Among the Innocent – how a local game journalist became a local indie developer

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For many years, there were two Geoffs in our local gaming journalism scene, and while our Geoff was always our favourite, we had tons of love and respect for Geoff Burrows as well. With the closure of NAG magazine, the other Geoff has gone on to start development on a game of his own, and it’s already coming along nicely. Of course we had to bombard him with questions now that he’s on the other side of the journalist/developer divide.

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So first up, of course we need to look at what this game is that Mr Burrows is creating. According to his blog post about the game, Among the Innocent is a 3D first-person adventure game that includes elements of the olde classic point and click. However, Geoff keeps edging away from the horror connotations and connections. We had to find out why.

I find labelling a game as “horror” gives a very restricted impression of the gameplay. People have come to expect horror games to mean lots of dark corridors illuminated by little more than a flashlight powered by apparently useless batteries, chase scenes, hiding in cupboards, and excessive use of jump scares. Among the Innocent has none of that.
But horror does mean something when it comes to atmosphere, aesthetic, and narrative, and that’s where I’m happy to have the association. Among the Innocent plays like an old-school adventure game (albeit smoothed over, and in first-person), but the events and discoveries in the game are inspired by a mix of classic and modern horror films, including Western, Korean and Japanese.

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I get that. We shouldn’t be expecting the gore-fest of a Resident Evil or The Evil Within, but we also shouldn’t expect the typical heavy breathing first-person gameplay of running down darkened corridors and waiting for psychopaths to jump out and kill us. Horror has been seeing a revival recently with more and more studios embracing the darker gameplay and aesthetic options. However, adventure games, and particularly point and click types, are considered all but dead by most publishers. Indies refuse to believe this, and might be leading to a renaissance of the genre. But why is it so popular, or at least, why did Geoff want to pursue this style when finally given the opportunity to make his own game?

I don’t think all publishers consider the genre to be dead, but certainly the big ones do, and unsurprisingly that comes down to money. Smaller publishers like Daedelic Entertainment and Wadjet Eye know that it’s a genre that people love and support, but they’re also realistic about sales figures. 100,000 sales would be deemed a major success for an adventure game (although some games sell many more), but those numbers don’t work for bulky AAA publishers, who consider anything less than a million units to be a flop due to the massive capital outlay required to produce each game.
As for why I’m making an adventure game: I’ve always played adventure games, and I’ve always wanted to make them. The first game that I owned was Hero’s Quest (later renamed to Quest for Glory), and I’ve been in love with the genre ever since.

So what is Among the Innocent? It’s the first of fives games in the Stricken series that Geoff is developing. Each tale will tell the story of different characters in unique locations centered around a massive event that unfolds over a number of years. The games will interlink, of course, with the design idea that the games can be played in any order the player so wishes… except that the last one should probably be played last.

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As a long-time writer, I had no doubt that Geoff could use his words to craft the story of the series, but what did surprise me was just how much artwork he is actually doing himself, especially considering that he’s working in Unity which comes with a ton of assets. As it turns out, he’s rediscovered some more of his own talents while working on Among the Innocent.

Much of this project revolves around me playing to my strengths and dealing with my weaknesses. As it turns out, I’m not a terrible 3D artist, so I wanted to use as much hand-made art as possible. That means all of the 3D models in the game, with the exception of some trees, rocks, and a few other environmental bits are made by either myself or Duncan Bell. This allows me to tell the story that I want to tell using not just words, but visuals as well. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

[…] I’m still using some Unity Asset Store content. This is where my afore-mentioned weaknesses come into play: I’m a useless programmer, so I’m using many scripting assets from the Asset Store. Adventure Creator, Ultimate FPS (purely for player movement), and PlayMaker are my three main sources. However, I’m running highly customised versions of AC and UFPS. The designer of Adventure Creator, Chris Burton, has been fantastic in helping me to carve his software into the exact shape that I need for Among the Innocent.

In terms of textures, I’m using about 50/50 hand-crafted and off-the-shelf textures, the majority of which come from Gametextures.com. The rest are a mix of hand-drawn, photo-manipulated, or images edited in some way.

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I’m impressed with the artistic ability shown off in the game thus far. Beyond the sexy development blogs that he shares, there was even a rAge demo build for people to play who walked the halls of the Dome on that sweaty weekend in October. In fact, rAge was really important to Geoff, and helped to change the shape of Among the Innocent in some ways. Chatting to various developers both locally and internationally, it’s become clear just how important player feedback can be at different stages of a project. Not all feedback is helpful at all stages, but it can certainly play a big part in making a game better, something that was highlighted at rAge.

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I haven’t finalised a pre-order method yet, but my current plan is to open up for pre-orders very soon. You’ll be able to pre-order the game for the regular price, and you’ll get an upgrade to the digital deluxe edition for free. I’ll also have a beta opt-in for a few dollars extra, and that’ll give players access to the beta builds from around January-March. This is largely based on feedback that I received during rAge: I realised how important it is to get gamers playing this game as early as possible. Feedback on elements like navigation and user interface is very important.

Geoff is lucky enough to be able to stay off Kickstarter, mostly because he already had an angel investor who was able to support him through his first year of making this game. But since the Stricken Series will need to be financially successful in its own right, he is looking at a range of pricing methods, pre-orders and season-passes to get fans involved and excited for the game’s release. The biggest part of this is making sure that the game is everything he wants it to be, pouring his heart and soul into the project. So, if that’s what he’s putting into the project, what are we as the players supposed to take away from it?

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That’s an interesting question. I guess I have a lot of goals for the player. I want them to feel a sense of accomplishment as they explore the game world. I want them to feel concern, panic and discomfort, but also elation, surprise, and joy. I also want players to feel “connected” to Among the Innocent, like it’s scratching an old-school adventure itch but still feels modern, slick, and not convoluted.

Players should want to play Among the Innocent because they want to feel a sense of discovery, of both learning and doing. Does that sound a little too hippie? It probably does. Above all else, I want players to have fun. I’d like nothing more than being able to declare that I make fun for a living.

Good luck to you Geoff. We are always excited to hear about ambitious projects coming out of local game developers and we’re excited to see where the project takes you. Among the Innocent is scheduled to launch in August 2016 on PC and we are keen to see what the Stricken Series is all about.

Ethics disclosure: Nobody at Lazygamer has slept with Geoff Burrows. We think.

Last Updated: November 5, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let’s get on with it!

  • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

    Geoff on Geoff action. Is that incest or masturbation?

    #ThereIsNoLineHere

    • Mossel

      Dutch Rudder.

    • Rock789

      o_O

  • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

    DOKTER FOURIE!

  • AfricanTime

    cannot enter your website , security error?

  • ZA Ludomusicologist

    Geoff is a really nice guy 🙂

  • WitWolfy

    Nice bro. Hope to see it surface soon.

  • Is the picture of the corpse the Geoff from LG?

    • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

      Cannot be, that skeleton appears to be sleeping

      • Hammersteyn

        Must be previous staff, the one that threatened to go work for Mweb

        • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

          Oh snap

        • lol

      • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

        HORYSHEEET a GeoffTim upvote!

  • CodeDisQus

    Played this at rage, interesting game, developer is a super cool dude! all the best to him!

  • Coughsie

    That ethics disclosure. Made my Friday worth suffering through.

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