An Interview with David Pittman, from Minor Key Games.

This week I sit down for a quick interview with David Pittman, co-founder and one half of Minor Key games to discuss his new release, NEON STRUCT. Previously, he released the well received Eldritch, a Lovecraftian rouge-lite.  His twin brother and partner Kyle, is responsible for the excellent platformers: You Have to Win the Game and Super Win the Game.

NEON STRUCT is a first person stealth game with shades of Eldritch, Thief, and Deus Ex. These influences are just smaller parts of a whole. It's clear to see, NEON STRUCT stands on its own two legs. But enough sneaking around, here’s David Pittman in his own words:

TV: You just released your second game under the Minor Key banner, NEON STRUCT. Can you tell us what it brings to the table?

DP: NEON STRUCT is a political thriller stealth game. Set in a neon-and-concrete Brutalist world and loosely inspired by the modern surveillance state, it casts the player as agent Jillian Cleary, an ex-spy on the run from her former agency.

 TV: In what ways did real world events, such as Snowden, Manning, and Assange inform the gameplay and story?

DP: Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks were the initial spark for the concept of NEON STRUCT. I felt like there was a nice thematic and mechanical harmony in casting the player in the Edward Snowden role in a stealth game.
One of the primary characters has similar motivations to Assange, but otherwise, NEON STRUCT's fictional characters do not closely shadow any real persons.

TV: The soundtrack for the game features The Home Conversion.  There could have been a lot of stereotypical soundtracks for a game like this. What lead you to do something different with music in relation to the setting?

 DP: The Home Conversion's music was actually an early inspiration for the tone and feel of the game. When I heard their song "Cave Living", I envisioned a distinctive 1980s neon-lit world, which gradually developed into the style of NEON STRUCT's art.
So they were naturally my first choice for the game's soundtrack, and I was thrilled when they offered to not only provide their existing songs but write and record new material for the game.

TV: You mention the Brutalist choice of architecture in the art book. Can you tell us what lead you to that decision and how it fit the world you were building?

 DP: In the months immediately after Eldritch's release, before it was clear how successful that game would eventually be, my plan was to rapidly develop something new and different but using as much of the same engine and core technology as possible. I would have to continue using that game's voxel engine, but I wanted to avoid the Minecraft visual style this time around.
The solution I found was to emulate Brutalism, a style of architecture that was already known for its imposing blocky shapes and right angles. The fact that Brutalist buildings are also strongly associated with the Cold War era and that distinct kind of political fear made the choice even more appropriate for NEON STRUCT.

An example of the architecture in NEON STRUCT.
TV: Where there any ideas of level settings you thought would be fun, but just wouldn’t fit into the game’s world?

DP: I cut two levels during development. The first was a network of underground tunnels running from downtown Philadelphia to the outskirts of the city. (For those who have played NEON STRUCT, this level would have followed The Old Basilica.) It had sounded like an interesting space on paper: a crumbling maze of train tunnels and sewer lines, where fugitives from the surveillance state eked out an existence in ad hoc underground towns. But in game, it was dull, didn't advance the plot, and didn't feel "NEON STRUCT-y" enough.
The second level to be cut was an underwater train ride across the Atlantic. It never existed in the game in any form, and was cut because it was superfluous to the story and I wasn't sure a train could ever be a good space for stealth gameplay.TV: Can you tell us a little about how the art style came to be?

DP: Because of the size of the game, compared to its very small team, I needed to find clever ways to reduce the amount of work. I wanted to make something as low-fidelity as Eldritch, but without that game's Minecraft-ish style.
The thin, flat, faceless character design was primarily inspired by the style of Nigel Evan Dennis's graphic tribute to Game of Thrones, "Where Have All the Wildlings Gone?" (http://www.wherehaveallthewildlingsgone.com/)

TV: Your last game, Eldritch; didn’t have much dialog or as involved a story. Was writing for these characters daunting?

DP: After Eldritch, I began to worry that without the constant presence of my former coworkers in the AAA industry, my skillset would stagnate. So on NEON STRUCT, challenged myself to tackle certain kinds of work I hadn't done before. The first was stealth level design, and the second was writing dialogue. I gave it my best effort, but I also tried very hard to keep the dialogue minimal, so every line would tell the player something important about the game, the world, or a character.

A neon soaked night club.
TV: Care and respect seem to be taken in portraying characters of different race, gender, and faith in NEON. How did you go about developing these characters?

DP: Diversity in the cast was one of my goals from the start. When I was developing the plot outline and the major characters, I tried to make sure that there was a good mix of genders, nationalities, and more. I also developed a random character generator for the AIs, so guards have a broad range of skin colors and a 50/50 chance of using either the men or women body/hair meshes.
One of the challenges for me was presenting non-male or non-white characters authentically. In certain cases, I consulted with people so I could learn more about the identities of the characters I was trying to write. For better or worse, I often wasn't able to make the story about those identities, and it is possible that the characters are a little interchangeable as a result. But I have tried to avoid stereotypes and to treat each character respectfully.

TV: Has having to be your own PR department and community manager without the insulation afforded by a large publisher been a blessing or a curse?

DP: After years in AAA games, I still find it refreshing that I can be so transparent about what I'm working on and why. I think it fosters a better relationship between developers and players (or developers and press) when we can speak directly and honestly with each other.

TV: What can we look forward to next from Minor Key?

DP: Our next planned title is Kyle's Gunmetal Arcadia, an NES-styled platformer roguelike set in a war-torn fantasy world. He is documenting its progress weekly at its devlog: http://gunmetalarcadia.com/wordpress/
And coming out very soon is a big update and relaunch for Super Win the Game, with new content, enhancements, and a lower price tag.

TV: My editor is Austrian and is curious about the German subtitle. What lead to that choice?

DP: In the very early days of NEON STRUCT, I wanted a non-English title that might evoke the globetrotting nature of the game. I tried the phrase "the eyes of the world" in a number of languages, and chose German because I liked the sound and because one of the later levels is set in Hamburg.

NEON STRUCT is available now on Steam and Humble (DRM-free). A demo is also available: http://store.steampowered.com/app/368320/