We talk with John Warner about his recent Wii U eShop game The Fall.
Sometimes a game comes out of nowhere and catches you off guard. That's sort of what happened with The Fall. The Kickstarter success came out on the Wii U eShop last month, and while our own review spoke of some unfortunate technical issues, it had some fantastic ideas that felt a little bit like Metroid. Even more impressive is that it was created primarily by one man.
We spoke with John Warner, that one man behind The Fall (though he had some help with the story, music, and some of the animation from a few others), about the game, his past, and his future.
Note: Be warned that if you haven't played the game yet, there are some light spoilers.
Nintendo World Report (NWR): I understand The Fall was Kickstarted, but your press release was the first time I've heard about it. Did you have a lot of Kickstarter support? Did you get coverage from games journalists and I just missed it?
John Warner (JW): We got a decent amount of Kickstarter support, considering I'm not famous - we raised $38,000, which is decent when you're a single dude working on a game. Thankfully, we did get some fairly decent coverage, but you know how it is -- even though Kotaku (and a few others) featured us, they also posted 20+ other stories that day. Visibility is a challenge as an indie. We gave that campaign everything we had, and the tiny, tiny little blip we created on the games industry radar was just enough for us. Hopefully as we create a lil' brand awareness, it will get easier.
NWR: How did the game's story develop? Was it always intended to be an exploration of (more or less) the Three Laws?
JW: Not at all, actually. I was really interested in the idea of an A.I. breaking out of limitation and rigidity (because I'm interested in people doing the same thing in their own lives). Interestingly enough, when I started contacting press about the Kickstarter, they actually extrapolated completely that the game was about the Three Laws, because honestly, it's a sort of "jumping off" point for a lot of people. Journalists really helped craft how we were facing the public -- go figure, right? You guys write headlines every day, one would think you've gotten quite good at it... but I digress. When we realized that people were latching onto the general idea of the Three Laws, we put a slightly stronger emphasis on them to help make the game more approachable - without sacrificing an ounce of what we wanted to do, of course! Strictly speaking, The Fall doesn't follow Asimov's three rules exactly - our main character is a military robot and having her own set seemed to make sense.
NWR: ARID is such an interesting character because she's essentially an evolving AI (from my perspective). Could you talk about how her character developed? I'd also like to pass along my congratulations to her voice actress, who nails the delivery.
JW: Thanks very much! I'll let Alison know. She worked so hard for The Fall, it was really a sight to behold. A lot of the character development can be credited to my writer, Caleb, who breathed a lot of life into all the characters in the game's world. I knew where I wanted to go with the story, but making the characters actually work and bringing the scenes together really is the crucial component to making it work or not. As far as how she developed, I think that both Caleb and I are very interested in the process of becoming conscious as human beings (not to say that I'm Mr. Enlightened over here). As people, we all have assumptions about the way our world works and rigid ways of operating. The process of having our worldview shattered and causing us to rethink our assumptions is fascinating! Having a robot go through that process is even more fascinating I think, because a robot is sort of the perfect symbol for rigidity. The extreme rigidity of an A.I. sort of illustrates the process better.
NWR: This is the part where I ask if Limbo is a direct ancestor of The Fall. What influenced The Fall's look and atmosphere?
JW: You hit the nail right on the head. Limbo is, almost the single influence for how The Fall looks. I'd like to pad out this answer with more meaningful information but that really about sums it up!
NWR: I was genuinely surprised when the game introduced shooting segments complete with ducking behind cover! It works really well with the game's controls and it's used sparingly, but was it difficult to find a balance between the usual puzzle-solving, exploration, and action sequences?
JW: Thanks very much! I'm glad you had a pleasant experience. I like it as well, but not everyone does. Finding a balance is actually easier than you'd think -- I basically tried to put combat in places where I thought that the puzzle-solving and exploration needed a break. Action is, in my opinion, the perfect fit here because the contrast is so strong - it's very different from traditional adventure game mechanics. Sorry for being pretentious and comparing my game to fine wine, but action here is like sniffing coffee - it clears your palate and gets you ready for the next area. That was the goal, anyway!
NWR: What's next for you guys? Any other sci-fi concepts you'd like to explore?
JW: Our next goal is to finish part 2 and 3 of The Fall. After that, who knows... I've always been attracted to Dante's Inferno, and think that doing a similar exploration-based jaunt through that world might be amazing. There's a great artist named Wayne Barlowe who did something similar already, in painting form. His world is very compelling, and I've wanted to enter it ever since I saw his work. Ultimately though, who knows! We'll figure out what to do next when we get there.
NWR: What was your experience before The Fall?
JW: I started in the games industry proper 10 years ago at Relic Entertainment, working on Company of Heroes as a Junior Artist. Before that, I was an avid modder and general nerd; I've always wanted to get into games and have been tinkering in one form or another since I was 13. My career has been fun, if unstable -- I tend to get a job, pay off my credit card debt, attempt an indie venture, fail, get a job, pay off my credit card debt, etc. etc. etc. I love the indie life, and as they say, failure's the best teacher! I'm quite proud of The Fall and am glad to be finally out of that cycle.
NWR: If you could work on one Nintendo franchise, what would it be and what would you want to do with it?
JW: Good question! I'd say Metroid, but The Fall was so closely inspired, I'd want to do something else. Hmmm... Ah, screw it. Metroid. For sure.
Thanks so much to John and Over the Moon Games for the interview!