[Written in partnership with RoundTable Games Studio, but the editorial team had full control over the content.]
I’m an avid watcher of Japanese horror RPG (role-playing game) playthroughs on YouTube. If I had to describe why I’m so captivated by them in 3 words, they’d be: simple, effective, and narrative-driven.
“Dying Flame as a concept was to prove that a horror game did not need exceptional graphics to be pulled off. With the correct sounds and storytelling, we have proven that we can scare people and keep them coming back, determined to finish the game,” he explained.
Horror aside though, Dying Flame at its core is a game that tackles heavy topics like marital loss, survivor’s guilt, and addiction while giving them the deserved respect and dignity.
In it, you follow the story of James who finds himself trapped in an unknown mansion with a lighter and a handful of cigarettes (which play an important role, as explained later). As he desperately searches for a way out, he discovers that his wife, Mary is trapped there too. Meanwhile, lurking in the darkness is a monster that incessantly hunts you down.
Hard-pressed to find similar Malaysian games in this style, we interviewed the team behind it to learn how it all began.
“We had all been employed until the pandemic.”
“Suddenly we weren’t. We gathered to complain at a round table for dinner, and then realised—we’ve got the skills. Let’s make something,” Edison recalled.
Thus, RoundTable Games Studio was born. The team consists of himself, Adam, Crystal, Justin, and Joel, all friends who graduated from UOW Malaysia KDU University under the Game Development programme.
While the team is new, Edison emphasised that they were experienced. He himself used to work on Eximius, Seize the Frontlines, and was formally part of the Forust Studio team working on The Company Man too.
Adam has worked on content creation in several game studios and with publishers such as Gameka and PlayOne Asia, while Crystal transitioned from game design to project management.
Justin’s a veteran designer with too many games under his name due to a game jam addiction, Edison shared. He’s missed only 3 in the past decade. Meanwhile, Joel’s their resident programmer who can work magic with Unity, a cross-platform game engine.
Together, they knew they wanted to make games that told stories with a clear message. Having one that tackled heavy topics then seemed like a natural fit.
Purposely putting players in a dilemma
“It started out simply with the lighter mechanic, where it’ll be spooky when you don’t have a constant source of light to view the monster,” Edison described.
They then drew on the implications between a lighter and a cigarette, and tied the only saving mechanic to the act of smoking.
“In a horror game, saving is never far from thought, and most players would save every few moments they can in those situations. It creates a dilemma,” Edison said. Frequently saving meant frequently “smoking”, exemplifying an addiction.
The team drew primarily on their personal experiences for the game, and where necessary, consulted specialists in different fields.
“For the smokers’ feelings of addiction, and what it’s like fighting that craving, we only had to look at Adam. In his own words, he’s ‘a constantly relapsing non-smoker’,” Edison said.
“Within the team, most of us have lost loved ones so we had a good reference for what dealing with grief is like, which proved useful for this project.”
With what seemed like a solid premise for the game, the team then had to think of a method of delivery.
Simple yet effective gameplay
As mentioned earlier, the team wanted to prove that a game didn’t need exceptional graphics to be effective.
“One of the main scares we wanted was the monster appearing when you struck your lighter. Unfortunately, if the player hugged a wall and never looked around, the scare could be circumvented entirely,” Edison said.
(He’s right about that, and I feel a tad attacked since it describes how I play horror games to a tee.)
At the same time, when you’re forced to move in the dark, having a grid-based movement makes it easy for you to count your steps and figure out where you are.
To ensure that the scares couldn’t be circumvented but that the gameplay wouldn’t be unfairly difficult either, they found the RPG Maker engine to be the perfect base for Dying Flame.
As expected, the process wasn’t without challenges. Design-wise, Edison shared they had to remove a gameplay feature then rework other mechanics.
But one of the most challenging aspects of the game was its audio design. “Dying Flame has little light, making sound very important to help the player navigate in-game. Of course, sound is also important to help scare players in the dark,” Edison said.
Testing the game was another struggle, especially with the pandemic. Physically meeting up with play-testers became impossible.
Edison shared, “For games like this, being able to see the player’s reactions and every action they take gives much more insight compared to what they tell us verbally. Without that component, certain designs were hard to gauge, like pacing and clarity.”
Building their reputation
While the earliest idea of what would become Dying Flame goes back almost five years, courtesy of Justin and Crystal, pre-production to publishing took only about 9 months.
“Game development is pretty cutthroat, but we shipped our first game on schedule and on budget,” Edison proudly said, adding that a huge win for the team was the fact that they got to make something they wanted.
They’re already working on another game that reveals its story through the player’s puzzle-solving prowess.
“Our immediate plans are to continue making games that tell a story like Dying Flame. We’re also using these smaller game projects to build our skills and reputation as developers for a much larger-scale project that we hope to announce in late 2022,” Edison concluded.
With that, you can take a look at what the game has to offer in the trailer below:
- You can learn more about RoundTable Games Studio here, and check out Dying Flame here.
- You can read more game-related articles here.
Featured Image Credit: Edison New, Director of RoundTable Games Studio