Remigiusz Michalski - The Cat Lady
Welcome to the Adventure Advocate, and thank you for your time to have this interview with us. Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello! My name's Remigiusz Michalski, but most people call me just Rem. I actually prefer that. I became known in the gaming world a few years back when I released my first game- Downfall. Now, just over a month ago, my second and much more polished game The Cat Lady was launched, and to my surprise, it seems people are loving it! I work as an auxiliary nurse in a local hospital by day, and make games in my living room, at night. I'm a nocturnal creature, really. Like cats. I only need two things to make games: coffee and cigarettes. I get my best ideas when I smoke...
How is the life of an indie developer? Would you trade it for being part at a triple-A adventure developing studio? And at present, do you have a day job as well?
I have no idea what it's like to work for a triple-A company. I noticed a lot of indies say that they'd rather kill themselves than work for those corporate giants... but to me having a job where you can talk to like-minded people all day while making games sounds like heaven! I hate my day job and I'd leave it in a heartbeat. And never look back... I only do it to support myself, my wife and son. But I love working on my games- I get completely consumed by it sometimes. Maybe if The Cat Lady sells well I can finally start my own little studio? That would be awesome!
I know, these triple-A games are shit half the time, but some of them are pretty good too, and I've always been a gamer, playing all sorts of genres. I'm halfway through FarCry3 at the moment and I'm loving it! But just because of that I don't necessarily have to follow the same path as them. I've got my own thing and I think what I do is very unique. There's room for both indie and mainstream games on the market. Having said that, I do get angry sometimes at some of the big games that turn out so boring I never bother to finish them!
You've shown us no mercy in your games, so we intend to be equally gentle to you in this question. Downfall or The Cat Lady? Yes, you must choose one. And choose for a reason. Which one you think is overall a better adventure game and which one you hold most dear?
Not a difficult question at all- The Cat Lady. Don't get me wrong, Downfall will always have a special place in my heart but The Cat Lady is a million times more polished, looks really good and has voice acting that turned out even better than I imagined in my head when writing it. If I ever make another game, though, it will probably knock TCL down to the second place again... That's what it's all about really, isn't? Each one has to better then the previous. Otherwise, what's the point of starting anything at all?
Though it's hard to imagine, we guess you have received some negative criticism among the dithyramb comments. How do you react to that? Not in public, you know, how you honestly react to that; when no one is listening.
If someone doesn't like it, that's cool. I don't get upset. But... I haven't really heard any negative comments to be honest. Some people say the animations are a little jerky. That's about the only bad thing I've heard! Which I find a silly complaint anyway, because when you consider there are over 5 thousand frames of animation in the game, all made by one person, and the characters are often really big and detailed, this issue somehow doesn't really affect the overall enjoyment of the game. I always think of it like this- The Monkey Island's remake had received graphical polish a couple of years ago but maintained the original number of animation frames. Which made it jerky too! Was that a problem? No! It's the same with The Cat Lady- hand drawn animation will always look different. We are all too used to real-time 3D characters in games. But... so what if they move more smoothly, if they actually look shit?
Still, the overall feedback was absolutely fantastic and it reflects in reviews the game's been getting. 4.5 out of 5 stars on Adventure Gamers, the biggest website for this kind of games? A+ on JustAdventure+? Could I have wished for more?;)
How do you create your games? What is the procedure you follow? Do you actually have a standard procedure? Does the story come first? And what about the puzzles? Do you give birth to them as you go along?
I just have a simple idea to start with. A scene, or two, but never a full story. And I progress from there. The ideas come when I work on backgrounds. Or smoke. I think about what to do next before I go to sleep. I think about it when I'm on a coffee break at work. There is no standard procedure. I start and build the game not really knowing how it will progress. Sometimes it means I have to go back and change a thing or two, but mainly what's done is done. I think if I knew how it will end I wouldn't have as much motivation to finish it, because for me the stories I tell are meant to challenge and surprise not only players, but me as well.
When were your games conceived? Was it something you always wanted to narrate or something in particular gave you the stimulus to create them? Have you drawn elements from your personal experiences? Did you base any of the characters on people you actually know?
A lot of stuff from my personal life has influenced my games. Not that I have a very exciting life!- but inspiration can be found everywhere. Actually, no. I do some things in my life that an average person wouldn't. Being a nurse, you see all sorts of stuff. You often deal with death. It's weird I actually got a little used to it... Sometimes I'd speak with someone and the next time I see them is when we put them in a body bag, ready to be collected for the morgue... Also, the relationships, the stories I heard and found fascinating, movies I've watched, games I've played. My art is a mixture of all these things. The whole Susan/Mitzi friendship in The Cat Lady is based on my friendship with someone at work. Sometimes you just meet someone and know instantly you're gonna be best friends. There are some things that found their place in the game that I can't talk about because they're too personal... and some that are completely made up.
Would you be willing to shed light to the ambiguous points of your games? Are those two stories tales you wanted to tell people or you fancy the idea that each of us has perceived something different?
I absolutely wanted every player to come out with a different experience, whether it's through the choices made throughout the game or the themes that affect their perception of it. I noticed that players who have at some point in life been affected by depression or know someone who is, initially approach The Cat Lady with reluctance but end up actually crying by the time it's over. And those who never realized how incredibly serious depression is, as an illness that affects more and more people these days, can at least see for themselves that it's not exactly like having a bad day. It's a curse, that no amount of magic can lift...
We have seen quite some changes in game mechanics and visuals from your first to your second game. Has this experiment of yours worked out well for you, was it a risk worth taking?
I'm very happy with how it turned out. At first, I was going to use mostly photography for the backgrounds, in a similar way Zdzislaw Beksinski makes his paintings. Then, as all animation was done in Cinema4D, I learned more about rendering and tried to combine all those different techniques... and it just clicked. I'm still a newbie when it comes to 3D software of course, but all the stuff that was too difficult for me to model and render, I could just paint onto a new layer. I think the art style combined with the story it carries couldn't be more fitting.
Both your games are gory, mature, and full of strongly related to the story horror. We loved that. But, as a developer, do you ever regret it as you are bound to lose sales over that decision? Was it a rough call you had to make?
Someone actually asked me yesterday why I won't make a game that's suitable for all ages and earn more money in the process... I told that person that it just wouldn't interest me for long enough to finish the game. It takes so much time, that you just have to fully commit to it, and it's got to be something that you enjoy yourself. I couldn't invest so much time in making a typical adventure game about the Templars or pirates or private detectives... First of all, it's all been done a million times before. Then, I'd feel like a whore, selling myself and my ambitions to attract the mass market... I don't want to be that sort of developer! I want to become to games what Stephen King is to books. Simple.
Are you the person we have grasped through your games? A horror fan who likes surreal art and is keen on provoking strong emotions while offering food for thought? And, could you name some influences of yours, people or works of art you admire?
Yeah, I guess that's who I am, or at least, who I'd like to be. I watch a lot of horror films, read horror books and live a life that's quite scary in a lot of ways... I've said it already, that my biggest influence is and always will be Stephen King, but I look for inspiration everywhere. I guess a lot of it comes from games too, since I've been into them from early childhood and played thousands of titles, starting from Commodore 64 and Amiga500. I remember being really scared playing Elvira and Waxworks as a kid, and these game have definitely had a huge impact on what I'm doing. Recently only one game managed to really frighten me, and it was Scratches by Agustin Cordes. That man has clearly read the same books as me when growing up...
Imagine you were given an inexhaustible budget to create adventure games. Would you change anything to the games you've already released? What would you do in a different manner during your next project? Where would this money be invested?
I try not to think about changing what I've already done- it's finished and I've closed those chapters of my life. But having an infinite budget (or any budget for that matter, as I've never spent a single penny on making my games, other than buying a computer, which I would've done anyway!), now, that would be awesome! There are a lot of graphical effects I just can't do because of money restrictions/skills but I would've loved to experiment with. As character development is so important to me, I would also expand on animation, professional lip-sync, and real-time 3D graphics. I do love good graphics. As a kid, I used to fantasize about how good games will look one day, and now we're there. The possibilities are endless. It's just a LOT of work for one person. Maybe that's why so many indie games are just Super Mario clones? It's easier to make a game about little dude jumping up and down the platforms, I guess. But what I'd really like to do is combine the graphical power of games like Silent Hill: Downpour with interesting gameplay and new ideas. Would people pay for such a game? Or would they just go and buy the new Call Of Duty instead?... I'd like to think that as the medium matures, there are more people than ever before looking for something different. Something more involving...
Leaving politically correct answers aside, what is your opinion on Kickstarter? Being an indie developer yourself, how come you didn't turn to that (popular nowadays) direction?
While it's a good idea, I think it's been rather ruined by big guys who have money and still ask for more. Not talking about Tim Schaffer- what he did really was with benefit for everyone. Making Kickstarter more popular than ever before. What happened then, was complete chaos. Everyone's on Kickstarter now. Even some folks I consider just plain crazy or daft. It's lost its appeal to me. How can I ever attract anyone's attention if there are all those developers there who have been making games for years and have their fan bases already well established? I will never understand why people who have money will always want more and more and more...
There's an intense talk (you could also call it verbal war) at our community lately. We disagree on what an adventure game is. How do you define the games of the genre? Do you believe there are certain elements a game should or shouldn't include at any cost in order to be considered an adventure game?
Does it really matter that much? These days elements of different genres blend together and can take interesting new turns for better or worse, but in the end, a good game is something you "feel" when you play it, not something that can be defined on paper. I always assumed an adventure game should have some kind of inventory in it and complex dialogues. But then came games like Heavy Rain or The Walking Dead and turned it all upside down! And in my opinion, that's for the better. I really don't think there's any need for adventure games that lock you in a room and force you to examine every tiny little aspect of it just to move on three hours later, and find that there's nothing important in the next room. And that's exactly how some people see adventure games and the reason why they aren't that popular anymore.
And one final question. Should we expect more cheerful adventures by you in the future now that you've become a dad?
No. You can probably expect my new game to be even darker than The Cat Lady!!!
Thank you very much for this interview. It was a real pleasure talking to you. We wish you the best of luck for your new game (and family member :)) and we hope to see more adventure games from you in the future. Actually, we SO hope you are already working on something new already...
Thanks! I really hope it won't take as long as three years to make another game!
Also, we could really use more support on Steam Greenlight- please vote for The Cat Lady!!! It's the only way the world will ever hear about it and even if it isn't a game for everyone, people should at least be aware it exists.