I recently got the opportunity to talk to the kind people at Blind Sky Studios and got the chance to talk about their latest game Mandagon and also learn a bit about the studio as well. Tom Kitchen (Artist/Game Designer), Richard Jackson (Music/Sound Designer), and Lee Russell (Programmer/Game Designer) were able to chat with me and shed some light on what the studio has been up to.
How did Blind Sky Studios start?
Tom: Me and Lee (programmer) are old buddies from university. A couple of years back we both found ourselves in jobs we weren’t happy in, so we took a massive risk to leave those jobs and begin making games together. And Rich (music and sound) is a long-time friend and collaborator or mine (I’ve been illustrating his bands album covers for a while now http://www.albatrossarchive.com/). Rich, almost by chance was exploring audio and sound design for video games around the same time me and Lee were starting up. And Rachael is an old friend of Lee’s who’s currently studding marketing part time, so we snapped up the chance to get her involved and offer some hands on experience!
What’s the story of Mandagon about?
Tom: Mandagon is a game that asks “does death give meaning to life?”
How would you describe Mandagon?
Tom: It’s a meditative, relaxing game that simultaneously requires your attention and focus to fully appreciate.
Rich: A free-to-play short story of a game.
What was the inspiration behind Mandagon?
Tom: Well I’m obsessed with polar opposites, and how they fuel each other, how they interact. How love can breed hate, how experiencing deep sadness can help you appreciate pure joy. A parent to a child. I guess the meatiest of them all is life and death. So it was this that I chose to work with in Mandagon. Also I was yet to explore these themes from a spiritual perspective and Tibetan Buddhists have such a unique view on the afterlife, I just had to get stuck into it!
Rich: As with all Blind Sky projects I happily follow wherever Tom leads! In this case he showed me some initial sketches of the game and sent a few tracks of Himalayan music, pieces which resonated with him, so that I knew what direction to start in. From there it was a development of the initial ideas, building a consistent framework to pin all the audio to, thinking of the best ways to compliment the experience that the game was looking to build.
How long did it take to develop Mandagon?
Tom: Mandagon took about 11 months to put together, but a portion of those early months were learning and experimenting. Full focused work on a final Mandagon probably didn’t begin until January this year.
Lee: Programming took about 4 months.
Rich: The audio didn’t feel like it took too long – Tom would send me a gameplay demo and I’d score that as I would a film to give overall context which I personally find helps much more than sending isolated files and is a more effective way of communicating what you’re wanting to put together. The main stumbling blocks were movement and some of the other sound effects/UI, as this was really my first time making these sorts of clips! For most of the music it was either requested in the first-draft form or it was just asked to be toned down a bit to better suit the mood; finding the balance between increasingly dense and not too busy was definitely an overarching concern!
Why did you guys want to release the game for free?
Tom: Since Mandagon is short but sweet, it didn’t seem fair to put a price tag on it. Also Mandagon is the first full PC game we’ve ever made, so we wanted to just introduce ourselves and say “hello, we’re Blind Sky and this is what we do!”
Lee: We planned to make a small game just to see how steam worked from a developer point of view. Then the game expanded a bit more.
Were there any ideas that you guys wanted to implement into the game that you decided against?
Tom: There we’re lots ideas that got tossed around, a bunch of things we would have liked to implement but weren’t able due to various constraints. The main idea that was actively rejected was the inclusion of a fail state, so from that ideas of dying fall damage, health systems and enemies/threats were also rejected. Mandagon takes place in the afterlife so a death state just didn’t seem to fit, conceptually speaking.
What’s next for Blind Sky Studios?
Tom: We’ve got a couple of things in mind to focus on next, so it’s just a case of choosing one and knuckling down! One of our up coming titles is adam, you can learn more about it and see some super early alpha gameplay here – http://adamthegame.com/
Initially Adam and Mandagon were worked on simultaneously, and believe it or not, share a few common themes! Although Adam might not be the very next thing we work on, it’s definitely in the pipeline!