Interview with Franklin Cosgrove & Archgame on HomeMake

Franklin Cosgrove (Cory) and Archgame (Matt) are both architecture students with interests in video games as a way to explore building design. Currently, Cory handles the writing, character modelling, animation, and cinematics while Matt takes care of the music, audio, environment design, and computer programming. As a small two person team though, they end up doing a lot of the same tasks, which is a great way to truly collaborate on something, and it’s actually rather difficult to divide the tasks up so concretely.

This is something the two are really interested in as a team as most indie studios have a singular name where team members are listed with very specific tasks. But Cory and Matt were interested in the idea of a studio that acknowledges each team member in name, and team members share virtually all the tasks.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us about HomeMake. Before we get started, could you tell us a bit about yourselves and how you decided to make a game together?

M: As you can imagine we both grew up playing a lot of video games, I was a big Sega-fan boy, although I still bought a Super NES and Nintendo 64 to go along with my Genesis and Dreamcast. However, every single one of my games was stolen a couple of years ago, and that was kind of that for video games for me. That was until I met Cory in architecture school. He reintroduced me to video games, specifically the indie scene and I was immediately engaged with all the wonderful concepts coming out of the scene.

If you were to look at video games not even a decade ago, you could never imagine the amazing diversity of games we have today, people wanted them, but there wasn’t the community, finances, distribution, or software to allow such easy development. So this really inspired us to make a game, we were looking at these projects, we had the skills from architecture, and it just clicked, we were like hey, we can do this. We both have this deep backlog of game ideas that has been germinating since we were children.

The first description I found on HomeMake was that it’s a platform-adventure on an endless urban planetoid. Where did the idea come from? What did you use as inspiration?

M: This idea about the endless planetoid comes from our experience gaming as children. I remember playing a lot of adventure games where I would just try and run as far into the environment as I could. Inevitably, I would get stopped by an invisible wall, a dense forest, a cliff, a mountain, etc. This really took me out of the game environment and made me realize there was a limit to this world I was exploring.

The inverted sphere allows for this surface where you could theoretically run around forever. If you look at archgame’s tumblr archives, deep in there is a pic of one of our gravity tests which basically was just this sphere a robot could run around inside. The idea for the urban interior formed from a project Cory and I along with two fellow classmates did for an architecture studio where we had to create an urban environment through zoning codes. We decided to not only create the zoning codes, but create the city by interpreting these zoning codes into computer code.

The project produced two important things for the game. First, because we created the city out of code, we could change one parameter and the entire city would completely rearrange itself. Second, we used a video game engine to move around the city to get a better human perspective. HomeMake is the next logical step, creating a game where you can explore a city as it changes. This actually led to the character swap mechanic because we needed to have different ways to explore the city’s design.

The environments are truly the centerpiece for this game. I hear the city changes as players learn more about the world. How will this work? Is the story revealed through dialogue or does the player interpret narrative through the environment itself?

C: As you play and get more associated with the city, things will feel familiar, but each playthrough will be completely different. Cities change every day and in HomeMake it is no different. There are codes in place that shift things such as street grids, building density, building size, building shape, etc. These changes will be happening whenever that portion of the city is out of view. So the player can make a full loop around the sphere, reach the same spot where they started, and things will be different to different degrees.

These changes will range in severity but our goal was to make an environment with no distinct beginning or end and could be explored forever, with the player always finding new areas of the city they’ve never seen before. Ultimately, the story will revolve around this struggle to find one’s “self” amidst a changing world and the myriad of character identities.

I admit I got dizzy staring up at that sky, seeing those buildings suspended like stars. Navigation would be a total nightmare, and doubly so if buildings morph when you’re not looking. I also didn’t see any maps or other directional aids. Will the player ever get lost? Can the player get lost?

M: The player will no doubt get lost exploring the City but we ultimately think that’s a good thing. What we want the player to learn is how to understand space and where they are in the world through specific cues other than a map. There will be multiple layers of information that define certain places in the city, whether it be visual, auditory, gameplay, or type of characters. Our goal in depriving the player of a minimap is so that they learn these subtle hints as to where they are in the city. Even though this area may have changed since the last time they passed through, it will carry the same essence as it did before, allowing the player to locate themselves in the environment.

homemake-2

HomeMake is about exploration from what I can see, though there’s a story behind it too. Is the game ultimately more of a narrative experience or a sandbox that plays differently each time you load it up?

C: It will no doubt play differently over multiple sittings, but there will be a narrative experience in place as well. We want the player to be engaged with a story and grow attached to the characters in a way that a simple free roaming sandbox game could not achieve. We hope to weave a narrative that emotionally affects the player but still has gameplay mechanics that keep them returning for more.

So far, we’ve only seen Kigi the robot and Sandwiches the fox as characters the player has access to. I read something about needing to swap bodies in order to solve certain puzzles. How does this work? Could you give an example of a situation where you’ll need to take advantage of this mechanic?

C: All the puzzles and challenges haven’t been worked out yet, but just to give you an example of how we’re approaching some of these elements, in our first pre-alpha test we located a flower on top of a building. First, you had to play as the boy character named Iso in order to talk to the girl character and understand that in order to win her affection, you needed to give her a flower. Second, you had to switch to the fox in order to smell which building the flower was on top of. So next you would need to switch to a character that had the platforming skills to reach the top of the building, then switch back to Iso to give the girl the flower.

Each character will face respective challenges as they try to solve their portion of the puzzle and ultimately, it’s up to the player to figure out which character is best to address the task at hand.

What other characters can we expect to encounter? The images shown so far depict a densely packed cityscape that’s eerily devoid of creatures. Is it just the player and the world with no NPCs?

M: There will be plenty of NPCs, this will be one part that will help players navigate; when you go through a city now, you can expect to find different types of people in different places. For example, if you go to a financial district, it will be a full of professionals running around in business suits, at a university you will find a wide diversity of people, and in the suburbs you will likely see a lot of children playing outside.

One of the reasons we haven’t shown a lot of characters is we have offered a relatively cheap character design option (at the writing of this interview there is only one spot left). We wanted to make this reward relatively cheap because we are really interested in engaging with our community as to what kind of identities they want characters to have (without having too many characters we have made play into their design decisions). In this way, we are hoping their experiences are also added to the game, making it a community game not only on an visual level, but on a narrative one.

The music is also a special focus of the game. When you say there is no set OST, where sounds blend together based on the environment and gameplay, does that mean that every playthrough brings new songs? If so, that’s pretty cool!

M: My background in music is DJing, I bought turntables in high school and have been DJing at bars and parties since. When I listen to music, I really appreciate DJ sets, because they tell this continuous story (check out the Boiler Room sets if you want some quality sets). In the game, different areas of the city will have associated musical parts; drums, bass, vocals, melody. As you are moving between areas certain things might begin to overlap. For example, if you are in one area where there is a melody playing and you move to a second area, it will mix the melody of the first area with say the vocals of the second area.

I’m really interested in the power of music on memory and am interested in players using audio as a key means of navigating the city, while also adding emotion and energy to the environment. Because there are parts of songs, there aren’t any singles to go with the game, so instead of an OST with a song list, we are opting for a single DJ mix that will showcase all the musical elements in the game, and provide this continuous audio tapestry.

There’s a week left in your Kickstater campaign. Between now and the full-release, what features will you be adding and/or improving?

C: This may sound silly but we want to go back over and polish everything! We’re really excited about the project and have a lot of ideas to play through and test out. We really believe in the work we’ve done so far and want to polish it to the highest level it can possibly be. In the near future expect to see more fleshed out characters with bios and gameplay footage. We’ve reached a point where the environment and character direction will take a back seat to the gameplay mechanics that need to be thought through, something we are excited to engage our backers in. That will be our primary focus between now and when we release our first beta to the public.

And to close things off, is there anything we missed about HomeMake that you’d like to share?

C: Well first of all, we’d like to thank all our awesome supporters, without whom we would not be where we are today. We’ve had a lot of people encourage us to keep going with the game and providing critiques along the way, they have really been a big reason we’ve gotten this far. The fact that even one other person thinks our game is cool really warms our hearts. Second, our game music is free to download on our Kickstarter. So go check out the video, read about the game, and listen to some tunes for your troubles.

Thanks again for talking to us. It’s been a pleasure, and we hope to hear more about your game in the future!

Thanks! We appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about HomeMake !

the author

Executive Editor of ManaPool. A student of game design, Amber is currently writing from the frozen north that is Canada. She has a penchant for tactical team-based games and a particular taste for theorycrafting. Want to discuss community and player experience? Talk to her!