Killing Time at Regular-Speed With John Kane

Imagine you’re sitting on a train. Suburbs whisk by and your eyes are glued to your phone. There’s some humanitarian crisis happening on the other side of the world. You live too far away to be a part of it but you can follow along, expressing your support for those who are there. Fave this, retweet that. It’s easy to call this sensation of living vicariously through social media weird – but it’s hard to call in uncommon.

Let’s take this hypothesis interstellar. Instead of a train, you’re now on a spaceship cruising towards your new life on a distant star. It’s a long journey but your ability to keep tabs on everyone back home helps to kill the time. However, the further your journey takes you, the faster the passage of time back home becomes. Minutes become hours, hours become days and days become years.

That, in essence, is the idea behind Gritfish’s Killing Time at Lightspeed.

“It was this thing where you read through Twitter and get bits and pieces of a story by reading a Twitter account,” developer John Kane said.

Originally developed as part of Zoe Quinn and Alex Lifschitz’ Antholojam project, Kane spoke to us about the game’s origins.

“At the time, the Ferguson riots had just happened and seeing all that blow up and trying to follow along in fragments was really interesting. Empathy for really horrible shit happening to people you kinda know was getting stuck in my head and so I made a game about these feelings”

“I pitched the game to them, they liked it and I made it”

Kane’s first game, Mallow Drops, won a ADGA award for its design but the 2D platformer is a far cry from the visual novel-esque Killing Time at Lightspeed. We asked him about what prompted the turn towards the genre and where his own gaming tastes lie.Lightspeed2

“The one series that I am just absolutely enamored with is the Zero Escape series. I love the Zero Escape series.”

“I’m a massive fan of time loop stories. There’s always something really clever in self-fulfilling prophecies and the way that those play out and the way they the them all into each other into this crazy time travel narrative beyond just getting out of a room”

“The combination of puzzle and visual novel, I think, is really cool”

Kane’s happy with the response to Killing Time at Lightspeed. So much so that he’s already got a follow-up in mind.

“There is definitely a sequel or follow-up to Killing Time that I want to do at one point that’s more of a straight up visual novel”

“I’m really stuck on the idea of having it be old and look like DOS. I really want to make a visual novel styled in old CGA color palettes and have it be a weird janky thing. [It’s] what a visual novel in the dos-era might look like”Lightspeed1

With his own background being that of a programmer and web developer, the writing-heavy nature of Killing Time at Lightspeed proved a challenge for Kane in more way than one.”It was a huge challenge. I am not a confident writer,” he said.

“I really struggled so hard to write the dialogue in [the] game”

So Kane picked a format he could write confidently – a tweet. After all, anyone can write a tweet.

“You don’t have to write great lengths of flowing prose. You just need to write as you would on the internet. Which made it easier, [ though] the sheer amount of content is staggering”

With that in mind, Kane’s next challenge was one of not creating too much work for himself. For every hashtag he included in the game, he would have to generate another dozen tweets. These were far from the only technical issues faced by Kane in the process of remastering Killing Time at Lightspeed.

“The game works in a way that Twine couldn’t handle so I wrote a custom engine for it. Unfortunately JavaScript is not terribly good at handling lots and lots of dialogue so the dialogue content for Killing Time at Lightspeed (the original Antholojam version) was one giant JSON file- which is a JavaScript format where if you make one typo the file doesn’t load at all.”Lightspeed3“That is not a fun way to write dialogue but unfortunately that was what I was left with because I needed to finish the game and I didn’t have time to make a compiler”

Kane happily provided some free advice advice for indies looking to make games of a similar ilk:

“Do not EVER have dialogue files that go five levels deep with JavaScript. With the Steam version, it’s about twenty files that are about that size – and they’re all still JSON. It’s one of those things…that could [have been] solved but I was too busy making the game”

Almost two years on from its debut, Gritfish is remastering Killing Time at Lightspeed for a standalone Steam release. The rerelease will double the amount of content in the game and also release with a soundtrack by Matt Hamm and some new in-game art by Marigold Bartlett.

Our conversation quickly turned to the state of Australia’s games development scene.

“We tend to have a disconnect with the arts scene. We have a lot more coders than we have artists in the industry so we get games that find a way of creating a cohesive art style without [them]”

He breaks the local games scene down into three sectors: the mobile game developers, niche developers like Flat Earth and the more grassroots ‘games-as-art’ scene.Lightspeed4

According to him, “that’s where you find a lot of the artists [in the industry] but those games are not made for commercial success so they don’t get written about as much.”

Kane had nothing but kind words for the local scene. In particular, he was quick to highlight former-Gamespot AU editor Daniel Hinde’s upcoming title, Wildfire.

“Dan has been writing about stealth games for literally a decade and it’s really interesting to see someone who has written about a specific genre of game for years and years and years take all that knowledge and critical eye into [the development process]. It’s his first game and there’s no crazy engine-level tech in it but the design and purpose behind everything is so well thought out. It’s going to blow everyone’s mind when it finally comes out.”

As development on Killing Time at Lightspeed’s remastered release wraps up, Kane’s already got his next project in mind. He describes it as an “art-deco Ocean’s Eleven roguelike.” He compares it to KOEI’s Invisible Inc but emphasizes that the mechanics will be “refined down to a Hitman Go! Level”

Killing Time at Lightspeed: Enhanced Edition is out today on Steam.