A game about a rectangular detective with a fedora-sporting cat as a partner may be the freshest idea yet to come out of Colorado's anemic game-development scene.
Hot Tin Roof is the latest project by Denver-based developer Glass Bottom Games, which made its first splash with the charming side-scroller Jones On Fire,released last spring on iOS and Android. By using the same blocky art style but ditching the endless runner formula, Glass Bottom Games is now counting on this latest game to make the studio's name.
"I honestly do think that Hot Tin Roof is going to be the game that puts my studio on the map," says Megan Fox, the main woman behind Glass Bottom Games. "Jones On Fire got some initial interest, but Hot Tin Roof is going to be what seals the deal."
The stakes are high, because Fox's studio is on the brink of becoming a serious player in the gaming world -- but Jones On Fire failed to give that move much momentum. "Rather than go out with a whimper, we went for making a game that was something I always wanted to make," she says. "Something that, even if it didn't fund, I can look back on it and go, 'Hey, we kicked ass.'"
But it did fund: Hot Tin Roof's recently concluded Kickstarter campaign gave the game the go-ahead with over $20,000 in funding. Backers were intrigued by the game's unconventional pitch and noir-styled aesthetics, and press from outlets like Rock Paper Shotgun and PC Gamer fueled the campaign.
Pitched as a "noir side-scrolling adventure platformer," Hot Tin Roof stars the hero of Fox's previous game, Emma Jones, who's made the transition from firefighter to private investigator. In a world where cats are gumshoes, pigeons are rats, and rats are...well, still rats, Jones and her feline partner Franky will investigate the seamy underbelly of the city, finding clues and catching perps.
Fox says her game falls into the "MetroidVania" category, a class of games that take their inspirations from two of the finest 2D games of the '90s: Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Just like those classics, Hot Tin Roof will take Jones all around the city, solving puzzles and taking care of bad guys while finding items that grant her access to new areas. The world will also hold intrigue and surprise beyond the scripted story beats, thanks to the random behaviors and schedules of its citizens. "I can create this world that seems normal, seems like a standard game world. But if you follow these NPCs around, you find out that their lives aren't what you think they are," Fox says.
Jones will be blasting baddies with her trusty revolver, but "I wanted the gun to be more of a tool and less of a weapon," Fox says. So glue bullets, freeze bullets and grappling bullets will add spice to the combat, as well as help the player solve puzzles. "I mean, Humphrey Bogart doesn't start the movie by gunning down fifty civilians and then lighting up a smoke," she points out.
That's one of the ways that Hot Tin Roof is a reaction against the trigger-happy video game mainstream. "Most games in the triple-A space have the generic protagonist. He is bald, white, male, straight," Fox says. "So I started in opposition to every one of those. [Emma Jones] is female, black, lesbian."
This black private dick with a thing for other chicks, voiced by local voice-over artist Emma Messenger, is the vehicle for Hot Tin Roof's exploration of gender issues and deception -- heady themes for a game populated mostly by hopping blocks. But Fox's writing speaks to her own experiences in the industry. "I'm female in a male-dominated environment," she says. "Every single day, I deal with articles on how this or that game is chauvinistic, or this or that prominent developer doesn't give a crap about female characters. Or how gamers are attacking females in the industry."
Hot Tin Roof is the most exciting thing to come out of Colorado's sparse gaming scene, which has a handful of developers but little in the way of a serious culture. And it may be the state's last gasp at virtual relevance for a while: Fox is planning to move to Washington next year, and take Glass Bottom Games with her. If Hot Tin Roof is a success, she says, "I might grow a studio, but if I do I'm not going to grow it here, I'll grow it elsewhere."
Hot Tin Roof is tentatively scheduled for release on the PC, Mac and Linux in May 2014, but Fox's team has another hurdle to leap: placement on Steam, the digital platform of choice for PC gamers. "A modest success on Steam would take me from working in a basement to hiring on my entire team full time and making my next game," Fox says. "I'm shooting for the stars," she says. To that end, Glass Bottom Games is running a campaign on Steam Greenlight to get the game hosted.
There's a lot of pressure, but Fox is taking a cue from her heroine and playing it cool. "On the one hand, I'm sure there's some thought process in the back of my brain that's panicked and jibbering," she jokes. "But I try really hard to take a zen approach to everything. I don't think too hard about what might go wrong."
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