IndieCade 2017: Detention – Red Candle Games Interview
CFG had the pleasure of meeting many talented indie game developers during IndieCade 2017. This included Red Candle Games, a new Taiwanese game studio that created the psychological horror game, Detention. Loosely based on a turbulent period in Taiwanese history, Detention stands out with a distinct art style and incorporates Buddhist and Taoist philosophy into the plot. Detention was released on both PC and PlayStation 4 this year and has garnered high praise from both gamers and critics alike. It was recently the recipient of IndieCade’s prestigious Journey Award.
We had the opportunity to do a follow up interview with Red Candle Games with special thanks to Vincent Yang and Tiff Liu.
Congratulations on winning the Journey Award. How was your experience at IndieCade 2017?
IndieCade 2017 was amazing. It’s our first time here. Being nominated already is a huge honor for us, let alone winning the award and getting to meet lots of talented and creative developers who share the same passion for game creation. Besides, it was also interesting to see how players reacted to our game. For some players, they were too scared that they had to hold their friends’ arms trying not to scream out loud. Players’ live reactions are always the best feedback for us. We felt blessed that we got to attend such an amazing event with a bunch of wonderful people.
How would you describe Detention to someone that’s unfamiliar with it?
Detention is a 2D narrative-driven atmospheric horror game with adventure and puzzle solving mechanisms. It is a point and click side-scroller full of Taiwanese mythology. Setting upon a fictitious world in the 1960s Taiwan, the story begins when the two teenagers Ray and Wei meet. The typhoon is coming, and they are trapped in the otherworldly school. When finding the way out, at the same time, they gradually unveil the unbearable truth behind the school.
Why did you decide to have Detention take place during a difficult time in Taiwanese history?
It started out as a solo project by one of our co-founders, Coffee Yao. The original idea was simple: growing up playing and getting influenced by video games, it’s rather rare to stumble upon a title that represents our own culture. This thought inspired Coffee to tell a story of Taiwan. Thus, Detention was born. To create the background for this atmospheric horror game, we dived deep into our own history and came across the martial law period, White Terror, during the 1960s Taiwan. It was a time when dictatorship was enacted and people were living under fear. However, this part of the history is seldom mentioned nowadays. We knew that White Terror was real. In fact, some of our teammates’ grandparents grew up during that era, and were used to listening to elders’ struggles and experiences in that time. Therefore, we wanted to tell a story of what might’ve happened in the 1960s Taiwan, and felt that the fear coming from the extreme oppressiveness could be a good match to create the psychological horror environment for our horror game.
The school setting seems to be a very popular choice when it comes to horror games. Why do you think that’s the case? Is there a reason why you made the main character a school girl?
The whole experience of going to school during one’s youth is a universal thing. Regardless of your nationality, we all share some similar stories about the place, the straight A student, the bully and the snitch…those characters resonates with our audience. It’s a place filled with memory, no matter good or bad ones. All in all, we think it helps our players better immerse in the gaming experience.
To create tension and contrast against the extreme power, we decided to have a character symbolizing innocence and vulnerability. We felt that a teenager girl like Ray could create that image. Additionally, while playing the game, we also hope that players can feel more connected to our main character. Ray is also a representation of the typical teen, that girl and boy who is ambitious and confused. Thus, Ray was created.
Most horror games from East Asia are from Japan and Korea, so it’s interesting to see one from a different East Asian country. Even more so because it utilizes Chinese, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy. What’s the indie game scene like In Taiwan?
In our point of view, indie game developers all share the same visions: we want to share our perspective to the others. We got to create games that we enjoy with our own creativity. For Taiwanese indie game scene in particular, we are happy to see the great momentum in recent years. Developers like Sigono (they made the iOS featured game OPUS), Game Stew Studio (Ancient Legacy), Rocky Hong (Beat Stomper) and many others have paved a road for the uprising in Taiwan’s indie movement. On the other hand, more and more Taiwanese players are beginning to be aware of indie games and are more willing to try them out. In short, we are glad to see that Taiwan’s indie game segment is thriving and hopefully would continue to grow.
What was your inspiration for the game play in Detention? It reminds me a bit of Lone Survivor.
The gameplay of Detention did have lots of influence coming from Lone Survivor. For example, using items to lure monsters away and crafting an uneasy exploration experience, which were some of Lone Survivor’s signature gameplay elements. As for the puzzle design, we referred to the logic of Silent Hill. As a matter of fact, each puzzle is a symbol of the protagonist’s mindset or past memory. For the survival skills, the inspiration draws upon the Hong Kong series film Jiangshi (Chinese vampires). Players have to avoid the evil spirit in the game, just like dealing with jiangshi, by holding their breath to fake being dead. All in all, we looked for inspiration from different media, tried to see which could work nicely on our game, and then blended them in Detention.
Can you tell us more about the art design? The game has a photo realistic look, which makes the game especially eerie to play.
Our artists focused on creating something unique in terms of visual presentation and to co-exist with the 1960s era that we’re recreating. The strong contrast of black and white was implemented to bring out what we called as the “old photograph” vibe. The art style went through many transformations, and it was a result of multiple attempts of trials and errors. For example, at the early stage of prototyping we tried to borrow from the early Chinese movies for references, including using Chinese subtitle fonts that you often see in the Shaw Brothers films. Many things were discarded in the process of refinement, however. In short, the philosophy was to refer what’s around us and add in as many Taiwanese flavour as we can. Things that we see on a daily basis – the street, the buildings, the Taiwanese temples…we blended them into the game artistically.
What feelings would you want players to have after finishing Detention?
The main message of Detention is freedom. Looking back into the history, there are many countries that had the same experience as Taiwanese did, where people were living under oppression, and freedom was nowhere in sight. We felt that freedom is a universal message that resonates with everyone around the world. So, we set the whole game with the dictatorship history background. Even though we are not scholars or historians, we tried to deal with this subject delicately without any judgement. By not giving any conclusion about right or wrong, we hope that players can get to experience the game with their own perspective and implications.
What was the most difficult aspect of creating Detention?
While developing Detention, each of us had different image about the story. Detention was a collaboration work of 6 people. At the same time, it meant that we had 6 writers on the team. During the discussions, we often found ourselves having different understandings of how Ray would feel, and how the ending should be like. Most of the time the discussion led to arguments. Yet, thankfully the arguments also brought us to the same page and helped us to shape the outline of Detention.
Can you tell us about how Detention was published on a mainstream console like the PlayStation 4 in the United States? Do you plan on releasing past or future games on consoles in the west?
Detention is our debut title. We first released the game on PC via Steam. As an indie developer, it was exciting to have our debut game launched on the PS4 platform in the United States. For the PS4 version, to retainthe same immersive gaming experience, we kept the original gameplay and storyline, and simply made some UI adjustment for better controlling on PS4. Currently we are working on the new titles. Though it’s still in early development, we are keen on releasing the game on consoles in the future.
What are some of your favorite horror games, films, and books?
As gamers and game developers, there are many games that influenced us deeply. For Detention in particular, I think you can easily find traces of other great games in it as well. Classic Japanese horror titles like the Silent Hill series, early Resident Evils, Clock Towers, including recent indie horror titles like The Cat Lady, Neverending Nightmares, Lone Survivor, and the list goes on. Other than that, the book 1984 really inspired us with its dystopian setting. These great works not only paved the way for us to build a game like Detention but inspired and cultivated us to do so.
Can you tell us about the next game you’re working on?
Currently we are working on the development of an upcoming title, Stay With Me. Just like Detention, it is a narrative-driven game. But this time, we want to build it on the mobile platform. With Stay With Me, we try to focus on the story and characters to craft a complete gaming experience on mobile. As everything is still in the development, we will announce more info about it once the game is polished enough and playable.
Is there anything you’d like to share with fans of Detention and horror games?
We felt blessed to have players play through our game and understand the concept behind it. After the game released, we actually received many positive reviews from local and western players. We are not going to lie and say that getting westerners’ overwhelmingly positive reviews don’t bring us joy. It’s always great hearing praises and realize our hard work was presentable even in the global market. We are happy that we did somehow break the language/culture barrier and have a small voice of our own in this ever-changing gaming market. We all know that indie market has become increasingly competitive in the past few years, the love we are receiving has really blown us away.
However, this does not stop us from making more games, and the fact that Detention is just our studio’s first title and a fresh beginning. We all know that there’s a lot of room to grow and improve. We will strive for the best in the future, and hopefully we can impress even bigger audience.