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Invasive Recall: Developing a Point-n-Click Game in Unity

Carl Ljungberg, the Head Developer at Springbeam Studio, talks about his latest project, a nostalgic 80s-themed game Invasive Recall, and explains what inspired the project and its aesthetic.

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My name is Carl Ljungberg and I worked as a freelance illustrator for educational games up until 2018. When it comes to game development and visual art, I am entirely self-taught. In 2018 I decided to study to become a Java developer. I got hired by a consulting firm before graduating, but due to COVID-19, my employment was postponed until an undefined point in the future. I realized that I had some free time on my hands and decided to start working on a game idea I had while studying. I wanted to make a game equivalent of a short story. The idea was to make a small game about two detectives in a big nameless city with a focus on the atmosphere. 

After a while, I showed my progress to my childhood friend (and a renowned craftsman) Love Hulten, who liked it and we decided to team up. He was responsible for the music and sound effects, and I was doing the rest. We decided to make a game for ourselves, a game we really wanted to play, not caring too much about what we thought others would want. And the game grew from there.

I think what inspired us was not only the fact that we both have a great love for the point-and-click adventure genre (as we grew up with games like Full Throttle and Broken Sword), but also playing Thimbleweed Park a year or so after it came out and really enjoying the 9-verb interface and all the puzzles it allowed for in the game. It was a true flashback to the classics of gaming, and I realized that these games have not aged that much and that they are still very enjoyable today.

Other than that, we are greatly inspired by various cyberpunk and sci-fi movies, I think the references are loudly obvious for the most part, but also great inspiration comes from TV shows like Miami Vice in how they build an atmosphere with music and imagery.

Later my brother Oscar joined to support development as well. Me and Oscar, who is also a Software Engineer, have worked on several game ideas and prototypes over the years, mostly just for fun. We never managed to find enough time for any of it to reach completion. But we are hoping to do just that with Invasive Recall.

Meet Invasive Recall

In short, it’s a game about two detectives and the struggles they face both on a professional and a personal level, and the journey they end up taking together. As it often goes in cyberpunk games, it is about technology and its unexpected far-reaching implications on humanity. The reason we chose cyberpunk is that we absolutely love the themes and aesthetics of it, but we also feel like it is a great playground for storytelling. You are somewhat free to customize the world to fit the narrative and it can either be focused on technology or act as a backdrop for bringing out characters and relationships. We feel that most good stories focus primarily on the characters and the journey they go through and uses the themes and concepts as a tool to amplify this.

The core gameplay mechanics are based on the principles of a classic point-and-click adventure. The 9-verb interface adds layers to puzzles which makes them seem more engaging to us. It allows for puzzles to be more than just clicking on things. We like the simpler interfaces as well, but we really wanted to go with a classic style for this project. An interesting added mechanic is the ability for the detectives to “relive” memories through the invasive recall procedure, which means basically drilling through the skull and into the brain of a subject in order to transfer memories. We thought that it would be interesting to play through a character’s past moments and find out what caused them to end up where they did. You also find clues in memories that make you see the present clearer, for example, you can view a crime scene in the new light.

Development Process

I use Photoshop and a Wacom tablet for graphics and animation. All the visuals are created in Photoshop. We use Unity with Adventure Creator to put everything together. Deciding on a style was a big challenge with the graphics. In order to speed up the graphics as well as add a sense of uniformity, we wanted to create a very low resolution feel and also give it some constraints. We found that oblique perspective allowed us to create backgrounds with rules to adhere to which sped up the process a lot. But we went through several iterations before deciding on the best balance of speed and style.

We wanted the sound to have an 80s feel to it, we wanted it to be electronic and dark, so we looked through movies for inspiration. John Carpenter has a very effective way of creating scenes that feel dark and tense, and we primarily looked at his works and some of the old cyberpunk titles, like Snatcher and Blade Runner to name a few. We were also curious to try and add some mellow saxophone to the soundtrack, we thought that would work nicely.

Goals and Ambitions

Our plan now is to see how the Kickstarter campaign goes. We did not really do a lot of marketing going into the campaign, which is something we probably should pay more attention to. The support for the game has been amazing nonetheless, so we are hoping that we will be able to move forward with the project in one way or the other. We really appreciate all the support and kind words from our backers! Our goal is to make Springbeam Studio a full-time game studio. We have a lot of ideas for games we would like to explore in the future.

Carl Ljungberg, Head Developer at Springbeam Studio

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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