Review Fix chats with Kevin Giguere, Lead developer and founder of Dragon Slumber, who discusses the inspiration and development process of his upcoming game, “Tech Support: Error Unknown.”
Review Fix: How was this game born?
Kevin Giguere: I love games and to explore different genres. Tech Support: Error Unknown is the third game I’m developing and following a 2d JRPG and a 3d racing game, I decided to try my hand at something different, both in gameplay and thematically. And since I wasn’t working with an artist, I knew I that I needed to take a visually minimalist style.
I thought the theme of a tech support specialist would be perfect since as a programmer, I’ve had to do a lot of that work over the years. I want to turn the table and show the reality of the technicians who are providing the help, because a lot of people are only used to the frustration of being a customer and dealing with a representative who comes across as inept. It’s not a full-on simulation, but it does draw inspiration from a lot of real-life situations and anecdotes from multiple support technicians, including my own.
Review Fix: What has development been like so far?
Giguere: It’s been fun to do research about Tech Support, gathering anecdotes from people who’ve done it for years. I’ve heard first-hand several stories which could be easy to dismiss as fiction, like people believing their CD drive is a cup holder. Some stories are so over the top that it’s difficult to include them in the game, people wouldn’t believe anyone could be so misguided.
Emulating a computer environment has been really unique as well, creating all the different applications you’d expect like the email, the chatting system, the Terminal command prompt which allows you to hack your system. Often times, when I add a new functionality, I can play with it in a very separate environment which makes the flow of the game very different.
Review Fix: What makes this game special?
Giguere: The dialogue system really makes the game stand out, since you end up engaging with a lot of different people with their own problems, but also their own personalities and way of chatting. Some of them make mistakes while typing which makes them more difficult to understand, they can use emojis in conversation, you have your funny and angry personalities and so on. Because every customer talks in a unique fashion, suddenly every interaction becomes a lot more engaging and interesting. You never know they’ll say next, what might offend them, or what they might be lying about.
Review Fix: What games influenced this one the most?
Giguere: Tech Support started heavily influenced by Papers Please, a one screen game requiring you to manage a lot of tasks and changing parameters as quickly as possible. I also looked a little to Kingsway for the Window system and Beholder recently inspired me to make the game a bit faster and more snappy.
I do try to play as many games as I can though and they each influence how I work, sometimes through elements to include or pitfalls to avoid. There’s so much to learn from over 40 years of game development, even when the genre isn’t exactly the same. The devil is in the details, and sometimes even bad games can still yield good ideas, so it’s important to never be dismissive.
Review Fix: As an indie studio, what do you think you guys do differently than the big studios?
Giguere: Being a one-man team makes it easier and faster to make a decision and execute upon it. If I have an idea, I don’t need to go through several levels of management to do it. It makes prototyping new and strange ideas a lot easier, and it means I don’t explicitly need to cater to different conflicting personalities.
Another advantage as a one-man studio is that I know everything about my game, from the design, to the programming, the art, the marketing, every single element I need to do myself. That makes me very knowledgeable which makes it easier to make decisions about the game and even helps to talk about it, since I know what I’ll be working on next.
In fact, I had the idea to add emojis in dialogue during this very interview, it’s not in the game yet, but you’ll be seeing it soon!
Review Fix: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Giguere: Working on the dialogue system is always yielding interesting new situations. Because the customers contacting you have their dialogue is randomly generated so they don’t all sound the same. Sometimes bugs will happen where they’ll start insulting me out of nowhere, or I once had a guy repeating the same sentence over and over like a lunatic. Those moments are great though and I often incorporate them within the game itself
I’ve even confused the game for Windows itself on a few occasion, so I start trying to do input commands like Alt-Tab to switch windows but it doesn’t work properly, or I’ll have a fright when the game throws an in-game bug my way and I think Windows itself is crashing. It’s been surprisingly easy to lose myself in that environment.
Review Fix: Why do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics like the ones in Classic games in new games is important?
Giguere: I love the immediacy of retro games. You used to be able to put the game in the console, turn it on and 3 seconds later, you were immediately playing. Now the system needs to boot up, check for updates, games can take forever to preload, you have screen upon screen of unskippable company logos… It shouldn’t be such a chore to start a game.
Old games also had more distilled gameplay, often focused around one or two gameplay mechanics. That purity often helped make the entire design more elegant. Nowadays games often have a lot of stuff in them, but they don’t always feel like they’re complementary, it’s just that players expectations for the amount of content has grown tremendously. I think it often weakens the experience, I would rather have a few unique and memorable items than a billion forgettable ones.
Review Fix: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?
Giguere: When I was 8, I rented Mega Man 2 for NES during the summer, and played through it leading up to the final boss. Once I got the boss within one hit, I paused the game and waited a few hours for my dad to come home from work to show him the ending of the game. I believe it was the first game I managed to complete, so I was really proud.
Incidentally, my dad isn’t much of a gamer, but he did manage to complete some pretty tough games, including Bionic Commando for the NES.
Review Fix: How does this game disrupt the video game landscape?
Giguere: In order to provide the right level of meaningful choices for the players, I’m evolving a lot of the tropes which have become common in the industry. Even though there’s the underlying conflict of a corporation against a hacktivist group, there’s no actual “good vs evil” in the game. Every character has their own beliefs and do what they think is right, and they react to you when they disagree with your choices. As such, there’s no morality meter, but individual people will change their opinions of you depending on how you act, which will open up different paths and close others down.
People really are at the heart of the game, whether it be your boss in the company, your brother who is taking care of your sick mother, the leader of the hacktivist group or the customers themselves, or the Indian tech support who needs your help. When players finish the game, I want players to wonder how their relationship with these characters could have been different if they had made different choices, and how it would have impacted the game. There are multiple endings, so players are encouraged to explore to find them.
Review Fix: Who will enjoy this game the most?
Giguere: Players who enjoy exploring and discovering new things about the game. Tech Support is all about the choices that the players make, they can be mean to customers and blackmail them, or they can be nice and get their gratitude. They can climb the ranks of the corporation they work for, or fight them by joining a hacktivist group.
I’m approaching Tech Support as a sandbox in the purest sense. While the game does provide goals for the players, like completing various tech support tickets, they still retain a lot of control, especially since they can hack their own system to enable features early in the game which should only be accessible later. It makes for a lot of replayability when you can get completely different outcomes leading to different endings.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Giguere: Since Tech Support is still in pre-alpha, there’s still a lot more to do. I’m always improving the dialogue system and adding new options for the players to express themselves. I’m also tweaking the gameplay to put make the game more active. Making game can be just as much of a discovery process than playing them. As new functionalities are added, we start understanding which aspects of the game work best together and can adapt the design to put more focus on those.
When I started development, I thought Tech Support would be about accomplishing a lot of tasks in different ways, but instead it became all about conversations with people and discovering more about them, sometimes by hacking their phone. I’m sure the game will continue to surprise me until the very end, it’s built to create these situations.
When you listen to what the game wants to be, that’s when it can really shine.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Giguere: For readers curious about the development process, I encourage them to join my Twitch stream at https://www.twitch.tv/dragonslumber/. I stream game development 6 days a week so there’s always an opportunity to join in, see a bit more of Tech Support and ask questions if you like.
I also encourage you to check out my BrightLocker page at https://www.brightlocker.com/games/tech-support/details. I post updates to the game as they happen, and players can even get a copy of Tech Support for free as well as my other games when they register. They can also wishlist on Steam at http://store.steampowered.com/app/781480/Tech_Support_Error_Unknown/