Interview With The Molasses Flood: Making The Flame in the Flood After BioShock Infinite

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Xsolla had a chance to talk with Forrest Dowling – one of the developers of The Flame in the Flood – a cool new game that gathered over $200k on Kickstarter. Forrest is no newcomer to games. He served as a lead level designer for Bioshock: Infinite. His new game, based on Unreal Engine 3, serves as a great example of an incredibly talented and original project produced by a small and talented team.

Your studio The Molasses Flood boasts a wide variety of talent, including yourself. Could you name some of the games you’ve worked on and introduce your colleagues?

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We’ve worked on some games you may recognize: BioShock, BioShock Infinite, Halo 2 & 3, and Rock Band. All of the team worked at Irrational Games at one point or another, and all but one of us worked on BioShock Infinite. I was the Lead Level Designer on Infinite, and have partnered with Scott Sinclair, who was the Art Director on the original BioShock and Infinite. We’re also working with Damian Isla, who was the lead AI engineer on Halo 2 and 3, which means he was responsible for creating the behavior of the enemies you fought in those games. We’ve got quite a team.

What did you do after the closure of Irrational Games? How did you come up with The Flame in the Flood game? Were you thinking about this game while you were working on Bioshock?

After Irrational closed, we just started talking with friends about forming a small studio. It took a couple months of convincing to get everyone on board. People turned down some pretty exciting job offers to do this. We came up with the idea for the game after the team formed. We just started throwing ideas around, and pretty quickly ended on the idea of river journey and survival. Everything else spun out from those core ideas.

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While I thought about going independent a bit after finishing on BioShock, no real specifics came about until well after the closure. In a way, I’m thankful it happened, because while losing your job is pretty scary, it did push me to make a leap that I doubt I would have had the courage to take otherwise.

Tell us a little bit about different same mechanics you have in game. You’ve got crafting, and looting, and diseases and crazy brutal environment. How does it all fit in one game?

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All the gameplay mechanics really come down to one idea: the idea of a person battling nature. Nature is the weather, the world, your own needs, and the animals around you. Our hope is that by mixing up the sorts of challenges and decisions you need to make in these struggles, that we can create a deep and interesting game that’s based entirely on the systems we build, rather than relying on cut scenes or pre-built encounters. We’re also really interested in giving players different sorts of gameplay decisions to make back to back. One moment they may be deciding which plants are worth harvesting, and a moment later trying to paddle through rough water.

The Flame in the Flood looks like a very difficult game to make. It has great lighting, cool physics and animation. Could you share some of the insights on making such games with small staff? What kind of tools are you using, what kind of middleware is the most cost-effective and convenient? Do you buy any of the assets, scripts or other stuff?

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While it’s certainly a challenge to make, it helps having good tools. We’re using Unreal Engine 4, as we all have a lot of experience using Unreal. For us, it’s really important that every feature is something that one of the 6 of us can do. We’re not making super high res assets, we’re not doing voice acting, we’re not using motion captured animation. We are focusing a lot on the sort of rendering tricks that Unreal is great at, using real time shadows, SSAO, screen effects, that sort of thing. Unreal isn’t the cheapest option out there, as you end up giving 5% of your profits to Epic, but for us it’s worth it for the power it offers. It’s definitely very different than working in AAA, in which you have millions of dollars worth of resources. We need to be way more selective about the things we can put in the game.

Do you think Kickstarter will continue to be a great place for indies or it’s time to move on?

I think Kickstarter can still be good, but it really depends on how much you need and the sort of game you’re making. I think some great games have a really hard time on Kickstarter, if they don’t directly appeal to the sort of really engaged hardcore gamers that follow Kickstarter. If you’re making a mobile game, I don’t think you’d have much luck here. It also looks like the amount anyone can expect to get is going down, so if you need a higher budget it can be tough, no matter how great the concept is. It’s created a false sense about how expensive games are to create. We are able to make the game we want because Kickstarter is really just supplementing our own savings and investment. If we didn’t have those resources to support us, we wouldn’t be able to get what we needed. I think it’s good for experienced people who have their own resources, and who backers feel they can trust to deliver a game, and for games that just need a little extra push to help with the costs associated with finishing a title. It’s certainly not a well spring of huge amounts of money like it may have been a year or two ago.

How are you going to sell The Flame in the Flood?

We are planning on selling the game through Steam, which we’re already cleared to do, as well as other digital outlets, like Good Old Games and the Humble Store. We’re planning on selling directly from our website using the Humble widget. Our plan right now is to price the final game at $20. We don’t have any solid plans for DLC yet. The game would certainly support DLC, but it’s not something we’re sure we want to do yet. We’re currently focused on the core game. We’re definitely not interested in making something that’s free to play and supported by in-game payments.

You still have a chance to support The Flame in the Flood on Kickstarter. The project has 10 more days to go.

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