In august I wrote a pre-launch review about STASIS and those who read it know that I loved it and I think it’s one of the best adventure games of this year. So I’ve been trying hard to get an interview from the mastermind behind this game and he took off time out of his busy schedule and answered my questions. So, without unnecessarily prolonging this intro, here is my interview with Chris Bischoff from THE BROTHERHOOD:
You and your brother Nic have been part of the video gaming industry for more than ten years, but THE BROTHERHOOD is a studio that I think many gamers didn’t know much about until recently. Can you tell me a little about your studio?
“Nic and I have been making games together since we were teenagers. Most of them were smaller endeavors, but we've gradually been drawn into bigger stories and projects. Adventure games are one of the few genres that focus almost exclusively on story it was a natural fit for us.
We've run a successful 3D illustration company for more than a decade now, and have now used the knowledge gained from managing large projects to enter the realm of computer games. While STASIS is our first commercial release, it certainly won't be our last.”
Your studio had a successful Kickstarter campaign for STASIS raising over $ 130,000, but that was almost two years ago. Lately people have started to hate crowdfunding (and Early Access) due to developers taking more time than promised to finish their game or not finishing the game at all. How was your experience with crowdfunding and are you planning to use Kickstarter or a similar platform again in the future?
“We went to Kickstarter with an existing project that had been in development for almost three years, and for us it wasn't a case of 'if' it would be completed but 'when'. Using the funding greatly sped up our production timeline.
I personally loved showing our progress to the backers because without them STASIS wouldn't be the game it is today. Their enthusiasm and support for the game was infectious - whenever I got bogged down in production all I had to do was read some of the comments, or watch some of the YouTube videos of users playing the early version of the game, and it got my energy levels back up!
Game development is a long, hard process and I think it can be easy to feel like you are drowning in a project. The campaign showed confidence in what we were doing. It certainly kept me above water in the difficult times.”
STASIS development took five years and that is a long time for AAA titles even more so for indie games. Was there any moment when you thought the game’s final form won’t be as you envisioned it? And what kept you and your colleagues going for such a long period of time?
“Game development is thousands of tiny steps. STASIS definitely evolved as we were working on it. You may not realize the distance while you are slogging away, but only when you turn around and look behind you.
I think that you have to be more than obsessed to take on a project of this scope, especially when you're doing it as a 'one man army'. But STASIS is a game that is a mix of everything that I love and passionate about, so finding inspiration along the way was easy.”
The adventure is a dying genre and the games following the old school mechanics of the genre haven't had much success lately. In the new era of gaming it seems that the succesful adventure games go for a more cinematic approach with a heavy focus on storytelling. What made you decide to develop an adventure game that takes a lot from the old school titles of the genre?
"I'm just a massive fan of the older adventure games. From the outset, STASIS has been a game that we'd want to play. That desire has stayed there from the beginning.
We grew up on the classic adventure games and we wanted to create something that gave us those same feelings again. There's something beautiful and special about adventure games - I'm happy to be a part of what's keeping them alive!"
I’ve followed your reaction on social media when the reviews started to pop up not long before the launch of STASIS, you were almost hyperactive :). But the game hit home with the journalists and the gamers alike (from what I can tell). Does STASIS have the success you were expecting?
“It was terrifying, to be honest! It felt so personal. Every pixel, sound and word written has been agonized over and painstakingly crafted and then suddenly other people were going to be experiencing this piece of art that had very much been 'mine' for such a long time...
When the first reviews started to come in, and the first users started to talk about the game and the story I knew that we'd created something truly special. I'm quite happy with the reception it's received overall.”
I’ve played and reviewed STASIS and I enjoyed it tremendously. But there was one thing that caught my attention in particular and it is something that most of the current games avoid and that is a truly mature theme. Some of the journal entries are hilarious as they capture perfectly the day to day talk of people with their vulgarity and without the curtain of hypocrisy and I loved this, not to mention the brutal moments which were spot on. What’s different from the other games is that STASIS brings up this theme without reverting to sexualized female characters and sex scenes.
Do you think the video games industry needs to approach this theme more often without delivering these mature wannabe games that basically sell over-sexualized characters?
“The characters in the game were written gender blind. In fact, in early drafts of the game your main contact was a male and not a female, and the main antagonist was a female. Much of their dialogue remained unchanged when the gender switch happened. Our choice for the switch, and accents, was to make it clearer to differentiate and understand.
Personally, I've been proud of many of the games in the industry having interesting characters across both genders. The Last Of Us, Bioshock Infinite, Broken Age, the Star Craft series, Uncharted, Mirrors Edge - these are games that tackle many mature themes with complex characters and stories within the confines their worlds.”
STASIS’ story is dark, twisted and unsettling and much of its horror comes from writing sustained by its gruesome landscapes. What kind of mindset does one need to write such a story and create such a setting?
“In the early days, you do find yourself wandering into some darker places. Disturbing dreams come from immersing yourself in disturbing research. A lot of the inspiration for STASIS came from research into the worst side of humanity.
Creating games is so complex, so I had the advantage of when things became a little bit too much on the story side, I could switch to the technical aspects. Likewise, if I felt that the technical nature of the game was becoming overwhelming, I could switch to the artistic side.
Perhaps the trick is to find beauty in the grotesque. Areas, like Hydroponics, were created to be soothing in some places, but terrifying in others. Finding that balance was a difficult thing, but something that I'd like to think we struck a chord.”
I’m a fan of the old Fallout games (and New Vegas), Planescape: Torment and Wasteland 2 and obviously with this comes a great admiration for Mark Morgan’s work. I also think his work in STASIS was amazingly immersive. How was it like working with him?
“It was surreal! Mark is a true artist, and we had many long conversations about the themes and musical inspirations behind the game. Sometimes he'd take a single word from our conversations and turn that into an entire piece of music, and other times it took a lot of discussion around what the music was going to achieve.
The music almost depicts a journey in our lives over the two years of production on STASIS. I think you definitely feel the emotion in each piece. It's a soundtrack to be proud of!”
STASIS is currently receiving the support it deserves with updates that fix various minor bugs. What are THE BROTHERHOOD’s plans for the future?
“Not long after the release of STASIS we began work on the DLC. Initially, the DLC itself was close to completion but we've decided to revisit it - to take on many of the comments and suggestions from players, and address them in the DLC.
After it's complete, the world is our oyster! We have many stories to tell and just have to roll up our sleeves and get cracking.”
Chris answers are spot on and I’ve found out a lot from the details he shared here and hopefully so did you. I want to thank him for taking the time to answer my questions and I wish him and his studio best of luck with future endeavors as I’m looking forward for their next title.For those interested, STASIS is currently available through GOG or Steam at 24.99 Euro or Dollars.