Your princess is trapped in a castle. Except, you don't know if she's really your princess, and it doesn't seem as though she wants to be rescued. In fact, she doesn't want you to leave the castle, either. She's running around writing messages on walls. She's setting up traps to stop you from leaving. She's cackling and being a little bit creepy. Meanwhile, you have no idea why you are even in a castle to begin with.
This is the premise of Freedom Fall, a platformer that turns the Rapunzel story on its head and questions what happens when the princess in a story – a character that is usually a damsel in distress – doesn't need rescuing; if the castle is in fact a fortress she uses to imprison others.
"The basic premise for the game's story is a sort of reverse Rapunzel," says the game's creator, Perth-based developer Lisa Rye.
"You've got this character stuck in a tower and you don't really know why or for what reason he's there, but he's got this little princess running around the tower as well. She's keeping you locked in this place and you have to try and figure out what's going on. The story is revealed to you as you make your way down the tower and read the writing on the walls."
"I've been working in the games industry for about five years now and I never felt I was making the games I wanted to play."
Rye wants to explore a game where some stereotypes are followed but others are twisted – to lure players into a false sense of security before subverting what they have come to expect from platformers involving heroes and princesses. She describes Freedom Fall as a passive aggressive game – players can try to escape the castle's tower if they like, but the princess has made it clear that it's not in their best interest to do so.
As someone who has worked in game development for the past five years as a concept artist, Rye says Freedom Fall is the result of her desire to tell a story that isn't commonly told, while also taking ownership of a project from beginning to end.
"One of the things that was kind of frustrating as a concept artist is you draw some pictures and you make concept art and eventually it becomes a 3D model, and you'd wait weeks or months in same cases before you see it in the actual game," Rye tells Polygon. "So the ability to just make something and put it in a game immediately was really interesting for me. I've been working in the games industry for about five years now and I never felt I was making the games I wanted to play, so that's a big thing that gets people into games, the whole idea that you get to make a game you want to play."
"I'll just find myself getting frustrated because you get people making games that could easily have a story in there but they just go for the clichés."
After five years working on other people's games, she decided to tackle Freedom Fall. Having little programming experience, Rye built her first fully-playable prototype in a tool called Construct. She created six levels of puzzles, populated it with her own art, and brought it to local development studio Stirfire, who jumped at the opportunity to help Rye flesh out the game and bring it to a wider audience.
Rye believes that Stirfire came on board because she was able to prove that the concept worked. Rough as the prototype may have been, she was able to communicate her idea and show that a simple game could still be effective. Now she's handling the game's design, all its art, and storytelling, while Stirfire helps her engineer and code.
"I tend to like my games to have character and story that I can get into, and I dont necessarily go for the shoot-em-ups or first-person shooters, which tend to be more mainstream these days," she says. "I wanted to show that even without a lot of programming support and voice acting, you could still tell a story even with a simple game.
"I found that a lot of the games that I played these days, I'll just find myself getting frustrated because you get people making games that could easily have a story in there but they just go for the clichés and they don't really put that effort in. I just wanted to show that you can do that even with a low budget production, or if you're only working on your own."
Rye's creepy princess and Freedom Fall will debut on iOS later this year, with Android, Mac and Windows versions to follow. For more information, visit Freedom Fall.