Hot on the heels of the gww.com’s Knee Deep review, I was afforded the opportunity to chat with Wes Platt of Prologue Games. We got down to the “nitty gritty” on all things Knee Deep, Indie Development and the Swamp Noir genre.
Geeks WorldWide: Good Afternoon, Wes! Congratulations on putting out a compelling title! Tell us a bit about Knee Deep and how it all began.
Wes Platt: Knee Deep really got its start with some short stories I wrote when I was younger, about a shady little Florida tourist trap called Cypress Knee.
But this project truly got off the ground in 2014 when Colin Dwan brought me aboard to write and design the adventure for Prologue Games. We had worked together before on a post-apocalyptic MMORPG called Fallen Earth. After that team scattered to the gamedev winds in 2010, we kept in touch. We bounced ideas around. He latched onto this idea I had for a celebrity death investigation in Cypress Knee and off we went!
Geeks WorldWide: The most fascinating aspect of Knee Deep is that players are sitting in the audience of a giant, evolving stage play as they direct the story down its paths. What brought about the decision to present the game this way?
Wes Platt: From the start, we wanted elements of stagecraft, but mostly when it came to lighting. Late into the development of Act 1: Wonderland, Knee Deep still felt a lot like a straightforward Telltale-style game. That was a problem for us as a team. We didn’t want to be just that. We wanted something special. So as a team we brainstormed ways to really embrace the theatricality. A thread in our discussion touched on the old Carousel of Progress ride at Walt Disney World. I rode that a few times in my day. We talked about making an insanely huge “lazy Susan”-style stage with sets and lighting.
When I saw it work for the first time in the Unity editor, I was floored with glee. I never get tired of watching it.
Geeks WorldWide: What were some of your influences when writing the story? Does the team at Prologue have a collective favorite noir piece?
Wes Platt: Well, as I wrote the story, I drew water from a lot of wells. Sometimes it was fiction, like the work of Carl Hiaasen or noir movies like Chinatown and Body Heat. But it was just as often influenced by real-world news – shocking celebrity deaths and the social media climate, weird Florida stories, and cult religions.
Geeks WorldWide: Speaking of writing, the journalism mechanic was quite unique. It really feels like what is posted, printed or ‘invoiced’ will affect the plot. Tell us how you decided on this and perhaps shed some light on how much influence it has on the overall story.
Wes Platt: I’m a recovering print journalist – a much-less jaded and ground-down version of Jack Bellet. So the news game felt like a natural way to let players shape the individual character narratives. We’re a small indie team, so we knew that we wouldn’t have the budget to design a dozen different endings for the broader story. However, with the report mechanic, we could provide replayability in the stories that players could tell within the narrative. Ultimately, the river flows to the same place, but you can take different tributaries that change the narrative scenery along the way.
Geeks WorldWide: The “swamp noir” milieu seems to be an even more “humid” version of its L.A. counterpart (personally, the Florida thread from the film “Night Moves” comes to mind when I hear it). From a storytelling perspective, do you feel the events portrayed in swamp noir have to be more lurid in order to be distinctive from other noir work/games?
Wes Platt: I think the Florida climate certainly can lend itself to that – just check out the sweaty faces and loosened collars in Body Heat or an old noir favorite like Key Largo. But for Knee Deep I was more interested in exploring some of the state’s wackier tendencies. So as the story progresses along some fairly familiar noir lines, eventually it takes some very “Oh, Florida!” turns.
Geeks WorldWide: Was a traditional adventure format (fully controlling the character, picking up items all over the place) ever considered, or was the “telltale-ish” style of gameplay decided upon from the beginning?
Wes Platt: Originally, we planned free movement, more puzzles, a bit of pixel hunting. Ultimately, though, we felt like that was too cookie-cutter and time consuming. You know, creating time sinks and distracting from the story we wanted to tell? We respect the amount of time people have to play games. We’re gamers ourselves and it’s impossible to find time for all the games we want to play. So we established a philosophy to inform the game’s development along the lines of: We want people to play and finish the game. We don’t want people to quit playing in frustration over difficult puzzles or boredom over wandering. How many games do you play and think later: “I really enjoyed all the walking around?”
Geeks WorldWide: It has been reported that there are console versions of Knee Deep releasing very soon. Would you give us some insight on what may be different, if anything, from the PC version? Will there be Achievement/Trophy support, etc?
Wes Platt: The game is out in VR now and should be available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 early next year. I don’t think we’ve changed much at all in the console versions, which are coordinated by our pals at Wales Interactive. The VR version streamlines the experience a little, though. For example, we cut a couple of puzzles, such as the fuse wiring at the end of Act 1 and the gator whacking puzzle near the end of Act 2. It feels so much more immersive in VR!
Geeks WorldWide: Is there a set number of ways a player can get to the ending? For instance, it is known that the ending cannot be changed but the path there adapts to choices players make. How many playthroughs would it take to be sure one had seen everything the game has to offer?
Wes Platt: I wrote a whole lot of dialogue, plus bunches of reports for the three main characters. Some of what you see is driven directly by choices you make in the Opto Levels test as either Romana or Jack in Act 1. Some things change based on who you save at the end of Act 1. I’m not sure how many times you’d have to play to see *everything*, but I’d recommend at least three or four go-rounds to see what happens depending on who gets saved at Chief Roadside’s tower.
Geeks WorldWide: What’s next for Prologue and the “swamp noir” genre? Will we be seeing a sequel of sorts to Knee Deep?
Wes Platt: Never say never. If you’d told me six months ago that we’d be launching the game in VR right now, I wouldn’t have believed it! We were ready to move on to the next big thing. The more we discussed it, however, the more VR made sense given that the market is so young and (hopefully) hungry for unique content like this. For now, though, we’re just doing what we can to support the VR launch and prepare for the console release. Colin knows full well that I’ll happily come up with more weird stories if we see a lot of demand for it. So, pressure’s on you, world!
Geeks WorldWide: How would you answer this question… reaction time is a factor: You’re walking through a desert. You find a smartphone lying on its back, screen baking in the sun. What do you do?
Wes Platt: My mother? Let me tell you about my mother.
Thanks again to Wes and we look forward to what Prologue has in store in the future!