Last week we introduced our readers to a very creepy looking game called The Lady, with the announcement of the game's Desura and Green Man Gaming releases. The game's creator, Michael Patrick Rogers (MPR), took some time to answer our questions about his game, his own mental health and what to expect next from his indie label, MPR Art Hallucinations. See our conversation below, stick around until the end and let us know what you think in the comments section.
Megan: MPR Art Hallucinations is your indie game/film/music studio. Tell us a little more about how you got started with it. How and when did you decide you wanted to create video games?
MPR: I’ve been playing music my whole life basically. I’ve been in games and film since 2008. I worked for EA for 3 years in QA, and then left for a smaller studio as a QA Analyst/Engineer. In 2010 I started doing extra work (Green Lantern was my first film as an extra), photo double, stand in, did some set dressing, art department, etc. I’ve always been passionate about games and always wanted to make them, but in 2013 I finally was inspired to take the chance and start my own company.
In 2011 I started suffering from severe panic disorder and depression out of nowhere, and I had stopped doing everything I loved to do basically. Finally, in the beginning of 2013 I knew the only way to get back to “being myself” was to get back to making music. I did a few soundtracks for other peoples' games, but my style is really different, and I didn’t really like the type of games I was getting asked to work on. Finally, I got a really inspiring project doing a film score for one of the concept artists of Telltales' The Walking Dead game - he was making a short film on his own outside of work. That really inspired me and I said to myself “why aren’t I making my own games/films?” When I saw the Kickstarter for Neverending Nightmares that was the last little push of inspiration I needed. And I decided it was time. The character and story was already there, so the process of looking for a programmer began.
Megan: The Lady is not solely a work of one individual’s hands. Who else is behind the game? Is there anyone who has been especially helpful in making The Lady happen?
MPR: The Lady for the most part has been a two person team, me and the programmer Roger Levy, who I could not have made this game happen without. At first I spent about three months going through programmers who either weren’t capable, or not dependable, or wanted to charge me $20,000 to make a 30 min game.
The other main component of all of my games, besides myself, is a Russian comic book artist named Saint Yak, who I met on DeviantArt about 5 years ago. His art style fits my ideas and music perfectly.
On The Lady there is an artist who did the glass overlays, another who did one texture for a boss, and an animator who decided to pull the old “hey I’ll take your money and disappear on you after doing minimal work,” which really fucked up my budget for the game, leaving me with no money for promo. So I did all of the environment art, Animation, the soundtrack, sfx, everything except for the programming.
Here’s a tip for you freelancers out there: when someone pays you up front because they are impressed by your work, DON’T steal their money and disappear after doing a quarter of the work you were paid to do. Indie Game Development is a small world; you’ll ruin your reputation and not be able to find more work.
There’s also a handful of YouTubers who’ve been really helpful during the process, making let’s play videos for me with the demo, I’m really grateful to them.
Megan: Described as "a 2D Surreal/Puzzle/Adventure game, with horror elements," The Lady takes players "through a series of fever dream hallucinations." You've said before that the idea behind the game stems from personal experience. Can you tell us more about this?
MPR: The game is really like a stream of conscious, or a simulation of what it’s like to experience a panic attack from beginning to end. If you pay attention to the body language in the animations of The Lady throughout the game, you’ll notice she’s in a different state/stage of anxiety in each level of the game. The way the game flows is really like a dream, when you dream it’s like you are jarred into different scenes of your own dreams, that is how the game flows. There are no cut scenes, or spelling the story out.
I wanted to tell the story this way in the game, for anyone who has never experienced anxiety or a panic attack. It’s not something you’ll ever understand until you’ve ever experienced it for yourself. I never understood it myself, and it’s a life changing experience when it’s severe. People who have experienced them, when they play the game, will hopefully get it and be like “ohhhh, yep I know that feeling.”
Megan: For those readers who have played the demo, it introduced them to the opening level. What can we expect from further levels?
MPR: The game has changed a lot since the demo. You only get three deaths and then the game is over. The difficulty level is pretty high, but it’s really as hard as you make it. For some gamers it will be possible to make it through without taking one hit of damage, for others it will be extremely challenging, just like life itself. It’s a tribute to the way gaming used to be in the mid-late 80’s and early 90’s, when games were still hard.
As the levels progress, it’s kind of like an emotional roller coaster for The Lady. There are some really disturbing visuals and harsh puzzles, but like I said, the game is as hard as the user makes it for their self. The game for the average player should run about 30-45 minutes.
Megan: You recently announced that The Lady will be releasing on Desura and Green Man Gaming in May. With the month fast approaching, how has your work load been? Is the game complete or have you been hard at work?
MPR: The game is complete, and the workload now has gotten easier. Testing is the main focus now. The hard part starts when I go into full promo mode since I’m a one man team when it comes to that. I can’t afford PR or any of those types of luxuries, so I have to do all of that on my own.
Megan: The Lady is currently on Steam Greenlight, If it successfully moves through the program, is there more players can expect from the Steam version? How is The Lady doing on Greenlight?
MPR: If it gets through Greenlight I don’t anticipate making a different version of the game. The Greenlight isn’t going bad, but it was exactly as I expected. When it was in the concept category it went significantly well, then when I moved it to the Games section is when all of the negativity and ignorance came out. It was obvious who paid attention to what the game was really about, and who just took one look and were confused because their brain didn’t process it because it wasn’t what they were so used to seeing. I knew people would either be really into the style and “get it,” or they would really hate it and troll on it without researching anything about the game.
Megan: If successful (or not), do you plan on releasing The Lady on any other platforms?
MPR: I only plan on PC games for now, I can’t afford to deal with multiplatform and don’t have the assets or time yet, plus I am not a fan of cellphone games. My ultimate goal with my games is to eventually become a registered Sony Developer and release my games on the PSN.
Megan: In your most recent vlog you said "This is one of the weirdest games that you're ever going to fucking play in your life." With the release announcement trailer, it's clear this may be so for many gamers. What is it most about The Lady that will give players the weird-vibe?
MPR: I think at first it will just be the appearance of the character that will make them “unnerved." To my knowledge, in a way I’m “making gaming history”; this is the first time the user has ever played as an armless nude lady (even though that’s not really what the character is, they are actually playing as me). The soundscape is a character of its own in the game, and very abrasive, which is another thing gamers aren’t used to. The entire game is meant to sound like it is being played through a record player. Also, the art style is abrasive as well, and not like a typical horror game, it’s more like a cartoon or anime.
Another strange thing about the game is from section to section, it throws a different gaming style at the user. There are a few retro surprises that mix things up, and fit in really well.
Megan: As mentioned above, The Lady was developed with your own experiences in mind. How does your own mental health translate into The Lady? Was this a difficult process?
MPR: It was actually a very easy process and a cathartic one as well. In my opinion, the best art is made from artists who are not afraid to put themselves out there. That is exactly what I’ve done with this game. I’m lucky that I’ve learned to live with and control my issues; unfortunately it is going to be a lifelong struggle, but it has taken three years for me to come to terms with this. In a way, that is what this game is, me coming to terms with the inner struggles.
Megan: Creating The Lady has surely been quite the experience for you. Did you find that creating the game has helped or hindered your own mental health?
MPR: Well, the usual indie dev struggles in the early stages. Definitely didn’t help my stress, but the process has definitely helped me, which is why I’ll continue to make projects that are personal to me. The one thing you can never escape is your mind. I believe that there is no one true reality in this world, everyone has their own reality. I hope that this game helps people open their mind to that theory of mine. You never know what someone is going through; everyone is in their own reality.
Megan: For those readers whom suffer from mental illness, what would you tell them, in terms of pursuing their dreams/passions? What advice would you give someone struggling with their mental health?
MPR: For people who do and don’t suffer from mental illness, I would say always believe in what you do and never stop working towards your goals. Don’t let anyone stop you, nobody is going to help you, always be willing to do what you have to do to “get it done.”
For people struggling with mental health, learn to accept it. Learn to deal with it on your own, do your own research, and don’t just depend on some asshole psychiatrist to load you up on a bunch of pills who could care less about you, most doctors don’t give a fuck and are not going to help you. The government and insurance companies will always neglect people with mental health issues and treat them like criminals, so be strong, be open about your problems with your friends and family, and always strive to be the best “you” no matter how you’re feeling, and always be prepared to deal with the worst, because anxiety and depression has a mind of its own and will take you to the darkest of places sometimes.
Megan: What can we expect next from MPR Art Hallucinations?
MPR: Right now my main focus (besides promoting The Lady) is my new podcast, which is called “The MPR ART Hallucinations Podcast”, it is on iTunes and Stitcher. On the podcast I cover multiple topics, and have guests from all walks of life.
As far as games, I have a few smaller games planned but my next “big” project is called “The Grandfather” and deals with an elderly man who is tormented by the neglect from his wife. He is similar to The Lady in appearance, except he is missing his legs, and walks on his arms.
I’m also currently writing and filming several short films, which can be found here, and after The Lady release settles down I plan to record a new album.
Many thanks to Michael for taking the time to speak with us. It was a pleasure, and we look forward to playing The Lady in its entirety. Best of luck with the release of your game and all your future endeavors. Check out the links below to support The Lady, stay up to date with MPR Art Hallucinations and get in contact with Michael.