Bad Hotel Interview With Lucky Frame's Yann Seznec
We talk to the creators of this strange and beautiful tower-defense game.
Bad Hotel is taking the mobile world by storm at the moment. Everyone's talking about it on social media, most of us are playing it, and we even managed to take enough time out of the game to write our review earlier today.
But what were the origins of this surreal game? Earlier, we spoke to Yann Seznec of developer Lucky Frame about the team's background in the arts, standing out from the crowd, and creating new methods of interaction.
Could you tell us a bit about your development backgrounds and how the three of you came to work together?
The three of us in Lucky Frame are Yann Seznec (me), Jonathan Brodsky, and Sean McIlroy. Jon and I have known each other for around ten years now, having met in college in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We've done loads of projects together, starting with a gameboy chip-tune dance punk band and continuing on to a number of different professional and personal projects.
I founded Lucky Frame four years ago after getting my masters in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a year and a half ago we managed to secure some support from Channel 4 [UK broadcaster] and Creative Scotland, which enabled Jon to move to Scotland too to work on Lucky Frame projects full-time. Sean joined us a few months later.
All three of us are originally artists, in different ways. I'm a musician, Jon is a designer and also played lots of music, and Sean studied printmaking and animation. Jon, a few years ago, started essentially teaching himself to code, and is now the programmer and in charge of all things technical. Sean is the artist and designer, and I do the sound design and music. All three of us are super-interested in technology and gaming, so we're basically using our artistic backgrounds to approach game design (among other things).
Your previous game Pugs Luv Beats had an even heavier focus on musical gameplay. What was the inspiration behind Bad Hotel? Did it begin with a similar audio focus?
Lucky Frame definitely has roots in the music world. The company was started out of music hacks, and nearly everything we've done since has some musical twist to it. Pugs Luv Beats was born out of the Channel4 / CreativeScotland support I mentioned earlier, who were really interested in our attempts to mix music creation and game interactions. Pugs Luv Beats was our first attempt at this, and Bad Hotel is our second.
So yes, in many ways the interactive musical element of Bad Hotel was absolutely core to the design once we decided to take it forward. But before we decided to make it into a full iOS game it was a 48-hour development project by Jon, for Ludum Dare. Jon's idea was to make a tower-defense game where you actually had to defend a tower. He made a really crazy prototype in two days, which was really great but had a few flaws. We realized that a lot of those flaws could be fixed by porting to iOS, and we also realized that building a structure is really conducive to musical interaction.
The tower-defense genre is a field that's well-ploughed on the App Store. How did you focus on standing out from a growing crowd?
It definitely is a very crowded genre, and one that for many people has negative associations. We felt that including really great generative music would make a really big difference, along with a funny story and gorgeous artwork. I'm not really interested in targeting tower-defense game obsessives, I'd much rather we made a game that doesn't quite fit into any single genre and appeals to people who may not even know what a tower-defense game is!
Can you talk us through the development of the game: the challenges you faced, ideas that didn't work out, plans for future updates to the game and so on?
We're already getting our first update ready, which will have Game Center achievements and leader boards. Some people are also having some trouble with controls so we're going to smooth that out! Otherwise we're listening to all the feedback and we're going to make a list of things to address in future updates.
The development process was actually quite smooth, perhaps because we're such a tiny team and the focus for Bad Hotel was really clear from the beginning. One challenge I had was with the sound: my original dream was to use synthesis, rather than samples, for all of the music generation. That became really problematic, though, partially because of CPU usage and also because of variety (since I'm not particularly good with synthesis!). So I ended up making sample banks for everything, which turned out to be a much better plan altogether.
Another big challenge was putting the graphics system in place. Jon and Sean ended up working out a system for using vector graphics, but in many cases Sean had to build the graphics entirely out of squares and circles!
Can you tell us a little bit about the science of getting that procedurally-generated audio right? How much tinkering goes into the pitch and combinations of sounds, and how much is left to chance?
Certain things are tuned, to keep things more or less under control. For example, the tempo is set on a per-level basis, and the root key and mode are set on a per-world basis. This means that things won't get out of time, and things won't be too dissonant.
The notes that are played though are chosen based on the room type, the placement of the room, how many explosions have occurred, and a few other parameters. This gives the player agency over what the level sounds like, and provides enough variety to make it not sound repetitive!
You've received creative funding in the past. What's your experience been like gaining outside interest for these projects? Has having a more traditional background in the arts helped you take your interactive projects forward?
I think my arts background has definitely helped take my interactive projects forward, partially because if you work in the arts you are forced to really think about your audience, not to mention your funding. Additionally, Lucky Frame does not sit easily in any one category. We're interested in creating brilliant new ways of interacting with audiences, with music, and with games, and we try to focus all of our efforts on original output. While that kind of talk often makes traditional funders run screaming, it can really appeal to arts organizations.
Bad Hotel's only just been released of course but do you have a next project in mind? Can you share any details or hints of it with Modojo readers?
We have a couple of crazy projects on the go, including an experimental flash game currently titled "Rocket Gun", where the main character is a gun with a rocket attached. I'm not sure where that one will go...otherwise, we are in the early stages of another creative music game, but it's a bit rough to talk about just yet![/B]
Are there any plans to publish your games for Android devices?
We would love to, but we're too small. We are only three people, and only one programmer, so multi-platform isn't really possible for us just now. If everybody buys Bad Hotel, maybe we can grow big enough to hire an Android monkey to do it all for us!