An Interview with Ore Creative About Stalled Indie Game “Ira”May 2, 2015
Creating a video game isn’t easy – just ask Ore Creative, the makers of point-and-click adventure Ira. After being greenlit on Steam, these first-time developers sought to fund their game via Kickstarter, but dreams and ideals quickly turned to harsh reality when they had to abandon their funding campaign due to poor numbers.
So why should you care about a failed Kickstarter game? Because while we love to see indie developers succeed in funding their dream projects, we rarely care about or get a glimpse of the other, more common side of the industry. Indie developers have recently had a Renaissance, finding huge success in garnering major media attention as well as getting funding from new avenues like Indiegogo. However, challenges are still prevalent and not every game has a storybook ending.
As gamers, we should care about the “little guys” who have passion and talent, but lack the money, to make a top-notch game. Our hobby and the industry as we know it wouldn’t be here today without an indie dev mentality. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Nick, Noah, and Zack, the developers behind Ore Creative and Ira to talk to them about their experience making their first game. The interview took place before they canceled their Kickstarter, but the conversation is still relevant and contains great insight into the world of a young indie game company.
What’s your origin story? How did Ore Creative get its start?
Zack: I think it kind of started with Noah and I back in our freshmen year of college. I looked at doing freelance design because that’s what Noah and I went to school for. I guess it started off as kind of a musing and developed into something more serious much later on. So we talked about Ore then but didn’t end up doing anything with it until later on.
Noah: It kind of started…well, Zack and I went to school for design, and we’d always talked about starting our own business. Avoiding the soul-sucking thing a little bit (not wanting to do that) we talked about doing design work together and striking off and doing our own freelance firm sort of stuff. So, we could get projects that we wanted to work on and work with each other on. And so we kind of developed the idea of Ore Creative out of that, as sort of a design firm, and it kind of evolved and morphed into a platform for our game development.
Zack: We knew we wanted to do something…we see game dev as an art and wanted to find a way to express ourselves – some type of outlet. So we didn’t start at game design, we just looked at what our skills were. All three of us used to do 3D modeling together back in high school, and we had many tech classes together. We’d make animations all the time and just experiment. I used to make mods for Counter Strike and Half-Life all the time. I used Hammer all the time. What ended up happening was, we looked at our skill set and thought ‘how can we express ourselves?’ Game design wasn’t something we just immediately jumped into. We had skills that already connected to game design.
Noah: It was like, ‘what could we end up building with our tool box?’, more or less.
Where did the name “Ore Creative” come from?
Zack: So this was before Minecraft; now it just seems strangely relevant in today’s gaming culture. I just liked the idea of the refinement of design and you take ore and you refine it, so it made sense. It just so happened that later on it fit into popular game culture and so I feel kind of weird about that.
Noah: I feel like you’re the only person who feels weird about it. [laughter]
Zack: So we just ended up running with it because we had it. I wish there was some type of deep meaningful thing behind it besides what I just told you.
Noah: But there’s good meaning behind it. It’s just the concept of taking raw material and refining in into something that’s more useable.
Zack: And that’s from the design background.
Noah: …which is prevalent in game dev too. It’s just more based on the design aspect.
Zack: And I think if we were going to do it over again, we would pick something else; we just went with what we had at the time. And that was just how it went.
Noah: That’s alright, most people don’t care anyway.
Zack: Sure. I mean hopefully the content of our work is what people will care about.
Detroit isn’t well-known for its contributions to the gaming industry. In your experience, why was the city a good place to set up shop?
Zack: So here’s something that’s a little disappointing. We don’t currently have a shop in Detroit. Myself personally, I really like the idea of the art scene in Detroit. And on the flip side, people like Dan Gilbert are trying to push entrepreneurship and technology-based businesses in Detroit. If we were successful, one of the things we were thinking about doing was going to Detroit and setting up a shop there in some burned out warehouse for all we know. We thought it was a good starting place because they have a really budding community both on the really artistic side and on the business and technical side.
Noah: And they’re really trying to jump-start things in that area too.
Zack: And we’re close by and we want to get on board with that part of it. When I was a kid, my dad took me to see David Copperfield at the Fox Theater and Detroit was the first real city I had ever been too. It was a really inspiring experience for me. I think, for myself personally, I saw something in Detroit. Of the 3 of us, I was pushing the most for that and the potential of Detroit. So sadly, at the moment, we don’t currently live in Detroit. But we’d like to be part of that community.
Noah: And Detroit reflects that underdog mentality that we have, in that none of us really went to school for game design or anything like that. We’re self-taught in everything that we’ve done (besides the graphic design part of things). For the game we’ve just learned everything on our own and figured it out ourselves. Detroit has, especially nowadays, that same sort of mentality of moving forward a revitalizing things.
Zack: So we have a kind of kinship with Detroit in that way.
Let’s talk about Ira. When I read the description of the game, I immediately thought of movies like Interstellar, Space Odyssey: 2001, and October Sky. What inspired you to create a point-and-click space adventure game?
Zack: I can tell you where it started, Nick might be better at telling you more about where it ended up. So when it started I had this original concept called planetoids. And it was really like…
Noah: Like Super Mario Galaxy.
Zack:Yeah, there were these strange planets that you could hop on (right through the galaxy). It was very like Super Mario Galaxy and you had these little tiny planetoids floating around and you could do things with them.
Noah: It was really very light-hearted and exploratory and whimsical.
Zack: And that was just a starting point. We knew we wanted to do something and we had to start somewhere. Sometimes you just have to throw out the worst ideas first to get them out of the way.
So how did it end up?
Nick: Well that was the original idea we had years ago. So we had been all sitting on it. This was before we finally came together in a more serious way and actually started full-time development. And as our influences came together and this thing grew, we had games like Kentucky Route Zero and Dear Esther (which was a big one for me) which helped inspire us. They were very atmospheric and leaning towards the art game side of things.
Zack: Monkey Island was another one you played as a kid.
Nick: Yes but we don’t share the comical, whimsical side of that game. So we had this idea for the planetoids game which was a sci-fi game, going through a solar system with multiple planets. That was the original core idea that we started with and as things became more serious we started to put actual artistic value into it, to say something through the game.
Noah: I think that’s a big reason it ended up being a point-and-click adventure. One reason was that we had never made a game before and there were a lot of resources available for making point-and-clicks, and it was just one of the more feasible methods. But another reason is that point-and-clicks are traditionally story heavy. And being able to tell an in-depth story was something that really grew to be important. It was a great medium for our artistic expression rather than a Call of Duty where you run around and blow peoples’ heads off.
Zack: If you look at Ira, you can see the normal literary tropes that are found in most games. But as people play it and experience it, there’s a much deeper meaning behind those starting tropes. We feel like, most things are stereotypical in nature and then you take that base and move beyond it. And with Ira, there’s something more emotional there.
It seems like the gameplay will incorporate Ira’s past as you play in the present. Can you explain more about this gameplay element and what gamers can expect?
Nick: Well the central storyline of the game follows Ira as he awakens from stasis. And as he’s venturing into the Lithic sytem, flashbacks will tell story how he got there.
Zack: One of the concepts we were playing at was, things that happened in his childhood are mirrored into his future. And we’ll hit more on that later, but there’s this weird loop that we start getting into. It’s like elements, even visual ones, start to fit into the future format. I’m not sure how far we should get into this; we don’t want to spoil anything.
Noah: There’s definitely a strong sense of fate in the game and the idea that Ira is there for a reason. He may not initially know why and that’s what the flashbacks are for: to shed some light on how he got there.
Zack: One of the things you’ll experience…it’ll feel disjointed at first, then when you feel like you’ve started to get orientated you’re going to start seeing this weird connection It’ll all start to pull together into a complete picture.
Noah: Along with that, there’s a story with the first crew who went to this system before. So that will be a sideways, parallel timeline that the player will also play which will shed light on the system itself. Since the system is an enigma to humanity and it has all sorts physics abnormalities the idea is that as Ira progresses closer to the center of the system, the three parallel stories will merge into one. That’s where the surrealness comes in also.
Zack: And that leaves a lot of room for interpretation, that surreal aspect of the game.
Nick: One of our goals is that we would like each gamer to come away with their own interpretations of the meaning of the ending.
Zack: Because we’ll leave a trail of breadcrumbs, and some people will really latch onto specific trails. You’ll start to convince yourself something is happening; it’s probably gonna end up being your conclusion.
I love listening to gaming soundtracks. After watching your trailers, the music seems to carry a bit of a soft melodic tune. What can we expect in the way of a soundtrack and overall sound of the game?
Noah: We are really turning up the heat and focusing efforts on getting a lot of things refined and consolidated. The game has a distinct surreal feel that we’re going for which is really evident in the demo. In Kentucky Route Zero and Dear Esther, they’re very atmospheric and mood invoking. So with our music we really want to convey that feeling also. So we’d like to have that ambient, droney atmospheric sound to reflect the solar system. But then on the Earth storyline we’ve got an early 1920’s, Dust Bowl America music feel that comes in.
Nick: It’s an alternate history that’s largely an analogy for the Great Depression
Noah: And so with that we’re going to have a lot of deep south, bluesy, sort of ambient space blues.
Zack: I know that sounds weird but Noah’s made some beautiful pieces.
Noah: Like banjos that echo out into the distance forever, and acoustic guitars to reflect the delta blues. Because the time period is very much an era when people had blues to sing about. We want to really reflect the downtrodden part of society that Ira is a part of. So Earth music will be more acoustic-based. You’ll get more of the ambient space blues in the solar system. So like the storyline, the different music will reflect each other. They’ll obviously have distinct differences but also have parallels.
Developing a game is no easy task. Ira had to first be greenlit on Steam, and you are now seeking funding via Kickstarter. You’re still short of your goal with only a few days left to go – what’s the next step for Ore Creative if you don’t meet your goal?
Noah: Here’s the deal, short of a miracle, being short of our goal is less than “if” and more of a “when”.
Zack: We’ve talked about this quite a bit actually. We weren’t fully prepared and things weren’t fleshed out enough. Some people got it and really strongly backed us but the vast majority of people didn’t fully understand what was happening, and that’s fair.
Noah: And that’s a hard thing to see since we’ve been working intensely on it for a year, and so the bias we have is through the roof. It’s hard to look at thing objectively.
Zack: We have to step back to see what are people getting out of this. And that’s part of the designer mindset. Thinking about ‘what do people see?’ ‘What is clear?’ We also gave ourselves a deadline. We had a set date and said ‘we’ll do what we can up until this point’. Our Kickstarter is going to fail, and we’re okay with that, and we’re looking at the reasons why we failed and what can we do with a second Kickstarter (at a much more reasonable price-point) that could get more people in on the experience. We plan to split it up into different Acts, so if people like us they can stick with us. It’s just much more manageable over all.
Noah: So the plan now is reworking some stuff, generating new content, and really focusing our efforts one something that’s more concise and tells more of what we’re actually going for.
Zack: In every department: visually, with the story, with the music; when we kickstart again we’re going to give people some really solid examples. People really enjoyed the demo (we had some really positive responses), so we are just going to keep adding to that experience. The demo was only about 25 minutes of gameplay. It had a real surreal quality to it and people could only get a small bit of story. So we are continuing to expand the universe and play experience.
Noah: So our plan is to launch another Kickstarter with a smaller goal. To put out the first Act of the game, which we then will release on Steam.
Zack: And that’s becoming increasingly more common nowadays. It’s like a movie trilogy you don’t get all of it at once. There are a lot of challenges and limitations we’ve had to work with. We’ve learned so much.
Why should gamers fund the development of Ira? What do you want people to know that would entice them to donate and aid the creation of your first game?
Zack: It’s a different experience from what you’re used to, even for point-and-click fans who are older now. They don’t need something that’s slapstick and funny and a throwback again. Moving forward with games like the Walking Dead (that are more serious and compelling in nature) we’re trying to look towards the future. Making an experience that moves you.
Nick: Creating an experience for people that is different from what they’re used to in the genre.
Zack: We’re a black sheep in that way. We keep looking at other Kickstarters that have the artists from Monkey Island and devs from older companies. We’re just not them. It’s intended to be different and hopefully refreshing in that way.
Noah: I’m sure that everyone says this but I truly think our game is unique. Point-and-clicks were more popular in the past and are definitely making a comeback. People are realizing that they can be a really good method for storytelling. We like video games. Zack a huge Link guy, Nick just banged out the Game of Thrones game. Beyond just being a game, it’s a medium for good storytelling.
Zack: We all start out with similar tropes then we really deviate away from them as you play. So you get taken on a journey that you wouldn’t really expect. It’s misleading in that way.
Noah: You can get a story out of a book, or a movie, but you can’t get all the same immersive level of storytelling. We have the music and visuals that set the tone, but then you also get to live it in a way. One thing is that player choice affects the game; [they] can choose how people react to things. You influence whether Ira is more optimistic or pessimistic.
Zack: [It] doesn’t change the overall story, as much as you change the minute-to-minute flavor.
Noah: And then through the end, once you get to the resolution, all those minute-to-minute things culminate into an individual experience.
Zack: You project your opinion on what is happening the entire time. So why Ira? I guess you fool yourself in this game a bit; it’s your own illusion that you run with. Maybe that’s interesting for some people. We think it is.
It’s not that you make decisions per se, you affect how Ira reacts to things or has an opinions on things.
Zack: I guess you can say, depending on where you are in your own life, you going to project differently onto the game’s story.
Noah: Oh yeah, I would assume that if you played the game at 15 and then at 25, you’ll get to the end and it would have meant something different to you.
Zack: Yeah the themes we are putting out there, you could have a completely different association with, depending on where you are at on a personal level.
What kind of promotion are you doing for Ore Creative and Ira? Where can people find information on your company and the game?
Zack: Our website is good source. In terms of how we promote, it’s always difficult because the market is so saturated with people trying to make it.
Noah: Like Zack said, there’s such a saturation of games out there. And everyone wholeheartedly believes their game is unique, and they probably are. There are tons of great indie games out there.
Zack: And many will never get popular. There are so many experiences that are worth having, it’s just hard to get to the top of the heap.
Noah: Right now we’re beyond pushing Ore Creative; we’re pushing Ira. We want that to succeed.
Zack: Our marketing strategy is that we keep collecting people on this bandwagon. We go from town to town and people keep hopping aboard and they really enjoy the experience. Slow and steady wins the race. We hope that someone big will give us a shout out at some point. But we can’t rely on anything like that. We had an individual in our genre that was all about us and said that they would help us out, but they just kinda puttered out. So you can’t rely on those types of things. So we’ll just continually direct people towards our website updates and keep moving forward with new content.
Noah: Obviously the Internet is huge in being able to do this. We found all sorts of resources that helped us develop our various talents towards making the game and marketing it. Also we were greenlit on Steam, so we have that built-in audience that have said that they want our game.
Zack: We were greenlit in 20 days and the community was great.
Noah: And it doesn’t necessarily take a huge audience like the Halo series has to make an Indie game successful.
Zack: We just need enough to keep the community going. In Acts, we can work with a few thousand people. And that’s all you need. We you can keep giving them great content that they enjoy. And if other people like it too? Great. If not? We don’t necessarily care.
Noah: We didn’t get into this project for the money; we got into it because we have a set of ideals and some skills and want to express ourselves through this medium. We want other people to see what we have to say about it. And there are a lot of people so far that really like what we have to say and that’s enough justification right there.
As a smaller gaming company trying to make their first game, what advice do you have for other gaming start-ups?
Noah & Zack: Don’t! [laughter]
Noah: No I’m kidding. Do it with people you like. Try to.
Zack: Nick, Noah, and I have been friends for a very long time and there are always struggles when you’re learning and trying to create an endeavor this size. And we ourselves had challenges working with each other and we’ve been friends for many, many years. It would be hard to imagine people who didn’t know each other very well or working across very long distances trying to achieve this same thing. I don’t know – maybe we’re just really bad at it. [laughter]
Noah: If you’re passionate about it, just go for it. I mean, everyone says that…but keep going for it. We’ve been hardcore, full-time developing this for the past year, and if you look at the stuff that we churned out at the beginning…
Zack: …Oh it was horrible! It was dishearteningly bad. It was like ‘pack up, go home guys!’. But it’s just like a huge learning experience. You can’t expect your first thing to be amazing. You have to do iteration after iteration after iteration, and that’s just the reality of it. It’s not gonna be good the first time you make something. You have to build up that skill level, you have to get to that point where you are good enough and you know it not only looks right, but it feels right. So keep going if you’re passionate about it.
Nick: On the more pragmatic side of things, take advantage of the communities out there that are present to help new people learn like the Unity forums. That’s been a huge help for us. We have so many questions because we weren’t formally trained in any of this. There are tons of people out there willing to help new people.
Noah: If you have a question, as Nick said, with the pragmatic side…Google is your friend. Look to the Internet for the answers to your questions.
Zack: We live in the information age, it not about going to someone who has the information physically or going to college for it. It’s more about going and getting the information yourself because most of it is freely available. Most of it is dedicating your time and your energy – how much is it worth to you? And if it’s worth enough, you’ll spend the time and energy to make it happen. We have all these tools that lead us to making games in an easier way, but you still have to have the talent and…skill to make it come to life. You still need an understanding of narrative and things of that nature, otherwise you’re going to create something that isn’t a very good experience.
First off, I’d like to thank Nick, Noah, and Zack for taking the time to sit down with me and do this interview. They were truly great guys to talk to and exuded passion when they talked about Ore Creative and especially Ira. After speaking with them, I came away wishing them the best in their future endeavors to get Ira from “dream” to “reality”. They were optimistic that their new plan to create Ira in episodes or Acts would be more fruitful.
If you would like more information about Ore Creative and/or Ira, you can check them out at their website or on Twitter. They also have a demo of the game that I encourage you to try and see for yourself what Ira is all about.
[Images via Ore Creative]