Talking All Walls Must Fall, indie development, Berlin clubs and 90s gaming classics
Back in March, All Walls Must Fall found it’s way onto my Twitter timeline and I found it hard to believe just how for me the game felt. As a fan of techno, turn-based strategy and tech-noir aesthetics it was ticking a lot of boxes. Even back then, in its earliest state, it was clear to me that All Walls Must Fall was a compelling experience. If you want my in-depth thoughts on that early code, click here.
Since then All Walls Must Fall has had a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising significant funds for development, with the promise of some awesome sounding stretch goals and positive buzz from anyone lucky enough to try the game. I caught up with Jan David Hassel, lead designer at inbetweengames for some background on the game’s development and themes.
HPP: What are some of the challenges and benefits of moving away from AAA studio development and into a smaller ‘indie’ team?
JDH: Well the advantages come from us having worked together before obviously as there is a lot of experience that we can draw from. Both in regards to technical knowledge on how to make games with the engine we’re using but also with the team we have. The challenges come mostly from the difference in team size. Approaches we knew to be working in a bigger team aren’t really applicable and sometimes it’s hard to let go of that deeply ingrained bias.
HPP: Do you feel that All Walls Must Fall would get made as big budget studio game?
JDH: I don’t think the game would get made with the same themes and features intact in a bigger studio. When you’re in a bigger team there tends to be a lot more overhead from investors but also the team. So as a result the games tend to be more safe and compatible to majority opinion within the team. Working independently from outside investors and with a small team just allows us to make a much more personal project. I think that shows in the game we have so far.
HPP: How do you feel the landscape has changed for Indie development in the last five years?
JDH: It’s hard for me to say because we only started a little over a year ago as as indies ourselves. But the initial hype around 2012 where just releasing pretty much anything decent was a sure fire success are definitely over. These days a lot of indie developers are scared about going under in the flood of games coming to marketplaces like Steam. At the same time big indie hits still happen and are maybe even bigger than before. We just hope that we’ll be able to survive with our Early Access release to keep developing the game until both we and players are happy with it. So far the support from our Kickstarter backers has been great so we hope that translates to Early Access as well.
HPP: Could All Walls Must Fall be part of a greater trend in games development to look at genres and gameplay mechanics from the past and re-introduce them in newly defined ways? (For example, rogue-likes, turn-based combat and tech-noir aesthetics).
JDH: Yeah sure that’s definitely happening. We just decided to make this kind of game because that’s what we wanted to make. But that was based largely on the games that got us to go into making games in the first place. For us those are 90s PC games like Syndicate, XCOM or Fallout. I’m sure that other indie developers have a similarly subjective decision making process when it comes to selecting project ideas to work on. But ultimately indie games are about personal projects that can show a very wide range of experimentation and ideas even when approaching classic formulas and turning them on their head.
HPP: So with that in mind, what are some of the team’s strongest inspirations in games and wider media as you’ve worked on All Walls Must Fall?
JDH: Besides the classic 90s PC games I already mentioned, newer indie titles that play with concepts of space and time like Braid were an inspiration. Another aspect that’s really important to us was also the music of the game which plays an integral part in the gameplay as well as beats of the music serve as our short simultaneously resolved ‘turns’. For that we oriented mostly on REZ as it just perfectly executes actions on the beat of the music without players having to press buttons on the beat or anything like that. The music also helps in keeping track of time for the player as you manipulate it with your time travel abilities. So time travel and tech noir movies have been another big inspiration for the game’s setting and themes.
HPP: How important was it for yourself and the team for the game to represent a version of Berlin’s gay techno scene?
JDH: When we started out we just knew we wanted to make a sci-fi action tactics game that involved Berlin and the music scene here. We then went on research trips to some of the most famous clubs of the city some of which you are not allowed to take any pictures in. At that point it became obvious that the gay aspect of club culture was not something we could ignore if we wanted to portray the city for what makes it unique. We still want to extend on this to include other subcultures as well but for us starting with the gay scene seemed like an obvious choice as that is how many of the big clubs started out as well and you can still tell that now.
HPP: Would you consider All Walls Must Fall a political game? With a title like ‘All Walls Must Fall’, and the multiple different meanings implied in the title, would you say the game is, in part, a progressive reaction to recent swings in right-wing/conservationism across Europe?
JDH: Yes. The title of the game ‘All Walls Must Fall’ is absolutely a political statement in itself that reflects on the history of Berlin and Europe as a whole. With the backlash to globalization that has been coming up when we were in the early concept stages of the game it seemed obvious that this was a topic that was on a lot of people’s minds. So we wanted to reflect on that with a retro sci-fi story that assumes the Cold War never ended, picking up recent developments along the way and extrapolating all of that into a fantastic time travelling future. But our goal here is to provoke reflection and discussion among our players, not to come up with a pre-packaged solution to these topics. We think that’s the role of art and for us games can certainly be art.
HPP: What’s next for the project?
JDH: Right now we’re in a closed alpha phase with our Kickstarter backers and are working on our second monthly update to the game called DRONE WARFARE! This was also one of our Kickstarter stretch goals. In this one we’re getting new drone enemies and mission types into the game as well as music from Ben Prunty who also worked on FTL. In the previous update VANDALISM! among other things we added a lot of environmental destruction and another track from Jukio Kallio that also made music for Luftrausers and Nuclear Throne. Our plan is to do monthly themed updates like this introducing new content, features and music to the game for as long as we can, with a few more already lined up from the Kickstarter stretch goals. Next up to help us keep doing this is a release of All Walls Must Fall on Steam Early Access which we will talk a lot more about very, very soon. If you want to make sure not to miss this and help us out with making the game more visible please consider putting it on your Steam wishlist! (http://store.steampowered.com/app/628290/All_Walls_Must_Fall/) You can also watch us post updates on the game pretty regularely on Twitter (https://twitter.com/awmfgame).