Review Fix chats with “Primordia” creator Mark Yohalem and Wadjet Eye Games’ Janet Gilbert, who discuss the game and its iOS edition and what makes it special, a few years after the game’s original release.
What happened to the humans? Ages have passed since Man walked the planet. In the desolate wastelands beyond the city of Metropol, a solitary robot named Horatio Nullbuilt and his companion Crispin spend their days combing the trash-strewn landscape for parts to repair their rundown airship and pondering the humans who came before them, but are now merely the stuff of legend.
When a rogue robot steals the power core Horatio and Crispin need to survive, their peaceful existence is threatened. Now the pair must travel outside the safety of their remote home to the bustling city of Metropol, where the search for power will yield unexpected discoveries about Horatio’s origins, his purpose, and the world he thought he understood.
Created by indie developer Wormwood Studios with help from Wadjet Eye, Primordia merges the challenge and depth of old-school adventures with a streamlined interface and player-friendly design that has been fine-tuned for touch devices. The iOS version will be a Universal App for iPhone and iPad, priced at $4.99.
Review Fix: When did the initial idea for this game come to you?
Mark Yohalem: Victor Pflug, Primordia’s artist, was the one who envisioned its core elements: two robots living in a crashed ship in the desert and traveling to a city. I came on at that point, and his basics immediately inspired the outline of the game’s themes. Cities and ecological wastelands and technology are really humanity’s biggest legacy on the planet, so that’s sort of where I started — what would it mean for those legacies to persist after we’re gone?
In particular, I remember a poem that my great-aunt Virginia Mishnun wrote, “The Inheritors,” which begins:
I sing of the race that came to be After man’s brief tyranny Over all beasts ceased, And we became a theory In another species’ pre-history; Endowed, as theories often are, With false glories and iniquities. The truth is, we lost our vision. In the man-pit of night We fought for light; And with faith in fission Lit one blaze too bright. The world will never see such flames again, Nor know the dream and worth that was in men.
Primordia is about one of those “inheritors” and the “false glories” attributed to Man the All-Builder.
Review Fix: What games inspired this one?
Yohalem: Thematically, Planescape: Torment and Fallout were the biggest inspirations. Lots of point-and-click games were also inspirations. For me, Loom, Full Throttle, and Sam & Max might be the strongest (even though those games are very different from Primordia). For Victor, I think Beneath a Steel Sky was the strongest inspiration. But I drew inspiration from all over the place — books as much as games — but just among games, Sacrifice was also a big inspiration.
Review Fix: What do you play for fun when you’re not developing?
Yohalem: These days, not much. In terms of sheer hours, the Left 4 Dead series and Starcraft and Brood War probably occupied most of my gaming hours. But those kinds of games aren’t necessarily fun — thrilling more than fun, probably. For sheer fun, I don’t think anything will ever compare to the core Nintendo titles on the SNES. Super Mario World is really pretty peerless.
Review Fix: What has development been like?
Janet Gilbert: Slower than we’d like! Primordia had a lot of small, intricate close-up scenes that needed a lot of re-coding and re-drawing to make them usable on an iPhone.
Review Fix: With all the competition on the mobile market and in the indies now, how difficult was it for you guys to try and make something that stood out?
Gilbert: We are not really trying to “stand out,” we just want to make games that are fun and engaging to play, with deep involving stories.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy this game the most?
Yohalem: It’s funny: at this point we have a pretty good idea of who enjoys the game from 1,500 or so people who positively reviewed it on Steam, GOG, Metacritic, etc., but it’s hard to group them together. For every Steam review that talks about how it reminds them of the adventures they played in the 90s, there’s another person saying it’s her or his first point-and-click ever. A very large number of our fans come from overseas, even though (as the writer) I’d say that the wordplay in English is a big part of the experience.
The basic fan is probably someone who likes some challenge in games — in the puzzles, but also in the story and its themes. Primordia asks players to come to their own judgment about things in the story, and that’s a big thing to ask. It’s not players’ job to make the story work, normally, but people seem to find it rewarding that the final answers are their own.
Review Fix: Bottom line, why must someone play this game?
Yohalem: It’s the only game ever to feature a gun-toting robot law clerk who can help solve a mechanical paternity lawsuit.
Review Fix: How do you want this game to be remembered?
Yohalem: Fondly! Although one recent (very positive) Steam review ends with, “Primordia leaves its scars,” and I guess in some way that’s something I’d want, too. (Earlier, the reviewer writes, “Primordia creates a powerful discourse about justice, law, charity, industry and energy, community and knowledge, energy and history. Most importantly, about logic and free will.”) For me, Primordia is about the disconnect between the way we want the world to be and the way it is, and how we cope with that disconnect — so I think if it leaves some sense of sadness, that’s good, too, as long as it is a hopeful sadness.
Review Fix: What are your goals for this game?
Yohalem: To engage with players. When we created Primordia, we all put a part of ourselves into it, especially the core team (Victor, James Spanos the coder and universal sounding board, and Nathaniel Chambers the composer). When people from all around the world find something in the game that means something to them, whether it’s the visuals or the music or writing or whatever, that’s a virtual form of connection that we ourselves have with those players.
In many instances, the connection isn’t just virtual — we try to read all the reviews, comments, etc., and correspond a lot with players. Over the years, these players have given me some wonderful gifts — a Horatio statue, a Crispin plush doll, paintings, songs, translations of the game into Spanish, French, Russian, etc. In fact, some of our collaborators on our current projects were people who reached out to us about Primordia.
But probably the best gift is just hearing about how players found something in the game that meant something to them. In fact, it seems like they have found more in the game than we put into it, and that kind of collaborative enrichment (if that makes sense?) is really what is best about sharing your work with others.
Gilbert: For our mobile ports, we want the difference between the PC version and the mobile version to be as invisible as possible. A lot of PC ports have clunky UIs that betray their PC origins, so we want the games to feel like they were coded for iOS originally.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Yohalem: I just finished up my writing on Torment: Tides of Numenera. Since Primordia is in many ways spiritually inspired by Planescape: Torment, working on TTON has been a nice way of closing the circle. I’m currently trying to get Wormwood’s own RPG, Fallen Gods, over the finish line. Like Primordia, it’s a melancholy game, though less hopeful than Primordia.
Gilbert: Wadjet Eye’s next iOS game will be Shardlight, followed by Technobabylon. We also have two new games in development for Windows.