Tim Keenan is an indie developer. His studio is called Misfits Attic and his first major title as an indie developer was a game called A Virus Named Tom. His most recent release is the drone operator rogue-like Duskers. Dusker is fantastic, its a game that features a command line prompt and the loneliness of space. I’m a sucker for command prompts and all things space related so for me Duskers was a perfect match.
Tim and I chatted out of the Double Fine office, where he works on his games, even though he admits he only backed Broken Age at the $15 backer tier. We’ve been meaning to sit down and record for awhile. I’ve bumped into Tim at various conferences and things heated up last IndieCade as we were staying at the same house, and after a late, late night conversation between Tim, Adam Saltsman, myself and few others that I realized I had to get some one on one time for the podcast.
What is most interesting about Duskers after talking to Tim is that this was his first real solid attempt to pursue a game design that was more than just an exercise in understanding and executing on mechanics. A Virus Named Tom is a good game, but it very deliberately lives in the realm of solid mechanics matched together to create a interesting play experience. With Duskers he had higher goals of not only having all those systems seam together, but to chase after more intangible qualities of having cathartic or emotional resonance with his players.
Duskers is a very lonely game, and getting it to communicate that feeling via the games mechanics, audio and visual representations was an exciting process. More so that he wanted to communicate things without it blocking the players ability to just play the game. Sure it’s easy, well easier, to jam a narrative in your game so that players gain a motivation of the actions they do, but getting them to invest, on their own volition in the livelihood of non-autonomous drones is something else entirely. And to do it in such a way where they can get it or not and have it not tarnish the overall game experience Tim wished for players to have.
On many accounts Duskers is an anomaly to me for it combines many things that I love, but know to be niche, into a tight package that delivers on a gameplay and implicit narrative level that very few games dare to try. It’s a solid exploration game with excellent systems and combinations to play with as they try to survive as long as possible. It relishes in its own use of text commands and tasking the player to wrestle with that layer of separation on player control and its drones. I love games that find meaningful and interesting ways to distances the control by one or two steps to the action they are trying to do. It makes the player more of a manager of systems then a specific all-powerful agent, instead you are only as strong as your ability to plan and pivot on bad situations.