In our first post I mentioned how we started Sarepta studio and that it was a long road getting to where we are. Sarepta’s vision is to create emotionally impactful and atmospheric games, games that stay with you. But this clear vision was solidified only a few years ago. Before that we had difficulties finding a clear vision for our games, but we all agreed that we wanted to create games with an emotional core.
Our first game, Shadow Puppeteer was an atmospheric co-op adventure with underlying themes of loneliness. You play as a boy and his shadow, with a simple premise and minimalistic narrative. However there is so much backstory that is never really told due to budget limitations, we go into some of this in our Shadow Puppeteer blogposts but we might go into more details about this in further posts.
Later we were so fortunate to get to collaborate with Teknopilot on “My Child Lebensborn”, a story driven parent-simulator about children born of war. This game made a huge impact on us as we were working with it. It was both terrible and wonderful to work on something so important, deep and painfully honest.
The response from gamers around the world, really helped us to understand what it is that we wanted to do with our games. To create something emotionally impactful.
This vision has helped drive the design for our upcoming title: Project Thalassa. It is a first person psychological drama about a deep sea diver dealing with trauma & PTSD. It is a game we will share a lot more about in the future.
If you’re currently reading this, you might be feeling the same way. However, is working with difficult topics really such a charming experience? I’ll share what we learned about it.
PROS & CONS OF WORKING WITH DIFFICULT TOPICS
Pro: Lots of material to take from
When you have existing stories or challenging universal themes to work from, you don’t have to start from scratch. There is a lot of material there already to get inspired by.
Con (but also Pro): Limitations
Working from existing material will create a lot of limitations. It could be monetization limitations, gameplay techniques, graphic design, content that you would like to have but that you realize will go against historical correctness.
Although it does make the process more time-consuming, limitations like these could help boost your creativity. Limitations might take you down a path you wouldn’t have dared/bothered to explore otherwise.
When you try to tackle someone’s story, or difficult topics you are responsible to be true to the story and theme. If not handled sensitively or if it is rushed, your game can harm more than it helps. You will be under a lot of scrutiny, and not everyone might see or believe the sincerity and hard work you have put in.
Pro: Making a difference
Sharing someone’s story or trying to get people to reflect on something important can be very impactful. Seeing all the positive feedback from players, having people share their stories or talk about how you opened their mind to something different, is really rewarding. Making the hard work of game design worth it. If you play a game you enjoy, or that mattered to you in some way, make sure to let the developers know. You will make their day 🙂
Certain topics are extremely painful, that is why you want to explore them right? Be aware that it can take a toll on you, more than you might have expected.
This might not be relevant for everyone, but when creating something that is narrative-driven and relies heavily on the player’s empathy it might be very difficult to really know if you are on the right path or not.
It might be difficult to get a quick proof of concept for a narrative and emotional game. And if you have certain limitations that force you to not make the most optimal choices from a monetization standpoint, then things could get tough. It will be harder to get publishers, and the game might not catch on right away. Some developers are lucky enough to get government support for these types of games.
Pro: If people care, they will talk about your game
This is just anecdotal from our experience with one game but: When My Child Lebensborn was launched we didn’t have the most reach (although many outlets wanted to write about the game). It took quite a while before the game got traction and started selling well. The reason why we still see spikes, even though we have no marketing budget, is because it is a game that makes people care. We are incredibly lucky to still get a lot of attention and reviews for My Child Lebensborn, and people are kind enough to share their experience with others.
Overall, working with emotional topics in narrative games is exciting in many ways, and challenging in others. We hope your journey is an exciting and awarding one, just like ours was.