Kickin’ It With: Duangle – Nowhere

by Dave Beaudoin

For this episode of Kickin’ It With we’re actually talking with indie studio Duangle who have decided to forego the Kickstarter or IndieGoGo routes and do their own crowdfunding for their new game Nowhere!

4CR: Can you give us some background on Duangle? What is your background in the industry?

Duangle is us two, Sylvia and Leonard Ritter, a couple from Germany, currently living in Dresden. We’ve been both active in the demoscene (a digital art collective that predates the internet), which is also how we met. Sylvia creates abstract drawings and paintings, both digital and by hand (you can check out her exhibition site here). I’ve been mostly known by my electronic music artist handle, “paniq.” I also produced several 3D
“demos” in the past as a member of Farbrausch (who you may remember from their .kkrieger game, a small procedural first person shooter of only 96k in size), and had the privilege to collaborate with NVIDIA during one of these productions, “Masagin.” I’ve also been working for several years in Hamburg as a games developer for 49 Games.


4CR: Nowhere is a very ambitious project. What made you want to tackle such a huge task?

Earliest work on what would eventually become Nowhere started in 2008. You know how they always say “start with something small, work your way up”? That didn’t seem to work well for us. Concept wise I was all over the place, it was difficult to focus on a single strand. It was really weird. When the idea had taken on a bigger shape, the project
suddenly seemed megalomaniacal, with a goal years away, but when I had cut down an idea to be manageable, it lost all excitement because there was no challenge, and especially, not something that I wanted to enjoy as a player. I had (like many other devs) a small Minecraft engine going, there was also work on a psychedelic Mikado (Pick-Up
Sticks) game, among with two other ideas that at the time seemed too big to us (one of which being the incarnation as different people in a small town).

Eventually we figured that we have to go with one of the “grander” ideas, one that provides enough fuel to keep us going, and would provide an umbrella to any other idea that might come along. It’s always impossible to tell whether something will work out, but we
figured showing up is 90% of the game. Others take a “leap of faith,” we needed a “caravan of faith.” That kind of helped to cope with the size of the task. So all these efforts then spiraled into Project Ginshu, where we kept developing on a single code base towards whatever the game wanted to become. In the process I wrote two game
design documents that we didn’t use. The project meandered a lot in the beginning between different influences, but in January 2013 it became pretty clear what this would eventually be as a game. For the first time an idea wouldn’t lose its appeal over time, and that’s really all you need to keep going.

nowhere_24CR: The graphic style of the game is really impressive and seems to invoke Tron and cyberpunk sensibilities as much as psychedelic themes. Could you share some of the influences that led to this overall look?

We both have a taste for complexity and lushness in presentation. An observer should feel a little overwhelmed and out of his element. Black light art and naturalistic design are a big inspiration, e.g. architecture by Antonio Gaudi and the naturalistic drawings by Ernst
Haeckel. We wanted every player to get something different, so the solution was to no longer manufacture assets by hand, but work with procedural algorithms that would even surprise us.

4CR: What can players expect in terms of music in the game?

Most games separate sound effects and music into two distinct areas. In NOWHERE, the sound effects are the music. Every sound element contributes to a musical texture that changes with location, presence and activity. All effects are rhythmically timed, as rhythmical timing will also become part of the gameplay. The style is heavily informed
by genres from the electronic/psychedelic spectrum: goa, psy-trance, dub, downbeat, ambient and acts like Shpongle, Ott and KiloWatts (we would love to involve them directly but our budget doesn’t allow for that.)

NOWHERE_34CR: Can you give us an idea of how close you are to the completion of the beta?

The beta is actually not scheduled for before Q3 2015, and it will be closed among the alpha participants. We have an open alpha development process that supporters can partake in (until the funding goal is reached). So far I’d say we’re about 5%-10% in, with progress improving exponentially. By Q4 2014 I expect about 50% of the gameplay to be covered, if funding keeps on going well.

4CR: From what you’re describing the potential for Nowhere is almost limitless. Do you have an end state in mind for the game or are you considering taking the Dwarf Fortress route and keep developing and improving the game indefinitely?

Both. I very much love the notion of a game as a continuously changing work, but there’s also the merits of a closed body of work that is then open for critical review. The deal we have with founders is that the game will be “completed” by the end of 2015 as scheduled, fully reflecting the original vision, and that’s what we will do. At that point, there may already be a few ideas flying around that would alter NOWHERE enough to upset existing players. So the plan is that we would make a clean cut and begin work on a “NOWHERE 2.0″ (That is not an official title!) where we explore avenues not taken, try out ideas opposing the original concept and factor in the efforts of the modding community. This would, again, be done in form of an open alpha process that everyone is invited to participate in.

NOWHERE_44CR: The videos and alpha releases have highlighted some of the various mechanics you’re implementing in isolation. As you get closer to the beta and final release is the plan to continue to release game mechanic specific alphas or to start bringing the parts together into a more cohesive representation of the game?

I admit the presentation has been meandering all over the place and was more of a tech demo than anything else. From Alpha 88 onward, the work is now coming together, and becoming increasingly cohesive in the next months. We would have liked to launch the crowdfunding with a completed prototype, but the work necessitated full time commitment,
and we needed funding for that, so we had to go. It’s a hen-egg problem that will hopefully resolve itself as time progresses.

4CR: You’ve decided to not use Kickstarter or Indiegogo for your funding and are instead going through the Humble Store and Steam Greenlight. Why did you decide to go this route?

Both Kickstarter and Indiegogo felt a little impersonal plus the option of seeing the funding fail was out of the question. We want this game to happen, in exactly the way we’re imagining it. We saw other studios like Introversion successfully host their own
crowdfunding, so we went ahead and created our own site for it as well, and the launch went way better than we expected it. The Humble Store has been nothing but helpful and forward coming in this process, and they’re the best thing happening to indie games in a long time. Steam Greenlight is more of a long shot. We had paid the $90 admission
fee a while ago and heard that Valve might close the Greenlight program soon, so we didn’t want to let that “investment” go to waste. If it helps our exposure and increases our chances to get funded if we get an Early Access slot, then why not. Anything for this game.

4CR: I know you’re focused on a PC/Linux/Mac release, but have you considered porting the game to consoles? If not, why?

I’m not against a console release. Getting a game out on consoles is coupled with a range of additional difficulties though. You’ve got to pay for the devkit and the TCR/TRC validation (I’m told this is now cheaper than it used to be), you need approval from the console manufacturers for your concept (so ideally it should not be in an experimental stage), and most of all, the conversion isn’t done in a week, but can take months. On PC (and hopefully Steam OS, later on) we’re also free to make use of scripting environments, open source and GPL components that may pose a difficulty for consoles. If NOWHERE
takes off after release and console fans want it, we’ll definitely look into it.

NOWHERE_54CR: Your approach to licensing is also really interesting. Do you have plans to support community development down the line in the form of the Steam Marketplace or general modding communities?

To make modding as painless as possible was a consideration of the engine design for NOWHERE. The largest part of the game is written in Python and assets are freely accessible. The game’s source is included. Supporting the Steam Marketplace on top of that wouldn’t pose much of a problem.

In closing is there anything else you’d like to share about the project?

At this point I’d like to mention that we’re immensely grateful to everyone supporting us at a time when all this seemed like a big risk - it still does seem that way, actually. We’ve been taking contributions from friends, family and fans reaching back to 2012 which we put into buying hardware and testing equipment, and so far no one has told us they regretted getting into the boat, maybe because we’re trying to be honest about our progress and take feedback seriously. I’d like this to be a success story for everyone, and we’re working hard and passionately as we always have to make it come true, and service the community for many years to come.