Interview with co-founders of White Paper Games, Benjamin Hill and Pete Bottomley, about Ether One
The human mind is one mysterious place. It holds limitless potential that we only use a small percentage of. Even with all our fancy and modern science, we don’t understand all of the untapped power lying dormant. With White Paper Games’ new project, Ether One, science has taken on a new approach the brain and more specifically the memories within.
As a Restorer, a gifted individual with a lost past, you have the ability to enter the memories of humans and repair their minds. By focusing on the mentally ill, you are able to save people in a way modern medicine has failed to. What about your own past and memories though? What if through healing others you learn something about your own background? What if you don’t like what you find?
With inspiration from pulp science fiction, the White Paper Games is allowing you as the player to play / repair through memories spanning much of the 20th century. I had the privilege to interview the co-founders of White Paper Games, Benjamin Hill (Creative Game Design) and Pete Bottomley (Technical Game Design). They were able to enlighten me about some of the inner workings of Ether One and get me even more pumped for the project.
You can support Ether One on their Steam Greenlight page HERE. Enjoy the interview below.
GameZone: The human mind is both fragile and mysterious, what made you want to tackle it in Ether One?
Ben: We really wanted to explore the more personal and intimate side of humanity and the mind [with its limitations] allowed us to explore the many ways in which we can interpret the world around us. In good adventure games you are constantly exploring a new world and you will try and make sense of that world based upon the information that you have been given within the game so far. Using the mind as a governing feature of Ether One has allowed us to explore this idea in a variety of exciting ways – the game feels like you are exploring an abandoned old house full of emotion and feeling rather than just a brand new [unexplored] world. There are many elements of fragility we will also be exploring within the game that are often based upon an element of personal experience.
GZ: What was your inspiration for this project?
Ben: I think as a team there are a variety of different inspirations [some subtle, others obvious] that have really allowed us to drive the project forward and create game play, art, sound and narrative that we feel build this world into something rich and full of life. In terms of narrative a lot of inspiration has been found in pulp science-fiction such as novels like The Chrysalids [John Wyndham], Flowers for Algernon [Daniel Keyes] and Ubik [Philip K. Dick]. Visually a lot of inspiration came from animated shorts such as Back Water Gospel and I think across the board gameplay inspiration can be seen from traditional adventure game like Myst. Audio wise our sound designer was influenced heavily by the composition in the film Contact due to a few similar themes that are explored. Another hugely influential and inspirational input into the game that has touch all aspects of the project is that of the English coastline and I feel that this will come through quite strongly in the final game.
GZ: What time period and where does Ether One take place in?
Ben: Ether One itself takes place in a variety of time periods [due to the fact that you are in someone else’s memories] but the bulk of what you will be exploring as a player will derive from the early 1950’s in west country Britain. As an entire narrative the story of Ether spans much of the 20th Century.
GZ: How does one enter the memories of the mentally ill?
Ben: A few things need to be considered when entering the minds of someone else – firstly the person entering the mind of another needs to have what we consider ‘certain gifts’ and secondly their needs to be a technological vessel to ‘bridge’ the gaps between the two sets of consciousness. If I say too much more I think I will be giving too much away so you can have that as a teaser!
In regards to the reasons for entering another’s minds – in Ether One you will be exploring a specific persons memories who has certain health issues that will need to be addressed when you are performing restorations. Yet as a function Restorers heal a variety of different and complex mental health issues through the institution that governs them and some of these we will be explored through narrative back story in a sensitive and personal manner.
GZ: What more can you tell me about the Restorers?
Ben: Ha – well I can definitely tell you that they explore other people’s memories, but I am sure you already know that by now. All I can say really at this moment in time is that although you play as a singular Restorer, there are many of them in the world that surrounds Ether One.
GZ: How do Restorers return memories to the mentally ill?
Ben: Restorers essentially [through exploring the many canals of the mind] find the memory fragments that have been left behind and use their telepathic gift to sense the strings that attach them together in the consciousness drawing them back together. In the case of Dementia the Restorer explores for traces of the diminished memories that build a person’s whole and through restoring these important links in a person’s identity begins [in a multiple treatment process] to increase the cognitive ability of the client. This process would be different depending upon the illness that the client is suffering from.
GZ: What roll does the camera play in the Restorer trailer?
Ben: The camera plays an interesting role within Ether One and not one that I think players will expect when they pick up the game. Needless to say the restoration ability of such artefacts hold a tremendous amount of power when wielded by a Restorer in the minds of others.
GZ: What can you tell me about Human Telekinetic Projection?
Ben: Human Telekinetic Projection allows Restorers to have a variety of gifts that affect both the minds of clients and the real world around them. As standard Restorers are telepathic and are capable of projecting their consciousness away from their physical body – the difference here is that the consciousness still has some kinetic abilities – the Restoration in the mind of clients physically changes the way they operate once treatment is complete. Technology and medication is used to control this revolutionary but frightening ability.
GZ: The environments seem to be nearly chaotically changing around the Restorer, what’s happening there?
Pete: I’m glad you picked the word chaotic – that's exactly what the intention was in the trailer. Everything moving has its own specific place also though so it's more of an organised chaos. Everything that you're seeing is in-game footage and people will be able to experience these 'restorations' in real-time in the game. We're hoping they provide some pretty cool experiences.
As for why they're happening – The restorations are used to restore parts of the memory which may have otherwise been forgotten which also allows us to change up the environments and gameplay inside of Ether. These forgotten memories will be triggered by either reading or experiencing something inside of the memory which the player will then recall and be able to restore. An example in the trailer of this was that the Testing Room One didn’t exist until after he had read the note reminding him to lock the testing room – This is a very basic version of what we're trying achieve inside of Ether and it was mainly used to demonstrate what the cause and effect of the gameplay will be. There will be many more complex puzzles going on inside of the game which require the player to really think about what they're doing but also the restorations won't always be obvious to the player – so they may not even notice some of the restorations without exploring the environment.
GZ: Who are the ‘would be captors’ the Restorer is trying to escape from?
Ben: That would be telling…let’s just say they are highly experience at dealing with Restorers who have strayed from the agreed path.
GZ: From watching the trailers and looking at the screen shots, it appears like there will be a tense horror element – is that the case?
Pete – In the restoration trailer we were mainly going for intensity and pacing to show off the type of gameplay we're wanting to offer – I wouldn't exactly say we were trying to hit horror aspects. That said, there will be quite haunting experiences which we're not necessarily creating to 'scare' the player, but used more as a tool to create the right atmosphere and backup the narrative.
GZ: Will the player ever be timed or pressured to complete the puzzles quickly?
Pete: For me as a designer I don't like the idea of timed puzzles. It feels too overdone and if you have a timed element you almost need to simplify the puzzle just to make sure people solve it in time. If you don't simplify it you have to have a trial and error approach, which I also dislike, to be able to solve it in time. Then you have to fall back on the player being able to use the mouse, keyboard of gamepad quick enough to navigate the puzzle which also takes away from a fun or engaging experience for the less co-ordinated players. Trial and error should never be an approach to solving puzzles because it only shows that you don't respect the player enough to let them figure out what is actually going on in the world. I would much rather rely on letting people take in the world at their own pace and when you do figure out a certain puzzle it becomes a much more exciting and rewarding experience.
Pressure however will be relevant inside of Ether which also sets the pace of the gameplay. I can't say too much more on that at the moment but if you look at the trailer and see the radio on the island pulling the player in, you'll get a glimpse of what we're trying to achieve with that in terms of intensity and pressure.
GZ: The game is absolutely stunning, what style and goals did you go for with the art?
Pete: Firstly, thanks, that's always a nice compliment to hear. We started of doing lots of different art tests. The art direction came from Josh Taylor along with Oliver Farrell who were trying to get a very hand painted loose feeling. At the start of the project, the Back Water Gospel animation was a huge inspiration for the project also. That said, being a small independent team also impacted the visual style and what limitations we had to work with. We knew we had a small team and had a big game idea. We wanted to produce assets as quickly as we could but also keep a high visual standard. By using only diffuse textures without specular or normal maps and by keeping the brush work very loose so you could almost see each of the strokes made, it produced a fast asset creation pipeline and also gave us a (hopefully) unique visual style.
GZ: How goes the Greenlight campaign, how can people support the project, and when can we expect to see Ether One live?
Pete: The Greenlight campaign is going great at the moment and we REALLY appreciate every comment we get and vote. Even if people just drop by and leave a short comment about the game, it's just so motivating when you're sat in the studio for 14hrs a day. The feedback is definitely inspiring us to keep pushing for a great game. We're currently sitting in the top 100, 67 at the time of writing this with 300,000 views on YouTube, but we still need lots more support so if you're enjoying what you see/read, please check out and vote for us! I think if you favourite the project on Greenlight too if counts as extra votes (don't hold me to that though!). You can expect to see Ether One live over the summer months but we haven’t set a release date yet – we want to make sure its perfect (or as best as we can do) before we push it out!
You can vote and watch the trailer here.
GZ: What future projects are in store for White Paper Games?
Pete: We honestly don't know what projects are in store for WPG. We're keeping ourselves open for whatever we feel like working on – that’s the great thing about being a small studio. We have a lot of flexibility with what we can achieve. After the release of Ether One we'll have a few weeks to start prototyping some new ideas and see what we come up with from there. We will also definitely be working on Ether Two. The entire game was designed as a whole story but released in two separate parts. Because of the size of the story we wanted to tell, it just wouldn’t have been possible for us to get it out this year. This also allows us to get feedback from the community about elements they liked but more importantly things we could do better and iterate upon them to make the second game even better. I definitely like the idea of exploring 'meaningful experiences' in games also and whatever the game after Ether will be, we will definitely be trying to explore that to design and create something meaningful to play.