The Lodgge Podcast Episode 17
Meet Meagan Byrne and Sa'dekaronhes Esquivel from Achimo Games!
For The Lodgge Podcast Season Finale join Meagan Byrne and Sa’dekaronhes Esquivel from Achimostawinan Games! We discuss their careers and their highly anticipated cyber noir game Hill Agency OUT NOW!!
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the lodge podcast. I’m your host, Scott Milley, and we are back today with episode 17. A grand season finale for season two. We’re so excited today to announce our new uniquely talented guests joining us for the first time. Yeah, Meagan, and Sa’de, from Achimo games, how are you doing today.
Amazing. Yeah, pretty good, pretty good. So we’re gonna do things a little bit differently today, they have a brand new game coming out this Friday, March 31, the day this podcast drops. So instead of spending the conversation, talking about their careers, or backstories, we’re gonna get right into the game. And we’re gonna give you guys all the information that you’re looking for. So without further ado, let’s get into the conversation.
So before we kick off talking about agency, I’ve got to ask both of you a question is one, we’ve been asking everyone this season, and it’s brought up a couple of great conversations. What was it that got you into the industry? I know a lot of people tend to tend to open up with that. But I want to get a little bit deeper. Was it a particular game that kind of brought you in? Was it a brand? Was it a press conference? Meagan, let’s start with you. What? Why are you a game developer in this day and age?
It’s just the story always gets people. So my story’s a little weird. It wasn’t like Exactly, yeah, it wasn’t exactly a game or, or like a desire to make games that actually got me on the path. So what actually got me on the path is, I actually started my career as a lighting and set designer, I worked in theater, I did live productions, I got to do lighting for some pretty cool bands like Ubiquitous Energy seekers and metric.
And then like 2008 2009 happened, and basically anybody under 30 got laid off from the production house that I worked for. And I kind of bounced around from short term contract to short term contract did some stuff in like, event planning. And just after kind of a couple of years of doing that, and never been able to get a solid job out of it. Even though I was, you know, being praised for my outstanding work. I was just,
I’m like, going back to school. What is even a job that I could get these days, what can I go to school for, you know, I was looking at the trades. and Canada, the federal government puts out this, or at least they used to was this sort of like jobs forecast employment forecast, and they had just done the major census, which had not been done for several years. So I was like, I think I can trust this data a little bit better than previous year. So I go on, I look. And the very first thing is like, software developer, and the one right underneath his game designer, and I was like, I don’t want to do software development. But game design. That looks cool. Yeah, so yeah, that was literally number two on the list. So I just lose, like,
Okay, can you go to school for that? You know, I grew up playing Flash games and PC games, and like the 80s, and 90s, and 2000s. So I was like, this did not come across to me as a job you could just go to school for. So I just Googled it, and happened to be that Sheridan was starting their very first four year,
degree granting Game Design program. So I applied, and I got it, I got in with pretty high high scores, which was like, awesome. And I just kind of took to it really well. But I think what made me stay because it was really hard. And it was a totally different way of looking at, you know, how we build things is just, you know, I would get occasional interactions with my profs who would have seen what I thought was a pretty crappy student project. And they were like, This was amazing. I can’t believe you tried this. Oh, my God, like, you need to, like, start applying for these, these these student awards and stuff like that. I was like, yeah, and then it just, yeah, like they very much took care of that sort of, you know, fragile ego part when you’re first starting out in something. And yeah, no, I’m here running my own studio.
Wow what a journey. Sa’de what about you.
So I also have an equally weird story. Perfect, brilliant. So after high school, I graduated in 97. So like, I feel like old now.
I accidentally became an EMT on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State.
And accidentally my my I had some friends who were working for them and they were like, Hey, you have a clean driver’s driver’s record and you’re pretty good and an emergency. Yeah. And I’m like, surely like you want to drive ambulances. I’m like, why not? So I
was a certified EMT for 10 years on the reservation.
And I ended up I was kept trying to get a full time position. And I wasn’t able to get one because I wasn’t a tribal member, because I’m originally from back east. My family is from Ontario. And I was born in upstate New York, and then young gay.
So I wasn’t actually a member of the tribe, the child preferences. So I ended up, you know, I was always done art. And I’m like, you know, I’m gonna go to art school, and work on that, see if I can make that happen. And I went, and I ended up having to drop out because I couldn’t afford it anymore. And but the time is, I made some connections. And one of my friends got in with a small studio in Seattle. And he was just like, hey, they’re looking for a concept guy. Now, I originally had gone to school for animation, and realized that I was not well suited animation. It’s just way too tedious for me.
And I have a short attention span. So I went and I hung out, hung out at his house for like a month. And I’m just like, I don’t have a portfolio man. He’s like, just bring what you got. So I showed up with like six ratty sketchbooks, and to this producers office, guy named gardener, and I was just like, This is all I got, man. I know. It’s not professional. It’s not great. And he’s looking through my stuff. He’s like, Alright, cool, cool. He’s like, Oh, I got her upstairs real fast. He goes upstairs. And I’m like, Okay, I gotta impress this guy somehow. So I drew his office. While he was gone. He was gone for about 15 minutes. I just drew the whole office with a ballpoint pen. And I threw it on his desk. So he’d see it as soon as you sat down. And he did. He came down, he sat down, he went, did you just draw this? I’m like,
Yeah, that’s a baller move.
To put that out there. I mean, wow, I swing for the fences every time. I miss a lot, but I also I swing every time. And so he goes upstairs, and he talks to his boss. I go upstairs, talk to him for a little bit. He’s like, Okay, well, we’re not really looking for anyone right now. It’s like, Alright, cool. It’s not what I heard or whatever, I gotta go make some money. So I went back to Eastern Washington to go work fire season, because that’s, you know, a lot of people would pick up fired work during a wildfire season. And on the drive back to Eastern Washington, I got a phone call. They’re like, hey, we wanted to offer you the job. And I’m like, I’m gonna be gone for three months. And I’ll see you that hung up. And over summer, you know, you can make enough money to last for most of the year.And so that’s what I did.Like, then they came back and I worked on
They were okay with you saying, I’ll be back in three months. Yeah. Okay. Wow.
So it was like, I, I came back. And we worked on a couple of projects that we worked on several games for. We were working on some stuff for Sega and then 2008 happened and that game got cancelled, but we got to keep the IP. And that turned into my very first published game, which was blacklight, Tango down. And then that was on Xbox Live and PlayStation.
And then there was saw the video game from the same studio for brash entertainment, which eventually got taken over by Konami.
And then I worked briefly on Blacklight Retribution, which was the one of the first free to play on PlayStation four, had a pretty decent following on PC as well. And then I left the industry for a while I worked with special ed kids that did taught some art. And then I met Bessel Ponce, through my former producer at the studio in Seattle, and we started talking and then Beth was like, Hey, you should meet this person. They Meagan. And I was like, I was like, Okay. And Meghan was like, Hey, would you be interested in maybe doing some character designs for this project I’m working on. And I was just like, what is it and she’s like, it’s like a cyber war.
Like a detective type game. Like, imagine like Blade Runner meets.
What’s the word? I’m trying a blank all of a sudden.
You know, it’s like, the war and cyber pop mashed together. I’m like, saying the more I’m sold, I mean, I am in. And we’ve been here for since.
That is two of the most unique stories I think we’ve ever had on this podcast. But that’s amazing. Because most people is I played games growing up, and then I decided to go to school for it. And then now I’m here. Both of you are just all over the place. That’s awesome.
I played games, but that wasn’t to do it.
There’s just never never thought in the career until until later on. And
Cool. So yeah, I think that brings us right into the conversation. Let’s talk about agency. So first, this is coming out on Friday. I want to encourage everyone to go to steam and it’s right now check it out.
And if you can’t do that just yet, watch the trailer. So at least you have that visual cue. The description is going
are the links gonna be in the description down below make sure to check it out. So he’ll agency is a cyberpunk noir detective game where he puts you in the shoes of my Meyeegan. Right? To make sure my Meyeegan hill to solve the murder of her sister. Can you give us a little bit of an elevator pitch for the game? I know you gave one to Sa’de, you know, four years ago, but I would love to hear how you’ve crafted that. Now that you have that visual and you have that game coming out? Can you give us that quick elevator pitch on what makes this game what it is?
Yeah, I mean, really Hill agency is? What would our world look like on the brink of freedom from colonial oppression? And how would that affect the world around it and the way people act and the way people look? And it really did start with this aesthetic of what if Blade Runner, but instead of Orientalism, and Japanese characters everywhere, it was like syllabics, there was Cree language, it was Anishnaabe. A it was you know, our language. And that’s just where it kind of blew up from. And it’s really about space, like the game is there. There’s a story there. But it’s really about space. And, you know, Sa’de and I kind of exploring
what do we want? What do we want our future to be? So like, there’s a couple of things there. It’s sci fi, but it’s also futurism. And the big difference between the two is or sci fi is I’m talking about something now. But I’m placing it in the future, whereas future isms is I’m thinking about following a series of actions, what could a future look like? And we kind of mash both those in and it’s really apparent to us, I think,
in the very first area, you know, Hill Street, it’s cozy, it’s covered in vines and plants. It’s, you know, there’s toys and stuff just left around because it’s fine, because it’s not just a neighborhood. It’s home. It’s a village, it’s a village inside a city. So that that was kind of like, where the pitch took us. And then the story itself, you know, we kind of were, well, how do we explore certain things about you know, indigenous identity and indigenous reality today? Let’s just do super standard cheesy to our plot. You know, there’s an asshole detective who’s grumpy all the time. We claim that like Hillary is basically a 30 Something woman who has a 80 year old grumpy man trapped inside of her. She
has a for people who read her text later, just just remember that she is she’s a grumpy, grumpy curmudgeon, grumpy old man deep down inside.
And she’s kind of trapped in this sort of depression. And Mary shows up who’s from their other space. And we were thinking because we were talking about it being on the cusp of freedom, what is the CUSP look like? Because for me, that’s the interesting space like right there where there’s still that tension. And it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy indigenous future isms that sort of were like, Oh, we’re not we’re post post colonialism. I love those. But for me, especially with like, that difficult identity of being able to walk OC son, or, you know, federally recognized as Matey of Ontario.
What does it look like? What’s the steps that way? And I wanted to explore those steps and I wanted to explore those in between spaces. And so that’s sort of where and I guess in time Hill agency sits and so there is this place called the Risen city, which is attached to the space elevator because I was promised space elevators as a child like space elevators are my jetpacks.
I am super with you.
Like I know we’re never gonna get but that doesn’t stop me. I can picture it in my in my mind’s eye. Oh, yeah. Yeah, we did. I tried to do math at first for this and then I gave up and I’m just like aesthetic. But you know, it’s this space that’s kind of a remnant of the world that we live in right now. And with all the
good but also all the bad that that inhabits and it’s sort of like been taken to its worst extreme. And at first it doesn’t look that bad. And then you kind of started exploring around and you’re like whole that’s messed up, which I think anybody has that experience living in society now where once you really start pulling things off the top, you’re like, dad is not what how that should work. I don’t, that’s not cool. And that’s, that’s what we’re kind of exploring is how we see those things.
Sa’de, what about you? So what was this game? Well, how did you pitch this game different to your family and friends? Was it something that exactly, there’s a lot more underlining to it? And it was something that you were really, you know, proud to be a part of, because you’re able to kind of tell your own stories like we were talking about off air, or was it just the aesthetic, like, like you mentioned before, it was just like, this is gonna look awesome. I came.
I will say the, the aesthetic is definitely the eye candy. And it kind of pulls you in. Because, you know, we really haven’t seen anything like this in indigenous representation.
It’s actually my first comment when I was like, looking through like talking about this this episode, I was like, first thing we need to talk about art direction, which is bolded. And I was like, this looks unique, which is, I’ve always felt is nearly impossible right now, with games, right? Especially like, even like narrative games. Like, it’s so difficult to have your own identity with something like this. And it looks like nothing else I’ve ever seen. Please continue. But I just wanted to comment that I had that circle.
That’s one of the things that really kind of like, I think worked well for us is the fact that, you know, our approach coming to hill agency is that, you know, we didn’t want to tell a story that was based in like, an anachronism, like in the past, you know, so we didn’t want to rely heavily on sort of that stereotypical representation that we see in a lot of media, you know, especially non Indigenous made things. You know, it’s cool to tell stories that are based in the past, but that doesn’t allow any future for your people. Like, if you can’t imagine the future, you don’t have one. So the ability for us to kind of take this approach was, I think, a really important what we ended up doing was taking the sort of like, little elements from our past with the narc genre, like our grandparents used to dress, kind of the way our characters are dressed in his agency. And, you know, being able to sort of take some of that past and like, just sort of retro Futurism and love is really, you know, it lets us make something new, but still be indigenous, because you look through our cities, and it is,
you know, is what existed, but we put our own spin on it, because our people are always adapting. And that’s kind of what we wanted to show is that, you know, we’re not stuck in the past. We’re always moving forward, stylish as hell. Yeah.
Awesome. Awesome. Cool. So you had already mentioned that you kind of started building the world, and then the narrative kind of came second. So can you tell me a little bit about how that narrative kind of came to be? And like how you made that, you know, blend in with the world and it gave you more opportunities to be able to kind of flesh that world out through this basic narrative, as you mentioned.
Yeah, well, like probably a lot of people don’t know. I mean, if you know me, I’ve complained about this a lot. But I’ve been working on this since like, 2017. So when it first started out, it was actually a noir detective dating sim, where you could date everybody will sequel down my God, it was so alternative universes. And it was like 2d, and my way of so we had that aesthetic from the beginning, even before it went 3d. And I was I was really struggling with the plot, mostly because despite it being a dating sim, I did want it to be a legitimate mystery that you could solve. And honestly, I read I read a lot of mysteries. I grew up on pulpy noir detective magazines, I would have like chapters or like short stories in them, once they kind of fall apart if you leave them in the sun too long. And I like everybody does it differently. But the one thing that always was good was that they took you along, they like you figure it out, along with the detective rather than like telling you things. But I was like, how, how do they do that? And a lot of books on writing detective and history aren’t really good at explaining that. So I was like, forget this. I’m just going to plan a murder. And I’m going to figure out what happens and when and who doesn’t, and to whom. And then I’m going to go backwards, as long as I have to, to figure out okay, so when did they make the decision to do this? What did they bring along with them? What did they have on them? You know, because people leave things all the time, like whether they realize it or not, and the decision about whether you wear a hoodie or you whether you wear a t shirt that’s easy to rip is going to make a huge difference about like what kind of evidence is going to be left behind. So I spent like two days and this is during a game jam with Danes making games just two days like either Room Alone the whiteboard. The artist at the time came in, looked at this like, conspiracy, Charlie Day meme and she just walked out
And then I came out with like a sheet of paper like I have it I have the timeline. And then that’s that’s kind of how so that that plot has stayed pretty much the same up until Sa’de came along.
Because then we started chatting I see been between sort of that happening and Sa’de coming in around like late 2019. We, I had worked with several different indigenous people all kinds of like brainstorming, we’ve been writing up what we called at the time, our Bible, which was just lore, just any lore, some of it’s not even like answered, it’s just questions about like, why would someone do this, then? That’s been left as a prompt. But we keep building and building. And then yeah, when Sa’de came along, and I’m not gonna give away too much, because I don’t want to ruin it. It, it shifted, because we were chatting about our shows, shared experiences, things that we had gone through, and there were things that I had not felt comfortable writing about until Sa’de came on. Because I hadn’t really had anybody else on the team who was indigenous who could like, give me good feedback on like, how would this be understood? How would this be read? It was very lonely for a while as a writer, and I think I kind of defaulted to like, oh, let’s not go there. And then somebody showed up, I was like, **** it. Let’s go there. Go to all the places.
I swing for the fences, man. Yeah.
Like, so that’s why I actually like I really do call somebody my creative partner this because the plot wouldn’t be what it is. Now, if he hadn’t been around, just like the argument. Yeah. Yeah.
That actually reminds me is like, Meagan mentioned, she knows that the sense of being lonely, especially in Game Dev, and that is my experience as well, you know, being a an indigenous Game Dev in Seattle.
I was it as far as I knew, like, I didn’t run into any, any other, like, outwardly indigenous people who are just like, Yeah, you know, I’m Native, I’m indigenous. And it’s like, at, at events, we do, like, there’d be industry nights, and just like social mixers and different events that I was getting around to. So for a long time, in, you know, the mid 2000s.
I felt incredibly alone, the studio I was at was primarily young, white men. And we had a couple women and like, an Asian fella. And like, me, that was it.
So, you know, the experience of being in that situation, not just in my own studio, but in the larger Seattle dev area was still incredibly isolating. So being able to relate to Meagan with that, you know, sort of that that same feeling was able, I think, like an instant connection, and we were able to like both, you know, kind of work and it’s like, okay, you know where I’m coming from. So let’s just do it.
And like, what kind of like, like, powerful feeling, it must be to be able to have that like independent studio and truly be able to use your own voices. And like the fact that Sa’de was able to like, kind of push that narrative and there was no, you weren’t getting pushback from somewhere else. It was like, we want to go there. Let’s go there. So you’re able to talk about things you want to talk about, comment on the things with society that you can, that you’ve been wanting to write in that so many people have been wanting to that you can kind of be that voice in that platform is immensely refreshing to see.
I’ve been I’ve been working at IO slash launch for like, two and a half years. And I’ve had my eye on this game since day one. Just it has some a clearly like from the beginning. Maybe even before I got to meet you, it clearly had something to say right off the bat. Right? Even even just the sales pitch for it is like okay, this game is more than just a visual novel, or more than just a cyber noir game. There’s so much care and there’s so much intent behind the narrative and behind the world. There’s so much being said yet left unsaid, which is just a pleasure from like a world building standpoint. And like as a fan of video games. And as a fan of like this type of narrative. It’s just it’s, it’s really cool to be able to see and actually be able to sit down and talk with the two of you about it is it’s been a real pleasure so far. Just wanted to say that.
So one thing that I did want to mention is that
You’ve been working on this game since 2017. So this game has been a long time coming has been, like the amount of times we’ve had talks that you’ve been invited to, you know, like magazine, like, come on and talk at this thing, you’re talking to that thing. You’re like, I need to work on my game. Like, you’re just you’re constantly trying to do all of these things in the community, but still have find time to develop the title that you’ve been working on so hard. So it is a pleasure to see you guys. Like at the finish line, right there. But one thing I do want to bring up is the Ubisoft indie series win. Right? So that must have been like a big boon for your studio. Can you tell us a little bit about what that experience was like? And that how did that equipped you to get from the day you won, to today?
Oh, my God, like, Oh my god. So like that. And then right after that, or like six months after that we got in the game devs of color. Scholarship, and that saved us that literally saved us we. So like,I keep telling people, like, I don’t know how this is getting made. Like I don’t even know how we got it made. Because it was like, it never stopped. That stuff kept happening to this project. It was ridiculous. I don’t even want to go into all of it. Because of course, of course, at a certain point, you’re kind of like, so have you like upset a witch or something first? Yeah. What did you do? Like I don’t know, crater be testing me. So much. So things just kept going wrong, but then they would go so much more. Right? Right after? So it would be
you know, you take us two steps back. And it would be like five steps forward. And you’re like, oh, okay, I guess I didn’t totally make up for the many, you know, push backs before. But yeah, and I think when we won that, because we had, we’ve heard a lot of notes for a really long time, or that’s nice, like, not what we’re looking for, or that’s great, but not right now. We heard that I heard that so much time so many times.
Unknown Speaker 27:12
To the point where I was like, you know, when they say you should get good at rejection, but at a certain point, it feels like it comes full circle back around to like something else is not right. That was definitely the feeling I was having. So I think when we that was that first big win with the indie series was like a huge burden off of everybody’s shoulder. So Sa’de could stay on, we were actually just about to lose Sa’de. Because we were running out of funds. And so we got to keep for all years. And it was fantastic. And, you know, and then just the winds kept coming that sort of kept happening to you. But it was like, tiny or sets tiny, tiny or setbacks. I do wish they’d stop. But they you know, they got smaller. And I think also, even if we hadn’t won, I think the one thing that I don’t know about Sa’de but for me when we were in there with the judges, and there was these two guys who were just gushing the whole time about how they loaded and so fun, and they just just thought it was so beautiful, and that they’ve like, they just want to be there. And that really made it for me. I even actually said I was like, I would obviously love to win. But I think for me hearing from industry professionals that I respect that they like really liked it. And the thing is, we I had been getting that a lot. I would get a rejection from a publisher. And then two days later, an email from someone who worked at that publisher being like, I’m going to keep watching you FYI, I know my company sucks, but like,like, take you from your business email. Yeah. So so we had been getting that and actually that’s been happening a lot where like, the guy who I think initially was in charge of our Steam account was like, Oh, I know you and I was like, Wait, what are like the person who just started surfing education had known about us months before we ever applied? And I was like, that’s gonna be a cool feeling. Yeah, that was really cool. He was like you’re not this group are yours like Yes. I was like fanboy
so that Yeah, I think I think then with the indie series winning that it was the burden off but also that reminder that we are wanted and I think that’s again with like Sa’de and everything about that being lonely is when you know when you’re the only indigenous person in a studio and you’re trying to make your voice heard. It can feel like you’re very unwanted. Because you bring up uncomfortable, you know, thoughts or you bring up uncomfortable realities, and
a lot of people especially in this day, and age are just not good with sitting with
discomfort. And that puts it back on you. And so you end up you know, almost minimizing your voice. And so, with this, I think it actually encouraged us to, like, push even harder on what we were trying to say and lean into the cheese of the narrative even more while also talking about really difficult stuff.
Yeah, leaning into the cheese, I think is really important for indigenous people too, because humor has always been one of our most effective coping mechanisms. And, you know, it is healing as well. So it’s not just your coping, it’s like, laughter is healing. So, you know, the ability to
deal with all these things, setbacks are happening, but also still be able to laugh about stuff. And you know, I’m, I always call myself like a pessimistic optimist. Like I expect things to go bad, but it’ll work out somehow. We are.
So as you know, we’re going through those those issues. And Meagan was, she’d let me know, she’s like, I think I think we might be done. I’m like, like, maybe it’ll work out. Probably somehow, we’ll see. Most of them like, like a uniquely, like frustrating and demoralizing like gauntlet of like talking to publishers and talking about, because I can, I can picture being in that room and then saying, I love, I love the idea. I love what you’re saying and what you speak about and like encouraging all that, but then not backing, the project must just be so frustrating that it’s like, Oh, we love what you’re doing. And we think it’s important what you’re doing, but just not with us. But then you clearly don’t think it’s as important as what you’re saying. And then being able to see that. Like, obviously with the indie series. And the other the other scholarship. So it’s like, finally someone saying that, like, Yes, this is amazing. Yes, this is important. And this needs to be done. And it needs to be said, Let us help you. It’s like hell yeah. Like, let’s see, like actual backing behind these things, rather than people just being like performative. Right, like, supportive, but like, not really. That’s like that. I can only imagine how like, frustrating that must have been for you and your team. So it’s just, it’s awesome to see where you’re at. Oh, yeah, I think that’s so we ended up partnering also, was it before after, I think it was before the end series, we were partnering with the Georgian Bay friendship center, because they’ve gotten employment programs. So that’s how we got our two interns fully paid for. And it was the first time I’d had an indigenous organization be really freaking excited to support us because it’s not just sort of, you know, in settlers faces that we weren’t really getting that support. It was also additional spaces because video games are seen as a risk a huge risk. And in fact, for a long time, so it was filmed a lot of elders who worked in you know, film a lot of our director elders, I guess you want to call them had to fight real real hard in the 60s 70s 80s even in the 90s to be seen as you know, a not just a valid medium for indigenous people to be in but a worthy one that deserves respect and support and video games are not there yet. So when Georgian Bay
you know, worked with us we that was that was that really like, uplifted? I think my spirit when it came to this because I was like, Yeah, the thing is changing. And it was nice, because I mean, before also, we’ve had a lot of where do you fit? We don’t know where to put you.
You’re not this you’re not that and you know, and then speaking kind of like also like, publishers you like oh, you know, like it’s cool. But no, we also got a lot of funders and publishers be like no one will ever want this. Don’t bother. Which I thought was a bit
Oh, yeah. A lot of other words come to mind. But yeah, yeah. So with rude.
It’s really funny because I also be like, you know, you know, as a as a funder or publisher, whatever. That’s not really your judgment call technique. Because you’re a single person or a small group, you’re not an audience. And I think part of the difficulty was, especially with a lot of these publishers when we went to them was we are specifically targeting an indigenous audience. And that doesn’t mean that nobody else will want it or play it or that it’s not for anyone else because I use the example of anime. Anime is not made for Westerners. We love it anyways. You know, it’s not. Yeah, right. Like, but it is made for an audience that’s very specific. And I think sometimes that’s why it connects so well because it is talking directly to a singular group, which is getting nuances that maybe we’re not but it is a very powerful way of telling stories. And that was it for us where, you know, the indigenous market is grossly underserved, grossly, grossly under
serve, especially in media. And we can see that there is a hunger for this media just through things like restaurant bugs, reservation dogs, which was like huge, and it’s great. And then brother for falls, which was hilarious. And you know, these films that are coming out like blood quantum, which is an amazing zombie apocalypse film by indigenous director, readers, writers.
Oh, man, there’s like a whole bunch that are starting to come out. And they’re all amazing. And they did amazingly success. They’re amazingly successful. Because they were for an indigenous audience, like in North America alone, I think we’re looking at like, 5.2 million
watts, stuff with them in it. Don’t want stereotypes.
Very, very, I think that’s very well said, Because I agree. Like, that’s honestly, like, super even just bring up the anime example, said, it’s like, it doesn’t have to necessarily, it doesn’t have to be directed towards you like some, it’s better for a lot of audiences when it’s not directed towards them. Like, that’s something that a lot of the media that like, I seek out me personally, it’s like, I prefer that I prefer when you’re not talking to me, because there’s a lot left for me and millions of others to learn about the world. We’re not as educated on certain topics as we should be. And like we should be seeking out things like that.
So yeah, that’s just a
piggybacking off of making several quick speaking of indigenous native audience, I actually got to go to the indigenous pop X convention in Oklahoma City. It’s a all indigenous pop culture and comic book convention, put on by Lee Francis, and through his publishing wing and their group, native realities. And did you pop, they began this thing, oh, it was like, a few years back 2017 or something like that. And they had, they had like, three, and then the pandemic happened, and they all got shut down. And this was the first year that got to come back. And they partnered up with First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, which is an amazing facility. If you guys are ever in stateside, and you feel like going to Oklahoma, I would suggest checking it out. But I brought the game with us, I was brought in as a featured guest because I’ve done some projects with native realities. And I brought Hill agency with me just the demo. And they made like a little announcement stand up, like, hey, this games coming out. And you know, here’s here’s a QR code. So you can go to the Steam page and check it out. And I had, I just had the trailer on my iPad, and when people would check it out. And there was a huge, like, positive feedback from that group. Like, indigenous people who were like working in film and movies and, you know, pop culture stuff were really, really stoked to see it was cool things I met Steven Paul Judd, and he just geeked when he saw it, he’s like, This is amazing. And I was just like, Yeah, that’s awesome.
But yeah, there is an audience. And like, that event,
told me that there are people out there who bought what we’re offering. And that’s exciting.
And I think like that kind of that kind of led to obviously like you guys kind of ramping up here over the last few months. But there’s future of play right, in my mind misspeaking that it was future play in June.
Write that, like, I watch, obviously, anything that was a three ask, like at that time, and just being able to watch that for fun and seeing hill agency. And I was like, that one is just like that, leo meme. I’m just like pointing the TV. I was like, I know that game. I know those people. And I was like that, like how did that come about? Like being involved in a direct like that?
Oh, god, that was glitch and glitch has been amazingly helpful and kind to us.
They, they Okay, so then when they came to us after we had applied saying we gotten in, we had actually hitting another one of our like big bumps and we were in kind of a desperate straits.
And you know, I was handling way too many hats. And
some people were off. And I felt like we’re not going to make it we’re not going to get in because we’re not gonna be able to make these deadlines and I’m really upset because, you know, we, we should like by all rights if we had been properly resourced, we should have been able to meet those deadlines without any problem.
So I reached out, and I just was like, Hey, not good things have happened. We want to make the deadlines at best we could probably be two days late.
They got back to us was like give us something
has the same length. Nice and get it into us as soon as possible. So we did we sent off like, I don’t know, I think it was a draft. I think we asked her we were working with evolve originals were like just whatever the final length is going to be. Can you just send them a draft? And they’re like, Yeah, sure. So we sent that off, and then we got it. And there was a lot of like, DMing. At the last minute, we’re like, it’s coming. It’s like, suck. It’s like no worries, it’s fine. We understand. We got it in. And then nobody knew from the outside. Like, that’s the part of
it’s like, we look so put together when like, we are a duck with cinder blocks.
That is one of my favorite things about talking to game does is this hearing that we’re just like, oh, everything looks so smooth. And they’re just like, just gray hairs. Everything’s on fire. Like every game that comes out is a miracle. And all players should realize that yes.
Of talking about
that. Not knowing if things are going to come together.
It was it.
Yeah, it’s, too it’s too too soon right now. Yeah. It’s like, my brain is just kind of like still reeling from everything.
All the time this podcast comes out the game will be out. When people see this, that will be done.
Yeah. Oh, one thing that was like really interesting about it is like people have seen like the trailers and on YouTube and on Steam and like what I’ve showed off to, you know, like events. And I think people are going to be very surprised to see how different it looks. Because we’ve been doing a lot of work. And we’ve been we’ve got some amazing support.
And it like people thought it looked good before. And you know, first small team. Yeah, it really did. And I think they’re about to be blown away.
Oh, you’re good. Good. Okay. Sorry. It stops showing.
Yeah, so we’re working with crystallize games who kind of like really swooped in? And oh, wow. Yeah. So they’ve been our sort of like, de facto dev team.
Since I guess, like, fall of 2021. And, yeah, they’ve been amazing. And Steven and Adam have been fantastic. What we like to say is Adam, who’s a technical director with several years of experience in the industry, and then as FX, kind of, she’s all that did the game because, well put, we gave it to him to like, like, like lighting passes and stuff. And then he senses he’s like, how’s this look? I’d like just tears. I was like, so
he’s like, Oh, well, she had like, you know, good. You know, the textures were great. The models were fantastic. I didn’t really do much, and I was like, you put makeup on? Yeah. Speaking of the models looking great. I think that’s a really good time that we should mention.
Maritza Lewis, and the team at Twisted mountain. They built our characters for Hill agency, and Maritza Lewis’s indigenous woman from Vancouver, I believe. Yeah. And she’s she’s worked in a whole bunch of like, movies and TV like most recently, I think she worked on Super pets. And from DC.
To our, into the spider verse. Yeah, she did spider Noir. Whoa, yeah. So like, she’s a person people should know. And if they don’t look her up, she’s awesome. Yeah, it’s like getting to talk to her. And the funny thing is, since she’s over on this side of the continent with me, and she’s related to a bunch of people that I know. And they’re cousins of people that I know.
So it was almost like meeting families. It’s like, oh, you’re just extended cousin. Alright.
So how did that come about? I know, we don’t we don’t have too much time. But like, that’s, that’s way too interesting to not ask a little bit more about how did that relationship gonna be?
So lay, it started, not a great place. So we had hired somebody. And they had kind of a politely
misrepresented what they could and could not do. And we were also in a position where we didn’t have anyone who could be like, that’s not possible or no.
So yeah, we ended up without an in house modeler and for characters and then
we had already been chatting with twisted mountain about doing like the rates and the animation
Fun. And yeah. redsea Well, we already had Chai with Maria, we knew she was indigenous. And then we just kind of talked to them, because we’re like, ah, like, I don’t know what we’re gonna do. And they’re like, give us a minute. And they came back with a budget.
And we said, Yes, I’ve heard you was really excited, because she was going to get to do all the indigenous characters.
So we said, Yes, that’s how that kind of went about. And I think that’s like another example of that, something bad happens. And then something great happens. That has been happening.
But like that, it’s cool that that wasn’t just like a another job or like another another thing for her like, she was so excited to be able to work on that, which must have been just so nice for your for your team. Right? This has been like, oh, like there are there, we’re not just hiring out, we’re not just outsourcing something, it’s like, they can’t wait to jump in and like collaborate and like work with you. Like on developing this world. It’s like that.
Yeah, and I think working with her was, I Sa’de can talk better about it. But it just all of a sudden really changed how these characters came to life. In a way, I don’t think we expected
to talk with that. So you know, I have since I’m a concept artist, I work primarily in 2d, so I can make something look good in two dimensions. And she took, you know, my designs and really brought them to life, you know, in that 3d space, and there’s like, a certain quality of softness that’s in the models, like their, you know, their faces or features are still sort of stylized, but they feel very indigenous. And that’s one of the things that’s most important that, you know, a non Indigenous person might not have
got a grip on because, you know, there’s a very stereotypical idea about what an indigenous person looks like. And, you know, one of the things we tried to combat was, you know, not having just one representation of, of what an indigenous person look like. So our characters do have different looks, and she was able to capture that. And that really, really excited me, it was just like, No, she’s, she did an amazing job. They all did really good. I’m just I’m super excited for people to see it.
I think for me, it was the fact that she didn’t need to have her hand hold held when we were when she was doing the eyes. The eyes have always like any, because I’ve worked with a couple of modelers. And you know, when when we were putting out the call for an in house character modeler, you did have to do it on spec bust using design that somebody had put together, and everybody struggled with the eyes.
Which we don’t I don’t get like for me, like indigenous eyes have a very particular look that it’s easy. But no, some people just made them like, way too Western or, or way too Asian. And, or just sometimes I’d seen them and I’d be like, I don’t know what that is. That is not right. It doesn’t even look like what’s on the fan. So that was actually one of the big transitions from where we went from the initial
pre concept that Meagan worked on. To me joining the team was because I had been in in 3d Studios before I knew that as striking as the original design slipped, it wouldn’t look really great in 3d, and it might be a little off putting. So that was one of the major changes to people will be like, Oh, it was kind of Picasso esque before. And you know, it’s cool stylized in 2d, but in 3d Just it’s off putting.
It’s it’s a unique skill to be able to bring something that’s 2d to life, like in a 3d space, right, like, as you brought up anime, but like playing like anime based games and stuff like that. That’s something that traditionally you’re seeing and in two dimensions, being able to translate that and have it not have that uncanny valley that like weird just off putting vibe is is a unique skill. So I’m glad to hear that that went smoothly. Can you tell us a little bit about the protagonist. So I do want to talk at least a little bit about like the gameplay itself. But I know she is very grumpy. But how does she kind of come to be and how is she,
for lack of a better term, the heroine of the story.
She goes by Hill, and we don’t really get into that in like, why in the story, she won’t talk about it. She doesn’t talk about a lot of things.
Which is great, but it’s in the sort of way of like, you know, there’s a story they’re like aunties always on her ass about something. I think it sounds the next character in the trailer, and I was like, This is gonna be my favorite character. I can guarantee you. Yeah, and I was like, so I wanted to talk a little bit about that. She’s both the best.
She’s like everything for you.
But yeah, like he’ll, so he’ll got So initially the look of Hill was the artist I was working with originally Tara Miller had just done these sketches of his like long haired, small chested, indigenous
The protagonist in a suit, with a hat and trench coat, and that was like, why make a game around that. And then from there, Hill kind of became an exploration of our collective trauma
in the way that we use stoicism as a way of not having to deal with problems that, you know, we do make jokes of things, we do avoid things, we do look for work to fill the gaps, so we don’t have to think he’ll is kind of all of that.
And so it makes sense that you would play as her because I feel like right now in history, that’s where a lot of us are at. So she is an extension of that kind of trauma response. And there were things that we wanted to put in there, we’re going to make it a little bit more blatant. But I think we ended up not having the time to do it. And I think in the long run, that was probably for the best because
I don’t want things to get too real, because we do deal with some pretty dark stuff. And that layer of cheese is there as its that’s a protective blanket that’s not necessarily there. Because, oh, I don’t know how to write dialogue. It’s like, no, no, you can’t take it too seriously. Otherwise, like, it’s gonna be hard for you to internalize what you’re being told in this moment. A little palate cleanser was like stations where it kind of pulls you back and is like, Oh, this is just a game. This isn’t my own trauma, my own real life, like, it makes sense. And then Mary, is that aspect that is like, No, you got to deal with this. She, she isn’t an elite citizen. But there are references to she’s not exactly who you think she is, in terms of, you know, she’s not like the rest of the Clones, like every, like, it’s not going to be a surprise, but like, the reasons that he is basically made up of clones. And then there’s her and her sister who are also clones. But she’s like, a little different, you’re never going to really be told, like what about her is truly different. But that’s kind of how I approached her was like, the dame that comes in and disrupts the detective life is very much that sort of, this is shit you have to deal with. And in a lot of ways, Mary and the case itself is we have to deal with this, we have to deal with these things. We a lot of us are dealing with these things, but it means being vulnerable. And as the game goes on,
he’ll never really truly like, you know, become super, like flowery and open. But she does stuff that she otherwise would not have done, she goes to places that she refused to go, she
she takes this the the jagged pill, when it’s given to her of like, you can’t act like that. So in a way is that hill and Mary is and this whole story is that messy, uncomfortable, painful process of
working through your trauma,
I think a lot of us could use that. Good point. And I’m also also a big fan of hearing that, like, the lore isn’t so detailed, that it doesn’t leave anything up to the players, it’s like interpretation of certain events, right? Where like you’re saying there’s certain stories and certain things that you know, they’re going to be alluded to, or maybe commented on, but not super fleshed out. So you are able to kind of have your own experience and you know, fill in the gaps with like, your own experiences are your own traumas. And like have that reflect like as a player. So I think that’s a really cool like narrative tool to kind of leave a little bit to like to the players to kind of fill in those gaps is very, very cool.
So I know a major part of this, so there’s no combat, right? Like first and foremost, it’s much more on the narrative side and the puzzle solving side. So can you tell us just a little bit about kind of what a half hour of playing hill agency is? Like? Like not, not the narrative of the characters but like the actual physical controller or keyboard and mouse? Like how how does the game play itself work? Sa’de, you want to take this because you had to do it more?
Well, honestly, it’s a lot more like the the idea that we always approached with was like the old school point and click adventures that we grew up with, you know, so
a lot of it is that sort of, you know, going around you like you’re you are walking like you’re not in a hurry. You are exploring the areas and everything you’re doing is for a case that you’ve been given the if you’ve played the demo, you know that you start out with a job from auntie and it is one of those.
I don’t want to But aunty is going to make it my problem if I don’t.
And you know, and the nice thing about that one is it involves the kids and
That was one of the things I liked the most about it is because most games don’t have children, and indigenous people, multi generational families, like we always have lots of kids. So like, so that that opening of the game is exploring and meeting the kids and the other personalities in the city. And kind of just going through, like, everything you’re gonna be doing is looking for clues to solve these cases, essentially.
Yeah, that’s pretty much it, you know, point and click adventure, and of hunting around looking for the thing. It’s slow. Um, I do know that we got a couple of people being like, oh, I want to be able to run and like, no, no, actually, I want you to feel like you’re going on a stroll, you’re in no rush, you don’t even want like, I think that also was really tied to Hill not really wanting to do this hill does not rush. And if Hills rushing, there’s a real good reason for it. And right now, there’s no real good reason for it. It gives the world like a chance to breathe as well. Yeah, you’re you’re kind of not forcing the right word. But like, if you’re not able to run, you’re like you’re going through these worlds a little bit slower, and that your own leisurely pace. So you’re able to, you’re not blurring by, you know, the gorgeous backgrounds and like the world itself, or even the characters and like what they’re doing, you’re able to kind of like, sink into that world, which is very, very cool. Yeah, yeah, that’s what we wanted. Yeah, there. You know, it’s not as many people to talk to, as you might think. One of the things and I think this is just because we’re such a small studio, and I’m the only writer is it is a bit compact in terms of you know, if they’re not important, you don’t talk to them.
At the same time, that that is because we’re looking at this a bit more like, it’s a story that you’re in, and it is, you know, it is linear, but not in the way that I think a lot of people, you know, when they hear linear storytelling and video games, they usually think like, I’m on a track, like, no, no, you can go around. But you know, be wary about, you know, you might talk to somebody, and that tipped somebody else off, and they suddenly aren’t in their position anymore, because they don’t want to talk to you. Because you might know something now, so things like that happen or things like if you don’t pick up that piece of evidence, it might throw it out because it’s garbage, like things happen in the world without you. Nobody’s really, yeah, that’s personally like that.
That’s a world that existed before you got there in a world that exists after you leave. I think it’s such a powerful thing to be able to have. And again,
one of the things that I enjoy is that we don’t tell you if you’re right, yes, that was my, my, my final my final question on the gameplay itself was how, how do you how do you lead them in the right direction, without telling them like, I do like that you do have a clearly a sense of respect for the player. Because I think that gets lost in a lot of games now that are just go here, talk to this person do this thing. It’s just about following the line. And it’s like something like this where you can, you know, accuse the wrong person or you can like Miss A clue or miss that? How do you let that that kind of randomness not leave people feeling directionless.
Okay, so I think part of it also is, this is very much an adventure game where you might get to the point where you’re going to need to go online and be like, Okay, I will do everything. Tell me what I’m supposed to do. I
kind of like, that’s gonna happen anyways. In that case, let’s just make sure that the game works, the way we kind of see it. And that also, you know, I do also want to think about things like, if it’s going to get thrown away, is it going to is it going to be something that’s going to break the game, that kind of thing? So like, no, and in some ways, you know, I respect the player. But I also think that respect also means being gentle with Oh, I agree. Yeah, I agree. Like, you might miss this. So I’m going to leave it here and no one will touch it.
So that you don’t have to worry about, you know, you’re getting locked into a position. So yeah, it is kind of like that. It’s nice, but honestly, if something gets thrown away, or if somebody disappears, it’s not going to break your ability to like solve a case.
And really, like we said in the beginning, you’re passing that that case on or you’re finishing that case and moving on to the next step is always going to be reliant on the person who’s you have to give the accusation to about their decision about
Yeah, okay, this evidence that person this is lining up for me. Okay, let’s, let’s go. So, you know, and obviously, like, I know the real story, but for you, the player you might be like, Does this person like, like if I just convince this person of something
Maybe he’s not true. But that’s detective work. The only way you know it’s true is when you present the evidence to the person that you’re accusing. And
they admit it, or you have something that’s so damning, or somebody else has seen something like that is kind of how our justice system works right now where it’s like,
do you know, you don’t know, the game tells you when you like, once you get through the game, we’ll let you know some things.
But there there is going to be that question of was that right? I have no way of knowing for sure. So like, yeah, like the game will sort of tell you like, Yeah, this is what’s happening. Now, this is the consequence of your action. But the game’s not going to say, and you were totally right about what just happened,
hey, you’re not gonna get the dragnet ending, you know, just like, there is no Western justice system in our in our universe. So it doesn’t end, you know, how, you know, like you wrapped up like a police TV show, you know, because you’re a detective, you’re not the person who prosecutes the offenders.
It’s so much more smaller than originally we had gone for. So really, like, we’re not going to have that happen too often. But, you know, we kept saying next game next year,
which is, which is honestly a responsible thing to start doing when you get down the line. Because like, that’s, I gotta be able to talk to like, hundreds of game dads for last few years. It’s like that, when that line, you pass that line where it’s like, get it in, like all the ideas and it’s like, Okay, now we need to start cutting, and start thinking, Okay, next project, or expansion or whatever, right? Like, it’s like, 10 year anniversary.
So the last thing I really wanted to ask the two of you was, I want to pay you a hypothetical here. So this is Friday, March 31 2023. The game is released. Right? everyone rushes to steam rust is to itch, right? You get a bunch of people buy the game. And then reviews and comments start coming in at the end of the weekend, after everyone’s got a chance to actually play the whole game before they start throwing out opinions. So what do you
hypothetical for 15 minutes. So what is something like a key part of this game or story that you hope that people take away from it? What do you what do you want those key takeaways to be when people say, Hey, I felt this? Or hey, I really enjoyed this part. What is something that you’re trying to, to really push? And what would you consider a win for yourself? Besides obviously, critical acclaim and, you know, a million million records sold. But you know, you know what I mean? Like, what what would you like to see be that takeaway for some people?
Um, well, my intention is not to read any reviews, maybe for like the first month.
Maybe comments, we won’t talk. We won’t talk like like critical reviews, but like, 10, from your average gamer, right? That comes in plays the game, maybe they’ve had an eye on it for a while. And they say, Hey, I really enjoyed this, or why I really liked this, or this was something that that spoke to me in this way, what what was something that you would see, they’d be like, that’s what we were going for. That’s what I’m hoping to see.
Honestly, what I really want is I want people to look at our game and the universe that we’re building, and realize that they can do it too.
And it doesn’t necessarily mean in games, but I mean,
they can tell stories to they, like indigenous people, especially indigenous people don’t have to rely on just Western media and traditional movies and whatnot. It’s
we all have the ability to tell stories, and put it out for an audience now. And I really want people to take that to look at what we’ve done, and see the possibility. Like, I want them to love our game and love our university or maybe even be like, Hey, guys, can you make more money? Like yeah, someday, but no, what I really want is I want it to open people’s eyes to the possibility
that there is more and we should demand more, and we can make more and nothing can stop us.
Even with setbacks,
especially with setbacks. They only make us more powerful. Yeah. pessimistically optimistic. Yes, yes.
For me, it’s not anything anyone could possibly write.
It’s seeing fanfic, it seeing fan art fan vids, self inserts, my Hill agency OC, like that’s what I was.
Like I think if I could see that, because that’s really what I want. I like Sa’de said I want
you know, in indigenous nerds, indigenous nerds to look at this stuff and see themselves in it and you know take it make it part of you know your own world that you want to explore use it as a jumping off point. Right the hill marry slash fic.
There were some characters that were definitely made with that in mind. Yeah.
Any characters carryover from the dating sim?
Oh, yeah. Oh, nice. Nice. I look forward to having a conversation after I get to play. Yeah, I’m also you know, I guess.
What’s your favorite? Thirst trap
Yes, that is how you get engagement. Yes. Whatever you like. And it’s not that I didn’t enjoy working on the mechanics because I did all that and working on the stairs stories. I did all that. But I think what it comes down to it’s like
there’s no comments, there’s no praise, there’s nothing in the world about the game itself, even a three hour, you know,
Sofia Mars, retrospective. Agency, you’re like the themes of village shouldn’t see this ever gonna compare to me to somebody being like, I drew myself is hill
that that for me, is gonna be the best praise for it. Two, if I see anything about make sure to share them. I would love to see cosplay. Honestly, I would love to see people duded up in like, indigenous 1940s outfits. And then like incorporating led into the clothing or something like that, which is how Yeah, that’s like that was that was one of the things that really wanted to catch was like, like, it’s that cool look that our grandparents had. And then like, just add some tech to it. So it looks amazing. Like, if somebody were to do that, that would blow my mind. And I’m just saying it now so that someone will do it because
someone has a great idea. Yeah, we’ve got a lot of in person events coming up. So hopefully, hopefully we get to see that. That’s absolutely amazing. So I think that’ll about do it for for episode 17 of the lodge podcast is the season finale of season two and what a season finale it was. Thanks both of you so much for taking the time and coming and talking with us. Thank you to Ontario creates for your continued support of the lodge. Cheers to Natalie, our producer on the ones and twos always making us look and sound good.
Everyone, it is Friday, March 31. Get the game. It is out. Even if you’re listening to this after Friday, get the game steam it, make sure to follow them on socials, see what they got going on. Now, I promise you, you will not regret it. It is one of the most beautiful games I’ve seen and something I’ve had my own for years. And it it truly has something to say if you’ve learned nothing else from this podcast. There’s a lot of heart and a lot of soul in this game. And there’s a lot to be said. That needs to be said. Whether you want to hear it or not. You you should be paying attention. So any any final words from either my wonderful guest today?
No. Thank you for having us. This was awesome.
Thanks so much and chance to put out in the world. And let’s see what it do.
Yeah, so again, thanks. Thanks both you and thank both of you for having the courage and telling your stories with this game and I look forward to playing every every second of it. So everyone go buy it, go check it out. And we’ll we’ll see you all next time. Take care.