Indie studio Almost Human is more human than most

Yesterday morning, Juho Salila went to work as usual, expecting to streamline the graphics and build a few monsters for Legend of Grimrock, Almost Human's imminent dungeon crawler. He sat down, booted up his computer, and noticed the Grimrock site had crashed multiple times throughout the night due to traffic overload, and his inbox was inundated with new emails.

Hours earlier, Reddit user meandertal had posted this screencap from the Almost Human blog, highlighting a fan's question about the inclusion of on-screen arrows in Grimrock. That wasn't currently an option, programmer Petri Häkkinen said, asking the fan why he wanted to know. "I'm disabled and use a mouth stick for typing," he responded, saying he'd adapt to the existing controls and couldn't wait to play the game.

Two and a half hours later, Häkkinen posted this:

The fan was blown away -- and so were the Redditors who read meandertal's post.

"When we got our inbox open, we almost couldn't believe our eyes; it was just pouring with encouraging emails," Salila told Joystiq. "All these people writing in saying thanks and wishing us good luck, just like in the mountain of comments on Reddit.

"For us it was a rather simple thing to implement, but we couldn't imagine that it could mean so much to somebody else. It kind of gives you perspective on life itself."

Almost Human consists of four games-industry veterans, meaning they're all able to appreciate the direct line with fans afforded them in an indie studio.

"Since we are in charge of everything, we can say anything we want in everywhere we want," Salila said. "That is understandably a bit more difficult in bigger companies."

Being a small studio also has its drawbacks, such as limited resources and time -- Almost Human makes responding to fans a priority, but with so few hands, it's sometimes not possible to give everyone the individual attention they deserve.
"It's a bit sad to find out that even such a small gesture toward fans gets so much attention, because it says that there's a huge gap between the game creators and the audience in general, and people just aren't used to this kind of interaction."
- Juho Salila, Almost Human

"We try to answer most of the questions and we definitely read all the comments and email we get," Salila said. "Unfortunately we're just too busy to reply to everyone individually and it's a shame because people have taken their time and effort to contact us."

Other indie developers take a direct approach to fan commentary, too, Salila said, which is a positive step for the industry as a whole -- but there's plenty of room for improvement.

"It's a bit sad to find out that even such a small gesture toward fans gets so much attention, because it says that there's a huge gap between the game creators and the audience in general, and people just aren't used to this kind of interaction," he said.

Almost Human certainly plans to keep its audience engagement going strong, and not just for the fans. The feedback is immensely helpful to their development process, Salila said. "All that feedback is truly humbling and gives us yet more energy to finish the game and get it out to all the eagerly waiting fans".

If human decency isn't enough to persuade you Almost Human's work may be deserving of your time: Legend of Grimrock is a dungeon crawler infused with puzzles, combat, magic, survival and RPG elements -- you play as a prisoner (who may or may not be guilty) sentenced to death and exiled in Mount Grimrock, where you form a team and set out to escape through the mountain's ancient tunnels. Legend of Grimrock will launch on PC, Mac and iOS devices when it's good and ready.

Almost Human formed in early 2011, when the four team members decided to leave their big game companies for a taste of the indie life, and they have been working on Legend of Grimrock exclusively since.

"It's a bit of a gamble, but hey, at least we can say we are doing our best," Salila said.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.