It's apparent from the outset that Beeswing is something special. Free of fighting and puzzles, it's designed to immerse you in storytelling, music and artwork. Created by Jack King-Spooner, who fans of unusual indie games might already be familiar with as the creator of the claymation horror game Will You Ever Return and the eerily atmospheric Blues For Mittavinda, Beeswing is along quite different lines:
Beeswing was home for me for the formative years of my life. The time I spent there shaped the person I grew up to be. The people I loved and their stories have stayed with me ever since. This game seeks to document a quality of that.
It is a story about the past, about community and childhood, attachment and growing up. Scottish folk tales, morally dubious parables, cloudy anecdotes and more contemporary stories of homelessness and immigration all combine to create a truly dynamic narrative.
The project aimed to raise the modest sum of £2,250 and is already fully funded with three weeks left to run, and it will be interesting to see what stretch goals are added to the project. Let's take a look at the pitch video:
Set in the village of Beeswing, players can wander around and talk to the people they meet, unearthing stories and folklore that will challenge their preconceptions and give them a taste of life in a small Scottish village. Every character you meet will have their own tale to tell, drawing you into the narrative of the village and giving you a chance to explore and discover. The game is also semi-autobiographical, drawing on the creator's own formative experiences.
One of the things that strikes me about this game is the whole aim of placing you with an interactive environment and letting you explore - a sort of story sandbox if you will. I'd love to see more games of this type made, with real regard given to the personalities and stories of the NPCs. It's a medium that lends itself well to storytelling, and I'd be interested to see whether this kind of game-making is ever adopted for the creation of historical or geographical games that allow you to experience a particular time period or place.
Platform and gameplay
Beeswing is initially being created for Windows, although personally I harbour the hope that we'll also be seeing an Android and iOS version in the future, as I can really see this format lending itself well to a touch screen interface. The gameplay is designed to be similar to 2D RPGs like The Legend of Zelda, allowing for easy navigation through the game that leaves you free to concentrate on the story.
Artwork and soundtrack
The game features an interesting mix of art styles, from delicate watercolours to monochrome pencil drawings and clay art, and an atmospheric soundtrack designed to accompany the different stories. Both music and artwork seem to be designed to draw you in and immerse you in the experience of the game, and despite not having played it yet I feel as though I can get a good idea of what I'm in for just by listening to some of the tracks. You can check out some of them here on Soundcloud.
As well as the usual offerings - a digital copy of the game for £5, a downloadable soundtrack and a digital sketchbook documenting the writing and paintings of the game for just £15 (which to me seems like a very good deal), there are a few unusual rewards there that you don't usually see. £10 gets you not just a copy of Beeswing, but five other indie games, essentially offering an indie bundle for a very competitive price, and for £145 you can have your own small game, custom made with your choice of music, graphics and theme. This Kickstarter really offers a lot to supporters compared to some that I've seen, and there's a big incentive to get on board despite it being fully funded.
Meet the creator!
But enough from me, let's meet the man himself! Jack was kind enough to answer a few of our questions and tell us a little more about the game.
Beeswing is an unusual game - there are no puzzles or monsters to fight, but instead there is a world to explore and get lost in, and a wealth of stories to uncover. What made you decide to make a game of this type, and what particular challenges did it present?
I like characters in my games, and I realised as I made my little freeware games that the puzzles were just sort of getting in the way, and that they weren't what I or the players enjoyed about my work. The biggest challenge of having a character driven game where the protagonist isn't the point of interest is to have really chewable stories that bring something unexpected to the player.
Beeswing is a game that tells a lot of stories - how much of the inspiration for these came from stories you heard growing up, and how much of it is straight from your own imagination?
I think mostly all of it is stuff I've picked up along the way. Some things are from folk stories and folk songs, some are little things that happened and felt self contained enough. Of the stuff that is imagined, it is more in terms of what the characters might say, for example there is a character who is obsessed with media and all his dialogue is researched and created specifically, and not based on anything from my growing up.
I notice that you're creating a hardcopy for the village, and you mention some village recipes in your Kickstarter video - how involved were the people that inspired this project in the creation of the game?
Well, not involved enough at the moment. I have people's permission and have had many, many nice interviews/ chats with people, but it would be great to document more of the happenings and feelings connected with the area.
Your graphics are beautiful, were all of the scenes created by yourself? How did you decide on the different styles and what do they bring to the tales they illustrate?
I created all the scenes in the game, I have some input from my arty friends though. The style seemed perfect for a game about the area. Nearby there is a town called Kirkcudbright and it's one of these little coastal places where people retire to. There is a great abundance of water colour art coming from there, and it seemed somehow the choice medium for the game. The clay stuff is somewhat hearkening back to animation trends of the 90s where the game is sort of set (but not exactly).
When writing the music for the game, what inspired the sounds you chose and how do they relate to the story?
Interesting to think about this question. I think there are many factors influencing the music, and the music changes to quite extreme degrees. One character has quite a suffocating perspective on things, and I wanted her music to be a muddy electronic sound. There is a sort of relational psychology in the music, where when you talk to a parental figure the music is somewhat childish, with acoustic instruments and the like. When you are put in the position of authority the music is often a lot darker and claustrophobic, murky electro.
Gaming is becoming a more popular medium for storytelling, but games that are purely story are still a bit of a rarity. Do you think that storytelling games are likely to become more popular as the technology becomes more accessible?
It's hard for me to say but it does seem that way.
At the time of writing, your Kickstarter has just exceeded its £2,250 goal. Do you have any stretch goals in mind at the moment?
I've been thinking about it since passing the goal but I'm very nervous about it to say the least. My only goal would be to make it for other platforms (Mac, Linux and perhaps Android) but it would be a big jump of about £2000. I also would hate people to think that I'm not grateful for all the donations so far by going and asking for more money.
What is your own gaming background? Tell us a little about the games you love to play.
I grew up on the SNES and the gameboy, but computer games were only for rainy days and coach trips really. I used to love Earthworm Jim and Neverhood and games that just did their own thing. These days I mostly play freeware games, especially ones which have an air of the auteur about them. A lot of great developers are producing stuff for free on the GameJolt site and I really like finding weird and wonderful stuff. I love almost everything to be honest. The only stuff I don't like really are the games that are largely derivative. I also feel weird about those games that take the worst of Japanese animation, in particular the sexualised female characters.
Thanks very much to Jack King-Spooner for taking some time out to chat to us!