A local developer who left steady employment to make games full-time at age 39 is looking to crowdfund a procedurally-generated survival horror title for PC.
EyeMobi founder Joe Chang put in 14 years of corporate IT work and a stint at his wife’s immigration business before he decided it was finally time to take the plunge and pursue his real passion: video games. “Secretly, it’s all I wanted to do,” he says. By 2012, the now or never moment arrived: “Bugger it, I’m actually going to try and make something from something I like doing.”
That time in IT wasn’t wasted of course: Chang was a software tester and test manager, so his transition from HTML5 games to mobile to PC was smoother than you might expect.
Wellington-born Chang’s Kickstarter is for Phantasmal, a first-person survival horror title which was conceived during a seven day FPS jam – the same event that served as a catalyst for Superhot, Catlateral Damage, and Receiver, among others.
“I didn’t know it at the time but we got a lot of exposure out of that and I thought ‘Oh! Actually this is kinda the game I wanna make!” says Chang. “I just wanted to make something I want to play.”
Realising that the game had potential, Chang put the word out for help at an NZ Game Developers Association meeting, and as a result brought environment artist Chevy McGoram (Grinding Gear Games, Media Design School), and character/creature artist Euge Tay (Games Lab) on board part-time. Former Microsoft colleague and senior developer Jeff Chilberto – who Chang had worked with on mobile/PC title Split Screen Arena – also signed on.
Sound technician and musician Shaun Roland's path to the game was the most unusual: he found it on YouTube and got in contact, insisting that he compose the game's the music.
Phantasmal casts the player as John Hope, a down-on-his-luck Vietnam vet with PTSD. Hope is working as a janitor at a local university when a power cut plunges it into darkness and strange voices become audible in the darkness. From there, it's probably not all lollipops and rainbows.
Chang was inspired to make a procedurally-generated horror after falling in love with Headup Games’ action title The Binding of Isaac, and he believes that the game’s roguelike design is a good fit for its horror aesthetic. “The uncertainty adds to the fear,” he says. Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and H.P. Lovecraft are all also inspirations.
Certainly, the game EyeMobi is pitching is somewhat familiar, featuring darkened halls and a torch, a lot of anxious sneaking, a fragile but not totally defenceless protagonist, strange creatures, improvised weapons that degrade, an insanity system, and a relentless and unkillable Pyramidhead-style foe called The Sleeper.
“You can fight, but you don’t really want to,” says Chang.
A crafting mechanic will in all likelihood make it into the game as well. “That’s definitely something we want to build in,” says Chang. “I really love that whole MacGuyver-y thing like duct taping two items together like Dead Rising.” However, Phantasmal will be grittier in tone than Capcom's zombie sandbox. “There won’t be any microwave laser cannons," says Chang.
Phantasmal will also feature a character progression that allows levelling, even after death. Chang isn’t sure how it will be implemented just yet, but envisions a Dark Souls-style mechanic where some assets are lost when you perish. “We will explain in future why you can do that too,” he says.
EyeMobi is seeking NZ$15,000 to complete its vision for Phantasmal. That may not sound like enough for such an ambitious title, but Chang says it’s more about just covering living costs for the developers. It’s also handy that games on Kickstarter tend to get media attention and dedicated communities. “From everything I’ve read, crowdfunding is one of the better ways of getting exposure,” he says.
Phantasmal is being developed using Unity for PC, with Mac and Linux versions a possibility if demand is high enough. There is a prototype of already up and running, but the polish isn’t there yet. However, Chang expects to be beta testing before the end of March next year.
He's only spent three months in the meat grinder that is full-time game development, but Chang is certain it's the vocation for him. “It’s better than anything I’ve done in the past 14 years," he says. "It’s tough, but exhilarating.”
At the time of writing, Phantasmal has raised NZ$4,506 of its NZ$15,000 goal, with 22 days of crowdfunding remaining.