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Sunday, 1 September 2013

The inner ramblings of a video gamer interviews indie developer Kitatus Studios about their up and coming horror game Shadow Peak.


"Kitatus Studios plan to put the Video back into video-gaming with the announcement of
Shadow Peak."

Recently I had the privilege of conducting an exclusive, in depth interview with UK based indie developer Kitatus Studios, where I was offered a sneak peak into the world of their up and coming Horror videogame Shadow Peak. The game is the companies first project upon forming but many of their members have prior experience in videogame development, Shadow Peak is (among many other things) an attempt at reviving the long forgotten, and in many cases often looked down upon FMV (Full Motion Video) point and click genre, that was first popularised in the late 80's early 90's. By using modern day technology coupled with innovative techniques they hope to bring the FMV genre into the 21'st century.

Prior to the interview I had an extensive conversation with "Ryan" one of the lead developers at Kitatos Studios, where he let me in on a few of the secrets surrounding Shadow Peak. Without revealing any "spoilers" I can tell you that the game has a lot of real world history woven into it, and that has a great deal to do with how the town of Shadow Peak became the way it is.

Check out the interview below, along with some exclusive Shadow Peak artwork and soundtracks.
Artwork of Shadow Peak protagonist "Frank Dawkins"


Artwork of "Skye" aka Frank Dawkins fiance.





Shadow Peak soundtrack: Creepy Atmosphere.mp3



Shadow Peak soundtrack: Ominous ambience.mp3



Shadow Peak soundtrack: Tidy Tension.mp3



Shadow Peak soundtrack: Waiting room.mp3


(This Interview was conducted over Skype chat.)

TIR: Hello.

KS: Hello there.

TIR: So, I'm speaking with Ryan of "Kitatus Studios" is that correct?

KS: Yes, but obviously because I have more of a London accent I pronounce the (ta) in "Kitatus" as tay.

TIR: Oh right.

KS: Yeah, that's how it's pronounced (Laughs)

TIR: (Laughs)

TIR: So first off, tell me a little about your company Kitatus Studios, and the people involved in creating Shadow Peak?

KS: I started college doing networking in IT - which was fun - and I met people there which had been gamers all their life like myself, we've always said "one day we'll make a videogame" I went on to learn animation at university just to learn how animation works, and it came to the point were I came home from university for about a couple of months, and I was thinking "I think that I could make something that people would enjoy" I used to be a writer and that was all about writing for the "people" but the games we play today, a lot of them are games for the "gamers" there's nothing made recently from the people themselves, for themselves, and for the people to see. The only game I know of recently is from Team Meat who worked on Super Meat Boy, and you can see themselves in that game and Braid as well, which are all indie games.

KS: I started off making games with Flash, at about 12 or 13 years old, and they were only little games but I gained more knowledge, I learnt Unity, UDK, developing my skills until I thought I was ready to make videogames. But obviously you can't make them by yourself , so I was very, very lucky to have friends that were all dedicated to creating videogames one day. And about a year ago I was throwing around ideas of actually making the jump at creating videogames, I dropped out of University and started a full time job to help fund making videogames, and about April time this year we began work on Shadow Peak - which was fun - and it manifested so much that about a month ago I had to quit my job, which was a huge risk, in order to bring the game to life.

It was at that time when I quit my job that I realised "this was really happening" so I got all my friends together that said "one day we'll get together and make a videogame" and we were throwing names around for the company, I think the original name was "Impulse entertainment" but now we've settled on "Kitatus" which is Latin for fast, fun and creative.

TIR: I was going to ask where you got that name from, it sounded Japanese to me at first. I had no idea it was Latin.

KS: Yeah, well in Latin Kitatus is spelt with a C "Citatus" and I thought that was too random sounding, so like with most cool things we whacked a K on it, not to sound as if "were cool" but it just sounds more "unique" it fits us as a development team so to speak.

TIR: So, moving on. The FMV point and click genre has been somewhat absent from videogaming for a while now, why is it that you chose to develop an FMV point and click game over a more popular gameplay style?

KS: When I was a lot younger I used to play Full Motion Videogames, like "Under A Killing Moon" "The 7th Guest" and "Dark Seed", it's something about Full Motion Videogames that hasn't been used in many years. It's just, you have nothing but the actors performance to work off, I mean you have games now like "LA Noire" But the characters walk around like robots, and for the story of Shadow Peak it's all about how you would feel about a character, I mean you could do it in 3D, you could do it in a cartoon style, but it wouldn't feel as real as it does with actual actor using Full Motion Video. Something that hasn't been done in years, but using it now obviously sets our game apart from games like Super Meat Boy, it sets us apart from Call Of Duty, it gives a unique style and atmosphere to the game. As soon as you play a Full Motion Video game you can see, you feel the atmosphere even if it's not a scary Full Motion Videogame, an FMV with a creepy atmosphere and the actors performances would just be perfect today. But back in the day obviously they had inferior technology,  I mean they pulled it off but most FMV games have not aged well at all, where as with the technology that even Youtube channels have today, like the literary Youtube channels, the lighting, the cameras, the crews, you can make an amazing looking Full Motion Videogame even with next to no budget, something that years ago would have cost thousands if not millions to do.

TIR: Could you tell me a little about the plot and story of Shadow Peak?

KS: Well in Shadow Peak you play a guy called Frank Dawkins, who's just a middle aged writer, nothing too special about him, I mean he's had problems but he deals with them as best he can. Anyway he gets a phone call from his long distance fiance Skye (They've been having troubles at the time) about her brother who's been murdered, so obviously she's in bits and she'd like Frank to come to Shadow Peak where her brother had lived before being murdered, so he can survey the body. Frank hasn't visited the town in many, many years. The reasons aren't explained at the beginning of the plot but as the story unfolds you begin to figure out why this is.

TIR: So there's a bit of intrigue there as to why Frank hasn't visited the town of Shadow Peak until now?

KS: Exactly, and as soon as he gets there, Skye - his fiance that is - is missing, and being set in the early 90's there's no cellphones like today that are in popular circulation, so there's no way for him to get hold of her, so he is left to his own devices while searching the town of Shadow Peak. This is when he starts to realise that something's up, it's a kind of a mystery as to what's going on in the town at first but Frank passes it off as just bad dreams, bad things happening. But then the towns folk start to kind of reject him, they start to view him as a kind of outcast even though they seemed to accept him when he first arrived there, so he's trying to make sense of everything and trying to find his fiance at the same time. Also, something happens that I can't say right now...

TIR: Ah, a bit of mystery?

KS: Exactly, which throws the world Frank knows into this kind of constant world of danger., no matter where he is or what he's doing he is in constant danger, so he starts to get extremely scared for his life and not knowing where his fiance is, is adding to the tension, until... I can't say anymore, but "something" happens.

TIR: OK, that all sounds very interesting. So moving on again, are there any videogames or movies in particular that helped inspire the creation of Shadow Peak?

KS: There are a few actually,  I mean when you first play the game you'll know straight away that there's a lot of Silent Hill in there, it's kind of a hybrid of Silent Hill meets Twin Peaks, but we do have a littering of things such as the terrible Disney move "Haunted Mansion" and even music. We reference a lot of music in the world, music has shaped what Shadow Peak has become, I mean we're hoping to name a hotel "Hotel California" just as a little nod to one of the inspirations to the project, because hearing that song really triggered Shadow Peak to become what it is now, it is a big part of the inspiration.

TIR: So the song Hotel California offered a lot of inspiration then?

KS: Definitely, I would say the main inspiration would be Hotel California and obviously Twin Peaks which is in the name, just as an isolated town in the middle of nowhere, where everything is not really as it seems.

TIR: It's funny because I've spoken to a few people I know about Shadow Peak, and upon hearing the name they often immediately jumped to thinking, Silent Hill.

KS: Which is perfect, it's what we want because with Silent Hill as soon as you hear the name you think creepy, isolated, alone, kind of a messed up town. Which is what Shadow Peak is, under the skin, but going into it (if you've never played Silent Hill) you won't expect it which is a good thing, or you'll go into it expecting exactly what you think would happen, which is what we're hoping because if you go in expecting Silent Hill you're in for an interesting surprise.

TIR: I see, that sounds very interesting.

TIR: OK, next question. Ambiance is a very important factor in creating a horror game, in what ways will you be going about creating the atmosphere and tension needed to put your audience on edge?

KS: Well, we've got the upper hand with being a Full Motion Videogame, so straight away when you look at Shadow Peak you'll feel as if something's not right, but you can't make a game just on looks so taking into account FMV and the decor of the town, it immediately feels off, and taking both into account we sprinkle a very, very subtle soundtrack over the top which makes you feel uneasy, which makes you feel like you don't want to be where you are right now, so you'll be constantly hunting for areas that have a much lighter soundtrack.

TIR: That seems like an intriguing element..

KS: Yeah, definitely. I mean it's like you've got a tool to control the player without making them feel like they're being controlled, why not use it? With the soundtrack as well we hope to, not direct players on what to feel, we hope to do the opposite, but not in  cases where you'll walk into somewhere with a really happy song, but more in the sense that for example, somebody is talking and you can feel the tension building even though there's no need for the tension to be there, just to keep the audience on edge. Also, like where you're running for your life and there's nothing, no soundtrack, as apposed to what most other games do and have the soundtrack come in when you're being chased, just to show that something isn't right and that you're in danger because of the lack of noise beforehand.

KS: Also we've got other elements such as the NPC's (Non player characters) playing into the atmosphere,  we've got your stereotypical townsfolk, but then we've got people that don't originally seem right but more reason than one. It's really hard to explain without spoiling everything, but people that you encounter have a different side to them that isn't necessarily good or bad.

TIR: So a lot of the characters have extra layers?

KS: Definitely, and these extra layers help to put the player on edge because you never know what layer you're dealing with when talking to them., which sounds mysterious right now.

TIR: It sure does, I'm looking forward to finding out what you mean by that.

KS: Fantastic. And once the player has explored the town and gotten closer and closer to uncovering it's secrets, it will make complete sense.

TIR: Why is it that you chose to use real actors as apposed to sprites or 3D models?

KS: That's simply because they can't give us the performance we want. I know people say this all the time but you really can't get the same performance of real actors from 3D models, you can do motion capture but it gives a robotic feel to everything, I mean when all the acting is in the face then you can do something like LA Noire, where you get the perfect face but get a robotic body, that's really jarring. Where as if you use actors as apposed to sprites you're getting "true acting" It's what they do, they act, and you get the true performance in the face. I mean you could draw a sprite but that doesn't convey the emotion behind it as easily as real actors, it doesn't have the movement like a real actors because you have to emulate the movement. Where as with an actor it's real movement, you get the pure unfiltered movement and emotions, and that's something that helps bring the creepy side of the town out and the realistic side, it grounds it in reality enough to make it a kind of believable story.

TIR: So you chose to use real actors because you feel they can convey emotions and feelings better than you could get with 3D models or 2D sprites?.

KS: Exactly, yes.

TIR: That makes sense in terms of what you're trying to achieve.

TIR: All right, so moving on. Are you incorporating any new gameplay mechanics or video capturing and rendering techniques in your game?

KS: Obviously compared to old FMV games, we've got so much, so much technology these days. I mean Red Cameras aren't nearly as expensive as they were back in the day, lighting is a fraction of the cost of what it used to be too, actors as well. Performance is no longer doing cheesy, waving your arms to get someone's attention, or making a huge movement with your head just to wink, it's all about subtlety now because it's become so precise. Games like The 7th Guest where the resolution used to be, I think 640/480 which is the tiniest screen if you think about it, when you blow it up that is so pixelated, where as now we can shoot at  4K resolution and scale it down if we have to, as apposed to upscaling everything.

KS: At this time we're not ready to announce our gameplay mechanics, we have so many secrets up our sleeves and really don't want to spoil the surprise.

TIR: Fair enough. So moving on again, who are your intended target demographic? For example are you aiming to appeal to old-school fans of the FMV point and click genre, or are you hoping to appeal to as wide an audience as possible?

KS: Well, we're obviously aiming towards the FMV audience of old, but we're not solely aiming for them, I mean it would be nice for old-school FMV fans to see a new product incorporating their favourite genre, but we want to kind of bring it into reality and at the same time bring in people who want a  deep story, but also fun gameplay, it's such a delicate balance between the two and a lot of games get it right but a lot more games get it wrong. We believe we've got a nice balance that will attract people that normally wouldn't tread the waters of games such as Full Motion Videogames, but by seeing the world and the creepiness of  Shadow Peak, they will be drawn to the concept and then find themselves fans of the FMV genre. Hopefully.

TIR: Yeah, hopefully. I mean your game Shadow Peak, if successful may actually open up an entire new genre or at the very least revitalise the FMV genre for the current gen.

KS: Exactly, and that's what we're hoping to do, we're hoping to bring it back to be honest. It's a good genre, but in it's original run it was hit by so many hurdles and barriers that it became a genre that a lot of people look down on, where as now we've got the technology, we've got the minds to create the FMV's as they should have been, and why not?

TIR: Why not indeed. In the games industry today there's still so much left untapped, yet so many genres and sub genres, why not bring back a classic like the FMV point and click genre.

KS: Exactly, and do it right too because, well I'm not gonna lie there are so many FPS's these days that you literally only have to search for a short while on the Internet to find a brand new one, it's the same for a lot of indie games too, they create really good experiences but they have this art style that I've noticed that makes many of them look, well they look like they're becoming carbon copies of themselves. It's only little hints at the moment but that's how it starts, it's like with Braid if you look at the art style it's very unique, very drawing, but you start to get hints of the same animation styles, and the same art style appearing in other indie games. Because it's successful other people like to emulate it.

TIR: That's true, if something's popular people will often think "we can earn money by offering a similar product".

KS: Exactly. And so we thought we've got an idea for a game, we could make it a platformer, we could make it whatever we want, but nothing would draw a new audience in more than a completely new looking game from a genre that hasn't been around for years and years. We want to bring new audiences and old audiences together, to experience something that wasn't possible back in the day, something that really shows how far we've come in the world. That a group of wannabe indie developers have been working hard just to bring this one project to life, a project which seems impossible for even triple-A developers purely because they can't be bothered to spend time or take risks on Full Motion Videogames.

TIR: There is a big issue in the games industry today where we see a lot of "cookie cutter" videogames being released.

KS: Yeah, it's kind of like why cookie cut? I mean it makes money yeah, and that keeps the triple-A studios happy, but we're starting to see indie games "cookie cut" each other now, and that completely undermines the point of what indie gaming is, the indie game is about expressing yourself, it's about pushing the boundaries, it's about creating something that nobody would have experienced if you didn't exist. So if you're copying each other it's just missing the point.

TIR: On what platforms are you planning on making Shadow Peak available?

KS: At the moment the planned platforms are PC, Mac and Linux. We are planning later down the line, if the reception is good and if we think it would makes sense, to port Shadow Peak over to the iPhone, iPad, Window's phone and  Android phone, that's on the cards but still very much up in the air at the moment, it's not on the table because we're still very unsure if FMV games would work well on mobile devices. So we're looking at it but we're just not ready to make the jump yet.

TIR: So then, if Shadow Peak is successful you may be willing to port it to other platforms such as mobile devices?

KS: Yeah, so as to expand our audience. People who might not have touched a computer in years, will be able to - on their phone - relive memories of the FMV games of old, and for people who are sitting in bed bored they can jump into the world of Shadow Peak. Basically we want to make it an alternative to reading a book before you go to sleep, or watching a movie, you can play Shadow Peak, get sucked in and before you know it it's  6:00 am in the morning.

TIR/KS (Laughs)

TIR: That sounds like a good book (Laughs)

KS: Tell me about it, a lot of words.

TIR: And finally, is there anything else you as the developer would like to say about your project, that I might not have asked already?

KS: At the moment a lot of people have been gaining interest in the project, but they haven't actually seen anything of it yet. A lot of people have been circulating screenshots for the game "Night trap" which is nice of them, but... This game isn't Night trap (Laughs)

TIR: So you're saying there's some misinformation that's come about due to those screenshots?

KS: Definitely, and I just wanna clear that up. At the moment we haven't released any concept art or anything apart from those that hopefully we'll be releasing on your blog, which is the exclusive place for the concept art, there is nowhere else you'll see it unless someone copies it from your blog.

KS: Night trap is not Shadow Peak, Shadow Peak is as different to Night trap as possible, it's just using the same ideas behind Full Motion Video. Shadow Peak is not even anything close to Night trap, it's been nice that people have been associating it with Night trap but it's not ideal. If you want to check out games like Shadow Peak I would play Dark Seed II, or Phantasmagoria, and even Silent Hill just to get a feel for the game. Night trap was Cheesy as anything and Shadow Peak is the complete opposite. (Laughs)

KS: We're not going for "Cheesy" like old FMV games, we're going for a real story with real people in a messed up world. FMV games won't be Cheesy anymore hopefully, we hope to get rid of this whole stereotype and bring the genre into the 21'st century, I mean every genre of games has pretty much grown up now but FMV's have been left behind for some reason, so we want to be the ones to heard it into the modern age. We want to one day, hopefully bring these games back because they were really good, just so flawed.

TIR: That was an issue for quite a few games back in the day, where they had a lot of potential but technically they just weren't there yet, it just wasn't possible to do the original idea justice.

KS: Exactly, for some reason when it came to genres like FPS's they were good, they were flawed but people kept working on them so now they're really good, platformer games they were good, they were hardly flawed but people kept working on them too so now their freaking amazing like today. And you've got so many other genres, the Puzzle genre has grown so much, the Beat 'em up genre also and fighting games whoa! Then you've got FMV games just left to gather dust, because they weren't done right, they weren't done as well as they could have been back in the day and nobody bothers touching them now. Which is why we want to smoother our hands all over it and and sculpt something amazing for everyone. (Laughs)

TIR: Would you say that FMV games were left in the dust so to speak, because of all the technical limitations at that time?

KS: Definitely, and I think the technical limitations at the time put a great many people off.  I think a lot of people thought that once we are technologically advanced enough to create a fantastic story, a great game, and the perfect game for the FMV genre, then they'll do it. But what happened I believe is, everyone's just saying "yeah a couple more years and we'll do it, a couple more years and we'll do it" not realising that the technology is here now, we're in the future it can be done, so we want to do our best to create that perfect FMV game. We'll try our hardest, we've already shed loads of blood sweat and tears and we'll shed a hell of a lot more to bring this world to life, and hopefully bring the FMV genre back.

TIR: Well, thank you very much for that exclusive look into Shadow Peak and the company behind it.

KS: Thank you.

TIR: I think that'll conclude our interview, it's been a pleasure talking to you.

(This concludes the interview with Kitatus Studios)

And there you have it, Kitatus Studios Shadow Peak certainly sounds very interesting if not only for it being one the first original FMV games to come about in quite some time, but also for the company to be attempting such a genre that many others have simply left to wither away with the passing of time. And having said that, the industry could sure do with more variety and originality even in the indie scene.

So can Kitatus Studios help usher the FMV genre into the 21'st century? well we'll just have to wait and see.

If you are interested in finding out more about Shadow Peak, head over to Kitatus Studios official Facebook page @kitatus_studios_facebook and Twitter page @kitatus_studios_twitter to keep updated with their up and coming project.

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