Developer Interview: Ama’s Lullaby
Push Start: Would you like to briefly introduce yourself to our readers, and perhaps tell us how you got into videogame development?
Marc: Hi! My name is Marc, I am the founder of Mercy Ground Creations, a (very) small indie game development studio, and I am the developer of the cyberpunk game project Ama’s Lullaby. Like many game creators, I started playing games while I was very young, (which led) me to obtain a Master-level degree in 3D computer graphics (animation and special effects oriented). One day, I saw Brian Fargo’s Wasteland 2 on Kickstarter, and I saw that it was made with Unity. Trying the free version of the soft on my computer, it was a revelation, the beginning of several years of learning how to make games.
Push Start: In your words, how would you best describe the experience you are currently crafting for players?
Marc: Ama’s Lullaby is an immersive game taking place in a cyberpunk atmosphere, with a strong cinematographic approach. You play the role of Ama, a young computer-science prodigy living in the 1st outer space colony. This place was built by machines for human beings to protect humanity, after the announcement of a potential impact between Earth and an asteroid. But when Ama finds out the actual reason of her presence in this colony, and notices the strange behaviour of its inhabitants, her world suddenly falls apart. Then she has to explore the colony, meet its human and non-human inhabitants, negotiate with the AI and make decisions that will impact directly the course of events. Thanks to her programming talent, she is able to hack any network of the city, gather information, steal confidential data to use them for her own purposes, disclose them or even blackmail people. But every action has consequences on the story, and Ama will become an easy prey once her identity is unveiled…
Push Start: What were some of the inspirations (Movies, books, games) behind your game?
Marc: The main inspiration comes from Blade Runner, the point-and-click released on PC in 1997. The game had this interactive movie-like touch, and the sound fit perfectly with the graphics. It’s a beautiful tribute to the original movie. The manga comic strip Gunnm is another inspiration to me, I like its dark and violent mood. And recently, the TV series Mr Robot is inspiring me a lot for the hacking part of the game, as well as Akta Maniskor for the androids behaviour. In the field of games, I can say that Fallout series inspired me a lot. It’s one of my “best-game-ever”, because of its story, open world and maturity.
Push Start: It is impressive that most of the work on the game is being done by you alone, when did you decide that you could do this?
Marc: I decided it while I was making the prototype for Ama’s Lullaby. I’m now quite realistic and I know that for my first game, I can’t find the budget to work with a whole team of artists and programmers. The only way I can make it is to do it all by myself. It has some great advantages: I don’t need someone to manage the team, and the game will be a very personal vision. But it’s not the easiest way: I have to work all the time, every day. But I like it this way, I’ve being doing so for many years now!
Push Start: Is the artwork by you as well?
Marc: I made the artwork, and the music for the teaser as well.
Push Start: One of the really interesting things you’ve mentioned is that you have had failures before. For those who don’t know, how do you believe those mistakes will help you provide a better end project.
Marc: The first version of Ama’s Lullaby was a cRPG with turn-based combat, health management with survival-related gameplay and a top down view in the style of Fallout. We were a small team working on that, but it was really too big for us. After several months of work, we decided to quit. That’s why I rethought everything for the current project, which is a more modest version, far more adequate for a first game development. Now I am really able to evaluate what’s feasible and what’s not.
Push Start: Let’s talk a little bit about your game’s dynamic behaviour system, how does that work and just how far will it go?
Marc: Every choice you make in the game matters. I want the NPCs to react to your choices in a realistic way, they will have unexpected behaviours like real humans, with some randomness: each game session will have different settings. Your choices and way of playing will take you to one of the various endings. But the game won’t be a completely open-world with a huge freedom of action, because I want the player to stay connected with the main story, and for this it has to have some linearity. I just have to find the right balance between both.
Push Start: You have given quite a bit of mention to playing passively, with Ama preferring to not use violence. Will players be give leniency with how they play?
Marc: They will have to. You’re in Ama’s shoes, it’s not an “empty” character, you’ll have to deal with her psychology. But sometimes you may be forced to use violence anyway, depending on the situation.
Push Start: You briefly mentioned the shooting mechanic in your Kickstarter page which Ama can utilise, how will that work?
Marc: There is no complexity here: you choose your weapon from your inventory, you aim and you shoot, all in realtime, relying on your reflexes and ability.
Push Start: I have to say the hacking looks really interesting, what is it you wanted to achieve with that, and most importantly wanted players to get from it?
Marc: My goal with this hacking system is to give the player the feeling to be a true hacker, with high technical skills. There’s something quite magic about playing with command lines, even in games! I want them to feel the urgency when their opponent is tracing back to their position, corrupting their system, or stealing their data!
Push Start: Will there be quite a learning curve for the game’s hacking mechanics?
Marc: I’m not making a game only for Linux users or programmers, so you’ll learn step by step to use the command-line console. Furthermore, most of the hacking sessions will be facultative, but you won’t get the better endings if you make this choice.
Push Start: I think the UI work for the hacking looks beautiful, reminding me quite a bit of the recent Deus Ex Games. Have you played them, and taken some inspirations perhaps?
Marc: Believe it or not, I haven’t played this masterpiece yet. I bought it, like I bought Mass Effect, but I just can’t find the time to play (I have a lot of games which are still wrapped in their plastic!). But I have seen some videos about Deus Ex, and I liked the visual interface for the hacking, it gives a concise overview of what you’re doing.
Push Start: Being a fan of original music, what are you hoping to achieve with it for your game?
Marc: I’d like to work with several composers to make a varied soundtrack. Since the beginning of the crowdfunding campaign, I have received tens of offers for the music. I want it to be very urban, somewhere between trip-hop and cyberpunk synth music. I want the sound of the game to be very polished, I believe that it’s as important as the graphic part.
Push Start: What are some of the games you are currently playing?
Marc: Currently none, but the last game I played was Dex. I found it was so fresh, I hadn’t played a 2D game with this old-school style for several years (Street of Rage on Mega Drive…).
Push Start: If you were given one IP to develop a game for, what would you choose?
Marc: John Carpenter’s Snake “call me Snake” Plissken adventures (New York 1997, Los Angeles 2013…), maybe?
Push Start: What genres would you love to tackle in the future?
Marc: A cRPG with turn-based combats in the style of Fallout 1&2. If Ama’s Lullaby is a success, I want to make a sequel with these settings. I’d love to explore space fights as well.
Push Start: On an ending note, what advice would you like to give people who want to make their own games?
Marc: I’d say the same thing that I say to my 3D students: first, stop playing games! You can’t play Overwatch and make a game at the same time 😉 Seriously: making a complete game is a huge amount of work. Start with something simple, don’t try to make your own Mass Effect Andromeda, you just can’t. Find an original idea that gets around the complexity!
Marc: Many thanks to you for this interview, and to all Push Start Play readers here below. If you like my work on Ama’s Lullaby, you know what to do!
We would like to thank Marc once again for his time, and wish him all the best for his current and future projects, if the game interests you, be sure to check out the kickstarter page!