The Next Big Indie: An Interview With Bishop Games

Vince Ingenito from IGN said this game “stopped me in my tracks” and Spencer Campbell from Hardcore Gamer called it the “most promising indie at PAX south”. So what is the indie game that has people buzzing about it before it’s even released?

Light Fall.

I reached out to Bishop Games to talk to them about their first endeavor, a platform game inspired by the likes of Bastion and Super Meat Boy. However, the inspiration took on a mind of its own as Bishop Games worked in fascinating game lore and exciting new playing mechanics.

Today, February 27th 2015, is the day that Light Fall is on Steam Greenlight. Check out the trailer and interview below, then make sure to look for it in Steam Greenlight and vote YES!

How did you meet and what was the point where you realized you wanted to collaborate together?

Ben : Math, our artist, and I are childhood friends. We met when we started high school and have mostly kept the same circle of friends since then. Last year, Math had just graduated from his Animation and Art Science major and was trying to learn programming as well to start his own game, but that was too much for him. A friend of [ours], who also knew David since childhood, introduced him to Math. They met at a local bar, hit some beers and talked video games. After a few back and forth, they agreed to start working on a project together. David had worked in big studios before but really wanted to start his own thing. As for me, I joined them a few weeks after. Thinking back, it was really a perfect timing for all the parties involved.

What’s funny is that David went to the same high school as us, but in a different program so we had never met each other despite being the same age and going to the same school. Small world.

I’ve read that Bishop Games is named for two parts, one is after the “mad scientist” Walter Bishop from Fringe and the other is the bishop chess piece. As a Fringe fan I have to ask, why do each of you identify with Walter Bishop in particular? (Please tell me you have a cow in your studio.)

Math : Just before we started the company, I had just binge watched all seasons of Fringe. For me, the highlight of the show truly was John Noble as Walter Bishop (not Walternate, nope…). His play was amazingly moving and funny, but the character itself was really inspiring. Desire to think outside the box and desire to learn constantly both represented the attitude we wanted to have as indie game developers. And who doesn’t want a little madness sparkled there and then (we will buy our own lab cow as soon as we can).

How would you describe Light Fall’s gameplay experience and what most inspired the gameplay and storyline of Light Fall?

Ben : What I like to tell people when they ask me this is imagine if Limbo, Super Meat Boy and Bastion had a child together… this is what we’re trying to do with Light Fall. Although it doesn’t really make sense, this is the most accurate way to describe our game. We are huge fans of platformers and huge fans of the three games mentioned above.

We try to inspire ourselves from these three amazing games, then add our own twist on it. We want Light Fall to offer its own spin on the platforming genre.

For the story, well it all started from this initial concept we had. A world permanently shrouded in darkness, where it’s always night. You know how dark colors are usually associated with villains and the light is usually pure. Well, we wanted to do the opposite. In Light Fall, everything that is beautiful will probably try to kill you!

So, starting from this concept, we built up the story one sentence at a time. We created the world of Numbra, added regions, characters, depth to the story and here we are now.

Each of you focus on different parts of Light Fall. Which aspect are you personally most proud of?

Ben : I am proud that we are able to share and convey this immersive feeling that we have imagined since the beginning. With the story, the art, the music, the narration, you feel apart of Numbra and that’s what makes me proud.

Math : I am proud that people actually had fun playing with the Shadow Core. When we first had this idea, we knew we had something cool, but in a game cool just doesn’t cut it, it has to be fun. So when we first put it the hand of players and they started jumping around smiling, it was a really good feeling.

David : As the programmer on the team, I’d say that the most complex piece of the game is the Shadow Core. We knew what we wanted it to do, but we didn’t know how it should work. We’ve been through a LOT of iterations to figure it out. Some solutions took weeks to implement, just to find out that we have to trash them because they’re not good enough. I had to use every single bit of stubbornness inside me to make it through that hard road and my mom could tell you: I have a lot of it.

Does Light Fall’s have any influences outside of the gaming realm? (Close friends, fictional characters, mythology, or movies/books?)

Ben : It does. I think it’s quite the task to not be influenced by anything else when you’re creating something. Creation requires inspiration, and inspiration often comes from other things that already exist.

We try to create our own lore, mythology and symbolism, though. We also have made some nods to people we know in real life. One boss, for example, is named after my bro’s nickname.

For the names of the characters, a lot of them are inspired from the Latin language.

What inspired the seemingly complex and imaginative Shadow Core and why do you think it is a unique addition to this genre of game?

Ben : Well, at first the Shadow Core was not planned. It came along the way, during the development of the game. We would submit Light Fall to different indie contests, and obviously, we would never win. We would look up the winners every time and they always had something unique, something that stood out that would make you go ‘’Woah, of course they won!’’

I mean, our game was decent before the Shadow Core. But it was just another random platformer that didn’t bring anything new and fresh to the genre. We came up with the Shadow Core in an answer to this problem. The main character is very agile, he can jump so high, sprints fast, he can wall grab, etc. We wanted to add a game mechanic that would enhance even more the liberty of movement that the player would experience. After many failures, we finally have a version of the Shadow Core we are satisfied with.

Math : It came down to a really simple question in fact. When brainstorming for that player mechanic to make the game stand out, we went through it all : teleport, exploding ball, ghost double… In the end we sat down and asked ourselves : what if, in a platformer, you could have your own platform? After testing it, we realised that not only does it free the player movement, but it also frees the level design. Empowering the player allows us to be really unique in the way we layout the levels, so it’s a win-win!

David: At some point we realized that the game was a lot about freedom. Running and jumping were already fun, but we figured we could increase this feeling if we had the Shadow Core. We’ve gone through a lot of iterations to reach the current state of this magical block. If you watch our older videos of the game, you’ll see that it changed a lot, and we’re not done yet!

This question is more geared towards Math, but I welcome everyone’s input. There are a lot of iconic symbols and imagery in Light Fall such as the Shadow Core, an owl (Stryx), rising full moon, triangles, and open eyes. Each piece of art I’ve seen of Light Fall seems to have a very intentional meaning and is illustrated flawlessly. What was the process in taking symbols from real life and transferring them to be symbols that convey the story of a completely new world? Do you think you accomplished your goal in doing so?

Math : Our mindset was to build an old world in which Light Fall was only the latest happening. Even though we might not show it all in the game, we created an alphabet, a pantheon of gods, a history of the nations and continents and all the visual elements of the game hint at this lore.

A lot of research went into extinct civilizations and especially their religious iconography. Most of them embraced simplicity in both shapes and colors, thus the general aesthetic of Light Fall. I can’t say everything was a conscious choice, but we definitely wanted that vibe of a primitive cult in the game.

So far, we’ve received really positive feedback about the visuals and the general immersion. I can only guess the symbols in Light Fall worked their way to people’s mind, so it’s mission accomplished for now. We just have to keep surprising them with fresh visual stuff throughout the final game ^^

What were the musical and vocal inspiration for Light Fall? After working so hard on the writing, art, and programming of the game, how did it feel to see it come to life with sound?

Ben : We are very fortunate to work with such talented and wonderful people for the music and the voice-acting. The music is done solely by Jean-Philippe Tessier, a friend of us that also lives in Quebec City. He is a genius, in my opinion. With the limited knowledge he has of the game he always hits the perfect mood we want to create. We try to keep him updated as much as we can on the game and story, but he is very busy and so are we. We gave him free rein for the music, with some basic guidelines to help him know what type of emotions we were trying to convey at this particular moment/level.

For the voice-acting, the game’s narrator (Stryx the Night Owl) is voiced by Mr. Tim Simmons. We found out about Tim when we were googling voice-actors. We listened to his demo reel and we knew he was the guy.

These two elements are pivotal in creating the immersive atmosphere of Light Fall. So, obviously, when we first got the music and narration for the first time we were thrilled!

JP: Hi, I’m the composer for the game and the guys told me about your question, so I figured I could give you a quick answer.

When the time comes to start the creation of a new track for Light Fall, I begin my inspiration process with the art of the level. It’s usually very evocative of the intent of the level and it also tells a lot about the mood. I also make sure that I know about the story that is happening in this level. For example, the second level has the purpose of presenting the different gods of Numbra to the player, therefore I used more chorales and adapted the melodies.

As you know, Light Fall is an immersive game in which the player needs to be focus. In this kind of games, the music will usually have a lot of power over the player to grasp his attention. To achieve that, I use a nice trick to manipulate your brain. I use a lot of different instruments at the same time, I add chorales and create complex melodies on purpose. Sometimes, I even play multiple melodies at the same time. With this level of complexity, your brain is required to be focus to understand and enjoy the game. It can’t focus at what’s happening around you in the real world at the same time, it would be too much.

Maybe one day I’ll have my own army of zombies that I control with my music!

As you may know from my blog, it’s my personal mission to spread awareness about cyberbulling and promote a better attitude towards each other as gamers. As a female gamer, I’ve experienced this first hand and understand how toxic cyberbullying can be. Do you have anything to say to gamers, streamers, and those who dream about creating games who experience cyberbullying because of their gender, appearance, orientation, race, or age and become disheartened or depressed as a result?

Ben : Cyberbullying has indeed became quite serious in the recent years. I think back when I was a kid, of course there was bullying, but it was done at the park or at the bus stop. Now it’s done on Facebook or Twitter or whatever, and it stays and spreads much more.

I think it happens to everyone to be mad sometimes playing videogames, especially competitive multiplayer games. It can be easy to yell or insult someone. I guess my advice to everyone is just remind yourself that there’s a real person behind that internet nickname/pseudonym. And to the victims, just keep your chin up. The only opinion you should be concerned about is your own when it comes to your life.

Math : I think the best way to work your way through online comments is to give each of them as much thought as people put into writing them. From what I’ve seen, most are impulsive. Some are positive, some are negative but they are written in a second without too much thought put into. Just pass over them and focus on more emotional or reasonable messages. When people take some more time to write, positive becomes inspiring and negative becomes constructive. These are the comments that should turn around in your head.

David: I’ve been playing some Dota 2 lately and toxic behaviour is frequent. I found a couple tricks to have a better experience though. First, I always start a game with a nice “Hi” and try to chat a bit with the people on the team. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like doing just that increases my enjoyment of the game. I like to believe that people are nicer to me because I interacted a bit with them. Also, when someone does have a toxic behaviour, just pointing it out to them is often useful. My catch phrase is “You seem tense”. For some reason, I find making this statement very funny. Sometimes people are just not aware that they are being a bully and making them reflect on their behaviour can help. Of course, some of them just get angrier when I do that, but at that point I usually laugh and keep having fun. Maybe at that point I become the bully, but don’t tell anyone!

And last, but certainly not least, what should we expect from Bishop Games in the future?

Ben : Well, for Light Fall, there are some things coming up. We are attending PAX East, so if you’re also attending come say hi (booth #5201)! We’re also launching our Steam Greenlight campaign on February 27. Following PAX East, a Kickstarter will probably hit the internet (mid-March), so if you like the game, keep an eye out I guess. We’ve also recently been approved by PlayStation, so we’re working on things that I can’t talk about haha.

After Light Fall, who knows? We’d like to keep making games, we’ll see if Light Fall is successful or not.

Math : The indie world has been really kind so far. Both players and developers love this new world of video games and take care of it. I think we’ll stick around for a while and enjoy the ride.

David : We’re betting a lot on Light Fall and the passion, the fans and the fun we have making it are the things that keep us going. Like the guys said, our goal with Light Fall is to sell enough copies so that we can make another game.

I hope it will happen because there are a lot of interesting aspects of games to explore. I’d like to see more games talking about some extreme conditions of the human experience, but these subjects are often difficult to tackle. Torture, religious extremism and suicide are the items of a very long list of items we should be more open to talk about. I’d like to get people, including myself, to understand them better and I believe that video games have this power. Maybe we’ll go down that road one day, who knows?