Back in 2013, we reported on a game called Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore a Fedora that had just gotten funded on Kickstarter. The creation of Denver-based game studio Glass Bottom Games, Hot Tin Roof promised a roaring noir adventure game with guns blazing and talking kitties. After a long journey, the game is finally poised for release this Friday, February 20, letting players loose in an offbeat world of tough-talking rats, devious puzzles and a feline gumshoe in a snappy hat.
Megan Fox is the woman behind Glass Bottom Games, coordinating her vision with a handful of team members across the country. After starting out with the casual iOS game Jones On Fire, Fox was emboldened by the success of the Hot Tin Roof Kickstarter to make a game that looks, sounds and feels unique in a crowded indie marketplace. The gameplay is like a nighttime rendezvous between the hilarious conversations and clue-hunting gameplay of the recently re-released Grim Fandango and the item-driven exploration of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. That's a glib description, but Hot Tin Roof wears its influences proudly. "It's a fusion of Metroidvania and adventure games," Fox relays via e-mail. "So we figured, we were going to have players that came in just for the Metroid aspect, and other players that came in just for the adventure aspect, and we wanted to give them as much freedom as we could to resolve the story in their own way."
It's the story of Emma Jones, an investigator struggling to make ends meet when she's pulled into a series of cases that threaten to upend the dark city she calls home. Providing comic relief and muscle — as much muscle as a cat with a fedora can provide — her partner Franky helps Emma interrogate suspects and sniff out clues. But the duo have more than wits in their arsenal. Emma's trusty revolver is not just a weapon, but her main tool for navigating the treacherous landscape. Players will come across different ammo types like grapple rounds that allow Emma to scale walls and bubble rounds that scrub off the city's grime to reveal secrets. "We were toying with a bunch of ammo types and concepts — using blanks to threaten NPCs, Russian Roulette, blood shot rounds to fake deaths, listener rounds, etc — and all of those got stripped in favor of simpler, more resonant concepts," Fox says. "We realized we had to focus the game much more on the platforming, and we adjusted the ammo types accordingly to things that either helped you maneuver, or were kinesthetic in some way." Still, the hilarity of a hard-nosed gumshoe blasting bubbles doesn't get old — especially because Franky can't resist popping them.
That's the hook of Hot Tin Roof. Its simple rectangular art style, never-ending jokes and cast of irregular characters belie the dark themes underneath. Emma has a chip on her shoulder for being a woman in a man's world. Franky has a sordid past that she won't readily share. Lowly rats are looked down on by everyone, and are beginning to foment a revolt. The tone shifted over the development process, Fox recalls: "In general, the game became a lot funnier. We loosened up, and figured out how to be noir without being deadly serious all the time. That in turn reduced the friction between the goofy art style and the world, and it all just gelled at that point." Fox and her team evoked a classic noir feeling with finely calibrated lighting, creating floodlit streets, dingy back alleys and glamorous penthouses. The work involved might not be apparent to the layman, but Hot Tin Roof is pretty taxing on its Unity 3D engine. "The biggest thing we struggled with was that noir is all about chiaroscuro, and games historically just don't do very well with complex lighting environment," she says.
Glass Bottom Games is hoping that the release of Hot Tin Roof will put the studio on the map, getting more and more interest for its next project and for Colorado-made games in general — though Fox says she might not remain in the state for long. "We'll stay a virtual studio, though," she adds. "I believe strongly that virtual studios are a big part of how we can solve the industry's quality of life issues."
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