Q&A: Non-profit Take This addresses mental health challenges among gaming community and creators

Q&A: Non-profit Take This addresses mental health challenges among gaming community and creators

12:20pm, 16th February, 2019
(BigStock Photo) The previous year in the video game industry was punctuated by multiple high-profile layoffs, studio shutdowns, and the occasional genuine scandal. One of the results has been a new public chapter in the ongoing conversation about on the people who create them. is a Seattle-based non-profit organization founded in 2013 by game journalists and , following the suicide of a colleague. The organization, which takes its name from at the beginning of The Legend of Zelda, works to “provide resources, guidelines, and training about mental health issues in the game community, thus reducing the stigma of mental illness.” Take This’s most visible service is the it’s been providing since 2014 at gaming conventions across North America, such as the Penny Arcade Expos. An AFK Room is a quiet place for con-goers to relax, away from the noise and hustle of the show floor, with a friendly staff of volunteers and clinicians to help visitors regain their calm. Raffael “” Boccamazzo, Take This’s clinical director, led several panels at last year’s PAX West about the potential use of games, particularly tabletop games, as therapeutic tools and vehicles, such as “.” Earlier this year. Dr. B opened Save Point Behavioral Health in Bellevue, Wash., in partnership with Seattle-area clinician . He’s also a regular player at , a regularly livestreamed tabletop game played and run by a group of mental health professionals. , Take This’s executive director, has been working with non-profit organizations for 15 years. In addition to Take This, she also serves as a managing director for the New York-based musical charity . GeekWire: I sat in on your panel at PAX West 2018 about games as an identity exploration tool. I was curious, walking out of it, why Take This is specifically focused on video game enthusiasts. What drew you to that cross-section of the population? One of the official logos for Take This. (TakeThis.org Image) Eve Crevoshay: We’re part of the community. The founding story was a story about a colleague of Russ and Susan’s who committed suicide, and it started a conversation inside the industry. Mental health challenges exist throughout the population. That’s not a surprise, but every community and every subculture needs a language in which to talk about that. It needs a friendly space and a friendly language. Every industry has specific challenges related to mental health, and the games industry is no different. So Take This is a game culture-specific, games industry-specific response to mental health challenges, and is very deliberately engaged in that community in order to support it. There are lots of mental health organizations out there that don’t speak game, and are skeptical or not supportive of people who are really into this culture, and the very different, very cool ways in which people love and are fans of games. Raffael “Dr. B” Boccamazzo: To jump onto that and add to it from a mental health perspective, there are a lot of mental health professionals who really view geek and gamer culture as an extremely monolithic construct. We exist to, in some respects, bridge that gap, between mental health professionals and geek and gamer culture, where we can explain that no, a video game is not just a video game. Game studio culture is a very different experience from triple-A to indie, and they have different stressors. We are able to offer and teach some of those things to clinicians so they can provide the appropriate support for the nuances of this culture. Crevoshay: We have a paper called “.” We have a very specific set of conversations and services that we provide inside the game industry that are designed to address the specific nature of creative work, of the developer cycle, the boom and bust cycle that exists within game companies … the specific challenges around the culture in games companies. … We consult on organizational culture and practices, community management, mental health safety, and online environments. GW: I didn’t know you did so much on the ground within the industry itself. Obviously, everybody knows you from the AFK Rooms. Dr. B: Even with the AFK Room, one of the things I like to tell people is that it takes a lot of work to look like nothing’s going on. Before we bring an AFK Room to a show, we end up doing a full consultation and evaluation of a show to make sure that their policies, practices, the way they work with their staff and attendees, and their infrastructure are conducive to an AFK Room without turning it into something it’s not. We do a lot of back-end work just with the AFK Room program, in addition to all this consultation stuff that we also do. GW: To help make conventions more accessible and welcoming to people who might be neurodivergent. Crevoshay: Not just neurodivergent. Dr. B: One doesn’t have to have a diagnosis to find conventions challenging and/or overwhelming. Crevoshay: Just to parse it a little bit, because this is often a confusion that comes up, is that neurodivergence isn’t technically a mental health diagnosis. It’s a separate category. People with it often need the AFK Room space, for example, but there are a lot of other situations and experiences that people have, or specific environments that are challenging for people whether or not they have a diagnosis, and whether or not that is a psychiatric diagnosis or something else. One of the things we really strive to do is normalize the experience of mental health challenges because it’s very, very common, and it’s not something to be embarrassed about. The more we talk about it, the more we can provide a space, to say, “This is OK. If you’re having challenges, don’t be embarrassed about it. Don’t try to hide it. Come to the AFK Room, come use our resources.” Say you feel like this is happening in your workplace. Seek out Take This as a resource in your workplace, in your community, knowing that what we provide first and foremost is just a place where we accept and respect that part of everybody’s divergence. GW: We’re talking a lot right now about crunch in games development, especially in the wake of events like or the . What are some of the challenges you’ve seen as a non-profit, dealing with the effects of crunch time in the video game industry? Dr. B: If you look at the []’s developers’ satisfaction surveys over the last 10 years or so, you see an emerging awareness of the fact that game developers work hard. In some cases, it’s self-imposed, because games are a passion, and it’s really easy to get locked into your passions. In some cases, it’s a culture at the studio, a sort of unspoken expectation that you will work hard, and you will finish all these projects and then some. Regardless of the reasons, overwork exists in the games industry, and again, looking at the surveys, it looks like it’s slowly getting better. But it’s still happening, and we know that there are negative effects to overwork, regardless of what industry you’re in. It just so happens that there’s this culture of overwork in the games industry, and we want to do our darnedest to make sure that people are aware that that’s a thing, but also have some appropriate practices on how to avoid that thing, and actually make their work more efficient and creative in the process. Crevoshay: I would add that not only is overwork still a thing, but consider the particular challenges of being an indie developer, outside of the large studios and outside of the protection of size and flexibility, where you’ve got to worry about funding, timing, and resources. That’s common across creative industries, and we see it as a place where self-imposed crunch really still exists. For example, , who’s on our board, is from and . He’s been in the industry for years. He’s noticed — — a number of the indie developers at Devolver and Good Shepherd showing up with major mental health crises during the process of development, because of the toll that can take on their lives and livelihoods. It hasn’t gone away, even though it first became a real hot topic about 15 years ago in the games industry, and it’s still a major thing. GW: Are you talking about the “” thing? Crevoshay: Yeah. Devolver has commissioned a great game, , and it’s about crunch. It’s a limited run, and the proceeds benefit Take This. It’s a generous thing that Mike and Devolver have done, and it’s a fantastic description of what crunch can do in a game form. The cover art for Mega Cat and Devolver’s Fork Parker’s Crunch Out. (Mega Cat Studios Image) GW: So it’s a Super Nintendo-styled game, or it’s an actual cartridge? Dr. B: It’s an actual cartridge. Crevoshay: In the presale, Mega Cat Studios received a number of messages from people in the games industry, some anonymous, some not, saying “Hey, this is the story about some crunch that I had 10 or 15 years ago. It’s still traumatic for me, I’m still afraid to talk about it, but thanks for making a game about it.” What that says to me is that these experiences and the culture that supported them are still around, and it’s still a big deal. We need to continue to validate that experience and the trauma it can cause, to say “Hey, that’s not OK.” Take This still needs to be the voice in the industry that says mental health matters, mental health challenges are normal, and these practices do not support mental health. GW: There’s definitely a feeling that you earn your bones in the games industry by putting in those 10 years of crunch, where you don’t really sleep and you live off Skittles. Dr. B: My first thought was, “Yeah, if you make it 10 years.” You’re absolutely right. I think that for a lot of people, it’s for the best of reasons. Games are their passion. It’s the same thing you’d see with a musician or an actor. It’s hard to set limits on your passion when you want it so badly, but it makes it easier to crash and burn. GW: Do you think that part of it is the culture, where the higher ups know that there are a lot of passionate young programmers who’ll put in that kind of work, and who can be replaced relatively easily? Dr. B: The majority of the people we encounter are incredibly well-meaning. They’re just passionate. You get a large enough sample, you’re going to get malevolent people anywhere, but really, the majority of the people we run into just want to make games. Crevoshay: The reason that Take This offers management training as part of our consulting services is because these things are hard. They take knowledge, and experience, and figuring out structure, and that’s not how a lot of these companies start, right? A lot of these companies start because somebody says, “I want to make a really cool game!” Then two and a half years later, they have seven employees, and everybody’s about to not be paid for the 15th month. It’s really about how does Take This provide resources to the community in a way that supports, recognizes, and honors the passion, but gives it some structure and some parameters. GW: I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately who tell a lot of stories about that passionate workforce being up against more mercenary sorts of management. It’s interesting to see a perspective from your side of things. You’re seeing a different side of the business just because of who comes forward to you, and your specific areas of expertise. Crevoshay: There’s a narrative that labor’s going to engage in that’s not our narrative. The truth is that we, Take This, have to provide and create as big a tent as possible, because everybody is affected by mental health challenges and everybody is going to need support. So we are as inclusionary and as welcoming as we possibly can be. That’s intentional, because we also recognize that there are a lot of nuances inside companies, communities, and fandoms, we need to try to honor them, as long as they’re safe in terms of mental health practices. We just developed and launched our Take This streaming ambassador program. It’s our entrée into this certification process, saying that we’re going to create parameters about what makes a safe mental health space, and we’re going to ask these streamers to adhere to a set of behavioral standards. We’ll provide them with some training and resources that they can bring to their communities. We’ll train them, we’ll train their moderators if they’d like it, and that creates expectations of what will happen when you show up in this streams, in these communities, and in these chats. That’s something we’re planning to bring across the industry. There’s a basic level of behavior and interaction that’s safe and appropriate for supporting mental health. That’s where we want to start. Dr. B: There’s an acronym that we’ve been using a lot lately. It’s a great mnemonic because all you have to remember is “extra virgin olive oil.” EVOO: Empathize, Validate, Offer Options. Crevoshay: In addition to creating safe spaces, we also want to provide these people, who are advocates for mental health, with parameters about what they should do, and what they do not need to do. A Take This ambassador would know what the parameters are, and doesn’t feel like they’re compelled to offer therapy because that’s not appropriate. Stuff like that. GW: It seems like there’s that middle range of streamer where they end up being a sort of advice columnist to their audience whether they like it or not. Crevoshay: That’s a level of emotional labor, and that’s come up in the streaming community. Dr. B: All the time. GW: I’m curious. It seems like relatively specialized psychological language, like “triggers,” has become more mainstream in the last few years. What’s your perspective on that? Dr. B: I hate to be a contrarian, but I still think it’s a relatively unknown concept. One of the struggles that I run into when educating people is that they know the words but don’t know the meaning. As part of our destigmatizing effort, I try and coach people to stop using psychological terms in common parlance, because they don’t necessarily understand what it means, and we end up conflating normal experiences with these psychological terms. Some of the kids I work with, who I’ve worked with long enough, if a new kid comes into my group and says, “Oh, my God, I’m so triggered,” the rest of them know what’s about to happen. They know the talk the kid is about to get on what that word actually means. One of the things we encounter all the time is, “Oh my God, I’m so ADD,” and we have to educate people on what that means. This is both personally and professionally meaningful for me, because one of the things I’m very open with is my autism. GW: Your Twitter bio used to say that you have Asperger’s? Dr. B: Technically, Asperger’s doesn’t exist anymore. It’s all been combined into autism spectrum disorder as of 2013. But one of the things that goes along with that, a lot of the time, is attentional challenges. For me, when someone’s like, “I’m so ADHD,” I think, “Do you really want to know what that experience is like? Do you understand what it’s like to be distracted by a piece of dust floating by and literally forget what you were just talking about?” That’s not a daily occurrence, that’s a minute-to-minute occurrence. That’s what it’s like. We exist to educate people on these psychological terms that I think most people are misusing. We're gearing up for and looking for volunteers for the and the ! If you'll be in Boston for the show and can spare some time, we'd love to have your help! You can sign up here: — Take This (@TakeThisOrg)
Q&A: tinyBuild CEO Alex Nichiporchik on the ideas that ‘curl up on you and manifest into game design’

Q&A: tinyBuild CEO Alex Nichiporchik on the ideas that ‘curl up on you and manifest into game design’

11:17am, 12th August, 2018
Alex Nichiporchik of tinyBuild. (YouTube screen grab) I met , co-founder and CEO of , in the lobby of the Marriott hotel near the Staples Center in Los Angeles during this year’s . As promised, he and his co-worker, tinyBuild’s director of public relations Yulia Vakhrusheva, were easy to spot, because nobody else was wearing fluorescent orange. There’s probably a metaphor in that if you try really hard. tinyBuild, which is headquartered in both Washington state and Amsterdam, publishes and develops games that are deeply, distinctly weird. It got its start in 2011 with No Time to Explain, the full retail version of a popular browser game that, true to its name, begins as a reasonably standard action-platformer before spinning off into pure insanity. The rest of tinyBuild’s catalogue over the last few years has been equally idiosyncratic, featuring a lineup of games that are, well, difficult to summarize. This year, it’s gone all in on the Nintendo Switch, bringing games to the system such as Garage, a horror shooter where a man must navigate a zombie apocalypse in an underground parking facility that may or may not be an intense drug-fueled hallucination; Clustertruck, where you try to navigate a constantly-moving path along the tops of moving tractor-trailers; the boxing simulator/RPG Punch Club; Party Hard, a sort of bloody puzzle game where an aggravated city-dweller must figure out how to efficiently murder everyone in a crowded nightclub without being caught by the police; Mr. Shifty, a top-down action game where you play as a professional thief with the ability to teleport short distances; and Hello Neighbor, a survival horror game where the player attempts to break into his creepy neighbor’s basement to figure out what’s hidden there. The only real unifying factor in the tinyBuild lineup is that, when attempting to describe them to someone, it usually involves the words “I’m not making this up.” tinyBuild was at E3 this year to discuss its forthcoming Gothic farming game , proudly advertised as the “most inaccurate medieval cemetery management sim of the year,” and its upcoming collaboration with the popular black-comedy webcomic “” (note: frequently but not necessarily NSFW), a battle-royale spoof called . Most notoriously, the company’s E3 press conference this year took the form of a musical number, in which it announced the upcoming Hello Neighbor spin-off . I sat down with Nichiporchik and Vakhrusheva on the last day of E3, in June, to talk about tinyBuild’s projects, output, and general approach to the industry. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation: GeekWire: Your office is in Bothell? Nichiporchik: Bellevue. … Actually, it’s complicated. We have one office in Bothell, but that’s just a garage. Our actual development studio is in Seattle. We just literally last week outgrew it, so now we’re moving to Bellevue. … And then we have a development studio in Amsterdam. GW: Bellevue’s turning into a really big hub for that sort of thing. Nichiporchik: It really is. Everyone is there. I lived in New York, and I really like the proximity of walking everywhere. I like to be able to walk to the office, walk to the mall, and Bellevue facilitates that. GW: I like how Bungie is hidden in the middle of downtown Bellevue. Nichiporchik: Yeah. You have Unity, Epic, and Valve, all in that building. GW: So [Yulia] was telling me all about Rapture Rejects [before the interview], and how it’s being locally produced. You guys are developing it in Seattle? Nichiporchik: Yes. We’re working with a studio called . They’ve done some work-for-hire before, and some self-publishing, and it just so happened that they pitched the game to us a couple of years ago. Everyone who has worked with me knows that I’m pretty direct, and I think I facilitated a couple of nervous breakdowns. Sorry, Patrick [Morgan, producer at Galvanic]. They were a team that have proven they can release games. And we really like teams that can release games. It doesn’t matter if the games are good or not, if you’ve done A to B and you’ve released something, that’s great. We approached them with an idea, like “We’re starting to work with these guys who make ‘Cyanide & Happiness.’ Do you know the comic?” They said yes. So we sat down and brainstormed about how a game like this could work. We knew it had to be multiplayer, and it had to be session-based, and it had to be in [the comic’s] universe. We experimented with some visuals, then did some tests on them, and it just turned out that the animators and artists on the team were perfect. So we made the proof of concept, and then started production. That was well over a year ago, and all of that was under wraps. GW: I’m actually really impressed with “Cyanide and Happiness’s” weirdly memetic quality, where even people who don’t read the strip regularly tend to know it. A lot of the comics have this weird second life, circulating on Twitter, Facebook, and all of that. Nichiporchik: Yeah. If you don’t know the “C&H” brand, you’ve seen them. You just don’t know that you’ve seen them. GW: Especially the really, really dark ones. Nichiporchik: Yeah, it’s pretty dark. The thing about the “C&H” humor … many will compare the game to the “South Park” games, although what they do is deliberately target certain groups and then make fun of them. It can get pretty offensive. Here, it doesn’t really trigger that many people. You would be surprised at how not as many people are offended by the “C&H” comics. GW: No, I can see why. With a lot of the jokes in “C&H,” the joke is on you, because you thought you knew what the punchline was going to be, and they turn it around on you at the last second. Nichiporchik: Yeah, pretty much. GW: Or, more frequently, the joke is that the people who make this comic are terrible people. Nichiporchik: Yeah, they just released this book about parenting. It’s called. GW: [laughter] So Rapture Rejects is a multiplayer game? Nichiporchik: Yeah. So it’s a session-based, last-man-standing game, a.k.a. a “battle royale.” That’s the current trend. It’s set in the “C&H” universe. It plays similarly to how handles its gameplay, so that means the camera is three-quarters isometric. You can shift perspective at any time, so the sprites will still be facing you, creating the illusion of a 3D space. The emphasis is on wacky weapons and combat. You spawn in your closet with no weapons, you can decide to be naked, that’s up to you, and you go out to scavenge for weapons. By that time, a circular area starts to shrink, to confine players in an ever-decreasing amount of space, and [suddenly cheerfully] you just kill each other! GW: [laughter] Nichiporchik: What we do differently from other battle royales is one, it’s not a first- or third-person shooter. For me, I used to be a CounterStrike professional player, but now I’m almost 30, and my reaction time’s gone down. I just remember being very, very good, and now I’m not. So whenever I play PUBG [PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds] I hide in a bush. In this game, you don’t have that. This will appeal to fans of the top-down player perspective, namely, the MOBA-heads. So League of Legends and DOTA. We believe we’ve made something that players who don’t like first- or third-person shooters will appreciate, in the battle-royale genre. The game has a heavy emphasis on stealth. At any point, you can press the Ctrl button, and if you’re, like, next to a bush, then you turn into a bush. Then you can sit and camp there. GW: “Turn into” a bush? Nichiporchik: Yeah. That’s how we handle stealth. One of the most fun mechanics in survival games and battle royales is sitting in a bush and seeing other people just run past you. It feels like you’re playing a single-player stealth game, but those are actually other people, which makes it exhilarating. If you’re playing with a FitBit or smart watch, your pulse rate just spikes. It’s a really great feeling. We want to keep that in a top-down perspective. Also, top-down means that you can do a lot with character customization, and everyone sees it, because everyone sees more or less the same street. So we actually went nuts on customization, which is one of the things I’m most proud of about the game. GW: I feel like I have to ask just because we were talking about the comic. When you say you can start the game naked, are we talking about a mosaic over the genitals? Nichiporchik: So we’re not animating genitals. GW: [to laughing Vakhrusheva]: It’s possible I just wanted to hear him say that. Nichiporchik: Well, one thing we’re doing that’s absolutely different, which we only realized a couple of days ago, is in the character selection. We don’t have a gender selector. You can create your character, and then can decide whether or not there is male genitalia or not, and if there are boobs or not. That’s literally what the tick box says. GW: …can I have both? Nichiporchik: Why not? GW: OK. That’s very important. Nichiporchik: That’s the way we approach the humor. It’s up to the player to decide what they want to do with their character. … So yeah, the main theme of the game is that the Rapture has happened, and you’re one of the few people left behind. There’s only one slot left in heaven, and whoever’s left gets to go there. GW: So your “chicken dinner” [the in-game reward for being the sole survivor of a round of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds] is admission into heaven. Nichiporchik: Hopefully. That’s what we tell you. [laughter] GW: What are you guys targeting for a release window? Nichiporchik: This summer, we’re going to do a closed alpha, and based on the results of that, we’re going to see what we do. Fans should definitely look forward to PAX West, because that’s where we’re going to have the first public playable version available, at our booth. GW: And the other thing you’re showing off this year is Secret Neighbor? Nichiporchik: Yes. It’s the first expansion of the Hello Neighbor universe. Fans have been asking for a multiplayer version of Hello Neighbor for a long time, basically since its announcement, and this is it. This is what the multiplayer version of Hello Neighbor is. I call it a “social horror” game. It’s for eight players, who are sneaking into their creepy neighbor’s house, namely into the basement. They have to find keys to open all of the locks on the basement door and get in, to save their friend that’s being held there. (Spoilers for the original Hello Neighbor game.) The only problem is that one of the players is actually the neighbor in disguise, and since it’s got proximity-based voice chat, it’s all about that social experience, of not knowing who is the traitor. GW: Is the neighbor going to be randomly selected, like Jason in Friday the 13th: [The Game]? Nichiporchik: Yes. I’ve been comparing it with Friday the 13th or Dying Light. The difference here is that you don’t know who the neighbor’s going to be until the person reveals himself. Also, the neighbor player has a lot of weapons up his sleeve, or abilities. For example, if you and me are in a room together, and I’m the neighbor, and you don’t know that I’m the neighbor, I can click on a light and turn it off. If you don’t have a flashlight, and I do, you’re screwed. GW: So you can do a lot without revealing you’re the neighbor. It just looks like weird malfunctions, or what-have-you. Nichiporchik: Exactly. What we’re hoping to achieve is the feeling of that famous scene in The Thing, where people are like, okay, who among you is the traitor? Everyone’s standing around with weapons trying to figure it out. The most fun is when somehow, the neighbor is able to manipulate others into thinking that the other guy is the neighbor. And then, the other player gets crucified. [chuckles] We’re going to have to deal with the ESRB because all the characters are kids, and a grown man’s stalking them. The cover of the first forthcoming Hello Neighbor novel, published by Scholastic. GW: [Vakhrusheva] was saying to me that there’s going to be a Hello Neighbor novel to expand the universe? Nichiporchik: Yeah, I think the first one’s coming in September? GW: OK, you said there was a novel. You didn’t say it was the first one. Vakhrusheva: Because we didn’t announce it yet. [Note: Publishers Weekly had , as part of its “AFK Initiative” of video game tie-ins.] Nichiporchik: Hmm. OK. Well, there is a novel coming in September. Vakhrusheva: [laughter] GW: What’s the name of the author? Vakhrusheva: . Nichiporchik: That book, it explains a lot of the motivations of the characters, because at the surface, Hello Neighbor is … “Your creepy neighbor is hiding someone in his basement. Go!” We throw you into one of many situations that lead up to that, and then there’s a whole story that can span, well, hopefully multiple media outlets including books, maybe TV shows someday. GW: The Hello Neighbor cinematic universe? Nichiporchik: Yeah! The Neighborverse. [laughter] When you have a brand that actually turns out to be a hit on your hands, it’s very important to one, follow up, because fans really love expansions of your universes, and two, maintain the quality level. Coming into Hello Neighbor, we actually had to decide which parts of the story we were going to tell. Originally, we were only going to tell what we call Act Three of the main game — the game is split into three acts — and then we were going to do DLC for what became Act Two and Act One. But we felt like it was going to be a more understandable story done the way it is. GW: Okay. So, you guys were one of the companies that earlier this year. [Vakhrusheva] was saying that you rolled that money into Secret Neighbor, Rapture Rejects, and some more stuff that’s in the pipeline. Nichiporchik: What we did is we invested heavily into brands that we’re working on. We have expanded most of our teams’ budgets to make sure that the quality bar is, you know, up there. We also invested into expanding our recording studios in the Netherlands, because when we publish games, we want to make sure we’re going to release them everywhere: PlayStation, Switch, Xbox, and PC, and at the same time. is coming up. GW: I’m looking forward to that. I really appreciate how straightforward it is, about how slim the main character’s motives are. Nichiporchik: You have no idea how much my actual neighbor played a role in the creation of Party Hard. GW: … oh. Nichiporchik: I’m — no, no, no. I’m not admitting to murder here. Not on record. [laughter] What happened was that we got pitched Party Hard. It was just a Flash game prototype, made by a studio in the Ukraine that was doing social games. GW: I want to say I’d heard that the original Party Hard was part of a game jam. Nichiporchik: Yes, it was. During the Global Game Jam in 2013, I believe. They pitched it to us, and we were like, well, you know, we weren’t really a publisher at that point. We were like, you know, we could help, but we don’t have the money, we don’t have this and that and whatnot. But then my neighbor started listening to music at like 2, 3 a.m. every morning, and I sleep with earplugs, but when you can feel the bass pounding in your pillow, that’s already so annoying. I called the cops on him multiple times, and then I’d lay there, waiting for the cops to arrive, and I’d think, how would I stop this party? You know, I have a very sharp kitchen knife. Some ideas, they just curl up on you and manifest into game design. [pause] That was a very happy accident. GW: So two of the highest-profile games from your studio are about evil neighbors. Nichiporchik: Yeah. Basically. When we started working on Hello Neighbor, I had just moved to the US, and we were staying in a proper American suburb, where there are large houses, just huge boxes, and it’s so depressing because no one talks to each other. Everyone looks out their window like they’re thinking, “I hate you, neighbor.” Vakhrusheva: [laughter] Nichiporchik: There was this feeling like, holy crap, this is actually going to work with the American audience because it’s exactly like that. You don’t know if your neighbor is hiding someone in their basement. You want to sneak in and find out. It’s been a balancing act of surreal and real, because there are real events that have happened in the quote-endquote real world of Hello Neighbor. Then there are events that are manifestations of essentially the main character’s PTSD. Because, well, spoilers, horrible things have happened to good people and that puts them into impossible situations. That’s what Hello Neighbor is all about. GW: So you’ve got Secret Neighbor, Rapture Rejects with a closed alpha this summer … anything else you’re announcing? Nichiporchik: Graveyard Keeper is something that we’re proud of. We launched the Alpha a couple of weeks ago, and it’s coming Aug. 15. GW: Oh, yeah, I’m in the alpha. I was saying that it’s a lot like Stardew Valley, but much creepier. Nichiporchik: I won’t lie that Stardew Valley has been an inspiration, but really, it’s Harvest Moon. Stardew Valley is based off of Harvest Moon. GW: Well, yeah … I got a kick out of how you’re in a small creepy village as its graveyard’s caretaker, and they drop off a fresh corpse every day despite the fact that the village has maybe 12 people in it. Nichiporchik: Oh, there is another city nearby that’s not included in the alpha. You will not be able to go to it, but there’s a whole major story around the village. For example, one of the mechanics we’re exploring, we hope it’ll make it into the final game, is consequences based on your actions. You can throw bodies into the lake, but what happens if you throw in way too many bodies? Do you think there’s filtration in the water in medieval times? Of course not. Then you start having more bodies come in, but less people come to church. So you make more profit from burying bodies, but less money from church donations because there are fewer people. The alpha has the core of the game, but not the meat. GW: Yeah, I played it. I was having a lot of fun with it, although I was starting to run into stuff like the tech tree not being fully populated. There’s only so far you can go. Nichiporchik: Yep. GW: Which was good, because that meant I got my weekend back. Nichiporchik: [laughter] Yeah, we’re actually counting on about four hours of gameplay from that build, and that makes us really happy, because we were actually super worried that there would not be enough content in the alpha. GW: Anything else in the pipeline this year? Nichiporchik: We’ll have a few major announcements at PAX West. We’re hosting a press conference there and we’re announcing anywhere between two and seven new games, depending how ready they are by that time. GW: … two and seven? Nichiporchik: Yeah. We don’t want to announce anything that’s very far off. We want to announce games when we know they have a launch date. GW: That’s still pretty impressive. There are big AAA companies at E3 this year who are showing off maybe two games, and you’re talking about as many as nine. Nichiporchik: Yeah. We have a total right now, counting the games we were just talking about, of maybe 17 games in the works.