The Joystiq Indie Pitch: The Secret Castle

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 at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, John Francis of Platronic Games is way too humble when discussing the outstanding 3D graphics of his hidden-object title, The Secret Castle. Seriously, watch both of the included videos for a full run-down of the truly amazing tilt-3D mechanics.

What's your game called and what's it about?

The Secret Castle is a 3D hidden-object and puzzle game that follows Jonas Lyons, a young boy who begins to have strange dreams about a mysterious castle after moving into a new home.

How exactly is The Secret Castle "reinventing the genre" of hidden-object games?

I can't say I exactly planned this but a lot of things happened when we instituted the 3D system. There's not really any easy way to spam the screen just hoping to find things, which is one way to play traditional hidden-object games. Also, the 3D really makes the player engage in a whole new way because the game is constantly giving feedback as the player looks for stuff.

Also, it's the only hidden object game I know of with a boss fight.

What's the coolest aspect of The Secret Castle?

I think the 3D system is truly unique and a really fun way to play this kind of game. It's way more engaging than looking at a still image and we have puzzles directly integrated into the scene.

I'm also honestly proud of the story and the art as we really tried to create something that was approachable by everyone and interesting for a wide age range.

The 3D interface really does look awesome -- how much more difficult was that to design and program than a standard 2D setting?

It was tricky to create the system; thankfully our brilliant programmer built a great system and an intuitive editor to construct the levels. Other than that it was just the fact that room design and layout was super critical. We did many revisions of levels to just figure out how to hide stuff.

Do you expect other developers will use your 3D landscape idea?

Ha! That's a pretty flattering question. We think it's pretty great but if no one buys the game that might scare people off from thinking it's a good idea. We'll just have to see if the game and the system are really intuitive to people and if they like the concept as a whole.

What inspired you to make The Secret Castle?

I worked on mobile games for a number of years back in the flip-phone era and an old coworker of mine showed me how easy it was to make games for smart phones. I'm a hardcore gamer and after taking a good long look at the market I saw an opportunity to make something unique for the devices. As for games that inspired me, it was mostly old tech demos, but Looksley's Line Up on DSiWare was the first game I saw that used the system in a similar way and I thought it was really underappreciated.

Anything you'd do differently?

This game basically had no budget with everyone volunteering their very limited free time, so money would have changed a lot. Aside from art and programming, I do everything else -- design, story, level editing, music, trailers, PR, legal, etc. -- so it can certainly be overwhelming at times. If the game does well I'll be sure to get people involved who actually know what they're doing in some of these areas.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

Well-established companies don't return my calls so that makes it a pretty easy decision. Seriously though, it's been wonderful making exactly what I want and even more flattering having an amazing team that makes everything look better than I thought it could.

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

Not really, at least not yet anyway. I really admire the guys making art games, stuff that's really outside the norm despite the risk of not making money. I also love the guys who really spend time trying to build up a dev community wherever they are, especially in cities without much of it, like here in Atlanta. To me those are the two really impactful areas of the indie movement.

I hope to contribute in both of those areas eventually but right now I'm just trying to get our game out.

Sell The Secret Castle in one sentence:

Whether you're a hardcore gamer or casual, The Secret Castle is an experience you've never had before.

What's next?

There's an outline for a trilogy in the series if anyone buys this one. I initially just wanted to write a simple story so the player didn't feel like they were just going to a bunch of random locations. In the end I created a story arch with three separate acts. If we get to make a sequel, there's a ton of stuff I want to add to make the game much bigger.

The immediate plans though are adding features, ports and support for the initial game. To manage upcoming support, we may delay the Android version a bit unless we start hearing from people that it should launch concurrently. If you have an Android device and you're interested in this game, let us know.

See? Told you The Secret Castle offers a mind-blowing take on 3D gaming. The Secret Castle will hit iOS and Android devices some time soon, so be on the lookout as if you were already playing it.

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.