Scott Benson is a self-taught animator, illustrator, and now bona fide game developer. Back in 2013 he teamed up with Alec Holowka and Bethany Hockenberry to make Night in the Woods. The 2D adventure game raised $209,375 during its Kickstarter campaign. Now that the game is available on Steam and itch.io, fans want to know everything they can about the curious inhabitants of Possum Springs.
In between promoting the game, (and the endless fan art it has spawned) on Twitter, Scott has also been answering anonymous fan questions directly over on Curious Cat. Here’s a few of our favorite insights into what makes Night in the Woods such an amazing experience.
Q: How long has the idea/concept for Night in the Woods been around?
Scott Benson: Since sometime in the late summer of 2013, specifically one weekend late night when I was watching Return Of The Living Dead. I came up with the basic idea/setting/broad strokes of the initial plot, scribbled it and some character sketches down, and sent it to Alec. He was like aw yeah. And we were off to the races.
Evolving After Kickstarter
Q: The Kickstarter page mentions “astral projections,” “another side of town,” and things being different at night. How different is this from the final version of the game? And did any of it influence the final game, or survive in some form?
Scott Benson: Those evolved into what happens at night through most of the game. A lot changed especially in the first year or so as the game was coming together. We’d thought about doing a day/night cycle at one point but it didn’t really work structurally and tbh we’d need a team larger than 3 people to pull that off and make it interesting/full. And Mae’s character changed over time and the game got weirder and more improvisational on our part (especially in that first year), and after a while it became what is was. Or is.
Q: I remember during the Kickstarter you had a stretch goal for “friend quests” which seem to be the majority of the early game and character creation and are GREAT! But I’m wondering what would have happened with the early game/character building if that goal hadn’t been met. So many seem planned from the start. While I’m not that far into the game, it seems like a lot of the best moments came out of these.
Scott Benson: Ooh interesting question. At that early a stage we were still coming up with the structure of the game and the stuff from the Kickstarter was folded into the main design as we were putting it together. Over time the FQ’s ended up absorbing a lot of things we wanted to do in the regular day-to-day stuff. We had some original ideas that didn’t involve them as much, but such things evolve as you go. I mean early on we were like thinking some metroidvania shit or something. Things changed, the game got weirder, and we just followed it where it wanted to go.
Q: Did you guys ever consider having Night in the Woods fully voice-acted? (why didn’t you go with it, if you did?)
Scott Benson: We looked into this at least twice and went all around on it. our main sound designer actually recorded a massive amount of vocalizations for Mae that exist somewhere out there, but the only ones left are the jumping grunts and a few other little bits here and there. In the end it wasn’t feasible production-wise to do (giant script, dozens of characters) and also we felt it was better to have people read it themselves as VO on top of it felt like an extra bit of direction, like paint on top of paint or something. It was a tough call but I’m glad we went text-only.
Q: How deliberate was the choice to keep Mae under 21, and therefore under the legal drinking age?
Scott Benson: 20 is like being 12 again. It’s this transitional state. You’re not a teenager anymore but basically not a full adult. That kind of weird moment where you’re expected to be an adult but no one really thinks you are. It fit with the themes of the game, so we went with it.
What Does It All Mean?
Q: I’m going through Night in the Woods for the third time, realizing how all the dusk stars are metaphors for the situation the town is in, the medium who’s possessed by his own ghost, the seer abandoned by the king because he’s been replaced by something newer, the “big snake” that people rise up against, and then later Mae refers to the highway as a “big snake” in an unrelated conversation… and I get frustrated thinking about how much of this went over the heads of 99% of the people who played the game, people saying the ending was a disappointment and came out of nowhere, as opposed to being a representation of everything the game has been about the entire time, and I guess I just want to know… Is that frustrating to you, too? Or was it worth putting all these subtle messages in there even if nearly everyone misses it? Or what are your feelings about it?
Scott Benson: [[BIG THEMATIC SPOILERS]] When you put something out there you kinda sign up for some frustration, and a lot of it is your own damn fault anyway. Who’s to say we had anything worthwhile to say or if we said it in an effective manner? There are a lot of folks who picked up on a decent amount of what the game was “ABOUT” and that is super rewarding. But also like it’s not people’s jobs to riddle out every little thing in there, and a lot of folks really connected with only one or two threads and had a good experience with it.
Some folks grabbed onto the mental health aspect, some picked up on the economics/politics/etc bits, some found the god stuff interesting, and a lot of folks just had fun hanging around with friends and took the entire thing as being a fun coming of age tale. And some folks figured out how those themes all wove around each other and connected. But all of those possible takes are 100% valid and not like “incomplete” really.
There have been moments of frustration in how some folks interpreted the game, but like I dunno… with the reception it’s gotten nitpicking who did and didn’t pick up on what the game was intended to be about in its fullness feels like demanding something completely unreasonable. Selfish, even. We’ve been extremely fortunate.
I’m very glad you caught the Big Snake thing, BTW. I didn’t think anyone would, really. Nice work.
Q: Was a majority of the delay time polishing the game, fixing glitches, thinking of an ending that works, all 3, or something else?
Scott Benson: The majority of the delay time was just… everything. Part of it was our initial estimate was WAY to little time, and the rest was just announcing another date and then finding that finishing up was gonna take some more months. When you’re making a game, especially a weird one like this that doesn’t have a genre but does have loads of content and experimental stuff, you’re kinda discovering it as it goes. You really are making it up as you go along. So nailing down a really hard and fast schedule to just check off as you go can be really impossible until you’re well into the project. It’s just a reality of game development. Also our team was small (mostly 3 people with some friends helping here and there), so it’s not like we had a 30 person studio to absorb that work… There are only so many hours in the day and there is no one to pass any of that off to. You hit limits and there’s no ability to lift them. So you might have to take a bit more time. It’s really mundane issues, really.
As far as your specific questions- the ending was planned almost since the start and was tweaked and polished down as we went on. It wasn’t a late decision. In fact even how the last convo ends was decided a loooong time ago (and we’re all still really happy with it). The broad strokes of the final act we knew pretty early on.
Bug fixing and polish were an ongoing thing, especially in the final few months. But development isn’t that cut and dry. You’re rarely in a place where there’s a clean cut between “development” and “polish”. You’re doing that as you go.
Q: Are there any plans for the Night in the Woods expansions, like DLC or whatnot?
Scott Benson: It’ll raise the level cap to 60 and there will be mounts.
You can parse through the full list of questions and answers on Scott’s Curious Cat page. It’s also worth following him on Twitter. It’s the best way to learn more about Dark Souls and hear about upcoming Night in The Woods merchandise.