You may have read my recent review of The Red Strings Club, and if you did, you'll know how much I loved playing through it. I reached out to the team of people who made it, and was lucky enough to talk to lead game designer Jordi de Paco about what it was like to build the world we see in the game.
Rachael Berkman-Sinclair: Hey Jordi, it's great to hear from you! And congratulations on [The Red Strings Club] being a hit!
First and foremost, I just want to know what inspired you guys to make this game. I see a lot of that classic Philip K. Dick in the way the story plays out and in the way some of the characters interact.
Jordi de Paco: It was purely an accident, to be honest. We were going through a crisis in Deconstructeam: after having released Gods Will Be Watching [three] and a half years ago, we failed many times, cancelled two big projects, and were running out of money. So we jokingly talked about combining some of our more successful game jam prototypes. "Which ones? What about pottery, bartending and impersonating people on the phone? Hahaha, that's crazy." [-] We took the brainstorming way too far and discovered it was actually a pretty cool idea.
From there, I started taking more conscious decisions. I examined all the game mechanics to see what they had in common and noticed something interesting: They were all about manipulation. So I built the whole narrative around it. Social Psyche Welfare (the technology that gets rid of every negative emotion; fear, depression, rage, anxiety...) is the most extreme expression of that.
RBS: My personal experience developing games has shown me that there is sort of a "critical point" where you feel as if you're teetering on the edge of either making the game truly awesome or the whole thing crashing. Did you guys have a point like that as well?
JDP: It usually goes like that for us... I talked about how we had to cancel 2 big projects, and those aren't our only failures by far... But with The Red Strings Club, since we started from 3 game prototypes we already had tested and got great feedback from them, it's been a quite a stable project to work on. The biggest challenge being in the narrative, that we had to iterate on many times to get it as it is right now.
RBS: The "minigames," for lack of a better word, where the player sculpts, tends bar, and makes undercover phone calls, etc. really made me feel a connection with the characters and with the world. How did you decide on the tasks the player needed to perform?
JDP: They all come from the original beautiful accident. However, I had to polish and redesign them a bit to make them fit with the game. Some say we could have [gotten] rid of them to improve the game's pace... but I liked the space they created for reflexion. There's something interesting in decisions not only being part of a menu but to actually have to "craft" them. After all, you're affecting other character's lives with them, I want the player to put some thought into them while reflecting on what happened so far in the game.
RBS: Your game really focuses on boiling down what the player considers right and wrong. At first, I was shocked when Akara called me a hypocrite, but then I realized they were right. It was a big turning point for me in the game. What made you decide that the player needed to realize that about themselves?
JDP: As players, we usually take the stance of the main characters by default, and deemed [sic] corporations as evil by default, too. I wanted to break those clichés. Supercontinent is actually a good-spirited corporation, even if what they do seem[s] immoral but aren't you manipulating other people to get what you want, too? Where do you draw the line? Why can we as individuals persuade other people into doing what we want but corporations [can't]? Is it because of the scale? Is SPW really that bad? Can't it benefit a lot of people in society if we put it to good use (as a substitute for antidepressants, for example)?
My objective with this was to make players think about empathy, and not deem people who contradict us evil or wrong without putting enough thought into their points of view.
RBS: Everything about The Red Strings Club is very atmospheric, from the colors to the music. How did you decide on this particular brand of cyberpunk sophistication?
JDP: [The Red Strings Club] is a story about people and human emotion. We wanted it to feel intimate and close to our reality despise the "cyber" element. That's why the club looks like a place [that] could exist nowadays and cities aren't crammed with flying cars.
RBS: The Red Strings Club as an entire game is cyclical. Does this at all speak to the philosophy behind the world you built?
JDP: Not really. In fact, my ideal use of the game is to just play it once and take what you did and answered with you. That's why the game doesn't allow you to load previous games and makes you carry on with any misstep or unexpected turn of events you face. There's no chapter selection here for a reason!
RBS: Wow this is fantastic! Thank you so much for taking the chance to chat with me... it was an absolute pleasure to get to ask you about [The Red Strings Club], both as a fan and a writer.
JDP: Awesome, thank you so much!