Dr. David's Indie Spotlight: Nowhere Studios and the grim world of Monochroma
Monochroma is a black-and-white puzzle-platformer currently in the works by the Turkey-based Nowhere Studios. The developer has launched a Kickstarter campaign, which is about halfway through. Already Monoachroma has received a good deal of press from various outlets, and rightfully so, as the game looks like a potentially awesome ride through a dreadful and dystopian industrial setting.
I had the chance to interview Producer Burak Tezateser, who was glad to share a great deal of insight on the upcoming Limbo-esque title.
GameZone: Let’s begin by getting to know a little more about Nowhere Studios. Who are you folks? What are you currently working on? What are some of your favorite games?
Burak Tezateser: Hey, we’re a small indie studio from Istanbul, Turkey. For the last 18 months we’re working on Monochroma, a cinematic puzzle-platformer. We all have very different tastes in games. My favorites are grand strategy games. My partner played almost all the RPG, adventures, and platform games in the world. But we all think that games are a powerful medium to tell a story. I guess that’s what keeps us together.
GZ: Can you explain what Monochroma is all about? What’s the premise of the story? Can you describe the gameplay?
BT: Monochroma is a dystopian tale we used to criticize today’s world. It’s the story of two young brothers. The younger one is injured in the beginning of the game and you’re playing the older one. The gameplay is about the constraints of your responsibility to your brother. You have to carry your brother on your back, but you can’t run fast or jump high while carrying him. You have to put him down in order to solve some puzzles, but he is also afraid of the dark.
GZ: I’m certain you get this a lot (and I apologize if it’s annoying at this point), but there’s an inherent Limbo-ness to Monochroma. That said, if you look deeper at the game, you can certainly see some differences. Can you share some of the elements that make your game stand out from developer Playdead’s infamous hit?
BT: We like Limbo a lot. It was a great game. I think people who liked Limbo will also like Monochroma and vice versa. Limbo was an inspiration for us for the gameplay and the atmosphere.
We first created a short modern tale then we began the search for a fitting art style and genre. We settled with a 1950s dystopian world — starting with a German-style factory town that grows upwards, followed by a maze of interconnected buildings, and ending on a zeppelin. Following the German influence, we went with German Expressionism — which is a great way to tell a silent story.
The result was a game that combines the best aspects of Limbo and Ico. Monochroma looks like Limbo because it shares the German Expressionistic aesthetic. Gameplay-wise, we accomplished a lot; the puzzles are unique, challenging, and natural. By natural I mean objects you interact in the game are natural to the environment: no platforms hanging in the air or no illogically placed objects. Your readers can download our demo and see it for themselves.
GZ: Monochroma is “set in an alternate universe during the 1950s.” What’s occurring in this alternate universe? How does this particular decade differ in your game from the 1950s people have become so enamored with over the years?
BT: If you watch the teaser video you’ll notice, it’s an advertisement of a robot company. You see these ads everywhere in the game. These robots are made to help people at their homes and befriend their children. The city is comprised of skyward buildings, vertically interconnected. Ghetto and a large robot factory take place at the bottom, and the whole city was built over them. The workers of this robot factory live within these ghettoes. The city becomes richer as it rises but the upper levels of the city are not seen from below due to smoke fumes from the giant factory. Zeppelin of the factory owner, which reminds of a flying castle, is hovering as it watches the whole city. Industrialization has almost completely destroyed all the vegetation. Outside the city there are only infertile lands and the trailer parks of the contracted workers who cannot even afford to live in the ghetto. This is where you begin playing the game.
(Chart provided by Nowhere Studios.)
Our diesel-punk theme assumes a historical breakpoint in the early 1900s. Industrialism isn’t succeeded by world wars but an era of industrial alchemy in which our story takes place.
I’m in love with this setting, I really want to tell more but this will spoil too much, I’m afraid.
GZ: How difficult is Monochroma? I understand that the game’s checkpoint system is “player-friendly.” Can you elaborate?
BT: The game is a mixture of challenging puzzles with non-violent action scenes. We didn’t make the puzzles impossible to solve, but they are challenging and they all have a bright solution that will put a little smile on your face after figuring out. We avoided trial and error gameplay — the puzzles give you a small hint about how to solve them even before your first try, but it’s usually hard to notice in your first try.
GZ: Nowhere Studios has stated that there’s no spoken dialogue or written text in Monochroma. Can you explain this decision?
BT: I guess storytelling is our strongest point in Monochroma. We told a dystopian tale without using any written or spoken words, no sign language, no interface, no cinematics, or cut-outs. We used environments and puzzles to tell our story.
If you think games are an artistic medium, it’s hard to believe. Games are using other art forms such as literature, cinematography, or music and combining them. Games need to evolve an original storytelling using their own unique tool: interactivity. It would be a bold statement that this game is a piece of art, but if one day games will be accepted as an art form, we’re trying to contribute to the first baby steps.
GZ: Will there be a tutorial of sorts, or will players learn the ins and outs as they go?
BT: There is no tutorial level in the game, but there is a playground in the very beginning of the game where you can understand the basic mechanics. There are many platformer games using a kid as the main character. Because platformer games are referring to our childhood, with our creative director Orcun’s words:
"Platformer games are about our childhood. Think about it for a moment. What we do in a platformer is what we used to do when we were children playing at the playground. We’re adults now and don’t need to push a box and jump over it. We never climb wooden ladders or swing on a rope. In Monochroma, I try to celebrate everyone’s childhood by setting the tutorial at a playground. It was my way of saying ‘thanks’ to all the developers that carry childhood memories within and keep the genre alive."
GZ: Can you list your influences for Monochroma? How did these games inspire your own project?
BT: We have also movies and old tales between our influences. Our initial motivation was to explore the hard realities of life similar to what the Brothers Grimm did with their fairy tales. Our first source of inspiration was Ico; it was one of the most emotional games. But also we should list Wizard of Oz, Pinocchio, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Red Riding Hood. It’s up to the players to find these references and more.
Monochroma is influenced from many games such as Oddworld: Abe's Oddysey, Heart of Darkness, Limbo, and Braid. During the creation of Monochroma, emotional art pieces such as Papo & Yo and Journey gained our great attention.
Also, movies such as City of Lost Children, Metropolis, A.I., Blade Runner, Dark City, Alien, City of Amber, and Micmacs inspired us while creating the dark Monochroma world design.
I guess Jean Baudrillard’s book Consumer Society made us questioning the system, and we used robots to symbolize all the consumer goods in today’s world.
GZ: Last, is there anything that the team at Nowhere Studios is currently playing during free time? Do you even have free time considering all of the time and effort that’s gone into Monochroma?
BT: Oh, we can’t find as much time as before. But I believe you should have some free time in order to stay creative in a two-years-long project. :) I fell in love with a few projects lately. One was Don’t Starve, the other was FTL. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to play my old grand strategy games. For the rest of the team, I find them stressing out playing Half-Life after work hours from time to time. We’re also playing each platformer game carefully as a part of our job. :)
I'd like to thank Burak for taking the time to answer my questions, and a huge thanks to Nowhere Studios. Monochroma is due out sometime this December for the PC, Mac, and Linux. Additionally, Nowhere is planning to release the game on Microsoft and Sony platforms, as well as the Wii U and Ouya. You can back the game on Kickstarter and check out the demo on its official site.
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