Craig Littler (of Blue Button Games) began making his adventure-RPG Family Man before he became a dad. In fact, while Siliconera was interviewing him about the game, his first child was born – the interview was understandably delayed for a little while. Considering this, it’s a ripe (if busy) time to talk to him about the subject of his videogame and now his life: being a dad.
Family Man is a game in which you make minute-to-minute decisions that will affect you, your family, and other people in the society around you. It’s a game that’s meant to elicit an emotional response in you, asking you to locate yourself on the moral compass – what will you do and not do to provide for your family.
It’s also a game that branches out further than this enclosed subject to look at the world at large. We live in a time that has seen economies dip, recessions hit, and millions of people migrating to what they hope will be a better life on the other side of the world. All of this factors into what will affect you in Family Man. All of this is what Littler talks about with Siliconera while explaining how it fits into the game.
Are you a dad (or family man) yourself? That is to say: is Family Man inspired by your own life at all and how?
Craig Littler, designer: I just became a Dad for the first time actually, so I would say I am a family man. In terms of inspiration there are definitely elements of my own life in there but I think there’s a lot of inspiration going on subconsciously. It’s also not just inspired by my own life but the economic climate everywhere. I’ve wanted to make a game in this vein for a while but I think my current personal situation has inspired me to think about these topics and push forward with the project. I think all work is in some way inspired by your own experience so in some ways it’s unavoidable.
The way that you’ve presented Family Man makes it seem as if there’s a good and a bad path. Is the game more complex than this with more paths?
The real world is shades of grey in my opinion and so my aim with Family Man is to reflect that. It’s not as simple as a good path or a bad path: if a player decides to commit crimes in order to spend more time with their family that’s a reflection of their moral compass, perhaps they steal something to preserve the integrity of the family. Is that the bad path? I want to leave it open to interpretation.
How do players choose the paths they want to take and what might factor into their choice at various points throughout the character’s life?
It’s not so much about paths it’s more about minute to minute decisions, it’s not like once you’ve chosen a direction you have to stick to it. One of the themes of the game is ‘it’s never too late’ so I want to keep the experience open and it feel like the situation is always salvageable. As to what will factor in player’s choices, things like how your family will react, how well they’re provided for, and the unhappiness you might be bringing to other people with your actions are all influences in your decisions.
You’ve shown in early footage that the game will include shooting, stealing, fry cooking, and talking. What other types of actions will be available? Are there any that strike you as being completely original i.e. not seen in a game before?
There are plenty of other actions but I don’t want to spoil them just yet, however just to the point of original stuff I don’t think I’ve seen the remorse system done in a game quite like this. As you can see in the trailer there’s a point where Family Man is at the kitchen table at night thinking about things. The more things you have to think about (reflected by your actions in the day) the harder it is to get to sleep. The less you sleep the more tired you are the next day when you go about performing your tasks, making it more difficult. Just getting by day to day becomes more difficult based on how much mental weight they’ve accumulated through their actions, there’s something honest about that.
There’s to be a whole neighborhood to explore. How open is it and what can players do inside it? How can they affect it over time?
I’ve not settled on a size yet, but there will be other families and areas you can explore and affect. There will be also be stores where you can buy items or steal them. Affecting over time is an interesting one, so if you rob a store too much it could go out of business, or if you injured the owner it wouldn’t open up for a while.
Given the rough circumstances you put players in in Family Man it seems it could be quite saddening. Is this part of the influence from Papers, Please? Are you planning on making players cry and feel strong emotions in the game, and how?
Literally the core goal of the game is to provoke an emotional response from the player, that’s what I wanted to do all along. In terms of how, that’s the magic question isn’t it? I think the key to that is to getting the player to empathize and invest in characters and situations and then seeing them fall apart, I do however think the key to that is choice, the player has to choose to be invested. In that regard giving the player ambient opportunities to invest in characters is where I think you create the most value emotionally. Instructing a player to care about character X won’t cut it.
You’ve called Family Man an RPG but what about it specifically, in your mind, makes it an RPG? What other RPGs would you compare it to?
I called it an adventure RPG because it’s the only real category it falls into, it’s not a shooter, or a platformer or a puzzle game, it’s a game in which you play the role of Family Man. It shares some similarities with adventure games but the goal is for it to be a much more immersive, role playing experience. In terms of other RPGs, I’m not sure I would compare it particularly to any of them. It very loosely shares elements of Skyrim in terms of the first person free-form gameplay that emerges and the character interaction but it’s nothing like the scale and the combat isn’t anywhere as important.
What’s the current timescale on getting Family Man finished? It seems like a lot of work for one person. How are you managing it all?
Ha! I’m planning to release Family Man in 2016. You’re right it’s a lot of work, it’s a huge undertaking but honestly so was my previous project when it started. I always strive to bite off that little bit more than I can chew. Creating a project like this is tough, but in indie development I believe the only way to make it is with ruthless efficiency, if I set aside time to work on it then it’s completely focused with as few distractions as possible. It’s also possible I’ll enlist more help along the way to help me finish it. We’ll see.