Meet Jan Serra, he’s the CEO at Scarecrow Studio and I get the distinct honor of being the first one to ever interview him! I found out when I contacted him about his indie game “3 Minutes to Midnight” that he had never been interviewed before. I found that kind of hard to believe. Even just looking at one screenshot it’s very apparent there’s already been a tremendous amount of work done for the game. The environments are rich, detailed and cohesive with an eye catching style that brings a sense of nostalgia for the golden age of animation.
“It’s the roaring late ’40s. World War II has finally ended and celebrations continue… Yet, somewhere in the middle of New Mexico, a secret intricate plot to extinguish humanity has been unraveling for a long time. Even if it could be stopped, what hope is there when inexplicably, no one can remember a thing? Tonight, step into Betty’s shoes and find out exactly what happens at ‘3 Minutes to Midnight’.”
What is “3 Minutes to Midnight”? It’s a story driven classic point and click adventure game. That’s the simple version. To find out more lets here from Jan!
How long have you been working on this project?
At this point it feels like an eternity. I started working on this project in November 2015. At that time it was only me. The first 4 months I spent working on the first versions of: the story, characters, game spec, list of possible locations, maps, walkthrough, conversations, Easter Eggs, etc… I’ve been directing big engineering projects in the past; however, I had no experience with video games whatsoever. So I tried to find any possible way to learn what it would take to make a game. I needed to know how many people, budget, time and all other resources I would actually need. My first attempts to start the project met with no success. In other words, I spent the first 6 months dealing with setbacks and no progress with the game.
I spent many hours watching videos from the “masters” Gilbert and Schaffer, and thanks to that I learned a lot about game design. Based on my newly gained knowledge, I had to completely re-do the first gameplay, the scheme for the dialogues, the amount of scenes, etc…
First I hired a small group of people, and – without going into more details – the result was a disaster. I was about to drop the towel. I realized I had spent 8 months of time and money and nothing on the project was done.
Then, for a month, it was just Dani and I. We were working on the early concepts of the scenes and the characters, narrowing down the scope of work that (might) had been too ambitious for this project…
I ended up rehiring the whole team. Rehiring artists implied also dropping all the scenarios that had been drawn…
With more experience and a lot less money, I managed to get a great team. Since then, the game has been advancing at the perfect pace and things are being done more than well and in time.
You just released an almost 2 1/2 minute long trailer for the game. How much time did that take you folks to do?
I took us around a month to make it. We think people might not actually realize how much work is behind that trailer, I mean for an indie team like us. The scenes, characters, animations, script, music, FX, translations…
It looks like you’ve got an in depth storyline and I know you have a couple folks writing for this. What was the inspiration for the story?
At this point, talking about the inspiration for the story would be a major spoiler, but let’s say that when you’ll play it you’ll start to get some hints about our inspiration for it.
On your website you mention that to succeed you need to have technical and artistic creativity. Some people might feel that technical creativity is a bit of an oxymoron. Can you tell us what that means for you?
What I mean is that you must find the balance between the creative assets in your company (illustrators, character designers, animators, etc.) and the technical part of it (programmers, game designers, etc.). When your team is composed of such creative and talented professionals, then you are on the right track for success.
What is one early memory of a game that made you go “Wow, that’s something I’d like to do.”?
I know this might sound like a cliché, but when I replayed Monkey Island 2 as an adult, all those memories and fun moments and all the happiness you experienced in that time came back… And realizing it was something that you could still enjoy and laugh about as an adult, that’s what gives me the drive.
There’s been several point and click adventure games. Some very successful, some not so much. What is going to make yours stand out?
This is a tricky question. At this point we can’t know if our game is going to be a success or not. What I can tell you is that we are making a huge effort in getting everything right to make the game one of the best. Our game will stand out in many aspects:
– On the artistic side we have an impressive environmental art and characters.
– Very well designed puzzles, making sure each one of them are fun and have correct hints, signposting and feedback.
– A very elaborated script full of small details, which will vary depending on the options you choose (or not) to discover in the story.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the beautiful city of Barcelona.
What were your childhood interests?
Gaming, of course, and chocolate 😉 Never have been much of a party animal. I spent my childhood playing games and studying (Such a good kid, right, mom?). When I was old enough I dedicated my free time to my two passions – traveling and gaming.
What would be a single piece of important advice for other indie developers?
I’ll say it short and simple. Always make a plan. Try to make a list with all the stuff that needs to be done. Know and measure your resources properly, don’t try to eat more than you can chew, and try to estimate time you will need for the project. So, even if your timing is not accurate, you’ll still get a good picture of how you are doing, and if you keep yourself on the right track. It will also give you some opportunity for corrections later.
What would you say is the most interesting aspect of your game?
I can’t mention just one. Considering games of the same kind I’ve played and seen in the past, the art in our game is the most beautiful I have personally seen so far. The characters and scenes are drawn magnificently, and they perfectly reflect the personality we want them to have.
We’ve been working on the puzzles for many months now, trying to make them original, fun, logical and well designed. We’ve also been trying to keep the balance between not making given hints too obvious, and neither too hard, so that both experienced and not so experienced players would be able to enjoy them.
We have one main storyline but every single character (even the NPCs, and I think that’s something no one had ever done in this genre) has a background story, that you might (or might not), discover depending on your choices.
What, if anything, do you feel needs more work?
Anything that we feel that needs more work, we actually give it more work. At this point, since we finished the first trailer, we are focusing on polishing all the puzzles and script for the demo, which we intend to make available in April.
What would you say is your best attribute, game related or not?
I’m a problem solver. I’m able to see situations from different points of view, and I focus on having my work done even when facing obstacles on the way. I will also give you one of my bad attributes (I know you didn’t ask). Sometimes I find my brain busy thinking too many steps ahead. This reminds me, that right now I’m already thinking about my next game.
Do you use any specific methods to evaluate progress at different stages of development?
I write everything down, it includes a list of puzzles, conversations, scenes, animations, functions to program, list of songs, list of FX, etc. That, I’m sure, covers 80% of the game development. I know (with certain margin of error) how long each task should take, and if it takes longer, normally it’s because spending a bit more time creates a bit of delay, but makes the game much better.
I wanted to ask you, but also Laia and Pavlina. How do you guys feel about the #girlsbehindthegames campaign?
Empowering people to do things is always a good thing, and personally I think that trying to get more girls into the gaming industry is awesome news. Also, I am following @GirlsMakeGames on Twitter, and it’s really cool to see them empowering creativity from younger age and letting young girls know how great it is to work in this industry.
We’ve been seeing trends of female players playing more and more in certain genres for years now. Do you think that could expand into different genres as more females get into game development?
I think that the increasing amount of people playing games is some awesome news. There might be a lot of reasons why there’s no more girls in certain genres, but I hope the increase of females into game development will help to give new approaches that will boost that numbers even higher.
OK, So I have to ask about the mini pig… First off, who is it and second, is it a girl? You know where I’m going with this right? 🙂
Piki is my lovely potbelly pig. She’s been with me for 8 years now, and yes she’s a girl.
So you have a goal for a release date you’re shooting for?
Our roadmap right now is to get the demo ready by April, in order to have enough time to test it before we step on the E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in L.A.. You can find us in the South Pavilion – Stand 2163. Then get all the material ready for our Kickstarter campaign, which should happen at some point in September, and if everything goes as planned, we will release the game in the first quarter of 2019.
Lastly, is there anything I missed that you’d like people to know?
Yeah, I would like to mention, that behind all this there’s an awesome team of people that are working really hard on every aspect and detail of this game to make it one of the best games ever made. And as cheesy as it might sound, without them this dream wouldn’t be possible. I’m really proud of my team and it’s an honor to work with them day by day.