Indie Spotlight: “Fran Bow” — Developer Interview & Demo Impressions

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Killmondaygames’ Natalia and Isak make a fitting couple. Their love for storytelling brought them together, initially as film-makers until their frustrations with what they described as “the elite superiors who suppress your creativity” and they chose to abandon the film career in favour of another medium, one that is more familiar to all of us — games.

Their first major effort, Fran Bow, a creepy point and click adventure featuring a depressed 10-year old protagonist and her hallucinations as she deals with escaping from a mental institution to find out the truth behind her parents’ murder. A rather unique premise for a point-and-click adventure, Fran Bow has been put up on IndieGoGo and Steam Greenlight for crowdfunding their ideas and their passion in creating this rather dark yet exciting game.

What’s uniquely impressive about this duo is that unlike countless developers who have pitched their ideas on Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other similar platforms, they have actually made efforts to make a working demo to give potential backers a brief taste of the idea.

I got a chance to interview both Natalia and Isak regarding Fran Bow — its crowdfunding project and the inspiration behind it and the end result was a rather engaging discussion on personal inspirations, cross-medium influences and a unique approach to game development.

iLLGaming(IG): According to your site, you have been working on the concept of Fran Bow for the past seven months. How did the idea originally come to life?

Natalia:
Well, the whole idea of Fran Bow was born actually a long time ago, about 11 years ago when I wrote this story about a girl named “Nobody” and it relates a lot of my own experiences. I had very hard time when I was a kid and teenager and the story itself is based on what I had been experiencing as a child, and I really try to show that through Fran Bow.

The blood and the meat comes from my early teenage days when I saw many dead animals, some of them being killed in front of my eyes. They left behind a huge impression in my head and I eventually took a vow to be a vegan.

Fran Bow was originally a claydoll animation movie me and Isak were making but after our studio got wrecked by an intruder, it was hard for us to resume. We were heartbroken to see our efforts destroyed until we realized that the story could be conveyed more effectively as a game.

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IG: What would you consider as some of the major influences behind Fran Bow besides your own personal experiences?

Natalia:
I love old musicals particularly from the 40s and my background in theater has made them an essential experience to me. Besides that, I’d say David Lynch’s Eraserhead and novels from Franz Kafka and Edgar Allen Poe are the key influences to Fran Bow.

IG: How did both of your background in films and theater affect how you approached games as a medium?

Natalia:
We think that the experiences we gained through making films are very huge because we got to understand a lot of characters “design”, and composition. The stories are told differently in film and games but in a way just understanding how it works it can be added in a very special way.

Whether it’s films or games, what drives us is about being very curious about life and people.

IG:  Why did you choose IndieGoGo in particular and not Kickstarter?

Natalia:
We wanted to do Kickstarter! But we can’t since we are from Europe and Kickstarter doesn’t allow anyway for anyone with a bank account outside North America to crowdfund at the moment.

But we are really intent on doing this game even if we takes 10 years. The Indiegogo would be super helpful as it could ensure we will have enough resources to finish the whole process of making a game on different platforms in less than a year.

IG: During the demo, I found many amazing moments where Fran’s character showed complexity beyond her age owing to her depressed state of mind? How do you intend on balancing that with her childlike innocence and curiosity?

Natalia:
When I create a character I do a very tridimensional description of it. It goes so deep that sometimes has things nobody will know but you can feel them because the characters transmit the vibe which me, as the creator wants to convey. I even do a similar thing for NPCs.

As for the balance, I understand that since part of Fran is who I was. The other part of her is my own creation, one where she’ll have her own problems and her own ways to deal with them. But it’s the personal connection I share with Fran which makes understanding her character and the balance easy for me.

IG:  How will Mr.Midnight’s (Fran’s cat) sequences differ from that of Fran?

Natalia:
Well, for starters, he’s a cat, so he’ll be able to see and hear things Fran cannot. Right now, the plan is to give players control of Mr.Midnight during certain sequences while the rest of the time he will be acting as a helper to Fran, a sidekick of sorts.

IG: A technical question for Isak(who programmed the game). Many of us were impressed by how you modified GameMaker: Studio to make Fran Bow? Still, why did you choose that over adventure-game oriented softwares like AGS?

Isak:
Before Fran Bow I didn’t know how to code or anything, and gamemaker seemed really beginner friendly and something we could afford! It was a great way for me to learn the basics of coding with a lot of time spent on it you can do really amazing stuff with it.

IG: Any plans for releasing Fran Bow to mobile platforms like Android and iOS? The point-and-click market has become fairly popular on those platforms.

Natalia:
We are planning on releasing Fran Bow on both those platforms. We had initially faced some difficulty on porting to Android due to the 50MB restrictions of GameMaker and Play Store but we will be able to work around that. As for iOS, it is a no-brainer choice for a release platform.

IG:  Both of you wrote two excellent blogs on how difficult PR is for a new indie developer. What did you learn from your experience doing PR for your own game?

Natalia:
I realized that it’s not possible to do both at the same time. We went through extreme difficulties in sending dozens of mail containing our presskit. The most discouraging aspect was not getting any sort of response from a majority of journalists. It’s almost as if an “elitist” mindset has seeped into the indie development community where some journalists do not bother with small-time developers and the indie developers who make it big turn their backs on smaller ones.

IG: What sets Fran Bow apart from any point-and-click adventure?

Natalia:
It’s as simple as “Fran Bow has something which I miss from every other point-and-click adventures or I would want from an adventure”

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IG:  Make an appeal to our readers. Why should they *absolutely* fund Fran Bow?

Natalia:
We need your help to could raise the money  to finish this game. This game is very close to our hearts and stems from our personal experiences and we have put our heart and soul in its concept. If you fund it, you will get our eternal gratitude,a  variety of perks and bonuses(according to the tier) and an amazing game to play that will blow your head off and make you feel something different than most games could.

IG: Thank you for talking to us,Natalia and Isak and we hope you reach your crowdfunding goal and Fran Bow becomes a reality.

 

iLLGaming Impressions of Fran Bow Demo

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The free-to-play demo begins with a rather haunting and enchantingly dark series of images which sets the mood for Fran Bow. With a menacing piano melody (composed by Isak himself), the intro cutscene gives a twisted and disturbing image as Fran, a 10-year old girl’s life is torn apart by a mysterious event. This is only the beginning of the surreal event as the demo plunges down into the rabbit-hole.

The demo, approximately 25-30 minutes long covers the first chapter of the game where Fran finds herself in a mental institution comprising of kids alone. After a brief cutscene with a doctor, the player is given control of her.

It is a fairly basic point-and-click adventure in terms of mechanics although the twist here is that consuming the pills transports Fran (or rather her mind) into an alternate dimension where blood, meat and twisted, disturbing imagery rules rampant. This “Red World” is telling of the impact the scene of her parents’ gruesome murder can have on a small child like Fran.

The demo is littered with little gems of dark comedy and moments which show great complexity of Fran’s personality partly due to her depressed state of mind. One particular line struck deeply with me as Fran said looking at a chair, “Why should I sit in a chair when I will have to eventually get up from it?”

This line speaks volumes about Fran’s state of mind and is rather poetically described even for a 10-year old.

The good thing about Fran Bow is that while the puzzles are fairly simple, they are not repeated and some of them are often quite smartly implemented. There are even mini-games associated with puzzles which showcase the smart use of GameMaker the duo of Natalia and Isak have been able to do.

The demo ends with Fran escaping from the mental institute with surreal and bizarre secrets lying outside. It is an enticing end to a demo that shows great potential for the game.

You can back Fran Bow on their IndiGoGo page or upvote them on Steam Greenlight. You can also visit their site which includes a free download of the above-mentioned demo.

 

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