With Always Sometimes Monsters under their belts, the team is currently working on the upcoming sequel, Sometimes Always Monsters, coming to Steam in 2016. Amirkhani took the chance to speak to Gamespresso about the upcoming game and touched on how Vagabond Dog got started and even what he sees as the role of video game designers.
Before diving in however, if you haven’t played Always Sometimes Monsters (ASM) yet and are interested in checking it out, you can find the newly released ASM Freeloader on its own website. Although you will be sacrificing the save port option for the second game that allows you to have continuity between the two games, it’s a kind gesture from developers who just want people to play their games.
Amirkhani explains the ASM Freeloader came to light in an unorthodox set of circumstances. It involved The Pirate Bay. “I thought about how I get all these pirates who e-mail me. Because, a long time ago, I went to pirate bay and I posted a comment in the top seeded torrent. They were seeding this torrent for the game, shortly after it had released, but it was not patched and an old version that was really buggy.
“So I posted there and said, ‘If you’re going to steal my game, play the best version of it.’ That’s kind of a policy we have kept on doing. So I left my e-mail there, and I said ‘Just e-mail me, I’ll give you a key.’ And so I’ve given away… probably hundreds and hundreds of keys to pirates who e-mail me. And it’s kind of created this policy in the company that if people don’t want to pay for our game, we aren’t going to force them.”
The game was originally coded in RPG Maker VX Ace, and later ported to RPG MAKER MV, which allowed Vagabond Dog to create a HTML5 based web version.
Although the entire game will remain in your browser (so long as you don’t clear your cache), there are still advantages to buying the Steam version, including the ability to import your save to Sometimes Always Monsters.
Always Sometimes Monsters is a story driven game based on choice, circumstance, and consequence. Starting at the bottom and working your way to the top, Always Sometimes Monsters offers a unique look at the how choices effect our life. With the story branching off extensively, the game tries to get as close to a story without limitations as possible. In Always Sometimes Monsters, you set out on a cross-country journey to win back the love of your life and endure the hardship of making a decision that will affect your live and the lives around you, enduring the consequences that come with each decision.
Q: I’d like to start off with a bit about the company. How was Vagabond Dog founded?
A: About a year ago, before we released Always Sometimes Monsters, I was bringing to a close another project of mine called Gamer Unplugged. I had been a games journalist for awhile and I was working on some really bad Facebook games. It was my first job in the industry, and it was not starting out on a good foot.
I was really unhappy, so I got all my stuff and started hitchhiking around North America visiting game developers. I would interview them and try to learn their secrets and why they were so happy in life doing what they loved, and I wasn’t. Along the way I got the idea for the game, Always Sometimes Monsters, and came home. I partnered up with my buddy Jake to get the first prototype done, and we have been working together ever since. The company name is one half of the Vagabond journey I took, and Jake also happens to be a really loyal guy, really faithful, and he happens to really like dogs. So the two mash together and we became Vagabond Dog.
Q: Is Sometimes Always Monsters about the story, or the gameplay?
A: It’s about story, but it’s also about choice. It’s hard to say it’s a game about story because the story is so fluid, a lot of things about the game branch and deviate based off of everything from your choices, obviously, and game dialogues. A little more subversive things, secrets as how you move through a space dictates how some parts of it run. And then there is set things about your character, race, gender, sexual orientation, that change how NPC’s perceive the character. That impacts what opportunities they’ll present to them, or how they treat them. It’s been designed from the start as a game where everybody gets a unique experience playing it. You’ll have a unique experience happen to you that didn’t happen to any of your friends.
Q: Was seeing such a unique playthrough each time something inspired by other games, or is this something you came up with
A: It’s in every game, really, everyone gets a different experience in games because of player interaction. I came from playing tabletop roleplaying games as a kid, and when you’re playing in the realm of imagination, as those games do, you can have an infinite number of choices. It always frustrated me that there were these boundaries in game, and you wanna make this choice, but it’s not available. And so, it’s an unsolvable problem. Our game doesn’t fix that either, there is walls all over the place. I wanted something that both reflects the reality I experience, and also let me make all these choices that people usually don’t expect to be available in a game.
Q: I think that’s a lot of things developers are reaching for, this infinite game where we can do everything. Even though it’s impossible?
A: I went about it the wrong way. I made the rookie mistake of thinking you could, as a human, script every possible thing. And so we are bound by finite systems, and we are really good at it, and we can make really big trees, but at the end of the day you are still just following branches. The future of games is really the procedural stuff. No Man’s Sky is going to be a big test for the industry, on how much emotion and soul that can still be found in a procedural game. That’s the real challenge. We went this route because we wanted this game to have soul, and we found it really hard to do that without scripts and writing. I do think that the future, if we can find soul within a procedural system, there is your infinite system that goes on forever and ever.
Q: The naming scheme. Always Sometimes Monsters, and Sometimes Always Monsters. Are the games interconnected, or is this something just to mess around with people?
A: They are inherently intertwined with each other. They are each half of a greater whole, and they float into each other. Always Sometimes Monsters is this story of rags to riches, bottom of society, working your way up, to find peace and meaning in life and to satisfy all these desires you have. And so, you climb in that game. And this sequel is the antithesis of that. We start you off married, successful, life is going well, but it’s about the descent and falling down and how you lose everything again. The gameplay is largely about self preservation and finding the means to stave off the inevitable oblivion, but the two games, mechanically, thematically, are opposite to one another.
We just couldn’t put a number on it. We couldn’t call it ‘Always Sometimes Monsters 2’, because there is no progression beyond the lesson learned in the game. It’s not like you can relearn that same lesson again, more meaningfully or anything like that, we have to present a different lesson that is similar, but inherently different. I look at games like lessons, as designers and developers we live life, we have our experiences, life teaches us things. It’s our job, if we choose to make meaningful games, to convert our life experience into something meaningful that can impact and affect someone else in a positive way. Or, bring them whatever truth you found in that wonderful means of communication.
Q: Is this game more about teaching people lessons, then?
A: It’s more like a philosophical playground. We spend a long time making these things, and we ourselves go through a wide range of questions, and we find new answers and re-evaluate new ideas about life and reality. Players have the freedom of choice. They can go and see what happens if you explore this idea to an extreme, or if you avoid it entirely. And they get to learn something through it that way. It’s not like a traditional lesson, because we don’t know the answer to these big universal questions. The best we can do is point at stuff and let the player sort of walk their own road and figure it out themselves.
Q: Okay, now my big question is about the bus. If I understand correctly, you’re driving a bus across the states. Why?
A: So you’re a cool media. You saw something and you wanted to talk to us, but it’s kind of hard to get noticed as an indie. If you look at it today, the rate of games coming out has shot up exponentially and the rate of quality games has shot up exponentially. So as a developer of really shoddy games, that aren’t that good, we have to go something really extravagant to get attention. So, we have a bus, and we are going to drive to the press places and play our game. And that is the plan.
For me, personally, part of this is the big journey I had before the first game started. Now, there will be no third game. You have to understand that before this makes any sense. These two games, as I’ve explained, are two halves of a whole. Once these two pieces are complete, they go in a loop. Forever. My job here is to set up that loop, and walk away. I can’t destroy it. This first journey, before the first game, concluded with me going from Seattle down to LA. And then, this time, we are closing it out. Going from LA up to Seattle.
I was a pauper in those days, I was very poor, and now I have transcended to the other side of that with a successful game. It’s just about more than going to these places and getting a little news story, that is not why we do any of this. Our whole company, our whole everything, is about this journey that we are on. And so this is a final closing of this chapter. And then we go on and do something else. Or face oblivion, who knows! It could be the end of Vagabond Dog forever! Bus could explode! It’d be great.
Q: Are you considering making other games?
A: We are going to have a small project that we are doing immediately after we release Sometimes Always Monsters, and that’ll be a really short project. We’ve always wanted to do a small project, and ironically we never took the time to do a small project. But I think it’s a good opportunity for us, and then after that, I have a stack of games that I wanna make, and that everyone wants to make. And it just depends really, on how well Sometimes Always Monsters does. They’re all different scale, scope, and have different budgets, and all these things.