During PAX Australia this weekend, I got the chance to catch up with Lisa Rye at the Stirfire Studios booth. She is the creative director, artist, writer and level designer of Freedom Fall which I recently got the chance to review. We had a great in-depth discussion about her experiences designing Freedom Fall and working with Stirfire studios.
Well just to begin and out of sheer curiousity, what is your day job when you’re not developing Freedom Fall?
Actually working with StirFire studios IS my day job. I saved a lot of money with previous jobs and doing the occasional commission and living off my savings to support myself.
Freedom Fall has been described as a twisted fairytale. When you created the game, were there any fairy tales, or any other story for that matter, that you drew inspiration from?
Actually when I started making Freedom Fall, I knew that I wanted the game to scroll down. Since the setting became a tower so it wound up resembling Rapunzel in reverse since instead of saving a princess from a tower, the princess watches Marsh navigate the Tower to see what amusing ways he will die.
So would you say the mechanics inspired the story more than the story inspiring the mechanics?
I would say that the mechanics and the story kind of developed together at the same time as I was working on the game. It’s the same with the power ups too. Since you’re descending, the power ups had to support that mechanics, so it became gliding, floating and double jumping.
When playing through the narrative I thought I saw some parallels between the narrative in Portal delivered by Glad0s and Freedom Falls Princess. Did Portal or Glad0s inspire you at all?
I’d say there is just a slight sprinkling of Glad0s in Freedom Fall but I was mostly inspired by all the platform games I played growing up.
Are there any other characters or games you drew inspiration from, particularly when developing the princess’s warped personality and the narrative?
I’ll start off by saying I love my mum! *laughing* But for Marsh, I was inspired by all the silent protagonists in games I played growing up. I tried to get through a bit of personality in Marsh’s animation such as his flailing arms when standing on a ledge. I also love my spikey haired protagonists. I’m a big fan of Kingdom Hearts, and Chrono Trigger was the very first RPG I ever played growing up. I also love Dragon Ball which is the first anime I watched and introduced me to Japanese culture.
Were there any 2D platforming games you played that you wanted to draw from when developing Freedom Fall? For example thinking you wanted it to play more like Limbo and less like Mario?
Well, like I said before, I mostly drew inspiration from the platform games I played while growing up, all the classics. But more recently I’ve played some of the Indie platformers. Braid was a really good game and I loved Cave Story. It’s such a wonderful game.
Now that Freedom Fall is finished, are there any changes or additions you would add if given the chance? Any reason for these changes?
Absolutely I would. I’m hoping that if we succeed with our Steam Greenlight for Freedom Fall, I would get to go back an add some extra levels. Maybe one extra dungeon after the final stage.
I understand you are the lead artist, level designer, writer and level designer for Freedom Fall. What was Stirfire Studios responsible for? How was it working with them?
Well they built the game engine I used to design the levels and they handled all the programming. They also did the marketing and the music so it was a really great partnership working with them.
In a press release I received, you said “There was a certain type of game that I wanted to play but that I just couldn’t find … so to take things into my own hands and make the game I wanted to play.” What exactly were you looking for and do you think Freedom Fall achieved what you wanted?
Mostly I wanted a game with a lot more personality and I wanted to show that every good character has some bad in them and every bad character has some good in them. I wanted a game with some complexity and I feel like Freedom Fall achieved that.
You said yourself and some of your supporters wanted a game that “goes deeper than just rescuing a generic damsel because you’re a guy with time on your hands.” Are there any specific damsels or generic heroes you despise?
Well everyone knows that Princess Peach is the classic example of the damsel in distress and needing rescue and it’s the same with Zelda. It’s a little better now but I would like a bit more variety in games.
In that case, you must be looking forward to Transistor, right?
Absolutely! I can’t wait to play Transistor since I’ve played through Bastion and I loved that too. Actually I started developing Freedom Fall before I played Bastion so when I got around to it, I noticed that the art styles were similar!
More and more misogyny is being revealed in both the gaming community, and amongst gaming developers and is a major problem in the industry. Have you experienced any of this negativity personally as a developer or has your time been mostly positive?
Yeah the guys in Stirfire are all great and I’ve never really experienced anything like that working with them. I used to work with interzone and there were about 5 women including myself working with 40 guys and even then we were all treated with respect. Actually the only time we had any kind of encounters like that was through game design. You know, like a female character would be wearing a skimpy outfit or something like that. But otherwise it’s been great!
How about as a cosplayer at conventions?
Actually the majority of guys I’ve encountered at conventions have been lovely and supportive of the work I do in games and fandom.
With Freedom Fall completed, what do plan to do now? Do you have an interest in furthering your career as a video game developer?
Yeah, I really want to make more games. I have sooo many ideas for games!
Well that was all the questions I had. It was very nice meeting with you Lisa and thanks for interview. Good luck with everything!
Thanks! Nice meeting you too!
Freedom fall is available for Windows and Mac through Desura and recently launched on iOS. It is also on Steam Greenlight. I’ve already voted for it and so should you!