Published on April 8th, 2012 | by Michael Glynn0
Interview With White Paper Games’ Benjamin Hill
We recently spoke to Benjamin Hill, co-founder and developer at indie studio White Paper Games. They’re currently working on their debut game, Ether.
Media Blasphemy: So, who are White Paper Games?
Benjamin Hill: Me and Pete Bottomley my business partner met while doing masters in game design at UCLAN. After completing the MA we both kind of went our separate ways and did our own things for a while. For a few months I was working on an iPhone game called Katnapped and Pete had done experience prior to finishing the MA at a large North West based studio. He was offered a position in the South at a very large studio as a level designer. He rang me up one day and said “I’ve been offered this really big job, I doesn’t know why but I really wanted to work on his own things and you’re the only person that I think I can work with, do you want to try something?” That’s kind of how we got started, we sat down and wrote a business plan. We were lucky enough at university because we weren’t post-graduates, we were doing the MA and we sat down with the university and said we want to try and do this and they gave us a hand.
How did development begin?
In terms of development we started off with six months of trying out lots and lots of different ideas. We had the luxury of the time of me being assistant manager at Gamestation and we decided to start by pooling lots of ideas together. There are things that we could have done better to try and speed up things but it’s the first time we were trying to do this. I then got a job teaching at Futureworks (A media school) part-time, that’s something we’re both really passionate about, getting games education in the UK up to a better level than it is at the moment. So Pete teaches at UCLAN and I teach at Futureworks and we started developing in spare time.
Ether is your first game, what is the premise behind it?
The premise behind the game is that it is a science fiction ghost, that’s the best way I can put it. I’m a big fan of Philip K Dick and Susan Hill ghost stories so I wanted to create something that was really emotionally intense but still had gameplay in it. Obviously there are a lot of games similar to it in that respect recently with not very much gameplay and we still want this to be a game so we started coming up with these different ideas with lots of influences. What we decided when was started was that we want players to have as much choice at the beginning of the game as possible and then narrow them down to this very kind of finite ending with very limited choice that made their earlier choices more impactful. So when you start the game you wake up on an island and you have the choice of going anywhere, on that island there are essentially artefacts that will allow you to go into the game and play through specific memories. The idea of the game is that you play through these memories and try and figure out why you’re on the island, the fact that these memories aren’t your memories adds to the mystery.
On the screenshots of the game on the White Paper Games website there are quotes from novels under them, were they influences on the game?
They are influences, they’re more like me paying homage to some of my own influences. We both read old books and it’s a really effective way of coming up with the ideas that have made this game. We really wanted something that didn’t hold your hand and say this is the story, we wanted the player to have to work it out for themselves but they will work it out regardless because we’re directing it in those lines. I think that’s hugely an influence from the books that we have read.
You have spoken before about adding features to the game to make it stand out, one of these is support for QR Readers, how will this be implemented?
We are being very careful about this to bring the game to life and bring down the fourth wall, we want the narrative to be all around you not just when you sit down and play the game. So the QR Reader is really an add on to the game that will enhance your experience if you have a smart phone but it doesn’t limit players who don’t have a smart phone, it will add to the narrative and not the gameplay itself. We’ve also designed a system in a way that when you play the game your information is placed onto a website with your profile and anybody can view your profile. So say you don’t have a smartphone and you’re playing through the game but you still want to see the information from other players you can access it and enjoy it.
You have previously stated that the game will be episodic, how will this work?
The episodic idea reflect that we were going for a literature based narrative so the levels are referred to as episodes within the game. If you were to play something like Deadly Premonition the levels are referred to as episodes within a single title so Ether will be a standalone release for distribution on PC and Mac.
How far along the development process is Ether?
We are quite far into development now. We’re just kind of coming out of our pre-production stage we have finalised the art style and have 80% of the game built to a rudimentary standard without artwork in there which is being tested all of the time. We’re hoping for a 2012 release but that’s not final yet just because we have a lot of things to do still.
How have you found the development with it being your first game?
I think it’s something we are really keen on talking about, we want college and university students to realise it is completely possible to set up your own studio and actually build something really well. If we’re going to be honest with that we need to be honest about errors that we made along the game things that we may have changed, I think project management is something that we could have worked on a bit better. But at the end of the day through those dead ends we have learned so much about the game and it’s made it better without a doubt.
What do you see the future holding for White Paper Games?
We don’t want to pigeon hole ourselves into one platform so we’re quite open to mobile consoles as well as digital download. Our ethos for White Paper Games is innovation, honesty and community, those three areas would be taken whether we did an iPad game or anything because most of our games are going to be quite deep and narrative led. We hope that Ether is successful, we think that it is what people in the games industry want, we think it’s something that people can get emotionally attached to and relate to. We hope to make more similar games in the future. We are hoping to apply to a couple of competitions, the Developing Showcase and the Indiecade Showcase which are coming up soon. We want to get some gameplay footage out within the next few months and fingers crossed that it will be released by the end of the year.