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Trio of ex-EA Firemint developers shack up and get Framed

Last year three senior game designers from EA's Firemint took the free-fall jump of forming their own indie game development studio.

Last year three senior game designers from EA's Firemint took the free-fall jump of forming their own indie game development studio. Between the three of them they have worked on Spy Mouse, The Movies, Syndicate Wars, Real Racing 2 and 3, and Rolling with Katamari. Six months later, the developers have announced their first game as a new independent studio, Framed.

Speaking to Polygon, the co-founders of Loveshack Entertainment, Joshua Boggs and Adrian Moore, and Framed game designer, Ollie Browne, talk about the intrepid step of striking a new studio and their desire to push creative boundaries.

Framed is a narrative-based puzzle game where players must tweak the story, "a twist on a hard-boiled procedural" and presented in a comic noir style. Boggs explains that the inspiration for the game came from two different sources.

"The concept from Framed came from the idea of having clearly defined actions whose meaning changes based on what came before," he said. "I believe that the context an action happens in is more interesting than the action itself."

"I struggled for a long time to find a mechanic that would naturally let this idea flourish, and it wasn't until I read Scott McClouds' Understanding Comics that it all clicked into place."

Boggs explains they are being diligent about not flogging players with the narrative; their goal is to let it emerge naturally and not "compete" with the gameplay.

"We all love immersive, artistic games that have a simple core mechanic that draws the player in," says Browne. "From a design standpoint, having a simple and elegant mechanic (even if it is really challenging to design levels around!) allows you the luxury of having a core game logic that you can then extend out in many ways to find different means to entertain the player.

"We reckon a good game needs a central hook — something the player instantly understands, but then has the ability to muck around with to create fun."

Where a lot of developers are using crowdfunding sites such as IndieGoGo and Kickstarter to fund the development process, Loveshack have made use of two funding bodies: Screen Australia and Film Victoria.

"This has really helped get the project off the ground, but not without a serious amount of work leading up to the funding coming through," says Ollie. "Even then, and though we're extremely fortunate, it's gonna be a stretch, simply because our production schedule for the game is quite long."

Boggs says that crowdfunding isn't out of the question, but they aware of the fatigue backers are starting to feel towards Kickstarter.

"In the beginning it basically involved me meeting with various potential investors, with literally the game drawn out onto paper."

"It's easy to point to great examples such as FTL and Double Fine as great Kickstarter campaigns that went swimmingly, but doing a crowdfunding campaign isn't a decision we take lightly," he says.

Stripped of the luxury of pitching anonymously to the internet masses for funding, pitching to a room full of strangers is far more intimidating. Boggs explains their pitch process was thrilling and surprisingly low tech: It involved reams of paper and hand drawn stick figures.

"The pitching process was both exciting and sorta scary," says Boggs. "In the beginning it basically involved me meeting with various potential investors, with literally the game drawn out onto paper: square bits of paper cut out as panels, with stickman drawings on them.

"I'd lay out the pieces of paper in front of them, and ask them to complete the level. It was encouraging to see them take part in a pitch that was tactile and interactive and see their faces light up as their imagination ran wild with the different ways something could play out."

Loveshack's final submission was a "tome-like application that you could injure someone with" along with a Game Design Document, business plan, detailed budget, paper prototype and a concept video.

Leaving full-time jobs and creating a game studio would be an overwhelming venture for most people, but the three developers took it in their stride and made it look easy.

"Going out alone has been a blast. I would imagine each of us were wondering what it was going to be like as we'd never experienced having our own development studio before," explains Moore. "It's always easiest to stick to what you know, but that is not always the best way to live. Each of us are working hard to make Framed everything it should be, but we're also enjoying the freedom. No one of us answers to another — we collaborate."

He went on to say that they are not pigeon-holed into a specific role. This freedom allows them to stretch into other areas, for instance, Ollie can explore his artistic talents; Josh has taken on responsibilities beyond his specialties of code, design and production; and where Adrian worked exclusively on game design, he gets to write music and produce sound effects.

"It's our thing, so we have to make it great," says Browne. "Not to say we weren't hard working perfectionist freaks before, but when it's your own [project], of course you're gonna go the extra mile.

"You have to, or you'll look back and wonder why you bothered in the first place. I played in rock bands for years, and it's the same thing. If you have to stay in the studio till 5am to get that vocal just right, you will. Except there's more beer and less ethernet cabling in rock studios."

Framed has been in development for six months. With Loveshack just finishing up Framed's pre-production process and entering full production, they have already gained some important lessons and insights.

Boggs explains that developers believe there is a pitfall of running a business, that it can distract a developer from making the game they want to make.

"You don't need to dilute your work to serve it to a different audience, that would be the worst mistake to make," Boggs. "Make the games you want to make because you yourself are part of a 'target market', and no-one understands it better than you."

"The main one is this: Don't tear up the carpets in your new (old) office looking for syrupy golden hard-wood polished floorboards just days before you have to get cracking on polishing a prototype to show behind doors at a major international game show," warns Browne.

"If you have to stay in the studio till 5am to get that vocal just right, you will. Except there's more beer and less Ethernet cabling in rock studios."

Browne says that the game is written and designed as a standalone product; however, Loveshack can easily build upon it to create episodic content if demand is high enough.

"The design is built around a scene and chapter structure but we've written and designed Framed to be a standalone experience," says Browne. "That said, we've consciously built a game that we can extend beyond that core experience should we feel like it or people want more, even if, in that event, it will likely be a different scenario set in the same universe."

Boggs says that although the team jokes about what is in store for their next project, they want to strive to tickle the player's imagination, instil a sense of wonder. Browne added that their next project may not share Framed's aesthetics or mechanics, but it will be philosophically similar.

"We just want to make games that feel seamless, where the play and the gameworld aren't two separate things," says Browne.

The team will debut Framed on Windows PC and Mac late 2013 followed by an iOS and Android release.

They hope to distribute their title through Steam, App Store, Google Play and even on the inevitable 'interactive lunchbox.'

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