario. Would I want to make a classic adventure game? No, they're too clunky with too many elements that get in the way of personal storytelling (inventories, cutscenes, etc.). I do think Home is pretty unique--I really don't know of another game that handles its narrative quite the way that it does, though I can think of a lot--Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill 2, etc.--that all contain elements of game-based narrative from which I drew inspiration. So I didn't try to emulate anything, but rather feel my way around until I found what felt right for me, personally--what was the game I wanted to play up until now, but wasn't available.
Without presuming to know a lot about the technology that went into Home, it seems like the sort of thing that could have been implemented many years ago, but to my knowledge no game quite like it really exists. Do you think it would have been possible to make a game like Home five or ten years ago? Why do you think it took so long for a game like this to emerge?
I think someone with better programming skills than me (i.e. everyone) could have certainly pulled something like this off. But the goal of my company and personal ethos isn't to focus on tech, but to create games that (hopefully) don't exist yet, and give people an experience that maybe they've been thinking about for some time. Perhaps Home couldn't have existed 10 years ago, because I wasn't as disinterested in certain genres or series back then--or my exposure to them wasn't there yet. So no, I think it is a product of its time--certainly because the tools I had to create the game are only available now, really.
Gaming is still a pretty young medium. What direction do you see it taking in the next few years?
That's a big question! I see the big games getting bigger and more lost, the indie games gaining much more traction as new, unique endeavours become their domain, and those wonderful middle-of-the-road titles being gutted altogether. I wouldn't even blink if there was a severe market crash or implosion, with budgets being what they are, companies living and dying off single titles and franchises, and studios closing left and right. In a weird way, I feel it might get worse before it gets better.
Where do you want to take your own game development next? What ideas do you see working on?
Oh, I'm afraid I can't say much about that! I haven't prototyped anything new yet--Home is very much still an ongoing thing--but I have some concepts stewing in my brain that I intend to check in on in a few months. I would love to do something more modern and 3D with Unity, which I'm looking into now, but that feels like an epic climb, and I've just put on my boots.
What are a few of your favorite games, books, and/or movies, recent or ever? I'd like to know not just what inspired you for Home or as a developer, but what inspires you in general.
I can say concisely that major influences on everything I do or create, which includes Home, are: Silent Hill 2 (obvious), the book House of Leaves, and quiet, emotional drama films (I can't even think of any right now!). But that's not to try to make me sound smart--these days I read a lot of trashy 90s comic reprints for yuks.
So there you have it! If you want to know more about Benjamin, you can out lots on his website:
And I have also enjoyed his Twitter:
Definitely look at his games and stories if you haven't. I quite enjoyed Home (and I've got a review up), and in general Benjamin has great ideas about narrative that are readily apparent in his artwork - so go check it out!