Nominee | Best Audio | Excellence in Visual Art
Chad LaClair is an Artist, Designer and Co-Founder of The Molasses Flood, which created The Flame in the Flood.
Each year at GDC, MFA students from the NYU Game Center interview the Independent Games Festival nominees, asking them three questions about their development process. In addition to this interview, you can read all the insightful interviews from 2017 here. These conversations, and much more, will happen when the Game Center returns to GDC in 2018. Learn more about the Game Center at GDC 2017.
Corey Bertelsen: What main concept, image or question began this project?
Chad LaClair: So, we all came from Irrational Games. So when that studio closed, Forrest [Dowling], who was the lead level designer on Bioshock Infinite, he started throwing around the idea of starting an independent studio, even if was just him and one other person, instead of going off to another AAA team immediately.
He got together with Scott [Sinclair], who had been throwing around some similar ideas. Scott really wanted to work on a game with small worlds. Rather than building this huge, sprawling environment, you see this small, almost diorama scene. Forrest was very much interested in making a pared-down survival game. So the kind of thing that isn’t overly complex, but is built on real-world survival and pulls from things that people would actually do in the wilderness. So that was the germ – small survival, small worlds, and that evolved into you landing on an island, and that’s a little world that you inhabit for a little bit of time, then you’re back on the boat and you go to another little world.
The setting is kind of the American South. We don’t ever actually come out and say that, but it came from Scott’s childhood. He grew up in Florida. It sort of made sense – we wanted to make a survival game that wasn’t about staying in one place and building up a camp, but was a journey where you were constantly moving forward. That’s where the river came into play.
Corey: Speaking as the main world builder, can you describe a specific experience with another game or media that influenced you as you worked on The Flame in the Flood? I personally get a strong “Beasts of the Southern Wild” vibe from it.
Chad: That’s amazing that you said that because that film was actually one of our key touchstones. Scott had been trying to have all of us watch it immediately. Like “This is exactly what we want to hit.” It’s almost a dreamy, post-Katrina representation of that part of the country. But it also has all of these fantasies, these childlike bits of imagery. There was also Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, parts of American literature, Heart of Darkness.
For games, we obviously looked at alot of survival games. Like DayZ, Don’t Starve, we’re all big fans of all of those. Faster than Light was a big influence, because that’s a game about moving forward and always making discrete choices – like “Do you want to go to this star or this point where I board a ship?”
We wanted to put you on the river and give you a gas station or a hospital. And it’s like “Well, I really need parts for my raft and I know gas stations tend to have those, but that means I can’t go to the hospital.”
Corey: That’s interesting – during my first playthrough I was doing that without realizing that I was even making a choice.
Chad: As you progress those choices become more and more important, so we kind of wanted to ease the player into it.
The other influence was Rogue-like games. You’re going to die and start over, and do a little bit better next time. You learn the mechanics of game and learn strategies to help you progress just a little bit further each time. That’s where FTL was another big influence on us.
Corey: Is there a specific tool or methodology that you feel was important in shaping a unique characteristic of your game?
Chad: We came together as a team just as Unreal Engine 4 came out. All of us had been working in it for a long time. Non-programmers like me can mess around blueprints and prototype immediately. It was a perfect tool for our designer to go in and make a simple river with an island that you can land on, and start playing with that concept.
One of our programmers, Damian [Isla] – he was super excited about the notion of the river when he was talking to us about joining the team. He saw that as a really fun challenge – building a procedural river, figuring out the flow and timing of events. He’s an AI programmer by trade and he saw it as almost designing an AI. He dove into that right off the bat. When we put out our Kickstarter video, we had a working river at that point, and I think that was only a few months since we started. He was able to get a functional river with a boat on it, and have flow, rapids and branches working pretty rapidly.
Corey, a recovering structural engineer from Minnesota, is studying game design at NYU. He likes synaesthetic games, improvised music, and pancakes.