Forrest Dowling on Survival Sim, The Flame in the Flood
with Ahmad Khan
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s not unusual for there to be a glut of survival sims hit Kickstarter in the fall, but the quality of them this year has been impressive. Case in point, The Flame in the Flood by startup developers The Molasses Flood. Helmed by Forrest Dowling, one of the primary figures behind Bioshock Infinite, The Flame in the Flood is a survival game the likes of which we haven’t seen yet. To get more details on the game, and its wildly successful Kickstarter campaign we had a brief chat with Forrest.
Cliqist : Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Forrest Dowling : I’m Forrest Dowling, the lead designer on The Flame in the Flood. Previously, I was the Lead Level Designer on BioShock Infinite, and was a level designer at Kaos Studios, before it was closed.
Cliqist : Tell us a little about The Molasses Flood? What’s the story behind the name?
Forrest Dowling : The Molasses Flood is the studio formed by a number of former AAA developers. We formed after some of us lost our jobs, but wanted to keep working together in Boston, where we all live. As we were searching for a name, there were a few things we wanted. It needed to be unique and memorable. We wanted something that tied into local history. We wanted a name that expressed the sort of work we wanted to do, and our ideals. We value the things one learns when looking to history for ideas. As we were researching local history, we were reminded of the molasses flood, an event that occurred in Boston’s north end neighborhood. A giant molasses tank burst, flooding the streets, and leaving the north end smelling of molasses for the rest of the year. It’s a story that’s initially pretty funny to imagine… a tidal wave of molasses flowing through the streets, but it also is really grim once you look into it. People lost their lives, there was a huge amount of property damage. It ended up precipitating regulatory change to help prevent similar accidents in the future. We felt like it was an amazing story, and is the type of story we’d love to tell in our own work. It’s funny but weird, and has a really dark side once you scrape the surface a bit. We were a little worried about the reception, but everyone we’ve told about it in Boston loves it, loves the reference, and loves the link to local Boston lore.
Cliqist : Please explain in your own words what kind of game is The Flame in the Flood?
Forrest Dowling : The Flame in the Flood is a game about survival against the elements. It’s inspired by real life survival situations, and the journey one takes when attempting to flee an inhospitable wilderness. A lighter take is that it’s Toobin’ meets The Oregon Trail, an arcade rafting game coupled with a difficult survival sim, in which you can lose from crashing into rocks in the rapids, or from dysentery contracted by drinking dirty water.
Cliqist : What video-game, film, literature or artwork do you believe influenced The Flame in the Flood?
Forrest Dowling : The Flame in the Flood is based on a huge amount of different references. The biggest may be Beasts of the Southern Wild, which nailed exactly the sort of tone and imaginative take on a place that we are striving to achieve. Mud is another great reference for tone, as is True Detective, the HBO series.
As far as art goes, our number one influence is the personal work of our art director, Scott Sinclair, who has a large body of personal painting and illustration outside of his work on games like BioShock. We have stacks of art books around the office as well, including many books on classic sign painting, and the paintings of David Hockney.
We’re also influenced by music. Obviously the work of Chuck Ragan is huge. We wanted to build a world that fit with some of the most American forms of music, bluegrass, country, the sort of music that feels like something a pickup band would play with each other out in the country.
Cliqist : Can you give a general break down on how the funds collected from the Kickstarter would be used?
Forrest Dowling : We’ve been asked quite a bit, and will be posting a pie chart for folks who like that sort of thing in an upcoming update.
The breakdown is as follows:
- 32% – Taxes & Fees
- 24% – development costs & content (art, programming, design)
- 20% – Office costs, software, administrative costs
- 11% – reward fulfillment
- 9% – music
- 4% – shows, conventions
An important caveat to remember is that based on where people pledge, those percentages can move around a little bit. For example if no one pledged at a tier with anything physical, the reward cost would go down. Our numbers are based on what we gathered as an average distribution based on other similar projects, and we keep a spreadsheet updated as pledges come in so we stay on top of the distribution. This is also based on the initial $150,000 goal. Some costs are fixed, like administrative costs, so if we exceed our goal that percent would shrink, and we can spend a larger percent on development.
Cliqist : What made you decide to launch a Kickstarter project for The Flame in the Flood at this time?
Forrest Dowling : While looking at different funding options, we saw 3 main ways to go: private investor, publisher, or crowd funding. Of the three, crowd funding was the most desirable, as we’re going straight to the people we’re making the game for. It keeps the relationship between ourselves and our audience. As far as the timing, we launched as soon as we felt we could with a clear vision for the game. We do need funding to complete the game, so we wanted to know sooner than later how we were going to achieve it.
Cliqist : For The Flame in the Flood you choose the Unreal Engine 4, any particular reason you picked this one over the likes of Unity or Gamestart?
Forrest Dowling : Our choice of engine was based largely on our own experience. Collectively, we have decades of experience making games with Unreal. We knew that art was going to be an important component, and felt that Unreal would give us the most out of the box to help us realize the vision for the art.
Cliqist : What kind of difficulty level can gamers expect in The Flame in the Flood, would there be settings for both casual and hardcore gamers?
Forrest Dowling : As far as difficulty goes, it has been our goal to make a difficult hardcore game, that takes gamers a long time to master. That being said, we’re seeing a lot of people backing us that are saying they’ve not played a game in years, so we’re looking at ways that we could support an experience for people who just want to see the art and world. The hard core gamer is our primary focus, of course, and we won’t be compromising that goal. We may look at adding an optional easy mode for people, but there are no solid plans for anything like that yet.
Cliqist : What kind of game length(hours of gameplay) has Molasses Flood planned for The Flame in the Flood?
Forrest Dowling : Our goal is to make a game that people play for tens or even hundreds of hours as they attempt to master it, however once a player has mastered the systems, we expect a full run through to be doable in a sitting. The precise length will be variable based on feedback we get from players as we develop the game.
Cliqist : Would you be offering DRM-Free copies as pledge/add-on for backers that might request them?
Forrest Dowling : We’ve been investigating it with potential partners, and it’s extremely likely.
Cliqist : Apart from PC and MAC what other platforms are you planning to bring The Flame in the Flood to?
Forrest Dowling : Long term we’d love to have the game on as many platforms as possible. Initially, our campaign is only focused on PC and Mac.
Cliqist : For those people who are unable/unwilling to pledge through Kickstarter, would you be offering alternative means of donating to the The Flame in the Flood project?
Forrest Dowling : We’ve been investigating alternative pledging options, as it seems like a lot of people without credit cards are interested in helping out. Hopefully we’ll have more news on that soon.
Thanks to Forrest for taking the time to answer my questions! Be sure to head over to the Flame in the Flood Kickstarter page for more information. If you’d like to track the progress of the games’ Kickstarter you can check out our Campaign Calendar.