Finalist | Excellence in Narrative

Georgina Bensley is one of the creators of Black Closet

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 2016 here. These conversations, and much more, will happen when the Game Center returns to GDC in 2017. Learn more about the Game Center at GDC 2017.

Ben Poland: I am here with Georgina Bensley from Hanako Games developer of Black Closet. What was the original spark that grew into Black Closet?

Georgina: Well I was thinking about mystery solving in games and how looking for clues and solving mysteries is fun but with a lot of video games is that it is always the same and you cannot really have that experience on other play through, you can only solve the mystery once. So I was interested in figuring out how to randomly generate mysteries and allow you to have that experience every time you play the game.

To do this, I went back and started looking at older games. Looking for ways mysteries have been handled in the past. I stumbled across a game called Floor 13, which is a very old British game. I did not end up playing it but I read about it and it gave me all sorts of interesting ideas. You are playing this secret British agency that is doing all sorts of things to protect the government. You are running around assassinating people, torturing people, dealing with scandals and the like. Which was very interesting, but I did not want to make a game where you were actually assassinating and torturing people because that is icky. This made me think of moving it to a high school environment. I actually went to a very high profile restrictive private school. Where people would be there their entire lives. The thought of being expelled from that school is like being killed. You know nothing of life outside the school and know don’t know what is going to happen next. So from that way I could connect expulsion to assassination and similarly, detention to torture. This turned things down a bit so it was not on the whole murder level. Because I don’t really like that.

Ben: During most lengthy development processes developers can enter what some may call the “Valley of Despair” Did you experience this, and if so how did you push through?

Georgina: Our biggest moment of despair came from a technical level. There is a point in the game where we were trying to reformulate the way the engine worked for security reasons, and we were having a lot of trouble with that. We spent a lot of time getting nowhere. Eventually we came up with a better idea, started the security problem over from scratch and it worked much faster that time. It is very nice when you have that moment of inspiration again and things begin to work again, so you recover from it that way.

Ben: How does the original vision of Black Closet differ from the end product?

Georgina: The very early version of the game was much shorter. In the beginning of the game one of your minions is a traitor and that is randomly assigned. So in the original concept for the game it was supposed to end when you found the traitor. Which currently happens about two months into the game. However, as I was writing this I began to think about how in the game it is the player character’s senior year so finishing your senior year of high school is kind of a big story. There is a lot more going on there are college applications and that level of stress. And there is also the story of what is going on behind the traitor and some of the possibilities we came up with were so interesting that we thought that it really needed its own plot arc. So the game massively expanded at that point.

Ben Poland is a second year Game Design MFA student who loves game nights, learning new things, deep conversation, and discovering new music.  “At the end of the day my desire is to create things of value.”