There’s a certain magic about the band that meets in college. R.E.M., The Pixies, Queen, Pink Floyd — all undeniable legends of the music industry that met in their dorms, art rooms and architecture studios. 

En House Studios seems to have captured more than a bit of that magic. Just this past July, Nikko, Zack and Justin — dorm roommates who bonded over their mutual interest in game development after moving into their own place — designed a Kickstarter for a role-playing game. Against a $7,500 goal, the page grossed almost $70,000, over nine times as much as they asked for. I talked over email with the guys to ask them about how their Kickstarter, the game and their plans for the future. They answered as a group, representing themselves as a studio. 

What was the creative process for making the Kickstarter for “GLITCHED,” and what was it like watching it get funded? Was it fun or was it a source of anxiety? 

Putting together the Kickstarter took longer than you would expect. There was the demo for “GLITCHED,” and making sure that was working correctly took a lot of time. Making sure our Kickstarter was brief yet included a lot of info, and making sure it looked good, was definitely a trial and error process. Being able to get our ideas across clearly and briefly was important and took a good amount of time.

After we released the Kickstarter, I think we all coped a little differently. For me personally, I was an anxious mess for a while until I started seeing the success we were having — then I was even more of an anxious mess knowing we were going to have to make the full game.

Zack was pretty chill about it. The best way to describe it for him was that it was a labor of love and was happy to see people looking at it. The money was nice, but he liked the responses to the demo a lot more.

Justin just stopped sleeping pretty much.

What were some of the reasons you decided to go all in on “GLITCHED” instead of pursuing a more standard career?

We’ve gone all in at least for the development of “GLITCHED,” but we’ll see what happens after. I know we’ve discussed more games and continuing En House Studios after “GLITCHED,” but we’ll talk about that some other day.

I think we all believed that we could make “GLITCHED” something special and that we could afford to take the risk and see if we could make it.

One of the major themes of “GLITCHED” (at least in the demo) is the idea of agency — the protagonist, Gus, begins to feel vaguely aware that something is controlling him, and forms a fourth-wall-breaking relationship with the player. Where did this idea come from? Were these explorations of power and control stemming from real life anxieties you guys had? 

The origin of the idea came from a computer program in high school actually. For a computer science 101 class, I coded a small program that had a small pixel character responding to the person pressing things on the keyboard. I took this idea of a character responding to person sitting at the keyboard and expanded it out during my later high school years.

When I met Zack and Justin, we took this idea and really put more thought into it. I think in your early college years, everyone feels a certain way — that there are powers and things in control of you seem thrusted into the adult world. Perhaps these feelings helped shape “GLITCHED.”

We are all into existentialism and existential writers. A lot of influences from these sources have found their way into “GLITCHED” for sure.

You guys are among a very small group of indie developers working on RPGs. Why do you think it is that indies are hesitant to make role-playing games? Do you see that changing with better availability of development tools like Unity, RPG Maker and Game Maker?

RPG games tend to be lengthy and stale. JRPGS and turn-based RPGs tend to be very formulaic and stale. Of course there are great ones, but the genre at this point is much slower. I think access to these tools is great, but thinking outside the box and not following the tropes as other games tend to do can lead a developer to have a fresh idea even in a genre that has gotten some flak for repetitiveness.

Can you tell me about some of the game’s major influences? Was the success of Toby Fox’s “Undertale” something that inspired you?

The success of “Undertale” definitely was one of the things that made us reopen the project. We actually failed a Kickstarter back around the time “Undertale” was on Kickstarter. It took a lot to get us re-motivated but playing games like “Undertale,” “Lisa” and some of the more classic RPGs like the “Mother” series and “Paper Mario” really got us feeling like we could do it.

Justin has always been a “Kingdom Hearts” and “Final Fantasy” fan. Square Enix as a company should inspire any hopeful RPG developers.

Tell me about your working process. Do you work in an office together? Or remotely? Do you see En House making games far into the future, or are y’all trying to get jobs elsewhere in the industry? 

We actually use my apartment as a meeting place. We meet a couple times a week but we work separately pretty much seven days a week on “GLITCHED.” We have found a good flow in how we share work and get things done, which I think is important for all start up studios to do. Being aware of your budget is important to. Not spending on an office saves us more for development spending. Small things add up — especially for a tiny start up. Like I said before, we are interested in keeping things going but we’ll see how we feel after developing “GLITCHED.”

What’s the best and worst case scenario for how “GLITCHED” does in the long run? Is there anything you’re worried about?

I think the worst case scenario is we stretch ourselves to thin and the finished product isn’t as polished as we would like it. There is a clear vision for us of what “GLITCHED” is and are trying our best to match what goes on in game with our vision. In the best case, we have the game of our dreams working exactly as we want it and are able to release something we are really proud of. I think fitting the things we want to into this game is a problem. Knowing what makes the cut into the game is definitely something I’m constantly worried about.

What are some of the things you love about making independent games?

I think the freedom of creation is the biggest thing. “GLITCHED” will always be directly from us. As gamers, we always thought, “Man, I don’t like this feature” or “imagine if this was done this way.” Having the freedom to take risks and being able to try out things on our own time is really nice.

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