Developer Interview: The Flame in The Flood
The Flame in The Flood is one of the most interesting games I have personally played, so much so that we just had to pick the brains of The Molasses Flood relating to the game, and how it came to be. The interview was conducted by me, and the questions were answered by Forrest Dowling.
Push Start: To start off, would you like to give us a brief introduction about yourself?
Forrest Dowling: Hi, my name is Forrest Dowling, and I’m the president of The Molasses Flood. I was the designer on The Flame in the Flood, and have had a decent career before this team as a level designer on various AAA shooters.
Push Start: One of the things I am genuinely curious about is, what inspired the setting for your game, especially in relations to the flood?
Forrest Dowling: The setting was largely a result of a variety of mechanical needs. I was looking for a mechanic, something like the rebel fleet from FTL that is always pushing forward and forcing player decisions, preventing them from hitting every possible stop. We arrived at the idea of a river with strong currents that you really couldn’t effectively fight against. We also wanted to create a world filled with tiny pockets for explorable space, which led to the idea of the water locked & flooded world we ended up with.
Push Start: I can honestly say that this game does not feel like any survival game I have played, did you pay attention to certain things during development to make sure it stands out from the survival games crowding marketplaces right now?
Forrest Dowling: Our biggest focus was to make the game about movement, as opposed to base building or similar, which a lot of survival games focus on. There’s no building of structures, and places you explore are rapidly depleted, which I think lends quite a different feel.
Push Start: An amusing aspect (I am quite a dark person) I have noticed and absolutely adored about the game, is how specific the deaths are. I actually died from sepsis on my first go. What was the idea behind this beautifully twisted feature?
Forrest Dowling: I wanted to build a survival game based on real world survival, which includes a lot of very specific ways to die. From that we developed the affliction system, which roughly models a lot of different things that can befall you in the world, some fatal, others not so bad.
Push Start: Traversing the treacherous river is at the centre of the game. I was curious whether this has a symbolic meaning behind it?
Forrest Dowling: I think the river has more mechanical meaning for me than symbolic, but we did like how closely it mapped to a lot of literature and history. One of the things I read and loved while working on the game was Undaunted Courage, about the Lewis and Clark expedition. I think the idea of river travel and survival go hand in hand historically, so it felt like a great fit.
Push Start: Developing a survival, Rogue-Lite game like this, what were the challenges involved during its development?
Forrest Dowling: I think aside from managing scope (which is an issue for every game), I think we had the hardest time with the UI. It’s the only part that we overhauled completely along the course of development, and never really hit a point where we really loved it. It’s tough in a lot of ways as the UI in any game tends to automate a lot of processes, but the act of surviving is process oriented, so creating something with enough friction to create the feel of survival without so much friction that players reject it is a tough tightrope to walk.
Push Start: Of course, no interview would be complete without mentioning Chuck Ragan and his excellent music for the game. How did you approach him to write for your game and how do you believe the final work helped your product?
Forrest Dowling: I absolutely believe the soundtrack is a huge component of the success of the title. Approaching Chuck was pretty easy in that we had an unfair advantage. Our art director, Scott Sinclair, had done many album covers for Chuck over the years, and they’ve been close friends for decades. It also helped that the themes of our game really resonated with Chuck. If you want proof, look at his Instagram account. It’s maybe 80 percent fish that he’s caught.
Push Start: I understand that you have worked with various teams of large sizes on your previous projects. In your opinion, what are the benefits of working with a small team as compared to a bigger one?
Forrest Dowling: I think the big obvious benefit of a small team is creative ownership. You really get to call your own shots, and make decisions without needing to evangelise them to management or across other large teams. It can be empowering, even though your resources are vastly more constrained.
Push Start: Would you like to expand into a bigger team in the near future?
Expanding is certainly something we’re looking into. If you look at the number of games released every day, it’s climbing rapidly, and I think it’s harder and harder to stand out as a small team, so we’re interested in figuring out what it will take to stand out in an increasingly crowded field.
Push Start: I usually get some interesting responses to this question, if you could have any one existing IP your team could work on, what would you be most excited to pick?
I bet every team member would have a different answer, but I know we were all thrilled to have the opportunity to help out Double Fine with Psychonauts 2. It really was a dream project for all of us, and it was super cool to work in getting Raz running around and functional.
Push Start: What are some of your favourite Survival Games?
Ironically, or idiotically perhaps, I’m not really a huge fan of the survival genre overall. I liked The Long Dark a great deal, and like every human on the planet enjoyed Don’t Starve.
Push Start: What are some of the games that you are looking forward to this year and are currently playing?
Oh man… everything. I’m kind of a love it all player, although I tend more toward action games and shooters. I’m really excited to get a Switch whenever I can find one and check out Zelda. I’m also waiting on Horizon Zero Dawn to arrive, which looks awesome. In the last few days I’ve been playing Northgard and Far Cry: Primal. Oh, and Mass Effect. I’ve loved almost everything Bioware has done, so I’m really looking forward to going back to that universe.
Push Start: Any hints as to what is in the future for you? Maybe a little nudge for our readers perhaps?
I’d love to give a hint, but it’s really too early. We’re poking around at a lot of ideas, but haven’t settled on anything yet. We’ll let you know as soon as we’ve got something worth talking about.
Push Start: Lastly, I usually ask this for aspiring developers such as myself, what would be your number one advice for someone getting started with their first game? And anything you’d like to impart with for the readers?
I have a hard time giving advice, because it’s often so contextual to a person’s situation, but with that being said I guess the biggest thing when first starting out is to keep it simple. If you aim huge for your first attempt, you’ll mostly likely fail, and I think it’s important for motivation to give yourself something you can see working before sitting down to make your dream game that’s like, an MMO, but with the shooting from Battlefield, but also there’s cars that handle like Forza, and you can fly from space to a planet where there’s cities and you can be a trader or a general in an army. Anyway, me and my cousin will be launching our Kickstarter to make that for $10,000 any day now.