Fresh off the release of his atmospheric puzzler Kairo, I had the chance to talk with Richard Perrin.
What was the biggest hurdle that kept Kairo from its original “end of 2011 no matter what” release date?
Hah, I’ve had a whole bunch of DEFINITE release dates over the course of the project. The biggest blocker has always been the sheer amount of content I wanted to include. My games tend to focus more on content than mechanics and that typically means there’s just lots and lots of art assets to be completed. It’s very easy to underestimate how long each room takes because it may only take me one evening to do a first pass on a room but getting everything about a room right can take weeks and the game has something like 70 rooms.
My “end of 2011 no matter what” decree came about because of how burnt out I felt on this project. However despite that I was determined to have the game be a finished well crafted experience before I put it out. I didn’t want to rush to the end just because I was struggling. So I just kept going until I finished all the content. I was only really able to figure out a proper release date at that point.
You’ve mentioned on your blog that you have future plans to bring Oculus Rift support to Kairo. How do you hope the Rift will affect the experience of Kairo? Do you plan to integrate the Rift into future projects, like Journal?
The Rift really fits Kairo well. The game is all about immersing you in a strange world and doing that in full head tracked stereoscopic 3D would be absolutely perfect. After Kairo I’m going back to working on 2D projects for a while, such as Journal, and to be honest I don’t see the Rift being a good fit there. To a large degree the Rift support is more a vanity thing, I personally want to walk around in Kairo like that so that’s why I’m doing it. I’m hoping other indie exploration games do the same, they’re exactly what I want out of virtual reality.
Given the atmospheric minimalist style of the gameplay, there is always a concern that the player “just won’t get it”. What do you believe is the ideal way to experience Kairo?
Ideally I’d like people to slowly take their time to explore the world. Taking in everything the can find in the environment and slowly trying to piece together what all the strange things they find actually are and how they relate to each other. Sadly not everyone is going to do that, a lot of people focus on the puzzles and kind of try to rush through the game. I hope the puzzles are interesting enough to make that an engaging experience but it’s not the one I was trying to build. Of course I can’t dictate how people play the game, that’s up to them.
How has the game evolved from the alphas to the final release?
Graphically the game has come a long way. The early builds and trailers look so ugly to me now. Not so much the geometry but the lighting and texture work early on was really clumsy and weirdly at the time I thought it looked good, shows what I know. However I’d say the most important change has been the flow of the game. From watching players at events like PAX you just start to really get a sense of how people are struggling with the game or going down the wrong paths. So I’ve really tried to iterate over and over until people flow through the game much more smoothly. The first 10 minutes especially has been tuned to death and I’m quite proud of how well the game opens up.
What genre do you feel has stagnated the most in the gaming industry? What can be done to revitalize that genre?
I guess it’d be kind of obvious to say shooters since it’s very in vogue to hate on them. However I’m not sure that’s super fair because a lot of these seemingly bland shooters are super well made and perfectly suited to their audience. To me it’s like hating football games because you’re not interested in football. Also Spec Ops: The Line is one of the best game narratives this year and that was otherwise a very typical third person shooter.
So to actually answer the question I’d say MMORPGs are in the worst state right now. There’s been a lot of attention paid lately to them changing business model from subscription to free-to-play but for me the real problem with them is the copy and paste gameplay structures. Visit quest giver, follow arrow, kill 10 animals, return to quest giver, collect loot. That kind of game loop to me is such a boring structure and that’s a huge amount of MMORPG content. What scares me most is how more and more single player games are copying the worst of design lessons from MMORPGs because they’re an easy way of padding out content.
I don’t have any real answers for what MMORPGs need to do, it’s definitely a field I’d like to experiment with myself one day. I just wish there were more games out like EVE that are MMOs without following the World of Warcraft model. Feels like the mammoth success of that one game has ruined the whole genre because people are too scared to stray far from what it mastered.
Out of the many game engines that are out there, what ultimately sold you on using Unity to develop Kairo?
I’d been working with Unity for about a year and Kairo started out as an experiment with building an interesting 3D space to explore. At that point I was playing with a whole variety of tools such as XNA, GameMaker, Stencyl and I was playing around with a lot of different small prototypes. I hadn’t really planned on committing to spending two and a half years buidling Kairo but i just somehow got sucked in.
I’m not really a big fan of programming, even though I’ve somehow made a living out of it, so I love playing around with tools that allow me to focus on game design and less on the nuts and bolts of game development. Unity to me is like the perfect balance between visual development and coding. When I make a game in Unity I spend most of my time piecing all the content together rather than writing basic mechanical code over and over again.
How beneficial have you found game jams to the creative process of game development?
I feel like most of what I’ve learned as a game developer has come from doing game jams. That includes both the actual process of making games along with the what interests me most in game design. When you do one big project you’re just digging deeper into the same ditch for years, however game jams allow you to sample the whole process in a short time period. Taking tons of games from inception through to release over and over again has taught me more than I ever learned from reading articles and books. Now Kairo is done I’m looking forward to experimenting again with a lot of smaller stuff.
Many thanks to Richard Perrin for taking the time to speak with me. Kairo can be purchased either on the official website or on Desura. Also, be sure to show your support for the game by voting for it on Steam Greenlight.