This week we hooked up with Liam Roddy, the sole creator, director, coder and artist for the game Amber Psychosis. Liam is developing Amber Psychosis entirely by himself with the exception of composing the music, as he has slightly less musical talent than the average desk-lamp. His words, not ours! The most interesting thing worth mentioning before we go and dive right into the interview itself is the fact that Liam is releasing Amber Psychosis for free. Read on for the reasons behind this decision and his plans for the game.
It’s quite an undertaking to develop a game all by yourself. What drove you into the clutches of indie development?
The same thing that drives everybody else in the field, I suppose. I love games, and I always have. For me, moving into the world of development seemed the most logical step. What wasn’t, however, the most logical step was making Amber Psychosis my first game. It was a concept I was just so attached to that I couldn’t just “put it all together” in a few weeks and leave it at that. It’s been a slow, sometimes painful development process that has been going on for the best part of two years now, but I don’t regret a second of it. I think I’m beginning to understand the phrase “labour of love!”
In short, I love indie development, and it’s something I’d very much like to keep doing.
Have you given the idea of starting your own indie studio any thought? You’re currently advertising your project Amber Psychosis entirely under your own name. Or are you currently more interested in making a name for yourself at a more personal level?
Although a lot of heart has gone into the development of Amber Psychosis, I don’t think it’s a game that would benefit hugely from having several people working on it. I feel that by the time I’ve gotten my “artistic vision” across to another person (fuelled by pure stubbornness) about how I want the game to be, I could have gotten it done myself. It’s not a particularly technically-complex game, being more complex on the artistic side of things. Above all, it’s really something close to my heart. For me, working by myself seemed the only sensible thing.
However, having my own studio would be amazing! In the meantime, however, I think I’ll just keep my head steady and my feet on the ground. After all, I do have to first prove to the world that I’m not actually shit at this!
I do have to first prove to the world that I’m not actually shit at this!
When you aren’t developing Amber Psychosis, what do you get up to?
Sleeping. Eating. Thinking about developing the Amber Psychosis.
It takes over your life, simple as that. However, I do like to spend the occasional Saturday night out/in with great friends and excessive amounts of alcohol. It really is hard to appreciate the beauty of life when you’re sober all the time!
I also spend some Friday nights pretending to help the community at my local youth club, and Saturday mornings flailing my arms wildly, pretending to be far more confident than I actually am at the local theatre company.
Actually, I wouldn’t particularly call any of this off-time. The greatest inspiration comes to you in the oddest of places!
What’s your biggest challenge at the present during the development of Amber Psychosis?
Finding a balance. If I spend to much time working on the game, it drains all my will-power and determination to actually get anything done. On the other hand, I sometimes go for days on end and get no significant work done, and end up feeling worse about it.
For me, finding this “sweet spot” is key to making the magic happen. Whenever I find it, I tend to dive right at it, pull an all-nighter, work non-stop for far too long and collapse the next day from sheer exhaustion. Which kind-of undoes the whole “balance” thing to some degree.
Also, getting people to notice you and care about what you’re doing is a very big challenge. Sometimes you get lucky and some lovely people come along and offer you an interview (yay for ManaPool!) but most of the time you put in a ton of effort getting your name out there and get no real reward from it at all. You just got to keep on trying.
Sometimes you get lucky and some lovely people come along and offer you an interview (yay for ManaPool!)
Could you tell us a little about Amber Psychosis? What inspired you to make this game and how did you choose the name for it?
One of the main things that inspired me was – in fact – another game. A game called Lone Survivor. It was first described to me by a fellow horror-fan as being a “2D indie psychological horror”.
Sound familiar? It sounded familiar to me, I can tell you that much.
I was unbelievably excited to hear about Lone Survivor. I had always had a concept in my mind for a game with a practically identical description. So I downloaded it. I played it. It was okay.
It was a game that smacked of wasted potential to me. Don’t get me wrong, there was lots of great things about it. I’d recommend the game to any horror fan that hasn’t played it yet, but it just wasn’t the game I had been looking for. Then I realised that the only way that this ideal horror game of mine could ever exist would be if I made it myself. And so, here we are!
As for the name, I originally used Cold Light as the working title. Eventually, I felt that it just didn’t suit the game any more. I needed a name for when I finally announced the game to the world. One day, while skateboarding (like I said, inspiration from the oddest of places) the phrase “amber psychosis” started rolling around in my head. I didn’t know why, and I still don’t. I had a rough idea of what “psychosis” meant, but I quickly Googled it anyway. It’s described by Wikipedia – the ultimate source of knowledge in the universe – as a “loss of contact with reality,” which pretty much sums up one of the main themes of the game.
As for “amber”, the game tells a lot of its story through use of colour (and, more to the point, lack of colour). Plus, at that point I still needed a name for our protagonist!
So I asked a few people what they thought of the name, and they all seemed to like it. I’m pretty sure I still like it too, but it’d be a bit too late to change anyway. Especially since I mocked up that awfully snazzy-looking logo!
What is your main vision of the game? Why will gamers fall in love with Amber Psychosis over any other horror type game?
Simply put, it’s all in the presentation. I have said many, many times that the game pursues a surreal, minimalist style which really grabs your attention and refuses to let go. That’s what this game is all about. I can’t wait to show off the first trailer or playable pre-release build, something to show people what the game will really be like.
This game isn’t about being the best though. This isn’t meant to be “better” than Silent Hill 2 or Amnesia: The Dark Descent, or Resident Evil 4, or even Lone Survivor. It’s not about beating any other game. It’s about making a game that I want to make, and then show it off to the world. It’s a unique game that will stand on its own, and I very much hope it will stand in many a horror enthusiast’s collection.
The game features a very recognisable art style, which personally I really dig. If you were asked to sum up the art style of the game in just ONE screenshot – which one would it be?
Hmm… it’s a tough one, but I’d have to say the first double screenshot composition I posted on-line a while back. Partially because I don’t feel like publishing new material until I perfect it a little more (you’re not getting exclusive material that easily! :D), and also because I think it’s a very good example of how the concept of colour plays into the game. Also, there’s a forest. And a hospital. Two of the biggest horror clichés one could imagine, all in one game!
Don’t worry though, the hospital makes sense in the context of the game. As for the forest, I really like forests. I don’t believe I need to have any stronger logic than “I really like forests,” but there’s also a lot of deep symbolism there. Okay, the symbolism isn’t that deep, but it’s there. It also makes sense in the story, or at least the subtext of the story.
I’m beginning to ramble now, so just look at the pretty picture!
How did you go about designing and producing the game? Can you tell our readers a little more about your process and working methods?
My working methods are a complete shambles, to be honest. I don’t go near my keyboard or drawing board for days at a time. Then I pull two all-nighters in a row. The creative juices flows in fits and starts, and there are some days when working on any part of the game – be it coding, drawing, debugging (oh dear lord, the debugging!), writing, scripting, level design, sound design etc. – just seems like the last thing I want to do. Then there are days when all I can work on and think about is Amber Psychosis. I could spend the entire day and night working on anything and everything. I think this is another good reason why I wouldn’t be too well-suited to team/studio-based development: I’d take a whole load of sick days, and then just storm into the studio one night and lock myself into a room with a kettle, a cup, two jars of instant coffee, sandwiches, a laptop, a pencil and a notepad. And then nobody would see me again for another few days!
I try to put in a minimum number of hours per week, but schedules in general are something I don’t mesh well with. Usually I find that just doing whatever I feel like doing at that exact moment is my most productive method.
You have decided to release Amber Psychosis for free. What made you decide to go down this route? How are you funding development? Are you not worried about the enormous time investment you’ll have to put in to then at the end not get much out of it?
When you’re a newcomer to the industry, like me, people expect either one of two things. They expect you to be either terrible thanks to your inexperience, or some opportunistic wanker out to grab money from unwitting customers (and probably also still terrible thanks to your inexperience). Making Amber Psychosis free is a sign of good faith, if nothing else. It’s walking into battle with my hands up in the air. If the game is brutal, then I didn’t “rip off” everybody who downloaded it. If the game is great, then everybody wins. And I intend to make the game great.
Given the closed-off, one-man nature of development, funding isn’t really a big problem. However, the time investment is of course a killer, but at the end of the day it’s time invested in something I love doing. Worse case scenario: it all goes south and I gain valuable life experience (you can never get too much of that!).
Also, making the Amber Psychosis free for all the world to play is a bit of a self-inflicted punishment. It’s my own little bit of repentance for all the pirating of games I’ve done over the years. It’s a tough sin to forgive, I know!
Is there anything else about Amber Psychosis which you are really passionate about or simply must share with our readers?
When I was putting together all the assets for my original level tests, I could imagine what the game would feel like. Atmospheric was definitely the word for it. But when the test levels were finally ready to try out, I couldn’t feel that intensity I had imagined. I tweaked a few things, but it still didn’t quite do the job. The flickering light of your burning torch; the tight, claustrophobia-inducing corridors; the gentle shaking of the ground beneath the protagonist’s feet. It was all there, but it just wasn’t enough. I was completely disheartened. I felt like I had done everything wrong. Then I added a simple, quiet, distorted piano-track in the background. It absolutely nailed down all the feelings I wanted to create into something concrete. It was perfect.
Atmosphere is a hard thing to balance. You can overdo it sometimes, trying to build up tension so much that you have a net negative effect on the player. The player stops caring when they hear “generic_monster_screech_distant_3.wav” for the thirty-fifth time in a row. I constantly talk about atmosphere and pacing for a reason: the two are intrinsically linked. Pacing can kill atmosphere just as easily as atmosphere can kill pacing.
Atmosphere is one of my top game design philosophies. It’s essential to the game, and I can’t wait for players to experience it!
Atmosphere is one of my top game design philosophies. It’s essential to the game.
Have you got any other projects in the pipeline you can tell us about – either in production or at the ideas stage? Perhaps a game release in the future which will not be released for free?
I have a few ideas for future games after Amber. Currently I have two other game concepts in my mind jostling to be made first. However, right now I’m keeping my lips sealed about what exactly they are. I’ll say this much – they’ll be relatively simple, tightly-focused, 2D games with hand-drawn art-styles. However, after that the similarities to Amber Psychosis stop. Going from one atmospheric horror immediately on to another seems like a bad idea to me. I want to explore a little more, and making a more “energetic”-feeling game would be a great start to that.
As for exact details, like possible cost, who knows? Because I know I certainly don’t!
One game at a time, one game at a time…
If time and money was no object, what kind of game would you see yourself producing? What would your dream game be?
Honestly, I couldn’t see myself working on a huge mega-budget AAA game. At least not any time soon. I dream in 2D. I’m a relatively young gamer, who grew up into the 3D era, where the number of polygons and the degree of texture detail seem to trump artistic merit, but 2D work has always been where my passions lay. I’m afraid a huge budget would probably be wasted on me, but I suppose that I’d like to create a game set in a city. A huge city. A city where every single street corner and sign-post tells a story. A city where you spend years just roaming about and never see everything. And what kind-of game would be set here? I have absolutely no idea. I just want to see a beautiful fantasy city come to life.
Until that day, I’ll happily stick to working with pixels. I like them. You can always trust the pixels.
Thank you very much for your time. We’d like to wish you the best of luck, and we look forward to the first release version of Amber Psychosis! I’m sure our very own Amber would love to review it. Keep us informed!
Well, thank you for the interview! It was fun, in a sitting-alone-in-front-of-a-keyboard sort-of way. You will be the first to know of any future updates on Amber Psychosis, mainly due to the fact that nobody else offered me an interview. That’s right, screw you, Polygon! (Just kidding, of course!)
And here’s another screenshot for good measure: