It’s no secret that I love things that go bump in the night, and not too long ago, there was some bumping that peaked my interest: A small and fresh Kickstarter project called Among the Sleep being lovingly crafted by an indie group dubbed Krillbite Studio. Having grabbed my attention with a short and very intriguing demo, I was desperate to find out about the minds behind the game, and Adrian Tingstad Husby was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions.
So tell us a little bit about your day-to-day work at Krillbite. What does your average day consist of?
– At Krillbite we start each morning at 8am with a quick “Scrum”-session, where everyone talks about what they did the day before, and what they want to get done today. Apart from two of us, who are based in Oslo, the nine others sit in one office in Hamar, so we’re working pretty close together. Even though everyone has their own tasks and works quite independently after scrum, there’s always lots of discussions, cooperation and meetings going on as well.
What led you all to become game developers? What makes you want to make games?
– I’ll speak for myself, but it all boils down to a fascination for the medium. We all grew up glorifying the entertainment that video games provided, making it a substantial part of our childhood. Quite naturally, it remained an important part of our personalities as we grew up, so we have both personal wishes and high hopes for the medium. When the team met while studying Experience Production and Interactive Medias in Hamar, Norway, we soon banded together to cooperate on our thesis project (the Among the Sleep prototype). I think much of our motivation to work with games, and on Among the Sleep specifically, is fueled by a desire to make something unique. In the long run we’d love to contribute to making the medium a more diverse and explorative place.
What’s your favourite part of a game to work on?
– For me it’s the beginning of a project, while everything is fresh and we’re still experimenting with new ideas and concepts. It seems most projects come to a phase (especially if the project last for a long time) where you know exactly what you’re making, and what’s left is just producing it. Even though there’s a lot of iteration and things change, this phase can be a bit tedious. It’s important to find every possible way keep inspiration high and stay motivated over a long stretch of time, which I think is a skill that can be learnt.
What do you think of the current Horror genre in games? Has horror lost its bite?
– I think there is a lot of interesting things going on, especially in the indie scene. But in mainstream games there often seems to be certain criteria as to what games must include, so many projects end up being based exclusively on existing features. This makes games overly saturated with competitive and rigid elements like combat, numbers and rewards, which I think is especially destructive for horror games.These mechanics remove a lot of the impact horror games depend on.
What do you think makes a truly great horror game?
– Instead of forcing players to think like a system, like what described above does, you should make players feel present in the game world and it’s atmosphere. Players should be thinking: “WHAT WAS THAT!? HIDEEE!!!” instead of “I need this much ammo, and I should hit the zombie in the head to be most effective”. I think horror games (and other games based on emotional immersion in general) need to remove superfluous content, and allow space for the players imagination to run wild.
Your studio has an interesting, and, in my eyes at least, noble take on videogames as a media to be explored, and I enjoy seeing a studio with the tenacity to deny the influence of commercialisation on their art. How has this attitude served you so far, and do you see any difficulty in the future because of it?
– Thanks a lot! One thing this attitude provides, something that is really important to me, is the feeling that I’m doing something worthwhile. I don’t want to hit 45 and realize I’ve not really done anything of value. In general I feel happier approaching videogames as a serious expressive medium, rather than only easy entertainment for profit.
On the other side we’re not exactly expecting to be millionaires soon, and during the process of making Among the Sleep there’s been a lot of working part time jobs and late nights because of our wish to stay independent. But in the end we’re not making games because we have to or for it’s extrinsic rewards, but because that’s what we want to do, so we’ll keep doing it as long as it’s possible.
What advice can you give to others looking to take part in crowd-sourcing like kickstarter, what were the highlights of it, and, if any, what parts of crowd-sourcing have you found to be dissatisfactory?
– A huge question! There’s tons of interesting aspects of crowdfunding, but at least for us the experience was almost exclusively positive. We find crowdfunding a very refreshing source of funding, as part time jobs naturally influence productivity on a game, and publishers/investors quickly result in creative boundaries.
One of the most obvious highlights is that we as developers are in direct contact with our audience, instead of going through a middleman. Crowdfunding allows us to be ourselves, it’s is all about direct contact between developer and audience, and we can be open, frank and honest. This also means we can disregard a lot of business / marketing bullshit, and basically everything that doesn’t resonate with us.
Another highlight is that we received a great amount of feedback, both from players and the press. Especially after releasing the playable demo this was very valuable and rewarding, as it’s the best compliment we could receive. This would even have been the case should we have failed, and it was almost making it worth the campaign on it’s own.
On the other side, we’re now actually responsible for people’s cash before having released anything other than a demo. Even though we’re confident we’ll deliver, this is still in the future, and some days this can give a feeling of working “overdue” in a way. In a way it feels like we can never really work ‘enough’, and there’s suddenly a lot more pressure to perform. Also, planning, running and wrapping up a Kickstarter campaign is lots and lots and lots and lots of work! Oh so much work it was, and still is… It’s easy to view it as ‘free money’, but it’s really also a personal investment!
As to advice, it seems (especially for those of us who do not have a super-famous person on the team or a huge existing fan base) that one needs a very unique and/or ‘admirable’ project to succeed on Kickstarter. I think one of the most important things to realize is that you not only need a ‘cool’ project, but actually a project that people would want to be identified with and be an ambassador of.
I can’t understate how important this factor is on KS. Why would people you have never met want to talk about the project? If you find it easy to answer that (as objectively as possible), you should have a better chance to succeed. You should of course not change your project to make this more likely, but you might reconsider if Kickstarter is your platform. This factor influences everything from journalists and KS staff, to the viral potential of your project. Journalists also have a general reluctance against covering Kickstarters, so in the ocean of projects out there, why should they write about you?
Among the Sleep is still under development. What are your hopes and dreams for this project?
– It’s our first big project ever, and we’ve poured a lot of ourselves into it. Both in terms of time and thought. In that regard, our main hope is that people will find it interesting and rewarding! In general we’d love to contribute towards making the game medium a more diverse and exploratory place, which we hope Among the Sleep will do, if only a little.
You’ve got quite a large team, how do you all find it working together?
– Also a question deserving it’s own interview! There’s been both ups and downs, but in general it’s been really smooth (the Krillbite team is such a freakishly awesome bunch of people!). But making a videogame is very time consuming, can be very stressful, and demands a lot of cooperation, compromise, discussions etcetera. When you’re working intensely together with the same people for over three years, you’re certain to meet conflicts along the way. I think the most important part is to realize how this is also a natural, and sometimes necessary, part of the process of making a game. So I’d recommend not viewing this as a uneccessary, or even a destructive, waste of time. Instead one should plan for it, be ready and expect it to come, and deal with it as part of the process. We’re all humans.
How has Krillbite grown since it was first conceived?
– I’d say in every way! Krillbite today is very different from what it was three years ago. The learning curve has been a continuous steep rise, and we’ve been through so much as a group. Even if I imagine some kind of terrible worst case scenario, like Among the Sleep and all it’s backups suddenly being completely deleted, it would still have been worth the trip. We know both each other, and ourselves, much better now. We’re also quite ready to start fresh with everything we’ve learned in the process of making Among the Sleep. Both regarding the practicalities, the skills of game development, and creatively.
I want to know your thoughts on today’s gaming industry.
– From the inside it feels both like a bubbling melting pot of experiments and creativity, and some desperate actors scrambling for their part of Klondike. Videogames is still a young, unexplored and ever changing medium. What games are and what it will be is still being shaped today, and with the democratization of development following tools like Unity and digital distribution, there’s really no limits to what that is.
So what’s next for Krillbite after Among the Sleep? Where do you see yourself going and what direction will you be leading your company?
– We hope to be able to finance another project with the release of Among the Sleep! We’ve not yet chosen what that project will be (we don’t want to be distracted from Among the Sleep just yet) but we’ve got tons of ideas! I think the general consensus in Krillbite is to work on a bit smaller scoped projects though, and maybe a few projects simultaneously.
Images used under creative commons, rights to respective publishers/ manufacturers.