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Forrest Dowling's 'The Flame In The Flood' Developer Diary

Author: Rob

We got in touch with Forrest Dowling, the lead designer on Flame in the Flood to find out more about how the game came to be. You can check out Forrest’s development diary below.

Hey all! I’m Forrest Dowling, the lead designer on The Flame in the Flood, the first title by The Molasses Flood. I wanted to use this opportunity to share a little bit about our process, including our use of the Unreal Engine, and some of our inspirations.

When we started our studio a few years ago, one of the first questions we had to answer was what engine we were going to use. We knew we were doing something 3D, but aside from that we weren’t tied to any specific engine. At the time, the main standard for indie studios was Unity. They had a large install base, and a deep well of asset store content. The other options at the time were UDK, also known as Unreal Engine 3, which required a 25% revenue share (ouch!) or Cryengine. There were a couple of smaller options, but nothing that seemed very battle tested. By battle tested, I mean that there was a decent portfolio of shipped titles that used the engine in question. There are a handful of options out there, but until you know that engine can handle the requirements of console certification, it can be risky to gamble your future success on an unproven technology. Making games is hard and risky enough without compounding it.

Flame In The Flood by The Molasses Flood

During our evaluation process, something cool happened: Epic changed their terms, and released Unreal Engine 4 (UE4). 25% revenue share became 5%, and suddenly it was a lot more appealing. I had an opportunity to play with UE4 a bit before it was announced at Irrational Games, and I knew it was a pretty great step forward from Unreal 3. Additionally, almost everyone on our team had prior experience with Unreal, some going back to version 2 from the early 2000’s. I even made my first levels as a modder in Unreal Tournament, in 2000. Part of deciding on an engine to use involves figuring out what you get versus what it will cost. In our case, as a team of 6, the cost of 5% meant it cost less than half another person (since we were working for future profits). The benefit was an industry leading engine with great support and a history of shipped titles, along with pipelines we were already familiar with. For us, it was a pretty easy decision after that. We were using Unreal.

Flame In The Flood - River Gameplay

At that point, we were ready to start prototyping and figuring out exactly what we wanted to build. We started out from two key ideas: exploring tiny worlds, and real world survival. Our art director, Scott Sinclair (Sinc), was interested in creating a game where you explore small self contained micro worlds, very much like the end result you see in The Flame in the Flood. I was interested in the design challenges of making a survival game that was purely about real world survival, and wasn’t just a difficulty modifier on a zombie combat game. We combined these ideas and started riffing on them. We arrived at the idea of a river and islands pretty much immediately. I wanted some sort of mechanic that would always be pushing you forward, much like the enemy fleet in FTL, and the river was a natural fit. Additionally, the river fit really well with our own experiences, and with wilderness survival. From there, the music, the tone, and the gameplay developed.

Another key starting idea was based on creating a game that felt like Sinc’s personal work. In addition to art directing titles such as BioShock, Sinc is an experienced painter and illustrator. His personal work had never really manifested in any of the games he worked on. Early on it was really important to all of us that our game felt like it was bringing his paintings to life, so a lot of his early concepts heavily guided the overall direction of the game.

Flame In The Flood - Scout and Aesop

With some prototypes and reference material in hand, we kicked off building the game. It took us about 3 months from start to launching our successful Kickstarter, which put us on the path to the game you see now. I hope you enjoy playing it as much as we loved making it.