Usually when I think of extremely rich people, I somehow imagine them to be like fictional characters (such as Richie Rich), or even real life playboys (such as Dan Bilzerian). In other words, people who have their act seemingly together and who epitomise all the successful traits that a globe-trotting lifestyle brings with it – such as expensive cars and loose women. So it’s not everyday that one hears about a game where the developers have sought to include a narrative that involves a protagonist by the name of Samuel – an extremely rich kid who, because of his pampered lifestyle, can’t manage to accomplish even the most basic of tasks after he dies, yet is spared by Death on the condition that he lives “manually” for 24 hours.
With such an outlandish plot giving way to gameplay mechanics that are inspired by QWOP, Manual Samuel is clearly not the kind of game that gets a lot of attention from the mainstream media. And whilst Nintendo may often be lauded for their “innovate” approach in repackaging tired 30 year old gameplay mechanics, it’s nice to see an actual small indie developer not having to rely on gimmicky hardware controls in order to serve up an experience that clearly deviates from the norm. As such, Perfectly Paranormal gives legitimate weight to the idea that one can make interesting games without having to entirely reinvent control schemes as part of the established vernacular. Because as the saying goes, a bad workman always blames their tools.
Anyway, I spoke to Ozan Drosdal (Writer and Animator) and Gisle Solvberg (Programmer and Game Designer) about their game and got to ask them as to how their studio – Perfectly Paranormal – was able to gain the interest of Curve Digital – “a British video game development and video game publishing company established in 2005.” As part of our conversation also, I was able to ask the duo as to how their studio operates and how it has been influenced by the Norwegian development scene. Enjoy!
Can I just ask as to what the inspiration was, and what challenges have you had in designing what looks to be quite an unconventional game?
Ozan Drosdal: The seed of inspiration came from a game called Metro 2033.
The first-person shooter game?
Ozan Drosdal: Yeah, the first-person shooter game. In that game, there’s a rifle that you have to do a bunch of stuff to reload. You have to pump it and twist it and do all these little things. And I remember playing it, and I got frustrated from all the things that I had to do manually to reload the rifle. And I was jokingly saying, “What’s the next they’re going to have me do? Blinking and breathing? What is this?” So that’s where the seed of inspiration came from. And we just took it from there.
When was this?
Ozan Drosdal: Two and a half years ago.
So has the game been in production for two and a half years?
Gisle Solvberg: About two years. We started prototyping almost exactly two years ago…
Ozan Drosdal: Yeah. We take storytelling. We want to make the stories as good as possible. So we spent about six months writing the game. We tried to write it like a movie, the way it builds up and stuff. So we spent quite a few months writing the script for the game. And then later we also added stuff where… when you play, there are bits where you go, “Hey, it will be funny if somebody said this there, or someone reacted to him doing something earlier. Then maybe it will come back later.” So it has been a little bit back and forth with writing. But we spent those months writing the initial story.
The game is a lot like a movie. And you refer to Manual Samuel as almost playing like a movie. How long is the game for a conventional player?
Ozan Drosdal: For a conventional player, it can take up to three hours. As developers, we spend about one and a half hours because we don’t mess up that much. A normal player will spend up to three hours doing it. And there are also different game modes. There’s time attack and co-op that might add some gameplay with all the achievements and the collectables and stuff. So you can get some hours out of the game…
Are there branching storylines or is the game a linear experience?
Ozan Drosdal: The story won’t branch. But a lot of the things you do will have small consequences later in the game, like you can do something in the first level and somebody might say something about it later, or there might be a graphical change in the background, or some of the tasks might get slightly easier or slightly harder because of something you did earlier. It’s things like that. But the main story stays the same.
How many people does Perfectly Paranormal consist of?
Ozan Drosdal: We’re six people.
Gisle Solvberg: Yeah, we’re six people.
Ozan Drosdal: We also have a background artist, a character designer, a musician. And then a producer. She basically makes sure that we don’t die.
What do you think attracted Curve Digital towards your project? How were you able to get their attention and their publishing support?
Gisle Solvberg: We were nominated for the Nordic Indie Game sensation at… what’s it called? Nordic Game Conference?
Ozan Drosdal: Yeah, Nordic Game Conference…
Gisle Solvberg: In Malmö, Sweden. So we were nominated for that. And we went, and they had an indie night there where we got to showcase our game. And during that evening, we were approached by, I think, three different publishers. And we were super excited. That stuff had never happened to us before, so that was cool. And then we started mailing back and forth a little bit with Curve. We decided to go with Curve because they were definitely the best.
Ozan Drosdal: They were nice.
Gisle Solvberg: Yeah, we liked them.
Ozan Drosdal: Yeah, we liked them [laughs]. That was the first big event we went to. And the game got a lot of attention there. I guess it catches the eye [laughs].
Manual Samuel isn’t a conventional video game. It’s certainly not the kind of stuff that gets covered by mainstream media, in the UK anyway. Given your Norwegian heritage, how do you think your environment and your upbringing has influenced the development of Manual Samuel? How have you tailored the game towards an international market?
Ozan Drosdal: That’s a good question…
Gisle Solvberg: I can start by answering the international market part. Norway is a small country, so we don’t produce a lot of culture. Most of our culture is imported from – among other countries – UK and America. So that’s where a lot of our culture comes from. We’ve kind of been grown up with that sort of entertainment, so we have a rough idea of how stuff works through that.
And of course we also try to spice it up a little with some specific Norwegian stuff. There is a comment in the game where he mentions that Sam’s vision is blurrier than a Norwegian teenager at a wedding, which is kind of a typical Norwegian wedding [laughs].
Ozan Drosdal: It’s a Norwegian thing. It may not be so much like conventional media, but that’s what we grew up with. So it’s certainly inspired by things that the whole world likes [laughs]. But we didn’t want people with American accents doing American stuff. This is a fictional world. It’s in Norway, but they speak English. The currency they use is Euros. It’s not Dollars or anything like that. So it’s in Europe somewhere. And the names of the characters, there are names that work everywhere, Sam and whatever. But there are also names that exist in Norway, so they could all be Norwegian names. So that is something we thought about when naming the characters. One of the characters is called Ingrid. So we tried to give them as much Norwegian names as possible, but not too obscure for a global audience.
What inspired the game design? It’s not a platforming game. It’s almost like a quick-time game. I know you’ve spoken about how Metro 2033 was a key inspiration. But Metro 2033 is renowned for being a first-person shooter game. And whilst I haven’t gotten that far in Metro 2033, and you’ll have to excuse my ignorance, but that sequence that you’re referring to is probably some minor part of the game…
Ozan Drosdal: Oh yeah.
So for you to use that as a seed for what is essentially a sprawling QTE-based game… Actually, what genre is Manual Samuel a part of?
Gisle Solvberg: Our pitch is QWOP meets Monkey Island. And what QWOP is, it’s a small Internet browser game that was published a few years ago where you have four buttons, one for the upper thighs and one for the lower legs.
A bit like Octodad…
Gisle Solvberg: Yeah, sort of. So you have to control him and make him run along a track. So that’s the QWOP part where you have to do stuff super manually. But the adventure part of it is mostly inspired from games like Monkey Island…
Ozan Drosdal: Monkey Island, other Telltale games, Day of the Tentacle, stuff like that. What we always try to do is if you took the gameplay out, it would be a point-and-click game. You would have to click on the toothbrush and he’d brush his teeth. So we like the way point-and-click games tell a story. And what we try to do is just add something completely new in the way you control the character. That’s what we like to do. When we make another game, we’re going to try to make it so that without the gameplay, it would be a point-and-click game. And we’re going to put in some way of controlling your character that’s going to be new. That’s how we’ll go.
What’s the development scene in Norway like and how supportive has it been towards the development of Manual Samuel?
Gisle Solvberg: The Norwegian game development scene is quite small at the moment. I think the early revenue is about 330 million Norwegian kroner, which is £30-40 million. So it’s quite small, but there’s a huge indie scene developing right now. It has been developing for a few years. You have games like Among the Sleep and…
Ozan Drosdal: Shadow Puppeteer. Klang. So we’re lucky because we live close to a place called Hamar, and that’s a part of a collective called Hamar Game Collective where there’s a collective of different indie developers. And it’s awesome because everybody helps each other with different things, so if we’re bad at making particles, we can have somebody help us from one of the other companies, and we might help them with something. So it’s definitely growing. And Hamar Game Collective too has been growing in the last years. So Norway might not be big, but it has been growing. And there are a lot of cool games coming out from Norway this year and over the next few years. And a lot of cool stuff is being developed now.
What platforms is Manual Samuel coming out on?
Ozan Drosdal: XBox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
Is this Perfectly Paranormal’s first project?
Ozan Drosdal: It’s our first commercial project.
It’s relatively easy to have games released on Steam, but what difficulties have you encountered in getting approval for the game to come out on Microsoft and Sony consoles?
Gisle Solvberg: It’s difficult to answer because most of the console stuff has been on the publisher’s side.
Ozan Drosdal: Yeah, Curve Digital ported the game for us. Personally, we haven’t had any problems. There are some bugs that needed fixing, which we’ve done. And bugs are always nice to fix, so that’s a nice problem.
Manual Samuel, developed by Perfectly Paranormal and published by Curve Digital, will be released on 11 October 2016 for PlayStation 4 and 14 October 2016 for XBox One and Steam.