Fire Tonight is a short but heartfelt narrative puzzle game that focuses on the loving bond between Devin and Maya while they are separated by a city on fire. In this interview, we chat with Game Developer Simon Paquette from Reptoid Games, and Kurt Larson from Information Society.
How long was Fire Tonight in development for when you take the pandemic into account? Despite the shakeups, to day-to-day life, and to the world this game is well thought out, very beautiful and the quality doesn’t seem to be impacted by the slowdown that you encountered.
Simon Paquette: So the initial concept of the game started in 2018 and I met up with our publisher and co-creator Rajen Savjani of Way Down Deep and he was looking to team up with a developer to make a little passion project. We had a great meeting and hit it off and over the course of a few months of emailing back-and-forth, we hit on this idea. So it wasn’t until the beginning of 2019 that we actually started production on the game. Pretty close to two years.
The idea for Fire Tonight from what I read and understood was inspired by Information Society’s song of the same name. What was it about that song in particular that made you guys want to create a narrative puzzle game?
Simon Paquette: So the choice of the song came from Rajen in that he grew up as a teenager in the 90s and Information Society has always been one of his all-time favorite bands and he had always loved this song in particular. In the ideas that we were tossing around, he had mentioned to me “Hey there’s a song I love and I always wanted to make a game based around this song.” While reading through the actual lyrics of the song I saw a bunch of story elements that were interesting such as there’s clearly a couple that is separated, they don’t know what the other is doing, the singer is stuck at home waiting and wondering what is going on, you can tell there’s fire, there’s police out ― there’s something going on but they don’t know what. It’s kind of a reminiscent song but at the same time it’s a little bit laid back and it’s not really intense, aggressive, or scary.
There’s some story content that felt like it was trying to get [you] from point A to point B and that would really be your story motivation and then the actual vibe of the song itself had contrast and the urgency about what’s implied by a city being on fire and being separated so that sort of set the tone for the type of game where we wanted it to be a very important setting but we didn’t want to give [players] that sense of panic and urgency that you might feel in a real life-situation like that.
As someone in a long-distance relationship, I can relate to the feelings of separation and wanting nothing more than to reunite with your loved one. Fire Tonight made me step back into the 90s and made me imagine what we would’ve done if a pandemic occurred back then. It would be a lot harder to stay in touch with loved ones compared to today where we have Skype, Zoom, cellphones, and text messaging to use while we wait for this thing to improve or end. How would you feel if you were in that position?
Simon Paquette: Oh it would be a completely different thing. I think we are so fortunate that we have the technology to communicate. It was never intended as we didn’t have any idea about a pandemic happening― but it was really intended to just shine a light on how we are privileged to have all the technology we need to communicate is such a game-changer. So taking a step back two decades obviously people still have relationships, and [phone calls] but when you get cut off you’re stuck so to speak.
As a game developer, how has the pandemic affected the way you create games?
Simon Paquette: I mean honestly I think we are really fortunate as game developers because so many of our teams are based around online collaborations, to begin with. You know in a weird coincidence we had actually already decided to start working remotely with the team literally a month before the initial lockdown happened, but before that time we were all working in an office space together and it would range in company size between five to six people and then down to two or three. We felt like it wasn’t necessary to be here and because of living situations people were now commuting and it was just becoming a hassle so we had actually just given up the office space and in that month had switched to working from home and then the lockdown came in so it really wasn’t a huge transition because we were lucky that way.
I understand with other game developers such as Nintendo for example, video games were delayed and pushed back because the lockdowns happened last March. So I was wondering about how the pandemic affected you as an independent game developer and if it had a big impact.
Simon Paquette: Yeah I think this is one of the benefits of being a small scrappy indie. If you’ve got 500 employees working on a new Triple-A title then heck yeah that is going to definitely impact you right? But there are three of us and it was a lot easier to make those changes in stride with less damage.
And in a more safe way as well while following local health measures such as social distancing.
Simon Paquette: I guess I can’t point to any direct setbacks that were caused by the [pandemic] but you know looking back I do feel like we took considerably longer to get to the same milestones we were planning. I think we saw a general slowdown at various points which caused things to take a little bit longer but we hadn’t announced a launch date yet so we didn’t have to go back on anything we’d already committed to.
When I started to play Fire Tonight I burst out into tears because I could imagine myself as a teenager in the 90s having a romantic relationship, but being separated and having no way to get in touch easily with my significant other during a pandemic. I would have been impacted so greatly as you love somebody. You want nothing more than to just be with them. The pandemic has changed the way we stay in touch, how we do interviews and even job interviews now are being conducted through Zoom due to the health restrictions.
Simon Paquette: Oh yeah, and to think we had all of the technology for years but it certainly took this external circumstance for us to embrace it in this way.
I think what playing Fire Tonight does for me is that it’s a comfort and reminder that all of us are at a distance right now but we want to do everything we can to reunite, and we are slowly starting to see that now with the vaccines! But thank you for creating a game like this. I appreciate it as someone who loves games that pull on on the heartstrings.
Simon Paquette: That’s wonderful! I’m so glad to hear that you had such a touching experience with the game!
I noticed that the lyrics of Fire Tonight are titles for each of the eight levels and they are very powerful. I was wondering what your favorite part of the song was and why?
Simon Paquette: It’s one of the main lyrics about seeing the orange light in the sky— the idea that you don’t see the fire but that ominous sense that something’s going wrong. You know how sometimes there’s a weird sunset or a storm’s coming and how the light changes? Like before you even realize intellectually what’s happening you get like a vibe about how something’s up― That’s what strikes me. That “spidey” sense feeling that something’s not right before you really piece together what’s going on. I just think that moment of uncertainty and that sort of gut reaction makes you wary. I just thought that felt really powerful to me.
Can you talk about the level design for Fire Tonight? I have only made it to level two as I am having a little difficulty but what I have found to be very helpful is that when I was going in the wrong direction that specific area would burst out into flames, which told me that: “ You don’t want to go there but you want to go here instead!” Can you share your thoughts about what you were keeping in mind as you were creating these levels?
Simon Paquette: So one of the earliest concepts I had in terms of the level design was the idea that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a maze with a lot of dead ends and it doesn’t have to be challenging. Sometimes the journey itself can be interesting and it’s actually a puzzle game where you have to rotate the levels around [with the camera.] My thought is that getting from point A to point B is a straight line and that’s a bit boring, but imagine that line twisted around into a sort of knot or some interesting shapes. Suddenly it’s still linear in that it’s point A to point B but it’s a lot more interesting. My thought was how do I create not necessarily a maze with a lot of dead ends for people to die, get stuck, or locked out of progress after a certain level but I wanted to create a path that you look for to follow and walking that path to make it a bit interesting.
When it came to the aesthetic design did you draw inspiration from previous video games to incorporate into Fire Tonight or did you want to keep it as original as possible?
Simon Paquette: Balan Wonderworld was definitely an inspiration for some levels in terms of some of the aesthetic choices and the ability to turn levels into like a diorama, but another game called Florence which is a really beautiful story experience about a relationship [the story] is quite short but it’s got this beautiful comic art style. You should definitely check it out!
Can you talk about the writing of Fire Tonight and how you went about making the script laugh-out-loud funny and clever but without losing focus of the emotional impact of the story?
Simon Paquette: Yeah so I had written the rough draft of the script beforehand but unlike working in television which is in a linear format, with games there are a lot of options, and orders to do things in and conditions that make it harder to write in different ways so some of the initial ideas were kind of dropped but then a lot of the writing [was done] as we were building and putting [the game] together. with a bit of collaboration from the team― so other people put in placeholder text to keep the right mood and tone. If the writing was supposed to be jokey, or if the writing is supposed to give you information that would be in there, and then a lot of the writing I did another pass on to make a conformed joke or consistent story, and things like the police officer character I just added some lightheartedness. I also wanted to make sure they were not scary bad police but more like lovely and comical.
We called him “Dad Cop” during development but we wanted him to be sort of like dad joke style and wanted him to be a goofy character but still having that sense of authority but kind authority.
Especially with what we were seeing on the news regarding the police in the United States surrounding the death of George Floyd.
Simon Paquette: Yep. We made a choice earlier on before all of that even― but at one point in development my favorite character she’s actually black but we sensed that having a lot of cops and avoiding them while as a black character I think we were getting really close to political territory and we did move away from that which I think was probably a tactical choice.
I think with a game like this and with the choices that you made you are being very sensitive to the fact of what’s going on in the world right now but also acknowledging that not every police officer is bad.
Simon Paquette: Yes of course!
I really love the Dad Cop though! He’s my favorite character. You would think it would be Devin or Maya but I really love the cop! [laughs]
Simon Paquette: I’m glad the comedy came through for you! [laughs]
So how did Information Society become involved? Did you need to get permission to use their music/lyrics in any way?
Simon Paquette: No, and to be fair we didn’t use their music in the game so there were no rights issues there but yeah we did reach out to the band early on to ask for their blessing to use their title, which I don’t there there was any copyright infringement but it was more just out of consideration and they were excited about it. I think one of the lead singers from the band had actually done work in video games. I think they were very flattered.
Editor’s Note: This next section covers questions answered by Kurt Larson from Information Society. This was facilitated through the help of James Boss from the Public Relations team by email.
How does it feel to have a game inspired by your song “Fire Tonight?” The game developers used the song in such a creative way to tell a compelling story and make a narrative puzzler that pulls on the heartstrings! And from the song “Fire Tonight” what would you say is the most powerful lyric?
Kurt Larson: Well it’s really fun for me since I’ve been working in the games industry since the mid-’90s. One of the developers was a fan of the band who reached out to me way back then and we’ve been friends ever since. I really love it when something we did inspires someone else to make some other artifact; it’s a really fun and validating form of reflection. The lyrics were meant to be a description of a state of being, so I don’t think anything stands out in particular; they all hang together. Perhaps “It was the last thing you said before the line went dead.” is a bit more affecting than the rest; there is a wrenching experience had whenever a separation, even if expected, becomes physically real.
Who are your musical influences and why?
Kurt Larson: DEVO, Gary Numan, The Residents, Yello, Foetus, This Mortal Coil, Pink Floyd, Ministry, KMFDM, Depeche Mode, OMD… Because they’re awesome. I list each of these for different reasons. DEVO because they express a nerdy, boyish exuberance, Gary Numan because it’s Emo music for Asperger’s sufferers, KMFDM because it fucking rocks, Foetus because Thirlwell showed me what you can get by combining power with subversion, etc.
Can you talk about your new album OddFellows and what you hope listeners will feel as they experience the album?
Kurt Larson: OddFellows is a collection of the songs we have continued to slowly make, one-by-one, over the last five years, since our last album. We never had a specific musical theme in mind; in fact, for a while we were just releasing them as singles. Specifically “what” I would hope people would experience? I don’t know; I kinda think that’s none of my business. My hope is that the music has value for people, and can augment and enhance some moments of their lives, and to be useful in some scenarios, like driving, or running, or, preferably, roller-skating.
Fire Tonight is available on Nintendo Switch and Steam!
Reptoid Games: www.reptoidgames.com
Music | Information Society (bandcamp.com)
Way Down Deep:
Projects • Way Down Deep