For My Brother: Kickstarter and Interview

written by Celeste Tainari B. (@elidmorvive)

Now that E3 is finally over, a lot of titles have been introduced that many are looking forward too. However, there are still titles that haven’t been able to get the spotlight and remain incognito among the internet. I’m sure many of you readers are aware of Steam Greenlight along with other small indie groups that go through Kickstarter.  One game that I happen to come across was by a small group called Crooked Trees Studios. They were the group who developed the popular indie game called Throw Trucks with your Mind and now they are currently developing another game titled For My Brother.

The story follows a young girl who throughout the course of the game and story slowly turns into a monster. The reason this young girl goes through these changes is all for one purpose, to protect the one she loves, her brother. One thing that intrigued me more was that the purpose of this entire game was to save her brother. You really don’t see that a lot in video games, when it comes to saving someone, it’s usually the damsel in distress, a daughter, a lover, but to see the girl going through so much turmoil, the last time I remembered someone doing something as heroic as this was Harry Mason in Silent Hill. It actually makes me quite happy even to see that the love for a family member drives the main character throughout the course of events in the game.

Not only is the story intriguing, but the art style is as well. Their art holds a very strong resemblance to the Insular Art style, which is seen a lot during the early Romanization of the British Isles. This is another concept that you don’t see a lot in video games. It seems fitting if not perfect for the 2D side scroller. 

After watching the trailer and reading through their kickstarter, I was practically throwing my money at the computer monitor.

I was lucky enough to actually know the artist behind the project, Matt Olch, which allowed Justin Prince as well as myself to get in touch with Katy Levinson; the Business Developer and writer. Through Katy, we were able to ask questions about “For my Brother” and get some more in-depth detail about the developing game that wasn’t covered in their kickstarter. 

Lifted Geek: Briefly, introduce yourselves and what your role on the project is…

Lat Ware: I’m the main programmer, our CEO, and resident mad scientist. For reasons that absolutely no one understands, I like to run the Tough Mudder.

Katy Levinson: I wear a lot of hats: business development, marketing, programming, finances, writing, whatever needs doing. I make an unreasonable percentage of the “Your Mom” jokes on the team.

Caspian Priebe: I also wear a lot of hats but specialize in concept art, illustration, and graphic design. I like kitties, puppies, and fantasy violence.

Kiyome Provost: I handle rigging, effects, artist related technical issues, and some code. I suppose I’m the closest thing we have to a producer. I’m most easily recognized by my knee length hair.

Matt Olch: I’m the animator. I often use the letter K on the front of words that normally begin with C and kosplay the Hawkeye Initiative.  I’ve been kalled a “professional troll.”

Lifted Geek: What inspired you guys to come up with the story?

Katy: I have always thought the most interesting part of the traditional Campbell monomyth was the hero’s return and attempt integrate with society. It’s hard because the hero has been changed. Frodo’s journey into the West at the end of The Return of the King is a perfect example of this: he can’t go back and live in the Shire and only care about smoking, drinking and food anymore. He can’t go back and live the life he lived before his adventures, so he chooses to find a new life with the elves.

At the same time I’m watching a lot of my peers, particularly female ones, struggling with this idea that society will accept you as strong and powerful, or feminine, but only very rarely both. These ideas met when I realized via Facebook how different my life was compared to my childhood peers. I was born in a small rural town in Pennsylvania near Amish country. I still feel young, but many of my childhood friends already have 3 or more kids!

Both of these ideas meshed really well, but making a whole society for her to grow away from was not feasible. Kiyome and Matt came in with knives and cut out everything we didn’t need. I like it better now, more focused, no less punch, and far more universal. Not everybody has culture shock visiting “home,” but everybody has made choices for the right reasons that still isolated them from loved ones.

Caspian: Personally, I really like stories that don’t necessarily resolve into perfect happy endings. I like a good downfall, and I especially enjoy stories that fall into shades of moral grey and leave you thinking about them long after they’re over. I also want to second the idea of wanting a female protagonist who is both strong and feminine. We’re a very diverse team and minority representation in games is really important to all of us. 

Here's an LG exclusive! First look at our heroine in full monster form (click to enlarge)

Lifted Geek: When deciding on the villain, what made you come up with a cat? Did you have any other ideas if not a cat?

Katy: I wouldn’t really call him a villain… adversary maybe

Caspian: I’m not sure I’d exactly call it a cat, either.

Lat:  He only looks like a cat sometimes.  But, when thinking about what sort of creature would torment you throughout the game for its own amusement, cats came readily to mind.

Caspian: The “nine lives” thing was part of it and allows us to do some neat stuff with each “life,” but it’s more of a spirit or creature taking the form of a cat--I keep jokingly explaining the creature to people as “evil totoro.” Also we just really like cats.

Kiyome: Meow

Lifted Geek: What message are you trying to send out to your fans about this game?

Lat:  I want our games to make people think.

Caspian: It’s really important to me to create games telling the stories of lots of different kinds of people. While I’ve got nothing against grizzled white dudes, it’s been done way too many times and I’m super bored of it. We’re presenting a different type of character and a different type of relationship here. It’s not a romance or a story about rescuing someone who is weak, it’s about a girl trying to help someone she loves and it’s about the sacrifices she makes to do so.

Matt: I’m sure lots of people won’t “get it” or will straight up reject the kind of values we want to express here, but I believe that it is a timeless and human story that is worth being told.  Women and men in our media today are pushed into the same roles again and again, and if we kan push back, even just a little bit, then I’ll feel like we’ve made a difference.  Representation is so, so important.

Katy: I wanted a story with a woman who was strong and a guy who is loved just for being himself, not because of his “usefulness” to other people. Both those things are so rare that it is kinda messed up.

Lifted Geek: I’m sure you’re familiar with RPGs and the differing character classes. For fun, based on each of your personalities, what class do you think you’d be and why? Also, which of the team would you consider to be the “party leader?”

Katy: I’d be a sorcerer. I really don’t plan out most situations, but I solve them with blunt force trauma application of charisma.

Caspian: I’m a sorcerer too, this party is unbalanced. Maybe I can be the bard. I talk too much. I also tend to solve problems by “charisma-blasting” them (ask me about GDC 2014!) and I’m kind of surprised how frequently it works.

Katy: Not super shocked Caspian and I picked the same class, we’re the same Meyer-Briggs type.

Caspian: I multiclassed!

Katy: which is pretty weird considering I’m the one who does both sysadminning and marketing whereas you’re super specialized Art King. King Art-er.

Caspian: Art lich.

Lat:  Definitely a paladin.  It’s been my role on the team for the last year, enduring whatever needs to be endured to make sure the team is OK.

Katy: and man does he ever have an unwavering set of personal beliefs.

Kiyome: Healer/Support. I’m happiest when I’m doing things directly for the team. I’ll do whatever is necessary for them and the game.

Matt: Who wouldn’t want to be a wizard?  They’re awesome.  Magic spells? Hella tight.  Traveling the world on a quest for knowledge?  Hella tight.  Churchwarden pipes?  Hella tight.  I have a lot of feelings about wizards, ok?

Caspian: I think Lat’s the party leader because he’s the paladin who recruited the rest of the team. Kiyome suggested “your mom” though and I think that’s a pretty good answer, too.

Katy: Lat tanks our external woes, Kiyome is “the mom” keeping us on track and also keeping us realistic, Caspian makes everybody understand each other, Matt coordinates incoming stuff into actual output, and I’m the one most likely to lead the cavalry charge.

Lifted Geek: I’m sure when creating this game, you all had countless ideas, how did you all come together to finally develop the game’s narrative?

Lat:  The most important thing is that we discuss everything.  For My Brother is the result of a tremendous amount of discussion, suggestion, rejection, and iteration until we settled on what felt right to all of us.

Caspian: One of the ideas we started with was to create the game that could only be made by this particular team. We have more ideas we’d like to pursue in the future, but right now, with our current team and current resources, this was the ideal game for us to attempt.

Katy: The more boring answer is we all wrote up our ideas and reviewed them as a team. We culled things when people said “I can’t program that” or “I can’t sell that,” and then kept talking it out until we agreed.

Lifted Geek: Any ideas you wanted to use but couldn’t make flow well for the overarching narrative?

Lat:  One idea that I really liked that we might revisit in a future game is that of perspective.  Sort of like a game built around that new music video for OK Go’s The Writing’s On The Wall.

Katy: I wanted a whole society to reject Sister for her sacrifices, including a love interest for Sister who would grow up and fall for somebody else while Sister remains young in The Beyond. He and his new love would marry and have children and grow old together while Sister watches. I thought it would really emphasize how disconnected from humanity she has become in her quest to save people she cares about.

Caspian: Most of my unused ideas have been filtered into other game concepts. If we’re able to keep making games, maybe you’ll get to see them eventually!

Lifted Geek: Any notable challenges during the production of the game?

Lat:  Compared to Throw Trucks With Your Mind, this will be a breeze.

Katy: Hah, I’m sure we’ll find new ways to have everything go wrong.

Caspian: I really want to make sure we keep the style consistent. Insular art is gorgeous and interesting, but like most old artwork, the anatomy can get kind of strange and there’s some really curious sorts of artistic decisions made sometimes in the sources I’ve researched. I want to get as much of that feel into the game without making it feel like those artistic quirks are errors of inexperience, and that’s an interesting balance to walk sometimes.

Matt: Level design.  We’ve all played Metroid-vania games, we all love them, and it’s not always easy to make something fresh and interesting without getting too weird.  Also, our protagonist is a woman, which basically doubles the animation workload (???).  #WomenAreTooHardToAnimate

Screen Shot 2014-06-21 at 4.47.35 PM.png

Lifted Geek: Why did you decide to go with a side scroller rather than 3D?

Lat:  We felt that it was easier to tell a compelling story with diverse changing mechanics that had a small learning curve.

Caspian: It is 3D, sort of. But allowing only 2D movement will give us a little more ease of control over controlling flow of player progress, which will be nice. We still really want the game to feel vast and give the player a lot to explore, though. I keep thinking of Megaman X--I climbed everything I could climb in that game, slid down every single pit looking for secrets. I found all kinds of stuff. I got the Hadoken by mistake. I’d like For My Brother to allow that kind of open exploration, even though it’s a side scroller.

Kiyome: Locking the camera in this way allows us to have greater control of the style, especially for the style we are trying to create. As a bonus, I have the freedom to do 2d hand drawn effects, which I feel have the ability to adapt much more interesting shapes.

Matt:  It’s cheaper.

Katy: I really wanted it to be 3D until I realized how much more we'd have to raise on kickstarter to get it all done. $150K is intimidating enough.

Lifted Geek: Explain a bit of what makes the gameplay of For My Brother unique, did you draw any inspiration from any of your contemporaries?

Lat:  The main sources of inspiration are Shadow Of The Colossus and Megaman.  Limbo was an early inspiration, but we veered off from that.

Katy: Spyro was also oddly inspirational, especially before we locked it to 2D. For sure Megaman (particularly 2) and Shadow of the Colossus. I think the closest “contemporary” for me would be Bastion: so art-driven and touching. Super Meat Boy was my first platformer (weird I know) and inspired me to go back and try classics like Megaman. I’d also completely forgotten how badass western mythology can be until the Lorwyn block of Magic the Gathering.

Caspian: I already mentioned Megaman X. My other favorite platformer is Yoshi’s Island, which is also pretty great artistically. Seconding Spyro as well--I loved how he navigated the levels, especially in the first game. Gameplay-wise, I’m not sure we can exactly claim anything as particularly unique considering that our last game was literally controlled with brainwaves. I guess the most interesting thing to me is that there aren’t really fodder enemies everywhere that are just pointless noise for you to mercilessly slaughter. When you fight a creature here, it’s a big deal. Everything in between will be terrain puzzles and exploration, using your new abilities to track down the next goal.

Kiyome: Boss battles are core to the gameplay. So we try to study any game that handles boss battles well when we are designing those. We are trying hard to make the bosses feel more organic while also making the player have to really think about how to defeat the bosses without much direct damaging capability.

Matt: Another design influence for us is “cinematic platformer” games like “Prince of Persia,” “Heart of Darkness,”  and “Out of this World.”  You might say that the gameplay is a "no-bullshit" approach where we're using it to tell a story and not to get maximum gameplay hours out of every feature.   Some players love extra mini-games, but don’t expect your brother to ask you to go bowling with him in our game.

Katy: Yeah, when players play our games, that’s a compliment. That’s special time they have gifted to us. I’d feel terrible if any of it felt grindy or like filler.

Lifted Geek: The art style has got to be the most eye catching aspect of the entire package. To the artists, what were some of your personal inspirations when deciding on the overall visual theme of the game?

Caspian: When Katy was initially referencing celtic mythology for the feel of the game I instantly thought of Secret of Kells. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. I love illuminated manuscripts and stained glass windows, all that old, very stylized artwork with heavy linework and kind of flat rendering. Before seeing Kells it hadn’t even occurred to me that we could get that kind of look in animation. This seemed like a really fantastic opportunity to try, so I dove into all this research about Insular Art/Hiberno-Saxon art and illuminated manuscripts and did a bunch of drawings trying to get that kind of look, especially in the characters. We’ll have to really push it throughout production but so far it seems like we’re communicating the idea pretty well!

Matt: I have to bring up “Prince of Persia” again, just because of its more realistic approach to platforming.  There are a million indie side-scrollers out there today, but a lot of platformers tend towards more stylized movement.  I love stuff like “Super Mario Brothers,” but the story we’re trying to tell doesn’t fit that kind of moment-to-moment gameplay experience as well.

Lifted Geek: What are each of your favorite games that you’re currently playing?

Katy: Mass Effect 2, Dark Souls, and Hearthstone is my guilty pleasure. Love Solforge, but none of my friends will play it with me. Rogue Legacy, FTL, and in recovery from a Dwarf Fortress problem.

Lat:  Almost all of my time goes towards making games these days, but I’ve been enjoying Don’t Starve.

Kiyome: Currently playing Gnomoria, Ocarina of Time, and League of Legends. Well, sort of, like the rest of the team, I don’t have a lot of time either, much to my League team’s dismay.

Caspian: I play Dystopia Rising monthly, but I assume you mean specifically video games. Let’s see. I’m still working on a pacifist playthrough of DX:HR, but have been really busy with work and haven’t had time to finish up. I’m close though! I love the Mass Effect series and I’m dying for time to play through it a third time. Right now, I haven’t really had time for more than Wordament on the bus and occasionally stress relief Minecraft, which is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Oh! You should check out Enemy Mind on Steam, it’s fantastic.

Matt: “Dark Souls” is an important part of who I am, and is with me always.  Lately, I’ve been playing “Risk of Rain,” “Animal Krossing: New Leaf,” and “Resident Evil: Director’s Kut,” and I recently finished “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.”  I play “Elder Scrolls Online” sporadically.

Lifted Geek: Do you consider yourselves more console gamers or PC gamers? What was the first device you ever gamed on?

Lat:  I prefer to game with a controller, but ultimately, I don’t care if it’s PC or console.

Katy: PC with a controller! Best of everything (no I don’t play FPSes except Borderlands). First device was a PS1 (my parents were positive video games would rot out my soul, so it took a while to get access).

Kiyome: Both PC and console, although I’ve been leaning more toward PC lately due to games being easier to play in short sessions on there. My first device was probably Amega.

Caspian: I like both, but I don’t tend to play games like a normal person anymore, so I prefer PC because I can install mods and make content. Games that come with toolkits are a big draw for me, but I always end up playing the actual game for like an hour and then I get too excited and just jump into making my own stuff. As for my first console… my stepbrother had an Atari and my favorite game was just called Surfing. I begged my mom for a Super Nintendo after that and it’s the first one that was really “mine.” We played on a black and white TV; it blew my mind the first time I played it in color and realized the koopas had different colored shells.

Matt:  I’ve always thought of myself as more of a konsole player than a PC player, but I’m divided almost 50/50 now.  The first device I played video games on was the Sega Genesis my uncle gave me when I was around 4 years old,  forever sealing my fate as a huge nerd.

Lifted Geek: In closing, what would each of you like to say about the game to all the readers here on LG?

Matt:  Thanks for reading this far.  We can’t wait to show you more of the story, art, music, and overall experience!

Katy: Talk to us. Experiences don’t mean a lot if they don’t connect well to people. Also please help us get the word out about this game. Most importantly, even if this all ended tomorrow, it’s been a joy to bring this to life, and the support we have gotten has been absolutely overwhelming. Special thanks to everybody who backed us during our last Kickstarter game, Throw Trucks With Your Mind. Thank you for believing. It has been an honor.

Caspian: Thank you for supporting us through Throw Trucks, and I really hope you like For My Brother. Preordering via backing us on Kickstarter really helps us a lot at this stage! We’re really tiny still and can’t do this without you!

All I can say is, thanks for giving us the opportunity to actually ask you all these questions. Hopefully everyone who reads the article will visit their website for the kickstarter and donate money to give them the chance to launch this game! I truly can’t wait for it, it’s definitely a brand new turn and a great development in the process. So, to Crooked Tree Studios, LG wishes you the best of luck and pray that this article helps you guys out a ton!

Make sure to follow their progress on their Kickstarter Page, check them out on Facebook as well. We at the LG offices really want this game to be a "thing" and fast! Stay Frosty g33ks, and Get Lifted.