Limbo of the Lost - Interview with Steve Bovis
It's had a long history so you might think that Limbo of the Lost has been lost in limbo. Well, maybe it did have some forced stints in limbo, but it's also been evolving and transforming for more than 10 years.
It was first conceived as a graphical/text adventure for the Atari ST. It was then transformed into a point and click adventure for the Amiga, before its present incarnation using updated technologies and 3D character modelling.
The team who were once known as Tri - Logik Studios have transformed themselves into Majestic Studios to bring Limbo of the Lost to the PC, and Steve Bovis, Creative/Project Director for Limbo of the Lost has taken time to talk to Gordon and tell Quandary readers some sad tales, as well as give us a sneak peek into that mysterious land of Limbo.
Gordon: Hi Steve, thanks for sparing us some of your time. Can you firstly tell us something about yourself and Majestic/Tri - Logik Studios. How did you get into adventure games. Back at the beginning, what games inspired you to make a game of your own?
Steve: Hi Gordon. How did it all start?...
Well to answer that question we need to go way, way back. I started playing adventure games in the 80`s from the ZX Spectrum, and through to the early 90s on the Atari ST. It was at this time I met a guy named Tim Croucher who also loved the adventure game genre. We had between us played nearly every adventure game on the market of which our favorites were The Pawn and Guild of Thieves. After a debate into the poor state of the Adventure game genre and no one actually making absorbing adventures anymore, we decided to start scripting and formulating ideas for our own adventure game.
The initial idea was to come up with a game design document that we could eventually show to a development house and hopefully create the game we both always wanted to play.
After months of meetings, we came up with the idea of a FACT/FICTION adventure game where we take a factual event in history and weave a Fictional event through it.
After many months work we came up with a story, characters and a game world, This was then poured into a Text/Graphical Adventure demo for the ATARI ST. TRI - LOGIK Studios was our development name and we spoke to many publishers regarding the idea (at this point it was just a demo). Every publisher was interested but only if we finished the game, all well and good but the game design was huge and we were a team of two.
The decision was made to carry on expanding the game and the team, the latter was harder than first thought, we spoke to many demo groups but found no one who had the passion for the concept and the early idea. As we soldiered on and approached the middle development time of the project the ATARI ST was being nudged out of the game market by the Commodore Amiga. So much so that publishers did not want ATARI ST games anymore. The ST project was doomed and shelved.
In 1995 after learning new tools on the Amiga I resurrected the project with Tim but this time the Graphical Text adventure was now a point and click project with character animation, cut scenes and even an animated Intro Video that the player could watch before playing the game. The team had also grown from two to three, with Laurence Francis joining the project as musician and puzzle designer.
All was going great, we had a good Amiga A500 demo, a VHS Video Intro and a publishing contract with RASPUTIN SOFTWARE part of Grandslam Entertainment. The demo was shown at the ETS show in London and we had numerous magazine articles showing artwork and screenshots. The game was also moved over to the AMIGA 1200 and CD32 console of which we had a cover demo disc on CD32 GAMER magazine. At last our long awaited vision was finally going to be published... Well it would have if the Amiga did not also start to slow down on games sales in the shadow of the PC (which at the time was just becoming a gaming platform).
Fast forward to 2003, I had moved over to the PC three years before hand and started looking at Development Tools and game design using 3D modeling and rendering. With the cursed project still in my head I set about putting a small, one scene demo together using 3D rendered characters etc. This then grew to a point where LOTL (Limbo of the Lost) could be a viable PC game in its own right. I set-up MAJESTIC STUDIOS got in touch with Tim and Laurence who jumped at the chance to work on the project again, but the game needed to be brought up to date, everything was re-written from the ground up, everything apart from the initial concept and some character design ...and the rest is history.
Gordon: So have any more recent games influenced your current project?
Steve: The project is more influenced by film and literature rather than other games, we want the experience to be as original as possible and as such we have made a calculated effort to keep away from other games in the genre. Limbo of the Lost is an experience first and foremost, secondly wrapped up in a game media and genre.
Gordon: I can see Limbo of the Lost has been through some tough times, what has sustained your enthusiasm?
Steve: I would say the story and game concept, the original characters and the passion for creating an experience that can be shared and enjoyed. Throughout the years two things have sustained in the light of ever changing technology, the team's dedication to the project and the game concept.
Gordon: For most of that time many critics have incorrectly proclaimed the death of point and click adventure games yet you have chosen to stick with the format. Thanks for this, by the way. Why do you think this is the best format for Limbo of the Lost?
Steve: I have played many games and genres but to really connect a player to a virtual world you need narrative and characterization, (anyone who disbelieves this only has to look at book sales and why books still sell as a media). LOTL is all about telling a story to a listener (the player) showing them a world that they can escape to and experience. Remember the player does not actually control the main character in LOTL, he/she merely asks the character to do actions via an interface, actions that the main character may or may not do.
This and other mechanics of LOTL is the reason for sticking to this genre, it is a perfect, uncomplicated vehicle for players to interact with the nether world of LIMBO. I believe the genre has not died, only the ability to express a gaming experience using the genre has died.
Gordon: Were you ever tempted to change it?
Steve: I was tempted in looking at a full 3D game with the player controlling the main character via a controller and pushing buttons to make him run and jump and I was even going to have him fighting with a sword.... Sorry only joking!
The answer is 'No', the game concept fits the genre like a glove, the story, characters and experience are what matters. They must be valued in the right gaming mechanic, Point & Click is the only mechanic of choice at the moment for this. That is until a new story telling genre is found.
Gordon: During the long gestation for this game, what sort of changes have you made to bring it up to date.
Steve: All of the game (apart from initial background story and some character designs) had to be re-written, all the characters had to be created in 3D and animated, all the background scenes re-created, all the sounds, coding and music?..basically everything had to be redone or newly created for the PC version. This is not an old game that has been dressed up. This is the original concept, dusted off and re-created.
Gordon: I like the idea of linking this story with that of the Mary Celeste, how did the idea for Limbo of the Lost come about?
Steve: The idea (many moons ago) was to come up with something different than the normal run of the mill tale. The idea that a story half based on fact not only inspires the reader/player but also puts substance to a story. Tim and I have been fans of unexplained mystery stories for years and what better way than to use a factual event that created an unsolved mystery. And then take that unsolved premise and run with it.
The Mary Celeste idea came from Tim reading about it at the time I was looking for a story slant to the initial concept. After he mentioned it regarding what he was reading, we just looked at each other and it clicked for the game, he started researching more into it and I started looking into ideas of what could happen when the Celeste mystery ended. After many months we had a base story that has more than survived the test of time.
Gordon: Can you tell us something about the characters we will meet and in particular Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs?
Steve: Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs is the actual name of the Captain of the Mary Celeste. (FACT)
Within the game you play his unseen spirit guide (selected by DESTINY to help Briggs against his evil twin brother FATE in the 7th and final battle for Mankind), who guides him through the Keep of Lost Souls using a Talking Spirit Board interface - (Ouija Board). The player asks Briggs to do various actions using this interface as well as clicking on points within the scene to ask him to go to that point. Briggs will sometimes do what the player wishes, sometimes he will not.
Briggs also has a phobia, he hates creepy crawlies, within a certain level you must by-pass this fear in order to complete a puzzle and progress further. Briggs will moan to the player from time to time regarding his feelings of the surroundings and what he has been asked to do. If the player does not move the mouse for a period of time, Briggs will let the player know about it. You the player are his aid, and together you are a formidable team against the unseen forces of FATE and his weapons of choice, the Dark Generals — The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.
Within the game the player will meet many NPC characters, approx 60 in all. Each one is unique and each plays a role within the story. Some like William Nilmates are from our world and have got lost on the way to the after life, they do not know or recollect their past life, they only understand the existence they currently have, some are denizen to LIMBO and have always lived there like Cranny Faggot the hag-like cook who you will meet in the early stages of the game.
The player must listen very carefully to these NPC`s in order to work out puzzles and problems they will face. Remember some of the characters in Limbo have lived there for a long time, you are the stranger in their world.
Gordon: On your website you place a lot of emphasis on the puzzles, and this is good news for people like me. What sort of puzzles can we expect, e.g. inventory-based or logic puzzles or perhaps a combination of both? Will we face timed sequences or slider puzzles?
Steve: The puzzles you will face are inventory and logic based, as well as character and scene based. There are no sliding puzzles or moving crates — Yuck! However there are timed puzzles, in fact they are timed levels, end levels to be exact.
Near the end of the game the player has to choose their Destiny, choose their Fate, they must choose one of the 7 Deadly Sin endings. These endings are all different but all lead to the same goal (reuniting the Seal of Sufferance with the Book of Sufferance and thus closing the 7th gate of despair and cheating FATE). They are timed by an on screen timer — The Bottled Soul Timer. The player needs to complete the Sin level they have chosen within the time limit before Captain Briggs's soul is tainted with the Sin that the player has previously selected. Some are easier than others but the choice is yours to make. Oh and by the way the player cannot save the game once he/she has selected a Sin ending! "Once again Cousin Time wields his mighty sword".
Gordon: And what about the level of challenge? You say the puzzles will be devious, will LOTL appeal to die-hard puzzle fans and casual gamers alike?
The puzzles are devious but logical, they all have a logical answer that some will find easier than others. They get harder as the game progresses. The player does not need knowledge of scientific values or to learn a weird language in order to complete the game. All they need are their eyes and their ears and a little thought process, this game can be picked up and played, saved and re-visited time after time. Hardened gamers may want to put the hours in, casual gamers will not, all are catered for. The game can be saved at any time up until the 7 Deadly Sin endings. Then after completing the game the player can re-visit the point where they choose an ending (if they saved the game at this point) and choose another Sin ending level to play. How many games do you know where you can choose 7 different endings, each one different in content but with the same goal?
Gordon: Does all the 'action' take place in the Keep of Lost Souls or are there different spheres or worlds to explore? Is Limbo finite?
Steve: Hahahaha see you're already wondering about the realm and the possibilities. The Keep of Lost Souls is the playground of FATE, DESTINY & their Cousin TIME. And is home to all the characters you will meet. It is vast and holds many levels and sub levels, each level is a small world in itself, of which the player will get a slight glimpse whilst playing the game. LIMBO is the realm in which the Keep resides, a realm separated from ours by a thin membrane.
The LOST are the dead and undead that dwell in the Keep not knowing they have died or even who they used to be in their past mortal lives.
Gordon: Given the nature of Limbo will we be shocked, scared, saddened by what we encounter? Is it going to feature scary horror components or the faintly grotesque?
Steve: LOTL is not a horror game! It is a game of the macabre and sinister wrapped up in black humor. You may jump and you may say "Yuuuck!" to a few sequences but you will always have a smile on your face, not horror! I hope for a low certificate for the game but we will see.
We have purposely made the game like this so that it is an enjoyable experience not an offensive one, Trust me you will understand totally after an initial meeting with Nilmates one of the many weird and wonderful characters... once met never forgotten!
I personally think anyone can enjoy this tale, remember you cannot die (Briggs's soul may be in jeopardy though) and you cannot kill anything, all are dead or undead in the land of Limbo.
Gordon: Finally, is there anything more about the game you'd like to share with us, and do you have any more projects on the drawing board?
Steve: I could talk about this project for hours but I would prefer you to play, experience and enjoy it, so I will hush up for now. But before I say a fond farewell I will tell you this much, If anyone can honestly tell me after playing the game that they did not have an enjoyable gaming experience or have a favorite character that they have met whilst playing the game, I will never mention or speak of the sequel — LIMBO of the LOST II — Temptations of Tarot.
Oh and by the way — LIMBO OF THE LOST is actually the name of a quadrant of the Sargasso sea, also named the Bermuda Triangle. On December 5th 1872 the Mary Celeste went missing, and also on December 5th 1945, (exactly 73 years on) a whole squadron of planes went missing, Flight 19...
Gordon: Thanks again, Steve, and good luck with the game.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2006.
All rights reserved.