It took me about five minutes of playing Pathos (out now, $1.99) before I decided I simply had to land an interview with FixedUpdate, the team behind this beautifully crafted and deeply affecting puzzle-adventure game. As luck would have it, the folks at FixedUpdate were more than happy to provide in-depth answers to all my questions about its creation, development and more. Here’s what they had to say…
Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. Let’s kick things off by finding out a little more about you guys. Who are you, how did you all meet, and why did you decide to make a game together?
Hi, thanks for having us! Getting right to it: We’re a small team of three who met in university and decided to do a few of our course modules together. We have Rob Green working on Design and Programming, Mike Hindley on Characters and Animation, and Luke Norman working on the Environments.
We started working together on projects because it fit nicely, people got the work done and there was little problem. Plus we’re good friends, so that always helps!
Congratulations on the release of your first game, Pathos. It’s an exceptionally and meticulously polished piece of work that feels like a genuine labor of love. How long was it in development for?
That’s very kind of you to say, it means a lot! We put a lot of hard work into it. Pathos has been in full development since November 2015, up until release. But it had a little bit of history before full development.
During university one of our lecturers told us all about Dare to be Digital (DTBD) competition and we just had to try it. We started our first prototypes from January 2015 onwards and pitched it to the competition, and we got in! It went well, the reception for early Pathos was great, we scored funding (which we’ll get into later on) and then started our new company in November, to start full development.
According to the App Store description, the game is based on the true story of a child moving through the foster care system. What inspired you guys to tackle such a subject?
That’s right! Early January, we were sat around trying to come up with ideas for a game that would be, in our eyes, worthy for DTBD. We wanted something different, something fresh. After a few weeks we stumbled into the idea of tackling foster care as a theme. We then learnt that one of our friends had experienced the foster system during their early years. After talking more about it we realised that this was actually something we cared about, instead of games about noodles falling from the sky or even guiding a blind old man through his apartment. Yeah, we had a lot of strange ideas.
For anyone who hasn’t played it yet, can you explain how Pathos’ unique story and themes inform the gameplay?
Pathos is a game about being lost and exploring new and exciting places. The places our life will take us that we can’t begin to imagine. It’s about the people we meet along the way and how we find different ways of coping in new and uncomfortable situations. It’s a game about finding your way and overcoming all of those hurdles in life. Well, it is for Pan (the main character) anyway.
It’s these themes that we tried to translate into game mechanics. Unique worlds and the people that reside in them. Our ‘flip state,’ the alternate world Pan enters when you flip the phone, is Pan’s way of coping. It’s how she deals with her life by seeing it as something magical, which is what most of us try and do in strange new places — we fantasise.
Is there anything you hope audiences will take away or learn about the foster care system from playing Pathos?
We hope people will get to know and understand Pan’s life, and we’d like people to be receptive to it. We’d like people to be able to dive in and learn about someone else’s experiences and perspectives; and in turn, give people more of an understanding and an idea into what foster care can be like for children; or even people in general!
The theme in itself is implied and not directly uttered upon during the course of the game, but the source material is true. We wrote the narrative based around a close friend and her experiences. We didn’t want to make a game that was overtly like: “This is Pan, she is a foster kid, and here’s how she copes, enjoy,” so we kept it subtle. It’s a delicate subject.
Pathos has been favorably compared to acclaimed games like Lara Croft GO and Monument Valley. Did these titles — or any others — influence its design?
We’re more than happy that we’ve been compared to such titles, as these have been a huge inspiration to us, both artistically and practically. Seeing that people had made full immersive 3D environments for mobile helped push us in the right direction because we knew it was possible.
The design of the game and its inspirations go as far as the overall feel and look of the puzzles. Clear and clean puzzle elements with interesting backgrounds. We did a lot of testing for readability and the aforementioned games help steer us in the right direction.
Pathos was picked up and published by Channel 4’s ‘All 4 Games’ division. How did that partnership come about?
Dare to be Digital 2015, which was mentioned earlier. During the finals we took away two awards: ‘Design In Action,’ given to us by Abertay University, and the ‘Channel 4 Award.’ The latter came with funding and a publisher. That’s pretty much all there is to it!
Now that you’ve got a couple of years’ experience and a finished game under your belts, is there any advice you’d offer to others looking to break into the mobile games development industry?
Break EVERYTHING. Seriously. If you’re just starting out and don’t fully know what it takes to put out a game for mobile, then you need to break everything. You need to learn about what does and doesn’t work for your game and ALL of those devices.
Secondly, you should have your game tested thoroughly for: Readability, cohesion, bugs, puzzle design etc. Testing is probably one of the most important things you should do. Without it, all of your ‘perfect’ code or art might not work.
Fun fact: Our company name ‘FixedUpdate’ originated from Luke breaking the prototype build with fancy art and terrible scripting. During a very busy day during the DTBD competition. It’s a reminder that there’s always something that will go wrong.
What’s next for FixedUpdate? Any upcoming projects in the works you can tell me about?
It’s early days right now. We’re just happy to see Pathos out there and in people’s hands! We’ve still a little work here and there and are taking it one day at a time for now. This is all very new, so who knows what the future may hold.
And cheers to you guys for giving such an interesting interview!