Talking with Goodbye Volcano High's co-creative directors Saleem Dabbous and Kyle McKernan, we ask the obvious question: why dinosaurs? "Yeah. I mean, who doesn't love dinosaurs?" Dabbous grins. As unusual as they are, the dinosaurs were there from the very beginning of a lengthy pre-production process.
"We wanted a world that reflected our own but also was its own thing and had fun references to non-humanistic elements [...] We also just wanted to make something different, something that people hadn't seen and dinosaurs made a lot of sense." Dabbous adds, "We also thought that there was a very strong narrative hook with dinosaurs because... I think everyone knows what happened to the dinosaurs, right?" McKernan jokes, "Wait, what happened to them?" It seems a bit late to give you a spoiler warning...
McKernan tells us, "Aesthetically, I think we knew immediately that our art director and character designer, Lucie [Viatgé] would be able to [...] take it in some really cool, colourful directions and make something really beautiful out of it. And as soon as we started seeing the character designs, we were like, 'Okay, yeah, we really need to start pursuing this,' because it just felt like such a complete, well-realised thing that we wanted to make."
Like television shows such as Bojack Horseman and Tuca And Bertie, the KO_OP team obviously take artistic liberties. "[Those shows] don't try to stick to anything that's scientifically accurate, obviously," says Dabbous, "and that lets you pick and choose what you want from this thing and make it your own. To be able to take dinosaurs and make it our own is just such a cool thing that I've always wanted to do."
Life is scaly
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Protagonist Fang's final year of school takes cues from The Walking Dead, Heaven's Vault, and "games that really focus on the narrative side of things as being one of your core interactions," says Dabbous. It's already being compared to Life Is Strange.
"I feel fine about that, honestly," he says, adding, "I think our story is nothing like Life is Strange, but that's not a bad thing. I think comparisons like that never bother me. They're just generally touchstones for people to kind of build a mental model of what something is."
Goodbye Volcano High also differentiates itself from other games by having no movement mechanics whatsoever. "What we're really drawing from are things like the conversation systems in BioWare games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age – imagine that expanded across an entire game and then having another layer of interaction on top of that [through] cinematic minigames or interactions with audio and other bits that we will be revealing over time."
Dabbous later adds, "Essentially we really wanted to make something where you felt like you were almost directing a narrative. You're part of [what is] almost like an animated film."
McKernan agrees. "It's a lot like making an animated TV show and making that interactive. I think we take some inspiration about how you can do interactive storytelling from [visual novels too], but I really wanted to push things forward with [...] how it actually is presented. So we're trying to create a user interface and an experience for the player that is as fluid as possible, as easy to get into as possible and kind of captures someone's interest the way a good TV show or anime would and let them be a part of it."
It's a huge undertaking for a team of about ten people. "[We started] to realise, 'Oh, we're gonna basically be animating an entire TV series. And we're gonna be doing all the art for that. We have to write every episode. We have to put together all the voice acting and everything. It's taking a lot of work to get all that done, but it's really exciting because every new piece of art that comes in, every person we talked to [about] voice acting on the game... it just gets so much more exciting and becomes so much more real."
"All the other platforms that this game may or may not come to will have a lot of work that will have to be done to make the game run the way we want it to – while on PS5, it can just kind of happen easily," Dabbous tells us. He had earlier said, "What's been really nice about developing for PS5 is that, even though our game is 2D, there's still a lot of memory constraints."
"And we're doing a lot of visual lighting effects and things that are running in real time that, if we pull it off right, the player should never even notice is happening [...] we also [want to] be able to pan or zoom or do some camera movements, which means our resolutions and our textures [...] have to be at a ginormous size for that to all look perfect at 4K. And so what's really nice about doing that work on the PS5 is that we're really not super-worried about technical constraints on memory and resolution size and things like that, so that lets us really focus on making the best possible art."
High school rumble
Dabbuous is also enthusiastic about the DualSense controller, "Haptics have been around for so long [...] And I feel like it's this drum that I keep on beating on and [haptics] have like been so important, and so valuable and like, nobody seems to actually talk about it in any meaningful way. It's just like, 'Oh, vibration, rumble, whatever!'"
McKernan agrees, "The first thing that comes to mind is some sort of like weaponry feedback or something. Like, 'Oh, I'm firing a machine gun and it's kicking back on my fingers.' But when we first spoke to Sony about that concept, it just clicked with us to be like, yeah, we could totally put you more in the shoes of this character if they're having trouble getting something out and you really have to work for it just like you would in real life."
Dabbous elaborates, "Having things like a resistive or adaptive trigger that can change its feel... like, a controller that changes its feel based on a character's emotional state [...] that is like just such an exciting tool from a design perspective [...] And I just think that, as game designers, that's just an incredibly fun and exciting experience to create new feelings for players." We'll be able to feel it for ourselves in 2021.
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