By Josh Speer / September 16th, 2019
While at E3, I got the chance to play Creature in the Well at the MIX. It had been on my radar since it was first announced, and I was very happy with what I played at the event. So of course I decided to play it again at PAX West. However, it turned out the demo I played there was pretty much identical to the one I played at E3. So while I liked it, there wasn’t much to talk about.
Which is why I had the bright idea to instead conduct an interview with Flight School Studio, specifically with Creative Director Adam Volker. During our interview together, we talked about the inspiration behind Creature in the Well, the team’s pinball experience, what is next for Flight School Studio, and more.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Operation Rainfall: What is Creature in the Well about? Especially, what or who exactly is the Bot-C unit you’re playing as?
Adam Volker: Creature in the Well is a game about repowering an ancient weather facility. You play as Bot-C who is the last of a great robot collective that was tasked centuries ago with creating and maintaining the machine within the mountain. You go room by room, completing puzzles that give you energy, then you use that energy to open doors to progress through the dungeon. At the end of every dungeon is a final room where you return power to a section of the weather facility’s functions.
OR: Creature in the Well is a mash-up of top-down dungeon crawling, puzzle, and pinball with a stunning art style. What came first: the plotline, the gameplay mechanics, or the aesthetics? How did they each influence the other?
AV: The mechanics were definitely first. We built the entire game off the 3rd person pinball flipper concept. Our development process is very iterative and progresses brick by brick. The aesthetic was chosen to compliment the frenetic and hectic multiball gameplay we knew we were going to have.
OR: Why did you want to marry hack-and-slash and pinball mechanics together? Where did that genre blend come from?
AV: The game started out as a multiplayer prototype for something more akin to air hockey. We had 3rd person controls and sticks that could hit the ball. When we started to add props and bumpers to that prototype, we found them really interesting. Bit by bit, we moved away from the multiplayer game into the single player experience.
OR: What was your real-life/virtual pinball experience like coming into making Creature in the Well? Did you all wind up playing a lot of pinball games while making it?
AV: Full disclosure… we didn’t. We love pinball but aren’t huge pinball buffs. The games we were thinking about and playing while we were in development, were things like Rocket League, A Link to the Past, Breakout, Ballz (mobile), even things like Lethal League.
“We originally had the game down as a roguelike with procedurally generated dungeons, but I’m happy we cut that out in favor of hand built ones.“
OR: Flight School Studio’s Manifest 99 was nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Interactive Media – Original Daytime Program or Series in 2018. How hard was it as a studio to move away from an award-nominated VR experience to make something completely different instead of trying to merely capitalize on that success with another VR title like that or Island Time VR? Why did you choose to do so?
AV: Ha! Going to the Emmys was exciting, and it was an honor to be nominated.
When we lost, though, we figured — why not take the hint? BUT seriously, we’ve always approached mechanical design from an abstract point of view. The process we use to build mechanics for VR weren’t too dissimilar from how we did it in the traditional gaming space. We design FOR the controller and FOR the medium, in a way that compliments our artistic goals for the project. We try to keep our approach abstract so it translates to different mediums as easily as possible. We’ve been wanting to make games for a while, it just felt like the right time.
OR: On the official Flight School Studio blog, it was said that the art style was inspired by Mike Mignola, who created the Hellboy universe. How do you create a game with an art style that is a tribute, and how do you decide just how far you’re willing to go to keep true to Mr. Mignola’s art while still making your own?
AV: Speaking as the art director on the project, I didn’t think of Creature’s art as a tribute to Mignola’s art. I used the comics more like a guiding star.
I had done a bunch of art of the project trying to come up with something unique and flat and colorful, but it wasn’t really clicked in. When I picked up the Hellboy comics again (cause they are sitting right by my desk) I took note of how specific visual problems were being solved within that universe. How were objects in shadow differentiated from their background? How does edge detail and textural detail relate when you are using such heavy blacks? Does he use fill color to depict form at all?
Hopefully where Creature ended up isn’t a 1:1 copy of Mike Mignola’s work, but something inspired by him with a twist of my own.
OR: Flight School is a small team, and you worked on Creature in the Well for little more than a year before release. What challenges did you face to complete this game in a timely fashion?
AV: We tried to build the scope of the game around the resources that were available at the studio. We did some big cutting and made sweeping changes to what we were making to make sure we were always going to finish the game within our scope and budget.
OR: Was there anything you either had to revise or leave out that you really wanted to include?
AV: We originally had the game down as a roguelike with procedurally generated dungeons, but I’m happy we cut that out in favor of hand built ones. There are gameplay mechanics we were tooling with that didn’t get into the final build, but they may yet see the light of day.
OR: Is Creature in the Well set to be a standalone entry? Or might other games happen in this universe?
AV: Ooof, pass.
Not sure I am ready to answer that one. We’ve got ideas, but they are still too raw to consider real. They don’t have legs yet.
OR: Creature in the Well was announced as a Game Pass title during the Xbox Press Briefing at E3 2019. Why did you choose to bring your game to Game Pass? Are you worried about losing standalone sales for the game as a result of just giving it away to anyone with a Game Pass?
AV: Game Pass seems like a great way to get the game out to as many people as possible. We are happy to be able to be part of it.
OR: What other projects does Flight School have in the works? Anything you can reveal?
AV: Right now through October 19, we have an immersive installation in Austin, TX called War Remains, which uses VR, haptics, and a detailed physical set to immerse people in the hellscape of WWI. We’ve also got other games and experiences coming down the pipeline, but nothing we’re ready to announce just yet!
OR: Anything you want to tell your fans?
AV: Fans?!? I’m blown away by this question. Um, thanks for playing! I can’t wait to keep making stuff and keep chatting with people about how dope video games are.
I’d like to thank Adam and Flight School Studio for talking with me at the MIX during PAX West. Creature in the Well is a very unique game, and it is one I have enjoyed playing. If you’re not convinced though, stay tuned for my upcoming review of the game in the near future!
That said, have you picked up Creature in the Well yet? What do you think of it, or any of Flight School Studio’s other titles?
Let us know in the comments below!
Adam VolkerCreature in the WellFlight School StudiooprainfallPAX West