Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We believe they deserve a wider audience with the Joystiq Indie Pitch: This week, Jesper Engström of Sweden's Talawa Games talks his BIG win in Brazil with PC puzzler Unmechanical.
What's your game called and what's it about?
Unmechanicalis a 2.5D, side-scrolling, puzzle adventure game about a small helicopter-like creature who gets pulled down into a bizarre, underground world. The rest you need to find out for yourself as you venture through this strange and slightly creepy place.
What's the story behind Unmechanical's strange name?
One of the key components we wanted for the game was the mixture of the organic and the mechanical together, so one of our team members just thought Unmechanical sounded good and we stuck with it. Unmechanical is obviously not a "real" word, and the appropriate phrase would be "non-mechanical" or "not mechanical."
Some figure it was a translation error from Swedish to English to go "unmechanical," but it's meant as a play of words in the same sense as "undead" probably was when it was first coined. In the end it suited us just fine as it gives our game more recognition with just one made up word and the meaning we wanted is still there.
Can you tell us anything more about the story in Unmechanical?
That is something we don't wish to talk about very in-depth as the game is constructed in such a way that it's up to the player to get his own view on what is actually going on. Contrary to somewhat popular belief, there is a story we've purposefully constructed. It's just not being told in the same way the majority of games have done it, or as some still are. I think it may confuse some people who aren't used to having a game that demands something out of them besides just playing the game. If you wish to really get all the details you'd probably have to go through it more than once and not only pay attention to what is happening, but also how everything is built and how it all leads together. It's very subtle sometimes, but the vast majority of each little part in the game has a thought behind it and has its place in telling the story and conveying feelings to the player.
Many have successfully recited what we had in mind for the story with varying levels of detail, so if you're feeling inspired it's very possible to find a deeper purpose than pushing some buttons and moving some rocks around. Also, who says your idea for the story is wrong?
What inspired you to make Unmechanical?
It all started back in February 2011 when we were students at a vocational school in Stockholm, called Futuregames. We were tasked to create a game/prototype in UDK in just three weeks with some fairly heavy technical restrictions. Those restrictions, combined with some earlier experiences in game development, led us to a creation that, although short, was an entire experience for people to play and enjoy. We received plenty of promising words about our little creation, which inspired us to extend it into a commercial product, and it's now available for purchase at your favorite digital distributor.
Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
As we were still students and wanted to go different ways afterwards, we had to develop the game on our own. For those of us wanting to head into a large company, we saw Unmechanical as a great way to do so, and for the rest they could use Unmechanical to promote their own company and head into the gaming biz with some recognition. So for us it wasn't so much about doing it on our own or getting funding as it was about getting something really well-made to prove that we could make awesome games. Independent development in general allows for virtually unlimited freedom, which was required to create something as special as Unmechanical.
Unmechanical won Best Game and Best Soundat Brazil's BIG Festival – what do you think set you apart from the other games, including Tiny and Big, Papo & Yo, Awesomenauts and Capsized?
We certainly did have some very – and I do mean very – impressive competitors, so answering your question isn't the easiest one. I'm willing to think it's the subtlety of how we present the story combined with the mechanics of the game, mechanics available enough for anyone to use. Sprinkle some unique visual design, top it off with some polish to make everything just feel right, and we ended up with a game that takes the player on an immersive journey through a landscape that asks just as many questions as it answers for those who delve into it. We focused a lot on having it be a journey to experience, rather than a system to play, and I think we succeeded in doing so.
Nothing wrong with publishers or other investors helping out with a product; indiehood isn't the only way to create really memorable and unique games.
We would also like to take the opportunity to thank BIG and the jury for their support in the game industry. We also want to thank our competitors for making such amazing games. We're gamers ourselves, so in the end we want amazing things to play and experience.
Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
There is clearly an indie movement going on, as there has always been one on the PC scene, but it's hard to say whether we're part of it or not. Unmechanical the game is clearly part of it as it was done with no funding at all, but some from the Unmechanical team are now working for larger companies, and only future will tell if Talawa can keep this status of independence rolling. Nothing wrong with publishers or other investors helping out with a product; indiehood isn't the only way to create really memorable and unique games.
Sell Unmechanical in one sentence:
Unmechanical is an atmospheric puzzler, set in a unique world to explore playing as a cute helicopter-like creature.
We've always stated that if Unmechanical sells really well, we'll make some DLC for it. Right now the situation is very different for each team member. Some are working, others unemployed and Talawa Games is pushing to create new, awesome things.
Unmechanical is available on a number of retailers, including Steam, for $10. It'll be coming to iOS devices soon, so keep your little arobotic eyes peeled.
If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.