Frugal Gaming Interview: 4PM

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A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the rather interesting indie game 4PM that’s currently available on Steam.

I really liked it, and found it to be one of the most interesting things I’d experienced in quite a while.  If you haven’t checked it out yet you can find my thoughts on 4PM here

Following on from that I had the opportunity to have a chat with the games creator- Bojan Brbora. He was and still is a film-maker by trade; he even has a page on IMDB. We chat about the differences and challenges of developing games compared to films.  The way 4PM came together and the people who helped make it.  Lots of talk about Steam, from the Greenlight process to the review system.

You can find some of the highlights below or if you fancy it, the full audio of our chat can be heard on this page too.

Bojan Brbora is the games Director (BB) and PridedLlama is Interviewer (PL)

PL:  How did 4PM come to be?

BB: I’ve played games most of my life, and the interactive storytelling elements really interested me. Whilst I was film making I was also trying out new games just to see where the medium was going.  So I’ve had two big loves one of them is film making and the other one is games and I really wanted to try it out.  I never thought I’d be able to as the technical skills and knowledge all seemed a bit much at the time, but with things like unity the tools had become a bit more easier to use.

PL: Was it a big change to go from film making to games?

BB: From a technical point yes, but on the basic side of keeping people engaged and interested, I actually think it’s quite similar.  The part I’m most interested in is the narrative. I think that’s the same across writing, film making, comics, anything that has a story.  You need to have something that gets people hooked and have them want to see what happens at the end basically.

The biggest challenge was just how long it takes to create these things.  I knew it was quite complex but I didn’t realise how complex it actually was until I started programming.  It’s true to say that about one week in film making terms equals about two months in game development. To keep cost down I decided to do about 80% of the technical development myself.  This was also a factor in why I wanted to do a relatively short game, something that I could finish in 8 or 9 months.

PL: I’d read that if 4PM was successful enough you plan to continue doing this, have you made any progress towards this already? Have you got any ideas?

BB:  I’ve got a few ideas bouncing around, but at the minute it’s still about pushing 4PM, getting as many people to play it as possible and getting feedback so the next one is better and I can learn from this.  I want to see how people feel about 4PM and then plan the next project.

PL: You have had some fantastic positive coverage from the media, I noticed a piece in the Guardian the other day. On the flip side everyone knows what Steam reviews can be like, even though the store listing describes the game well, people are buying it expecting something else, then finding themselves disappointed leaving negative reviews.  It must be frustrating?

BB: It was quite surprising how many people, mainly on Steam and some Youtubers too almost seemed to hate it, because they expected something totally different.  It’s difficult to manage expectations.  Some people seem to want the same thing over and over again, someone asked me why is it not like The Stanley Parable, well it’s just different. It’s hard to explain something when you can’t compare it too many things. There are similar elements in other games but it’s not really like them.  There were some really harsh things said on Steam but it’s all part of the learning experience and will help me explain to people what the next project is all about.

PL: I guess the feedback now is so immediate, you put your game out there, especially on a platform like Steam and you’re getting feedback straight away, positive or negative.

BB: It’s a tough crowd but it’s a good thing, it’s a bit like the Wild West.  You’re out there in the open and anybody can say whatever they want.  People vote with their wallets and it’s very black and white, it’s not like the film side where you have the art festivals where you can still get a load of traction, coverage and financial backing but with this it either works or it doesn’t. Everyone loves it or very few people like it and it can just disappear after a while.

PL: I know I keep going back to film making, but I thinks it’s interesting with many Game developers such as David Cage and Hideo Kojima often described as frustrated directors, you’ve obviously got your feet on both sides of that.  In regards to promoting the game and getting it out there, has it been easier with 4PM being a game rather than say a short film about the same subject?

BB: With 4PM is was a bit easier than with a film because when I put it up on Steam Greenlight,  I think it looked so different from anything else up there.  The posters and the trailers did the job on their own in a way.  In a film it would be more difficult because you’re on a more level playing field; everyone is always pushing the medium and experimenting when it comes to films.  New ideas in games are almost quite rare.  People make similar games, remake older games or they change little bits to make them different but essentially games are not as experimental as one would think.  So if you have something different it can promote itself.

PL: It’s a very small team that has worked on 4PM, it seems like a real collaborative effort, Stefan Kaday wrote the story, so how did it come about?

BB: It started with the roof situation that’s featured in 4PM, it was a very small prototype for a course module at the end of the first year.  I showed it to a few people and there was a lot of good feedback and people said I should develop it further. I sat down with Stefan, who was a screenwriter at the school and we started to plan out how the characters ended up on the roof.  He went back and started writing. I’m not a writer by trade and I like working with other people and getting peoples feedback and thoughts.  Getting others to participate and creatively investing in the project is great and Stefan was a good match.

PL: The music is 4PM was also really good, both the original compositions and also the tracks by other people.

BB:  All the music apart from what’s heard in the club scene was made for the game.  Some of it was a 6 piece orchestra from the Royal Academy of Music and two composers from the film school who were really good guys and jumped right in.  The music in the club is from a Bosnian band, it’s a really cools song and they are really good guys, I got introduced to them through a friend.  I needed music for the club and obviously I couldn’t pay royalties but they were like “were going to be in a video game! that’s great here you go”  Many people have asked about the music and there are a lot of people out there making great music who are very open to letting you use it, the band are in the credits and they are featured on the website and I would really love to work with them again.

PL:  The graphical style of 4PM is quite unique and it works really well.  It does have a few rough edges due in part to having such a small team working on it.  Do you plan to bring more people into help with the next game if money allows?

BB: The aim for the next project is to either get some funding, maybe do a Kickstarter and then build a small specialised team.  Someone to work on 3D modelling, an animator and a programmer.  I’d be picking up bits of work everywhere and producing on the project side.  I don’t plan on it being a one man band operation next time, however nice of an achievement it was, it’s quite.  It’s good to have more than one person on the team, someone else for constant feedback and pushing through the rough times together.

PL: 4PM was Greenlit on Steam in about 2 weeks, how did you find the whole process?

BB:  It was a great way of seeing if the community would like it.  I put up the trailer, few screenshots and a description up. I didn’t really expect much.  It was a bit of a test, if it went through Greenlight then that meant I should really finish it and release it.  At the time it seemed I was mainly competing against 8bit zombie games, having something like 4PM next to all that helped it stand out. I kept the design and trailer interesting ‘precise’, I think that’s why people really engaged with it.  There was just so much positive feedback, 12-13 pages of people saying they want the game.

To go from that to release, where we have roughly 50/50 positive and negative comments was like a total slap in the face.

PL: You mentioned earlier that you’ve always played games, what’s your top three of all time?

BB:  Top three, that’s tough.  Half-life 2 for sure, probably Mass Effect and then Jurassic Park: Trespasser.  Remember that one?

PL: I’ve never even heard of it!

BB: You’re missing out! It came out in 97 or something like that.  It was a 1st person game that let your explore a dinosaur infested island.  There was no user interface, basic physics, great music! Very flawed but for what it tried to do at the time it was amazing.  Interesting game.

PL: We’ve talked about Steam reviews and people can see the description of 4PM on the store page.  If you had to write a Steam review for 4PM now, what would you put?

BB:  That’s difficult as I made the game!  If you want to try something different and think about something, give this a try.  It’s only £3 anyway.  How wrong can you go?

 

Interesting stuff and I really enjoyed speaking with Bojan, obviously a huge thank you for him for taking part in this.

 You can follow Bojan on twitter here https://twitter.com/BojanBrbora

 4PM is availble on Steam right now http://store.steampowered.com/app/281840/