I Locked Glitch Games’ Simon Pearce and Graham Ranson In a Room to Discuss “Forever Lost”

I started a new series recently here on AppUnwrapper, where I interviewed Sam Barlow and Viva Seifert about their work on Her Story, giving readers the opportunity to offer their own questions. As a big fan of Glitch Games’ puzzle adventure games like Forever Lost, I wanted to try the same thing with them. So I’ll be interviewing Simon Pearce and Graham Ranson, taking additional questions from the comments section.

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AppUnwrapper: First of all, congratulations on the release of episode 3 of Forever Lost. How does it feel to finally have the full game completed and out in the world?

Graham Ranson: Thank you very much! For myself it’s a mixture of things, mostly pride and happiness but tinged with sadness.

We used a Van Gogh quote right at the beginning of episode 1 about how he put his heart and soul into his work and lost his mind in the process. This quote, more so the first half than the latter, feels very accurate for what we did. We really did put everything into these games and so it’s fantastic to see people finally playing the concluding episode and seeing the ending that we envisioned right from the get go, and we’re incredibly proud of what we produced.

However, it’s also a little sad knowing that it’s the end of the Forever Lost trilogy and story, we really love the world we created and it’s fantastic to know others do too.

That being said though, there is still plenty of happiness and sheer excitement that we’ll now be able to work on new games and create whole new worlds that hopefully bring people as much enjoyment as the FL games have.

Simon Pearce: I can feel relief washing over me in an awesome wave. Hopefully soon enough I will be able to look back at all 3 episodes of Forever Lost with pride… but for now I just want a long break from it. We did put a lot of work into Forever Lost, and hopefully that is evident to anyone that plays the games. We had a lot of people pushing for a release date, but we wanted to take our time and get it just right. We wanted to tie up the game while leaving just enough ambiguity to keep the players wanting more.

I don’t see the conclusion of Forever Lost as the end to anything. It’s hopefully just our entry ticket into the world of game development. I think we’ve found our niche and from now onwards, it will always be the game we are most proud of because it will be our ‘where it all began’ story .

AU: I think you’ve both earned a well-deserved break, but I’m glad to hear this is only the beginning for you! I’ve been a fan ever since you released that bizarre little horror game, The Hauntening. I believe that was your first entry into adventure games. So what were you both doing before that and what made you want to start making adventure games? I agree, you found your niche and I’m happy you did! So what got you to that point?

SP: The Hauntening was indeed our first attempt at an adventure game, but not intentionally. It actually started out as an interactive book and it just got out of hand.

Although we never set out to make an adventure game, I think the response we received from people who played The Hauntening made us realise that we possibly could make an adventure game. The game was conceived, designed, built and completed within 48 hours, so it is obviously very rough around the edges…but we figured if we could do all of this in such a short amount of time, then what could we do if we had no imposed deadline…this is when Forever Lost was born.

Graham and I were originally going to attend the same university back in 2004 (I think) but in the end I decided not to. A few years later I realised that I hated my job and wanted to make computer games; that’s when I enrolled to a different university. While Graham was away winning Baftas, I was only just beginning my introductory courses in C++ programming, little did I know that our paths would cross 4 years later. Graham suggested meeting up, where we discussed the idea of setting up an indie duo, and the rest is history.

GR: Glitch formed in January 2012 and we released The Hauntening in February I believe, in the first few months as Glitch we made some educational apps, one of which we actually decided to include in the kids room of Forever Lost: Episode 1 as a book.

The Hauntening itself was never meant to be a full game, it was made in a 48 hour game jam and then we decided to release it to see what people thought of it.

I’ve always loved adventure games, I grew up on Monkey Island, so have always wanted to make one but that was never our intention when starting Glitch, we just wanted to make games. The Hauntening really was the kick that we needed to start making them.

However if you want to know what I was doing before Glitch? Mainly finding as many excuses as I could to avoid getting a “proper” job, Glitch was just the last in a long line of them.

See my Forever Lost Episode 3 walkthrough.

AU: I completely understand trying to avoid getting a proper job.

So you guys didn’t really know each other long before you formed a company together?

This seems like a good opportunity to take a question from my audience. Eric Summerer asked:

“Guys, kudos on the series. It really brought back fond memories of my days playing Myst and the Sierra Quest adventures.
Did you know where Episode 3 would end up when you started Episode 1? Did you change course at all based on feedback for Episodes 1 and 2?”

SP: Graham and I actually went to school together, but we didn’t really become good friends until college. We were good friends for around 8 years before the company was formed.

Thanks Eric, this is one area where we were surprisingly organised. We always knew where the game would end and roughly how it would get there, but we had no idea how many episodes it would cover.

A lot of things did change over time, often at the last second but this was based on a mixture of things. Sometimes it would be repeated questions from players, like “what happened to Hugo, did he escape from iCeption?” Which made us realise that we needed to expand on the Hugo character a little more” Sometimes we would have a few holes to fill, so we’d consider what would be best for the story and use that to fill missing areas.

So in short, we may have changed course a few times along the way, but we always knew our end destination.

GR: Oh no we did know each other, we actually went to the same secondary school however didn’t really know each other then. Ran in different circles and all that. However we then went to the same college and became good friends there. That must have been around 2003 or so I think, so quite a while now.

Hey Eric, thanks for the questions! That’s really awesome to know that we reminded you of some truly classic games, quite an honour!

From the beginning of development we knew where the story was going to end, we even knew the majority of the points we wanted to hit along the way, however we didn’t know absolutely everything we were going to do. This wasn’t due to bad planning, at least not completely, but completely deliberate.

I recently touched upon this in my ever neglected blog about how if you plan the entire story out from the beginning and then stick to it rigidly you’ll miss so many awesome things along the way that you’d never have thought of. Stories and characters evolve over time and you have to just go with the flow.

Over the course of development we did get a lot of questions asked, some of these we already had answers for, or at least always knew we needed to answer them, where as others we had never thought of answering. For instance at the end of episode 1 SPOILER ALERT? you use a lift to go up, and lots of people asked what would happen if they’d gone down instead, so we decided to answer that question episode 2.

There were probably other things as well however I can’t completely remember, which I think shows that either we didn’t change any big things based on feedback or my memory is just much worse now. Or possibly both.

AU: Forever Lost (and your other games as well) are very puzzle-centric. And they usually have a unique personality to them that makes them very clearly Glitch puzzles. Can you talk a bit about your process coming up with the puzzles? Where do the ideas come from and how do you get from the idea to the final execution?

GR: Our puzzles are generally split into different categories, for instance full-screen puzzles which can either be completely self-contained or require some form of external clue, word based puzzles or inventory puzzles. Naturally there are other categories but simply listing them probably wouldn’t make for a riveting read.

Like most inspiration, it can come from anywhere and we have little scraps of paper all over the office with snippets of puzzle ideas, some of which have been included in games whilst others are still waiting to have their day in the sun, but if we’re actively trying to come up with a puzzle we’ll generally work backwards.

A particularly uninspired puzzle may be simply a locked door, so first we decide what the goal of the puzzle would be, in this case that would be to unlock the door, then work backwards from there to see what obstacles would get in the way. First is that they’d need to get the key, then maybe that key is locked away somewhere, or maybe it’s not even an actual key, maybe it’s a piano key, and so on. These puzzle chains can then split off into smaller puzzles, so maybe the key is a piano key and you then have to find a way of taking the key from the piano, as well as working out which key is the one you need.

SP: We do try to cover all bases when building a game. This means that we try to have a varied number of puzzle types throughout the game; we like our word puzzles (often pun based), but we’d never build a game comprised purely of those.

A puzzle idea can come from anywhere at any time. Only today I was in the cinema and saw some interesting lighting that gave me an idea for a puzzle. I spent the remainder of the film jotting down ideas for a puzzle that will probably never make it further than paper.

I think our best puzzles often come when we work together. Graham or I may come up with a puzzle idea but have no idea how to develop it, so we bounce ideas off each other until we have a unique puzzle that is game ready.

I think the hardest thing for us both is to set when we need to be creative. By saying “let’s sit down for 3 hours and create some puzzles,” we remove all inspiration and we’d probably just end up with a game full of locked doors and keys. We’ve tried this before and it really doesn’t work. I carry a little notepad with me at all times, so when inspiration strikes I can just write it all down. This way, I will always have a puzzle to develop and slot in somewhere in future games.

Another thing we do, which usually works out very well for us, is to not over plan. If we leave a few areas of each puzzle chain blank, then we can use our own game to inspire us. Maybe it’s the way a shadow falls in a scene, or the sounds that are made by a certain item. We can allow the creation of the game to fill in the blanks for us; I think this is how some of our greatest puzzles were concieved. So long as the foundations of the game are down, the rest usually just falls into place – without feeling forced.

AU: Very cool. I like the idea that you always have some puzzles ready and waiting for a home inside a game. My best ideas also come to me when I’m not trying to force them.

I picture you guys with a long list of puns on your wall. Maybe even scrawled all over the wall a la the asylum. Does your office look a bit like that?

Also, I’m a huge fan of the Glitch camera, as you surely know by now. I’ve been taking photos while playing games before Forever Lost existed, primarily for use in my walkthroughs. It’s such a joy to have a camera built into the games and be able to pull the clues out while staring at the puzzle, all on the same screen. How did you first come up with that idea?

GR: We don’t have puns on the wall, at least not that I’m aware of, but we do have lots of sticky notes and scraps of paper all over it. Well, on a carefully organised pinboard anyway. We posted a picture of the board in our first office a couple of years ago, when we were developing Episode 1 I believe, it can be seen here – http://www.glitchgames.co.uk/the-big-board/

We’re incredibly proud of the camera and actually wish other people would borrow it, with full credit of course, and can only assume this hasn’t happened yet because we’re not that well know. Weirdly Simon and I actually spoke of the camera recently and this is one of the many things that my memory fails me on, I honestly can’t remember the actual formation of the camera, for me it’s just sort of always been there. Hopefully Simon will have a better recollection of that story, and if not just get back to me and I’ll come up with something awesome πŸ™‚

SP: As the games have become bigger, it is actually hard now to fit our mad notes on the walls. For episode 1, we would pin all ideas onto one pin board and have another one for the puzzle chains/branches. This would include puns, quotes, doodles, puzzle ideas etc. This is just not possible now, so we use notebooks for the majority and have one massive pin board full of sticky notes for in-depth puzzle chains.

I remember sitting down with Graham in our very first office and trying to decide how we could improve on the adventure game genre. The idea of a camera was suggested and we both thought it would be a great idea. The decision to add a camera to our games took around 30 seconds. The implementation of the camera took months…but it was worth it.

If I’m honest, I’m surprised we’re the only ones (that I know of) to have done this. Other puzzle games use forced journal notes, which in my opinion is like solving half of the puzzle for you. The camera allows the player to decide what is useful and makes the entire puzzle solving process so much more rewarding.

AU: It’s a good thing you remembered, Simon! Otherwise you two might have had to fabricate some story for when you win your future awards over it. πŸ˜‰

I think we’ve talked about this a bit privately, but what made you choose mobile as your platform? And do you have any plans to bring the games to other platforms like PC?

GR: The explosion of mobile platforms for development, game development specifically, has been fantastic for developers of all sizes. Never before has it been so easy for small independent developers to make a game and have it seen and played by such a massive audience, and because of this we wanted to be a part of it.

Although we didn’t form Glitch Games with the goal of making adventure games, had we done so I think we would have been even more interested in mobile as a development platform as it is completely perfect for these sort of games.

There was another reason that we decided work on mobile platforms and this was purely technical. Before starting Glitch with Simon I had attempted to make games on my own and during that time I used the then very new Corona SDK and as I was going to be the sole programmer for Glitch Games it made sense to use the tools that I knew. Corona SDK was purely focused on mobile game development and as that’s what we wanted to do it was a good fit, however over time we have wanted to move onto other platforms but were limited due to Corona only supporting mobile platforms.

However, we are very happy to say, exclusively to you actually, that we will soon be able to release on PC and Mac as Corona will soon fully support those platforms. We have been part of a private beta testing it out and so far it’s all going very well and is now moving to a public beta — we are hesitant to set a date for when we will release desktop versions as we don’t want to rush it but needless to say we are very excited about this.

SP: It would be great to expand to new platforms and new stores with titles we’ve already created. In theory it will be relatively easy to get our games functioning on Mac/PC. We’ve been talking about expanding to desktop for a long time, but it’s only recently that we’ve had the opportunity to do so with the SDK that we use.

Luckily for us, adventure games work really well on both mobile and desktop devices. However, games of ours like Blox are almost exclusively linked to mobile devices because they simply wouldn’t work on anything else.

AU: I’m glad you guys are working on porting it to PC! I’m sure that will bring in some new fans. Are you at all concerned about the competition on there compared to mobile? And how are you handling the parts of the game that are multi-touch?

GR: I’m hoping that the increase in competition simply means there’s a bigger market for our games, surely that’s what that means? Right?!?

Surprisingly there isn’t that much in the game that works only with multitouch, and for those specific puzzles we’re just very slightly reworking them for single touch.

SP: Not concerned at all, we are the competition! Seriously though, I think any new market for our games can only be considered a good thing. Our games play well on both mobile and PC so I’m hoping it will be just as popular on PC/Mac as it is on mobile.

Graham handles the cody-word bit that makes my art move so I’ll let him sort the multi-touch issues, *puts feet up. πŸ˜‰

AU: I was mostly referring to some complaints I’ve seen recently about games not being taken seriously if they start on mobile and then move to PC. But I think you guys have built up a good reputation for yourselves, and the games have enough personality, that you should hopefully be able to avoid anything like that.

Let’s talk a bit about the story in Forever Lost. Where did that idea come from and how did it evolve throughout the three games? Some more perceptive players even noticed some clues sprinkled about in the first game that are related to the last episode. Did you plan that out from the beginning?

GR: As the idea came from both of us it’d be hard to pinpoint one single source of inspiration and as Simon said about puzzles inspiration comes from everywhere. Over the course of development the main idea and storyline pretty much stayed constant, we filled in some blanks and answered some questions – plus asked a lot more – however generally we knew where we wanted to get to.

From the very beginning we knew how we wanted to end the trilogy, this allowed the ending to work the way it did – I don’t want to say too many specifics for fear of spoilers – and allowed us to place various clues throughout the games. We knew all the time how important it would be for the ending to seem obvious through hindsight.

We wanted it to be a surprise, even for people who were paying complete attention, but for it to make sense once they thought about it. We’re hoping that once people complete the final episode they’ll feel compelled to play through the 3 games again and then a lot of the clues and nods will become clear and they’ll realise the ending was right in front of their face all along.

AU: Here’s another question from a reader, Henrique Neto:

“Hey, just LOVED all the trilogy, I was waiting the FL3 for years and it could not have been better. My question isn’t about the game at all :p but I REALLY want the name of the ending song, do you guys composite it and we can download or the only place I could hear it is in the game? πŸ™ Thanks, again, for the excellent hours exercising my brain with the amazing puzzles and beautiful narrative.”

GR: Hey Henrique! Thank you for the question πŸ™‚ The credits music, as far as I’m aware, is simply titled “credits”, and it was created by Richard Moir. Richard created all the music for Episode 3, as well as Episode 2, Cabin Escape: Alice’s Story, and Ferris Mueller’s Day Off. He named all the other songs in all the games so there is a very good chance the credits song has a real name as well, it may have just escaped​ me – pun fully intended.

We hope to release the soundtracks in the future so everyone can listen to them as much as they like as they really are all amazing, Richard did a fantastic job on them and we can’t wait to hear what he creates next for our future games.

AU: Here’s another question from a reader, Trish Lindsey Jaggers:

“First, please don’t tell my husband how much time I spend playing the trilogy this summer! πŸ™‚ (I teach, so summers are my cleaning/catch-up times. And, uh, playtime, too.)

Second, thank you for such delicious games. As Eric (above) pointed out, this brought back memories of Myst and its successors. I love the storyline, the puzzles, and the HD graphics.

I have an older iPad2, and it’s feeling its years. Even web pages overwhelm it! But this game did not. Not once. It flowed smoothly, cleanly, seamlessly. Not. One. Glitch. In. The. Glitch. Games. (LOL)

My question is this: how many “testers” do you have for your games? For a game to have no bugs . . . wow. Lots of different scenarios exist in the gaming world, so my experience may be unique, but I don’t think so.

Well done. Also, I noted that the final game was “in memory.” Please accept my condolences.

Cannot wait to enter the realm of the next “story”!”

SP: Hi Trish, thanks for the questions and kind comments.

I won’t tell your husband, but he may notice an increase in brain creativity after solving some of those devious puzzles we added.

It is true, we do have a lot of testers. This is evident in the credits; almost 2 minutes of credits, mostly populated by our testers from around the world. We try to get as many different devices as possible, but with the amount of devices out there these days it is almost impossible to test on every one. We put almost as much time into testing, as we do into the actual development of the games.
Most of the testing is done in house, by us. We play through the games hundreds of times until we can’t stand the sight of it any more. Neither of us enjoy this aspect of game development, but it is essential if we want a polished and fully functional end product. Obviously we still have people emailing us with problems, but I think this happens in all games.

Unfortunately Graham did lose someone very close to him during the creation of Episode 3, however he continued like professional and worked as hard as ever to get the project finished.

Stay tuned, the next adventure is on the way. πŸ™‚

GR: Haha, we won’t tell him! Your secret is safe with us!

We work incredibly hard making sure our games can be played on as many devices as we can, knowing full well that not everyone can upgrade every year to the latest devices, so it’s great to know this work is paying off.

As far as actual “beta” testers go, by that I mean people testing right from the beginning, we basically have just myself and Simon, however we then have a couple of “consultants” ( i.e. good friends we can rope in ) to help us test fairly consistently. On top of that though, for each of our games we’ve asked our fans to help test towards the end of development and the response has always been, to say the least, overwhelming.

I can’t remember the exact numbers but for episode 3 we had over 200 people offer their help in testing. Needless to say we were incredibly grateful for this level of support, however we simply couldn’t manage that many people. We ended up getting around 50 people, all of which can be seen in the credits, to test and because of the varied range of devices we were able to make a fairly solid game.

Thank you very much for that, it was a tough year indeed and one of the main reasons the game was so delayed πŸ™

AU: So, has enough time passed that you might be willing to share something about the new games you’re working on? πŸ˜‰

GR: Hehe, at present no we’re not ready yet. It shouldn’t be too much longer now though.

AU: What if I just keep you locked in this room till then?

GR: We’ll never get the game made πŸ™‚

AU: Yeah, my readers might not like that.

More coming soon!

***
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8 thoughts on “I Locked Glitch Games’ Simon Pearce and Graham Ranson In a Room to Discuss “Forever Lost”

  1. Eric Summerer

    Guys, kudos on the series. It really brought back fond memories of my days playing Myst and the Sierra Quest adventures.
    Did you know where Episode 3 would end up when you started Episode 1? Did you change course at all based on feedback for Episodes 1 and 2?

    Reply
  2. Trish Lindsey Jaggers

    First, please don’t tell my husband how much time I spend playing the trilogy this summer! πŸ™‚ (I teach, so summers are my cleaning/catch-up times. And, uh, playtime, too.)

    Second, thank you for such delicious games. As Eric (above) pointed out, this brought back memories of Myst and its successors. I love the storyline, the puzzles, and the HD graphics.

    I have an older iPad2, and it’s feeling its years. Even web pages overwhelm it! But this game did not. Not once. It flowed smoothly, cleanly, seamlessly. Not. One. Glitch. In. The. Glitch. Games. (LOL)

    My question is this: how many “testers” do you have for your games? For a game to have no bugs . . . wow. Lots of different scenarios exist in the gaming world, so my experience may be unique, but I don’t think so.

    Well done. Also, I noted that the final game was “in memory.” Please accept my condolences.

    Cannot wait to enter the realm of the next “story”!

    Trish

    Reply
  3. Bhavishka

    These games are truly amazing and it’s pretty awesome what you guys have done with the series.

    I was hoping you could send some light on the ending…? Particularly the part [Spoiler alert]:
    “How was that?”
    “Perfect”

    Anyways I’m really looking forward to your future games. Thanks!

    Reply
  4. Kup

    An amazing game and i really liked hiw it ended but one thing i didn’t understand,what was that voice of alice at the ending ?

    Reply
  5. Henrique Neto

    Hey, just LOVED all the trilogy, I was waiting the FL3 for years and it could not have been better. My question isn’t about the game at all :p but I REALLY want the name of the ending song, do you guys composite it and we can download or the only place I could hear it is in the game? πŸ™ Thanks, again, for the excellent hours exercising my brain with the amazing puzzles and beautiful narrative.

    Reply

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