The Game Kitchen is a small game company based in Spain, that has been working independently for two years. Formed from a group of friends, they aim to create their own unique IP and make their mark on indie development. Raul Diez talks about the creation of the company’s first original game, The Last Door.
Building the Dream and the Team
To really explain the origin of The Last Door, we have to go back to 2004. Back then, we were just a bunch of friends who really enjoyed making games as a hobby, but it wasn’t our profession. But we all knew that our destiny was different. Our true passion was to develop games. Every day after work, we met together to spend hours learning how to make games and creating our first amateur projects. We lost a lot of sleep to master the necessary tools to develop games, and then decided to start up Nivel21 Entertainment in 2009, a really tiny pseudo-professional studio.
We developed some games and participated in a few contests. Rotor’scope, one of our most successful games, won several awards (Prize on DreamBuildPlay 2009, Best Spanish Indie Game 2010, etc.). We started to gain recognition and the necessary self-confidence to take the leap, quit our boring jobs, and create our own full professional company in early 2010: The Game Kitchen.
For the first two years, we did contract work for other companies and game studios, including ports of existing games and educational titles. We were quite happy in those times, but the advent of the crisis complicated things. Developing indie games in Spain became complicated, since no funding nor financial support was provided. Our clients were suffering, too, and contracted work became much more scarce, pricing went down, and payment came too little, too late.
The moment had arrived for us to step forward and reach our dream: to fully develop our passion and develop games we would loved to play. It was to time to move away from clients’ restrictions and be completely free to create. Thus, at the end of 2012, we stood our ground! We felt there had to be another way to fund games, and so we placed our hopes on Kickstarter as an alternative way around scarcity of bank loans, and a more sustainable and honest way to do business.
The Birth of The Last Door
We knew what we wanted to do and the path to follow. We were only missing the particular idea for a game. To solve that, we decided to have an idea contest internally. It had to be something different, something really groundbreaking… and then appeared. Enrique Cabeza, one of the team’s artists, introduced us to a simple game prototype made with PowerPoint based in pursuing the same feelings caused by classic horror books, where you rely heavily on your imagination to depict the scenes and situations.
The brainstorming began and all the game components started to flow; it had to be an adventure game, immersive, with low visibility and dark scenarios, even more..over-pixelated! The retro concept gained ground and the point-and-click mechanic was almost mandatory. We are quite a homogenous group, and have a mutual understanding when approaching video games. It wasn’t difficult to agree on the shape of the game and completely fall in love with the idea and concept. There was no turning back.
Designing the Kickstarter Campaign
Preparing for our Kickstarter, we knew that we had a lot of work to do before we were ready. It was the first time we were crowdfunding a project, and everything was new and vibrant, but also very time-consuming and stressful. Kickstarter gives you a month to reach the funding objective, so when we decided to start the campaign in December 2012, we also started a race against time to set a good communication flow with the community and create as many contents as possible. It’s common sense that the backers want to have a deep knowledge about the project they are going to support. Videos, social media, a functional website, art, team introductions, PR and marketing activities, as well as a playable prologue– all ideas were welcomed to explain the game and to tease and convince potential backers.
In our ingenuity, we thought that part of the team would be enough to handle the campaign while the others start work on certain aspects of the game for when we were up and running (and more importantly, funded). But that wasn’t the case, as most of the resources were spent on the campaign itself. The only exception was the creation of the playable prologue. Even though we barely reused any lines of code or assets from it, it turned out to be a good prototype and gave us a real and concrete vision of what we wanted to achieve in the first chapter.
After a month of madness and frenzy, 285 backers not only supported the pilot chapter of The Last Door, but also helped us to reach 20 percent over the objective. That’s the way we were able to undertake our beloved project: an over-pixelated horror game in which the player would have to use his imagination more often than he’s used to.
The Moment of Truth: Developing the First Chapter
When approaching the design of the game, the first thing was to decide the technology to be used. We went for Flash, since we mastered this software, and it represented the best alternative in terms of budget and time, although it also had some restrictions. One of the restrictions is that Flash is “high level,” so it isn’t designed to be optimized from a technical point of view. Another limitation was that only one out of our three programmers really mastered this software and had previous experience with it.
As for methodology, we are used to work under Scrum, so we stuck with it. Our first decision was to make a first sprint that would last for a little less than a month, because we had to build a clear-cut, well-defined basis for every aspect of the game. This is the way we have continued developing our game until today, adding new features along with new chapters, like refactoring the engine, support for NPCs and dialogues (including the integration with ChatMapper, a very cool tool to create conversations), savegame, accessibility features (closed captions and dyslexia-friendly fonts), support for community collaboration, etc.
With development, we had teams in charge of certain aspects of the game. Our two artists were in charge of the script and general design of the game. They created the main storyline, script, and gameplay of the first chapter. Obviously, for the first chapter, it had to be a script that would somehow “hide” the lack of features that would be entirely missing from the game because of time constraints, such as tree dialogs or navigation grids.
For the programming team, the top priority was to create the game engine. The coding of the prologue was done rather hastily during the campaign, so it was obvious it needed a deep and thorough analysis and refactorization if we wanted it to hold up a much longer gameplay and the potential inclusion of more features in the future. Considering the script and design team would need a few weeks before finishing up the story, we decided it would be best to test our newly coded engine features by creating a replica of the prologue.
As for the orchestral original soundtrack and sound effects, it is one of the greatest features of The Last Door. The soundtrack completes the strange and frightening atmosphere of the game, and it has been highlighted and praised by almost any of the media which have covered our game. For that, we had the good fortune of counting on our friend Carlos Viola, a master music composer with a long history of composing for video games, who rapidly understood what we wanted for the game and did outstanding work.
From the beginning, we wanted to create a scary and enthralling story, making the player feel a gripping, immersive status. That was a real challenge, but also the key to our success. We are fans of horror literature and of authors such as Lovecraft and Poe, so our first intention was to reproduce that atmosphere of the dark ages: full of light and shadows, uncertainty, obscurantism and mysteries. The story behind The Last Door revolves around cosmic terror and Gothic novels, especially from those above-mentioned authors, so their literary universes are the leitmotif narrative of the game from its very conception.
The Importance of Our Community
Thanks to the crowdfunding concept and backed by our active community, we released our first pilot chapter “The Letter” in March 2013. The positive response from hundreds of players and the good critics encouraged us to continue with the project and produce a second chapter and design the whole saga. Due to our previous success with crowdfunding, we thought that we could crowd-fund future chapters of the game independently from Kickstarter. We implemented the necessary tools within our website to make it possible, such has creating a good basis that supported user profile management. People needed to be able to register, log in, edit basic information and identify themselves as backers (or new ones) to access their individual rewards. We managed it and in June 2013, we launched our second chapter “Memories.” Since then, the game has been played by hundreds of thousands players throughout different websites.
The main role of our community is obvious, not only from the funding perspective, but also in a creative way. To continue telling the story and making this a long-term project, we depend on our community. Our idea was to design an expanded experience for those who want to get more involved while allowing more casual players to play without interference. We have a web blog/forum that works as an effective communication channel. It allows our community members to participate and suggest ideas or improvements in any aspect of the game (from content to marketing). Thanks to them, we’ve been able not only to fix bugs, but to perform relevant improvements in gameplay. Another main role of the community is the writings, as no one in the team really has enough command of the English language. we got almost 100 percent of the texts re-written by them, and they are also localizing the game into several languages (we have twelve so far).
We believe in collaboration as a way of creation, and we are making further progress in that direction. In the last chapter, for instance, we organized a kind of contest where our community members had the chance to suggest descriptions for many objects we left intentionally undescribed within the game. The “Leave your Mark” initiative was highly successful, and we are thinking about new actions to interact with our fans and make them participant in the success of the project. All these inputs really help in the creative design and fine-tuning of the game, supplementing and improving our original ideas.
Finally, we are really proud of our fans, since they are also creating a lot of rich parallel content related to The Last Door. Illustrations, 3D modeling, recreations of the game in SIM’s, Minecraft, etc. and even poetry about the game! We just can’t believe it!
Future of The Project and Studio
Future? We don’t really worry about that. We will try our best to survive in this pure “indie mode” as long as possible. It’s not easy, but we have the necessary tools to battle it out. Also, The Last Door is starting to be economically viable, so prospects are positive. Many people ask us how long is going to take to end the game, and to be honest, we don’t really know. Our game is designed to be a web-series and, as such, it hasn’t a predetermined number of chapters. As long as the community continues supporting us, and the series makes sense story-wise, we will continue producing episodes. If the project stretches on, we could even divide the game into different seasons, much like a TV series. Our intention is that once we reach “cruising speed” in production, we will detach some resources from this project, since the production will have enough momentum to be carried out by less people. At the same time, these liberated resources would start pre-production for something new. It isn’t decided yet, but we have plenty of ideas.
The third chapter of the series, The Four Witness, is scheduled for release at the end of September. Keep up-to-date with The Last Door development on Facebook.