Interview With Broken Window Studios, Developers Behind Reflections

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Note: This interview is from an old website under a different name.

We managed to snag an interview with Tristan Parrish, the creative director over at Broken Window Studios that are developing a unique game called Reflections, a real-world adventure game where every action you take has meaningful consequences that radically shape the experience. We previewed Reflections some time ago, but now we have some answers for a few questions to get a better understanding of the game and its developers, and so without further delay, here’s the interview:

What’s your studio’s history on how it came to be in relation to Reflections soon after your first game Grave?

We started the studio formally to create Grave in 2014, which was originally a gamejam game we worked on in the Global Game Jam called “Cimmerian Shade.” Reflections was actually a project I had worked on way earlier, back in 2012, but had set aside. The studio has been working full time on Grave since our successful Kickstarter, and we brought Reflections “out of retirement” to help maintain our independence for the studio. We’ve been building Grave into a bigger and bigger game everyday, and it’s been going really well but we don’t want it to be cut short artificially. Reflections is our way of getting a smaller project out the door first, while exploring some really cool ideas with branching narrative that I think are really important to our goals with the studio. We’re hoping that the combination of Reflections and Grave will show that we’re not an average game studio, and that we have a unique perspective on how we make games.

What’s the aim of Reflections, what are you hoping for when people experience playing the game?

Reflections is named the way it is because that’s its main goal; we want players to “reflect” on their lives and how subtle elements of their play experience might evoke experiences from their real lives. Reflections is a game about living life, and deals specifically with the idea that you can affect your life without making “choices” in the usual sense. There are no explicit choices in Reflections; you don’t get a dialogue asking you to pick one of three things, or decide which levels you want to go to. Instead, the game looks at what you do while you play and figures out what priorities you have, then reads that back in the form of altered gameplay experiences.

Can you talk a bit more about the game’s unique story telling? We previewed it, but aside from the environment being more colorful, we didn’t really understood how impactful our actions were, mind explaining it a bit more?

The demo you played is a taste of the overall experience, so you don’t get to see all the effects that come in later on. The game takes you through 3 days or acts in your life, and each of those days has a larger impact on the experience of the game as a whole, branching your story and changing your relationships based on what you do. Everything starts with the day before you go to college, when you have to get your affairs in order and head out. It’s during this day that you set a lot of things in motion that ripple into the story later.

The game is about evaluating where you end up based on who you were in one “slice” of your life, this one day that doesn’t mean much by itself but says a lot about you. In the second act, you see where you ended up, if you work in an office, stayed at home and started a family or went off adventuring. There are a bunch of possible options to explore, and we hope that players will discover unique experiences that represent what they did.

We use color to signify that a relevant action has taken place. Things that get flushed with color will likely affect or be part of your story later, but we give you some time to wonder about that before you actually see the result.

One of the game’s features is “Full environment interactivity”. To what extent can we interact with the environment?

The final version of the game is going to have a ton of interactions, to give you the sense that you’re in a real space and can affect it believably. I can say that things like cooking will be part of it, as will using objects as gifts, playing records, fixing broken pipes and playing games. Right now we’re in the process of exploring the interactions that connect with players the most, so that the environment feels appropriately vital but not distracting. We have a rule that we want everything in the world to be potentially meaningful in your story, so we’re drilling into that to see what works best.

What were your inspirations, or what were your reasons for making Reflections?

It’s actually an interesting story, because I started Reflections in spring of 2012 as I was getting ready to graduate from college. At that time, Gone Home hadn’t been announced, but I was experimenting with the idea of a game that uses natural interactions instead of “game-y” ones. I always hate how games set up inventories, because the very existence of the inventory implies usage. I had played Dear Esther and felt that it represented an interesting side-path to explore. I was also feeling thoughtful about the future and wanted to use Reflections as a way of exploring those feelings.

The unfortunate part was at that time, I couldn’t see how a game like Reflections could be marketed. It was this really small, personal story without fixed objectives, puzzles or combat. Steam Greenlight wasn’t a thing and I was really just looking ahead at a future in games, so I did it for fun and then set it aside. I didn’t really come back to it until I was having a debate about story with another developer, and I realized that what I was describing was basically Reflections. It was at that point that I started seriously thinking, “maybe this game should get released.”

The game is heavily story-based obviously, and we have a general description of the story, but can you share a sample/example of that story?

So there’s a lot of possibilities, there’s combination of large changes and small changes based on your actions. You start out on the day before you leave for college, and you have to basically get your affairs in order, which includes packing what’s important to you, saying goodbye to your loved ones and figuring out what your priorities are. The game starts by asking who you are involved with in a relationship (if any), and a couple other details, then you have the chance to do anything you want to get your house ready for the next phase of life.

There are a few large changes that can occur while you play, and I don’t want to spoil all of them. I can say that if you were very focused and business oriented, you’ll likely find that you’re working at an office later on. What kind of office can change, as can your role there, based on what you focused on in the early section of play. Another player may go out exploring the fringes of the region and find themselves living out of a log cabin in the middle of the forest. Someone else who focused on family will see that as being central to their Act 2, while there’s also the possibility to have a life that’s less successful and leaving you wishing you’d done more.

The last act of the game is about bringing it all together, evaluating your choices and hopefully giving you some broader context into what kind of character you played and what was significant in your life. The rest, you’ll have to wait and see!

When we were playing the game, there were a few options to choose from in the begging before actually starting the game, and with the focus / powers of what the story-telling engine provides, does that imply a lot of playthroughs of the game?

We’re really focused on making the game highly replayable. There’s tons of hidden things to find, and the game is meant to be set up so you can’t do everything in one sitting. There’s a time limit, much like Majora’s Mask or Shenmue, and like real life you have to make choices about how you spend your time. Then those choices start affecting your eventual future.

We’re also putting in a few easter-eggs and special outcomes for people who play multiple times, so there’s plenty to unlock, explore and discover.

How many characters we’ll meet in the game, and will these characters intertwine with each other at some point?

There’s a small cast of characters that varies based on the actions you take. The story is primarily focused around your interactions with those characters, but there are at least a couple moments that will bring characters into direct contact or even possibly, conflict. That will all depend on what you do while you play.

You guys are making Grave and Reflections, two slightly similar but vastly different game, can we expect another unique game somewhere down the line?

We’re releasing Reflections to help subsidize the expansion of our Grave development, so that we can make it the game it’s supposed to be. I can’t say exactly what’s in store in the direct future after that, but I CAN say that we have several games we want to work on that incorporate elements of what our studio is about, specifically experiential gameplay and player directed narrative. Assuming people like what we’ve got in store so far, we have some big ideas for what comes next.

Lastly, what’s the support Reflections is going to receive after it launches, or are you just looking to make a finished polished game?

We’re trying to build a complete, cohesive game experience with Reflections, and we don’t have a big plan to update the game as we go. I feel like there’s certainly things we could add, but right now we’re trying to build a cohesive experience that gives the intial player a fully representative playthrough. Reflections has a bunch of branching in the story and we’re pushing to make sure that those branches come naturally and match up with what the player does. I feel like adding in more content would alter that. I hope that people will be interested in playing multiple times, but we really want that first playthrough to be the truest representation of you, so we’re hoping to get everything in before the initial release.

And that’s the end of the interview!

So Reflections has a story to tell, one that changes depending on your actions in gameplay and not through dialogue, which at that point makes it a replayable story game with great attention to detail, and you don’t see that much often in games if there is any of the like. Thanks to Broken Window Studios & Tristan for taking the time to have an interview with us. Reflections is coming out in May 2015 for the PC platform, and will come out for the PS4 / XB1 in summer of 2015.

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