Lightbulb Crew is a Franco-Swedish development team made of two separate studios across Northern Europe. The developer also tactfully rode out the Mouvement des Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest Movement) protests that claimed the streets of Paris by utilising pre-existing and dedicated remote working arrangements. The team is currently working on Othercide.
Othercide is an ethereal, horror-themed interpretation of the world today. The enemies are inspired by psychological traumas, nightmares, and fears as well as drawing influence from Silent Hill and Stephen King’s novels. Lightbulb has set out to design a fresh new experience in the already crowded RTS market and looks set to accomplish this with the Dynamic Timeline System. The system allows players to manipulate time by slowing enemy attacks or speeding up the attacks of the Daughters. To cap the game off, Chaudret’s reductionist and bold art direction to build an entire world with three colours only adds to the mysticism. Black and white create the world of dreams around players, thus encouraging players to conjure up experiences in their heads, whilst the vibrant crimson creates a dramatic contrast.
In an exclusive interview with OnlySP, Lightbulb Crew’s CEO and game director Anders Larsson and art director Alexandre Chaudret discussed the studio’s Franco-Swedish working practices, art direction, RTS game mechanics, and much more.
OnlySP: Can you tell me about how Lightbulb Crew was formed and what inspired you to develop games?
Larsson: Games and video games have been a part of my life as a little kid. They are things that connect us with others, let you dream about other places, or just learn about stuff. Already back in the 90s, me and my co-founder Johan Wirde dreamt about making games together. Instead, I ended up having a career in business and back in 2013, my wife pushed me to do something I was truly passionate about.
OnlySP: Alex [Chaudret], Why did you join the Othercide project?
Chaudret: I’ve been working in the video games industry since 2011, on the art-side of things. I usually say that my only goal in life is to tell weird stories with strange monsters… It is actually exactly what I answer my daughter when she asks me what my work is: “Daddy’s job is painting monsters all day.”
When Lightbulb came to me in Fall of 2017, I saw an opportunity to step up to a north star job: art director. But, above all, I saw a nice canvas appearing on the horizon, where I could paint quite freely a dark universe full of creatures, ghosts, and nightmares. The first day I arrived at Lightbulb, I said to the crew, “We’re not here to do an artbook, let’s make a freaking game!” and I try to stick to this idea.
OnlySP: Tell me about Othercide. What influenced you to create the horror-themed, turn-based strategy game?
Larsson: We are fans of different kinds of turn-based games, and what initially drove me was to be able to create a game that was true to the core aspects of turn-based games, while introducing a more dynamic battle system and giving increased weight to the characters you controlled. All of this are still in the game, but our initial approach was quite different to what you see in Othercide now.
When Alex came on-board he helped to give the game its current form, not just in art, but also in terms of the world and lore etc. What has always been really central to me is that the experience hangs together through art, mechanics, and sound.
OnlySP: Talk about what you see in the horror aspect of the game and how the art helped form the world?
Chaudret: “Horror-themed” in Othercide doesn’t mean you will be frightened or having your heart explode with jump-scares haha! It is more about the psychological aspects of traumas, inspired by the Silent Hill series or Stephen King’s novels. I always think that the best way to achieve a creative project is to add a bit of personal experiences in it like giving a bit of your soul so it can resonate with some people, not all of your audience.
That was part of the challenge on Othercide, especially in a genre that has been quite codified those last years. To do so, we had to set (and stick to) heavy boundaries, until the universe could just live on its own. I really enjoy the moment where you feel that all the pieces of the puzzle are fitting in, and even more when you, as a creator, discover that there are even more pieces laying in darkness.
OnlySP: Othercide is set in a nightmare realm with creatures that feed off of suffering. Does this tie into any particular messaging you’re hoping to achieve? If not, what message are you hoping to achieve (if any)?
Larsson: The world in Othercide is inspired by ours, where mighty entities live in a parallel dimension feeding off of all kinds of human emotions. So there is a kind of macro-story about the fight for the survival of mankind, and the terrible sacrifices that may be necessary. At the same time, there is another story there about redemption and forgiveness.
Chaudret: I think the best stories have different layers. Othercide can be seen like an epic war between fearless warriors and horrible monsters, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The entire lore is flavored with psychological traits of the human psyche, tackling about sickness, pain, loss, hope, and fears. A lot of those subjects are even inspired by our own experiences, that we tried to put honestly in the game. More than a ‘message’, Othercide is a story. An intimate tale hidden in a larger world. It is up to the player to dig through the layers of our lore and discover more.
OnlySP: The narrative’s design focuses heavily on player choice. The impact of those choices can lead to traumatic experiences happening to the Daughters, making them stronger or weaker. Are there any strategic benefits to deliberately weakening the Daughters?
Larsson: We tried to make a game that could be experienced on multiple levels. For the player that just want to find a new mechanical system to master, we went all out to create a dynamic battle system with completely new challenges. For those players that care about the story, we created a world to unveil, mostly through the discovery of new memories. The story is at least up to 50 percent what the player creates in [their] head based on the experiences of [the] Daughters. Players will not be able to weaken a daughter on purpose but will have to make choices based on how the Daughters develop.
OnlySP: The game’s website warns that death is permanent. However, if individual Daughters die during combat encounters, can they be revived? Can players recruit other Daughters between skirmishes?
Larsson: Yes, the player can create new Daughters in between battles, but it is hard.
OnlySP: Othercide‘s art design is utterly stunning. The character’s clothing and movement style is reminiscent of a Devil May Cry title but set in a noir, ethereal monochromatic back-drop. Why did you create the art design in this unique way instead of designing a world popping with rich colour?
Chaudret: Because I am super lazy art director: three colours were way enough! Actually, it was one of the hardest and obvious choices to do. When I started my work on Othercide, I knew that if we wanted to stand out in this kind of games, we would have to pull all the levers we had at disposal at their maximum. So, while the first attempts of art direction where kind of muddy desaturated, I kicked the lever into full black and white, and a blazing vivid red. It was super hard, and really frightening.
There were a lot of challenges, a lot of doubts, but we still felt it was the right direction. Black and white are the realms of dreams, of interpretation, of the ethereal. Dropping our Daughters, with their vivid red scarves in this ocean of darkness has already a signification. I love creating those art-systems. You will notice that when a Daughter loses health, her scarf greys out.
Larsson: Alex was very serious when he came to me and suggested going all black, white, and red and we sat down and discussed it together. In the end I realized that it fits with the gaming experience we were going for. As important is that it helped us reach an art-style that is immediately recognizable. As indie developers, it is even more important that the game stands out on its own than for larger studios.
OnlySP: The game features a wide array of fascinating enemies. The artistic design behind the tentacled, beast-like aliens and the tall, scythe-wielding creatures offer a range of unique antagonists to battle. How did the creature designs evolve from the game’s concept to what we see in the gameplay trailer?
Chaudret: Creature-design is an iterative process or, should I say, an exploration process. At first, we always try to serve the gameplay. So each of our creatures and bosses germinates for a reason and achieve a function. Then, it’s our jobs as artists to infuse a ‘soul’ in those seeds of horror, until it grows and blossoms in a good balance of monstrosity and beauty. We can use a lot of different inspirations, from abyss fauna to preformists like Olivier De Sagazan, but the one inspiration I prefer is our own nightmares. I was really gifted to work with such a talented team, that could both listen and understand what I was looking for, as well as creating fascinating creatures on my side. We hope you will enjoy our horror-zoo!
OnlySP: The title boasts dynamic, turn-based combat that enables players to anticipate enemy movements and ultimately execute a strategic masterplan using the Dynamic Timeline System. Can you explain what this system is and how it works?
Larsson: Instead of turns, Othercide has a timeline showing when enemies and allies will act. Attacks have different impacts on the timeline. Some attacks happen immediately, some are delayed, and some happen over time. At all times you have to take the timing of enemies’ attacks into account, but you also have tools to deal with them. You have skills that can delay enemies or speed up your own attacks and also react to, and interrupt enemies. These you can use to stop enemies in their tracks or just do enormous amounts of damage if you use them well.
OnlySP: Can you provide detail about the character skill system? What types of skills will players be able to choose from and can players build their character to suit individual playstyles?
Larsson: At the beginning of the game the player can choose between three different classes, and in each class, there are skills to choose from at each level. The differences are really significant as skills work together with skills in other classes as well as with skills at other levels. On top of this, the Daughters evolve on their own with their own battle experience, which will change how you decide to use them.
OnlySP: Othercide is due to be published by Focus Home Interactive, which has been behind some of the biggest games of 2019, including GreedFall, The Surge 2, and A Plague Tale: Innocence. What is it like working with such an accomplished publisher? Has Focus Home shaped the game in a way that you did not expect?
Larsson: So far it has been a really good experience, as [Focus] fully understood where we wanted to go with the game and was supportive of that vision. Having [Focus’s], at least partially, external view on the game has helped us identify areas that need to be strengthened much quicker. I guess the best part was how the support has helped refine parts of the game.
Chaudret: From the very beginning of our collaboration, Focus has been very supportive of our creativity and where the art style was heading. Having a publisher ready to take risks and support something different in a codified genre is refreshing and respectful.
OnlySP: Lightbulb Crew consists of a team that is based in France and Sweden. What challenges and benefits does the Franco-Swedish relationship bring to the studio?
Larsson: The main difficulty is that it forces us to work a lot remotely. That also has actually turned out to be a benefit as we have had to live through months of strikes in France which forced many Paris team members to work from home, and we already had that experience.
OnlySP: How has developing your previous online game, Games of Glory, helped you to create Othercide? Did you encounter any specific challenges that affected how you approached designing your upcoming game?
Larsson: For a first game, Games of Glory was hugely ambitious, and we learned an enormous amount from the experience. The importance of one strong art-style being one, as well as how important good feedback and the pleasure a player should get out of just handling the core combat aspect of the game. From a process standpoint, we also learned a ton.
OnlySP: Lightbulb Crew has established its publishing brand under LBC Games which has been set up “by indies, for indies”; What impact would you like LBC Games to have on the industry? Do you have any projects that you can talk about now?
Larsson: We believe in all aspects of the strategy genre and helping indies that focus in that area will help assure that there are great games coming out. It will also help us build a stronger community around the types of games we love. LBC Games is there to help indie developers get through some of the pains we have experienced ourselves. We are about helping the developer to make the best game they can. We also help with financing as well for the right game.
OnlySP: Can you reveal any detail about how long the campaign will be?
Larsson: Playtime will depend a lot on the player, and his or her approach. Play-through time varies so widely from player to player that I don’t want to give any target times. We think people will feel that they have gotten good value for their money though!
OnlySP: Will the game have multiple endings depending on what choices the player makes?
Larsson: Let’s let the players discover that themselves
OnlySP: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
Larsson: Your readers can still help us influence the game, by following us on social media or email list, and then participate in our upcoming beta!