Space is a frightening place where no one can hear you scream and wearing a red shirt ups your chances of suffering a horrible and sudden death by at least 70 percent (which makes the fact no one can hear your cries for help all the more problematic). But, just because space is full of black holes, super novae, and whatever dark matter is, that doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be feared. In fact, sometimes humor can help us deal with the direst of circumstances, like being a farmer who suddenly finds himself sucked up into a spaceship by his beard. Uncannily, that is the exact situation Deaf Bird Entertainment’s A Little Less Desperation puts you in.
The classic point and click adventure sets you in the shoes of Jacob, a farmer described on the game’s Kickstarter page as “the last guy you'd abduct if you were an alien from outer space.” But, abducted Jacob is and he has to use his brains, accompanied by his dry and cynical wit, to find a way to escape. We caught up with Jacob’s creator, Marian Cerman, to talk about Deaf Bird Entertainment, the game’s inspiration, and how much of Jacob is based on Marian himself.
“I always loved sci-fi stories from when I was a kid and I still do,” Marian answered in response to my question about what made him want to develop a science fiction title. Marian says he was first inspired to create an adventure game many years ago when he played Monkey Island. “I was so fascinated by the game that I thought, just as many, many, many others, ‘This is what you want to do one day. Make your own adventure game.’” So, Marian began creating concept art for his own game about four years ago. “VERY conceptual,” Marian joked. From there was eventually born Deaf Bird Entertainment. However, calling it an indie studio isn’t exactly correct, I soon found out. It is much more complicated than that.
“We call ourselves Deaf Bird Entertainment,” Marian corrected, “but we don’t have a studio or company.” Rather, the small group of developers maintain their fulltime day jobs. This means using as much free time outside of work as they can spare in order to make their dream a reality. “The difficulties are obvious,” Marian says. Members of his team have experience with CGI, others with music design, and some have past experience assisting in game development. However, this will be everyone’s first title to create as a team, thus there is a high learning curve. This is why Marian and his coworkers decided to make the game in parts.
“Our first thought was to create a whole game, but when we were in the middle of finishing our demo, we realized we wouldn’t be able to do it in a reasonable timespan. You’d be amazed how many mistakes can be made and how many dead end roads can be taken while developing a game. So, we decided to make it episodic, which made the project look a LOT more realistic. It’s just so much work.”
Marian says he is fully aware that all this effort might not pay off financially in the end, or even reach a wide audience. For him, however, money and fame aren’t the goal, but rather keeping a precious part of his childhood alive. Marian sees A Little Less Desperation as an ode to an increasingly underappreciated genre.
“Although adventure games have had something like a renaissance over the past decade, we are aware it is a niche product. But, what we’re doing is not really about money, but art. We think adventure games are a great art form understood mostly by people (nerds) of our generation and we see A Little Less Desperation as our chance to contribute to keeping this art form alive.”
Much like the main character Jacob’s cynical attitude toward his otherwise precarious predicament on the spaceship, Marian has a light-hearted attitude toward life and even the struggles of trying to develop a game part-time. He says he attributes the success of their Kickstarter campaign to “a good deal of luck,” over anything else. Having played the demo, however, it is obvious luck had little do with it. Clever humor and difficult puzzles are far more likely the reason for success. But, taking things in stride is just a part of who Marian is, and even his explanation for the studio’s name reflects that.
“Well, fist of all, you’ve a job to do to find a name that is not already occupied by someone else yet. Second reason, it gave us the chance to design our cool and cute looking logo. (Just kidding). Third reason is biology and it’s about birds (and no bees).
Once I read about the behavior of birds when in spring the gentlemen birds sing their songs in order to attract the lady birds (ok, maybe some bees later on). There are the bold birds with loud voices and good songs, and others that lack these advantages. In some cases, these weaker birds, if the concurrency is too strong, don’t sing at all when they realize they have no chance anyway and singing would be a total waste of time and power. In terms of game developers, we are a tiny, tiny bird with a very weak voice.
From a realistic point of view, our chances to make something that will be noticed by the game community are very small. It would be rather wise to give it all up and enjoy a barbecue in the garden instead. But, we try it anyway. So in bird terms, a weak bird singing despite a superior concurrency might be either a stupid or a deaf bird.”
Marian readily admitted that Jacob was indeed based largely on his personality, but mostly because, as he explained, this was the first story he has created and therefore a learning process. “So, asking myself ‘how would I react in this situation’ seemed to be a viable approach to the problem.” Marian describes Jacob as “a benign and helpful guy,” who has a realistic view of the world and uses cynical humor “when things appear to become too weird.” Apart from himself, Marian says Jacob is also a conglomeration of some rather well-known sci-fi characters including: Arthur Dent from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Lt. Commander Data from Star Trek, and David Levinson from Independence Day played by Jeff Goldblum.
In fact, the game’s characters are heavily influenced by a great cast of recognizable characters from throughout the sci-fi universe, spanning TV, books, and film. Oh, and one from real life that you might recognize.
“The second important character is Harold who is strongly inspired by Quark the Ferengi from Stark Trek Deep Space 9. Also, some inspiration came from Beni Gabor, the opportunistic character from the movie The Mummy.
Zuuley is a real heroine who carries out her principles, but still is very humane and human (although she is an alien). I think very many fictional characters would fit her, but I guess the strongest inspiration for her were Leela from Futurama and Angua (a character from various Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett).
Ray, the guy that runs some kind of low-cost, private SETI project is strongly inspired by Nicholas Strong, the guy who runs the radio station in the TV show Under the Dome. Also, much inspiration, not just the character but the whole setting (his trailer, etc.) came from Charlie Frost, the character from the movie 2012 played by Woody Harrelson.
Mr. Electron Burke: That’s easy, any evil and scrupulous Businessman. Plus, his outer appearance was inspired by those automatic roboticvacuum cleaners. Well, a bit.
Speaking of Elvis, the name of the game is actually a parody of the Elvis song “A Little Less Conversation.” As the Kickstarter page explains, this points to The King’s cameo in the game (because we all know Elvis is still out there somewhere, obviously). It also fits the feel of the game perfectly. It is, after all, both an homage and a parody of the science fiction genre, as well as some of the most beloved stories, authors, and characters of all time.
“We took inspiration from Star Trek, Star Wars, Blade Runner, E.T., Alien, Event Horizon, Terminator, and Independence Day just to mention a few. We’ve also been inspired by people like Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Stanislaw Lem, Ed Wood and many, many others.”
It is all in good fun, Marian clarified, and for them it is a way to demonstrate their love of these genre classics. “We quote them and refer to them in our game by pulling some legs, but without being offensive or rude,” says Marian. “In fact, referring to some sci-fi works with our tongue-in-cheek humor in our game is our way to honor those works.”
It is this very humor that makes A Little Less Desperation feel both familiar and fresh, and definitely adds to the fun. The puzzles are duly difficult as well and will stretch your brain even if you are an adventure game aficionado. Right now, only the demo is available, but Marian says the artwork for chapter one is “more or less finished.” They are working on the character animations currently. “We really hope to have a running game by the end of the year,” Marian affirmed.
We hope so, too. That’ll mean a little less desperation for everyone all around.
The demo for A Little Less Desperation is currently free to download. Just visit the Steam page, scroll down and follow the links.