Developer's thoughts on “Lethe”.

Since “Lethe” went “green” on steam, we start our days by saying. “What about a blog post?”. But then we check our development task lists and never mention it again for the rest of the day.

Being an independent game developer requires a lot of energy! There are so many things to consider – art, graphics, animations, gameplay, human psychology, bug-fixing, testing, concept, story, audio, registering a business, your girlfriend who's constantly asking about what are you going to do with your life... – and many more terrifying things (well, maybe not as terrifying as the last one). There's barely any free time left for anything. Getting on a blog and talking about your project sooner or later becomes part of that “anything”. Here's where I'd like to say that, even if we don't always reply your e-mails or your comments on social media, keep in mind that we always read them and in fact, we take them very seriously. A big portion of how we designed Lethe's gameplay is based on your feedback! So please, keep giving us what we need the most. Your feedback!

Who am I?

I'm John E. Koukourakis, founder and developer at KoukouStudios (Yes “KoukouStudios” started as a joke about my last name by a couple of good friends back in the university).
Although my main responsibilities in the team are Programming and Level Design, eventually I had to expand my skillset by getting my hands on other stuff like, Particle Fx Design, additional Sound Design, Concept Art and most importantly, the Creative Direction of “Lethe”. That's enough about me for the moment though. There will be other posts about the team in the near future.

Looking back at “Lethe”:

It's been more than two years since I started on a small personal project. I wanted to bring back physics. Physics gameplay showed up back in the mid 00's and then “whoosh”... vanished. The triple-A guys once more turned to Hollywood like explosions and static shooters feeding the needs of the angry teens around the globe. Today when the young gamers say “physics” they mean shooting and breaking or exploding stuff. But what about the actual physics based world interaction? It sounded like a good goal.

It started as a small scale project running on 'UDK' from 'Epic Games'. It was about a man who was shipwrecked on an isolated island. An ex-colleague and writer, Margaret Farrell, helped me figure out a title and that's how “Lethe” was born! Even though the gameplay mechanics and story were ridiculous back then I decided to post something on IndieDB... (We 're still haunted by outdated/early articles and screenshots on google search). One of the best things that happened to the project back then was that Rick Faber, a talented artist from the Netherlands spotted the game on IndieDB.

Outdated screenshots haunting us on google. Be sure to check out the latest media on the official website!

When Rick joined we sat down and rewrote the story into something more sensible and personal. Then we got rid of all the unneeded and frustrating gameplay features. For example originally, besides telekinesis, in Lethe you could master a bunch of different “magic powers” like fireballs, bolts etc. Later though we realized that we had given the player too much power. Most testers were approaching the game as a classic shooter. Getting rid of everything but telekinesis made things way more interesting. Testers would no longer stand and shoot whatever was moving, instead for the first time they were using stealth and the environment to survive. The downside of those changes was that we had to throw away 4 game levels. But you know how it is, “if you're going to do something do it right or don't do it at all”.
A fair amount of months later we released the “Reveal Trailer”. People seemed excited even though we weren't showing much. That's when I asked Rick, “why don't we get on Steam Greenlight now that we have a trailer?” (The project had been on Steam's pages for a year already, but it hadn't been published because we thought it was too early to show something). Half an hour later we were live on Greenlight! It was the craziest decision we ever took! No preparation, no campaign promotion, no nothing. I remember staying awake until 4.00 am reading your comments. Thanks to you, two weeks later Lethe was greenlit and we could finally get some sleep!
During that period we also got some extra people in the team and as I type this there are nine people working on Lethe.

The present and the future:

Lethe is a fairly demanding project and it certainly takes longer to complete than what we had imagined in the beginning. Although we originally aimed at a release late this year, we'll have to postpone it for 2015. We're sorry about that. The main reason is that we support the project financially on our own and it's not as easy to meet the required development speed when it's not possible to have everyone working full-time.

Earlier this year we discussed Lethe with three different publishers and even though they were willing to support and publish the project we couldn't accept their terms. I have the feeling that publishers haven't yet realized how important the indie gaming scene has become during the last four years and they definitely don't understand how to create a deal that is acceptable for both them and the indie developer. They remain entrenched with old-fashioned ideas about funding and marketing that no longer apply to the current gaming market. This actually sounds like a good topic for an entirely new post some time later.

Even though programming is pretty much done and Lethe's production is getting together way faster now since it's only about level-design and adding details, we still need to speed up things a little bit more. And this is exactly why we decided to release Lethe as two separate episodes. It's definitely more feasible and while you'll get your hands faster on the project with “Episode One” we'll also be able to speed up the development of the second episode. Additionally we started to think about a crowdfunding campaign and/or pre-orders. Looking at Kickstarter and seeing a lot of the latest indie campaigns fail, we certainly see that it's not going to be an easy goal.

Apart from some unexpected stuff getting in the way, we're not too far away from the release of the first episode. There will also be a beta testing period where some of you will be able to lay your hands on the game. We 're already looking forward to it. In the mean time, let us hear your thoughts on “Lethe” and in case you missed it, check out our brand new Alpha Gameplay Trailer released earlier this week.

Until next time,
-John E.K.