Every once in a while I come across a video game that really connects with me. It reminds me of the stories I grew up with, like The Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, and Sherlock Holmes. It’s probably that last one that draws the most inspiration for Joe Russ and his video game studio Mografi. Russ is working on an upcoming game called Jenny LeClue that’s looking to get funded on Kickstarter and I was lucky enough to talk to Russ about this amazing project!
1) Where did you come up with the idea for Jenny LeClue?
The initial seed of an idea started quite a few years back when I became obsessed with procedural crime shows like CSI. I wanted to make a micro animated web series that was a both celebrating the excitement and poking fun at the formulaic nature of those shows.
The idea hung around in the back of my brain for a few years, gestating. Eventually, the idea evolved into wanting to make an interactive narrative on the iPad, as I had made some other apps for iOS and thought this format and direct-to-audience platform was ideal for the content. The idea continues to evolve!
1a) What were the biggest influences for you?
B) There are a ton of influences from graphic novels, to music, to TV and film. Style and tone will be influenced by my love for Mystery, Horror, and Sci-Fi. I’m also interested in exploring themes of family, loss, identity, redemption, and authorship in Jenny LeClue.
Some of my inspirations ( in no particular order ): Twin Peaks, Professor Layton, Broken Age, Resident Evil, Veronica Mars, Ghost Trick, Limbo, Hot Fuzz, Encyclopedia Brown, Lost, Clue, Sherlock, Blue Velvet, Now, Now, Are You Afraid Of The Dark, Twilight Zone, The Silent Age, Kentucky Route Zero, CSI. I could go on forever, but you get the idea!
2) What’s the hardest part when dealing with a game like this? The story or the code development of the game itself?
I would say the story that we are crafting is the biggest challenge. We have planned a winding, epic mystery, with big set pieces as well as personal, human, stories. Keeping all the story lines together and interesting is quite a challenge. The other challenge is the amount of content we want to deliver in the story world of Arthurton. We are a small team with a lot of contributors, but really just 2 or 3 dedicated members, so delivering on the promise requires a lot of focused time and smart project management.
3) How is it running your own independent game studio?
It’s great! You have a lot of freedom ( and responsibility ) to tell the stories you want to tell. We are also a motion design and interactive studio, so we have flexibility in terms of the kind of work that we take on, whether it be client centered or internal.
4) When I saw the project I was drawn to it for it’s animation, it reminded me a lot of a Tim Schafer game, is that a coincidence or am I way off?
Adventure games are definitely a huge influence and if we can have the level of wittiness that Tim Schafer is able to bring to his stories, I’d be really proud. Broken Age is certainly a goal in terms of production value we’d love to meet, though we do not have that level of resources. Big inspirations for me in terms of animated storytelling would be: Tekkonkinkreet, pretty much every Studio Ghibli film, and The Iron Giant.
5) What made you go for a choose you own adventure type game?
The idea evolved out of an animated story, and I’m very interested in games focused on story and character. For me, adventure games are all about getting lost in a world, not about the mechanics of how high you can jump or how big an explosion your laser rifle can create. I’m interested in creating something that resonates on an emotional level, like Breaking Bad or Twin Peaks, but also allows you to interact with and influence that world.
6) How did you decide to go the crowd sourcing route and what has your experience been like with it?
I previously had success crowdfunding my short animated film Fathoms, which you can check out HERE.
I think Kickstarter and crowdfunding is wonderful and enables opportunities for small independent creatives to make projects that weren’t possible five years ago. As a freelancer, I don’t get paid if I don’t work. So being able to have the resources to spend time on a project of this scope is critical, and crowdfunding allows that. At the same time you are able to reach out to and connect with a wonderful and supportive audience. I love being able to have people involved early in the process. Lastly, we are not beholden to any kind of investor. As an artist, this means being able to make choices, experiment, and deliver a project that is rewarding for ourselves and those who support it.
You can learn more about Russ’s project at the Kickstarter Page, the Mografi site and by going to the JennyLeClue.com. Make sure you donate to see this wonderful game come to life and keep independent studios alive!