Charlotte Gore is an independent games developer based in Calderdale, West Yorkshire. In this interview she talks about Yorkshire Gubbins — a point-and-click adventure game she made entirely by herself (except for contributions from voice actors) — and about making a comedy game about a real place.
Have you always lived in Yorkshire?
No, I haven’t. That’s the funny thing. I moved to Yorkshire when I was 20 or so. I’ve lived in East Sussex and Kent and Lancashire. But I ended up in Blackpool. It’s just horrible there. There’s a lot of seasonal work in Blackpool, and if you are a seasonal worker it’s actually very difficult to transition into permanent work. I was just sick of being poor all the time. I had a friend who had relatives who lived in Hebden Bridge, which is sort of a middle class hippy commune. And I saw it, and just saw these trees, it was just so green and beautiful, and just thought, ‘Yeah, okay. I’m just gonna come here, then.’ In a way I’ve spent more time in Yorkshire than I’ve spent anywhere else. This is my adopted home.
How long have you been making games?
It’s quite a recent thing. You know how a lot of people have been making games their entire flipping lives somehow? That’s not me. I came to it very late. I’m going to say about five years, I think.
When did you learn how to program?
I was like, ‘I used to be so creative. What happened to that?’ So I got into Lego robotics. I made a dice-rolling machine, which sounds rubbish but I decided to make a really overly complicated thing. Then I got into proper real electronics. I wanted to make a little musical instrument, a box that you can plug an old sound chip from an old Commodore 64, because they had this really distinct cool sound. So I did that. I didn’t get it finished, because it was around that sort of time when it just occurred to me that I could probably make games now. I’d always just assumed it would be too complicated, too difficult, too much work, I’d never finish it. And I just thought, ‘Well, if I just make something really simple and easy, it doesn’t have to be anything complicated.’ And then I started doing these game jams, so like Ludum Dare, make a game in 48 hours. So I was kind of doing that
in between my job, making these terrible games, just really rubbish. And then one of them was the thing that prompted this whole idea of Yorkshire Robotics. I just had a very sudden very clear idea of this whole concept, these personalities, what they would be like, what Yorkshire Robotics the company would be like. It all kind of sprang fairly fully formed. And I thought, ‘I’m gonna leave my job and make a game. I’m gonna give myself six months.’ And it didn’t work. I wrote a script, but I just couldn’t get it any further than that, so I ended up having to go back to work doing contract web dev. That’s when I came across the idea of making point-and-click adventures.
What was the game originally going to be?
Originally I was going to do a 2D platform game with a cool little mechanic, because game jams tend to prioritise clever mechanics. So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll take the only cool mechanic I’ve ever come up with for one of these jam games, and make it into a full game.’ It was sort of a trap. But by the time I got to finish writing the actual script for it I realised, ‘I’ve not written a platform game here. I’ve written something else.’ I had this very clear idea that I wanted the characters to have real voices, so it should be voice acted, and the characters should move their mouths, and just it should be this nice fun little story. And I just realised that the clever mechanics thing, that’s for other people.
So why make a game rather than something else?
I feel like the idea of getting a radio drama or a television drama commissioned, it just seems so far away. Maybe it would work, but I feel like with games I don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to make it. It’s all just my own brain. I do the coding, and the art, and the writing, and the music, and the PR. I don’t need cash for it, other than what I need to just sort of live from day to day. It becomes like writing a novel, I suppose. You just release it and just kind of see what happens.
Why did you decide to make a point-and-click adventure game?
I used to love those games, games like Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle and stuff. These are the big formative games that I played that just completely changed my brain and the way I thought, and they just died out. People do still make them, but they’re very serious now, very elaborate. They became too expensive. I remember when it was all just comedy and cute and friendly and fun and accessible. I used to love that. And I just thought, ‘Well, what if I could get away with making a game that looks like a 2D platform game, so that I can afford and have time to do the art for it, so keep the art super simple, but it’s voiced, so characters are performed by actors, and it’s just all about the character and the dialogue?’
I did this Adventure Jam, make a game in two weeks. I made this ridiculous game, Holy Molluscamony. Your best friend is getting married today, and she’s been cloned by a slug monster, and you arrive at the wedding to find two of your best friends, and you need to find out which one is the real one. It was just a little thing, and I just wanted to fill it full of jokes and see what the adventure game community would think of it. And they really liked it. It got top place in that competition for dialogue and character. Not very good for art, obviously. They weren’t fussed about my music. But that’s fine. But that was enough for me to think, ‘Oh, that’s okay. It can work. This could be a thing. And I’ve found a way that I can bring the characters that I have in my head to life and achieve the mission of making a game set in Yorkshire.’
Why did you want to make a game about Yorkshire?
It does have a distinctive look, and I just get so fed up of games where you play them and it’s generic forest world, generic medieval fantasy land, generic space world. ‘Look, there’s metal everywhere.’ We should have got to the point now where we can make games set in Yorkshire or Scotland. To me, constraints are obviously one of the really good parts about the creative process in general, and for me Yorkshire as a constraint just made everything else click into place. It all started with the idea of Yorkshire Robotics. The company motto is ‘safe, clean, and normal’. They want their robots to be that, and their robots are not that at all. They are all weird, potentially dangerous. And everything just sort of springs from just that one little idea. All my characters, they’re all very local, some of them are dressed in tracksuits and stuff, but I’m not taking the piss out of them, I’m not insulting them. Since I moved here, I’ve come to love it.
Have you played other games that have that sense of place?
Firewatch is another one of these games that has a really strong sense of a real place, and the place becomes a character in its own right, and I just love it for that reason. Gone Home, obviously, amazing. Gone Home is weird because it’s just set inside a building, but the building feels real. It feels like it’s from a particular American style of architecture. You can tell which part of America it’s from just from the way it’s decorated and stuff, and I just think that’s brilliant.
Why do you think older games didn’t tend to represent real places?
I found this interview with a whole bunch of adventure game developers of the time, prominent ones, and they felt like they had to make games silly because characters would just bang against things, and just the mechanical problems that they had at the time meant that people wouldn’t be able to take it seriously if they did something serious. I suppose as well it’s an audience perception of what people would actually expect from a computer game. I think now people would fully expect a game to be able to make them cry or feel a whole range of emotions.
We’re not brilliant, as game devs, at exploiting that full range. We do tend to be rather good at adrenaline, fear, shock, less good at joy. See, I’ve got Yorkshire Gubbins officially listed as comedy, which is the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life, because at the time when I released the game I was basically just hoping people would find it funny, because I didn’t actually know. But I felt like I had to go down that route, not because of technical limitations or audience expectations, but rather because it’s so rare. If you can get it right, it’s a wide open space. A lot of adventure games, they will pretty much by default either be very serious or they will be listed as comedy. And this is the sort of thing that I’m going to get in trouble for, but generally the humour is mostly just puns or in-jokes and references. Actual comedy is just extremely rare.
Why do you think comedy in games is rare?
Because games writing itself is already hard, and then games writing plus actual comedy as well is even harder, as I have learnt to my horrible consequence. And unfortunately, when I said to the internet, ‘This is a comedy game,’ and then people actually laughed, that’s a problem now, because now they expect the next thing to make them laugh as well.
How long did the first batch of content for Yorkshire Gubbins take to make?
The entire production took three months, including putting the engine together. I went to some publishers about it and they said, ‘You need to come to us three to six months before you ship.’ I’m like, ‘Three to six months before I shipped I hadn’t even had the idea of doing it.’ I just had the idea, sat down, got writing, got recordings done, and just booted it out of the door straight away, just see what happens.
What’s the plan for future content?
I’ll be adding in this thing called Professor Ooo and the Buttons of Doom. I’m doing this whole Doctor Who spoof/parody/homage thing, because Jodie Whittaker, she’s using her own native Huddersfield accent, so I’m like, ‘I need to do something with this.’ That’s going into Yorkshire Gubbins for free. I’m hoping to get around to adding another two or three, however many I can get away with before the money runs out. When Professor Ooo drops, I’m hoping that all the people that have Yorkshire Gubbins now will start talking about it, and potentially, because Yorkshire Gubbins is sitting on Steam at 100% positive, I’m just hoping that will give me a second chance to get some column inches for it. Do we even still talk about column inches these days?
How do you feel about having to market yourself?
Absolutely just awful. It’s not what I wanted. Every game dev, especially indie devs, just hates it, and it’s the worst thing. But the day Yorkshire Gubbins came out, 50 other games came out that day, and that’s just on Steam. That’s not including the 70 or 80 that came out on itch.io that day. And there’s been 50 games every day since then. At least a good half of them are gonna be from people like me, just people who made their own game and they’ve got everything riding on it, and it just dies a death, completely, instantly, never seen again.
What kind of person is Yorkshire Gubbins for?
The nice thing about this particular genre is that it’s actually weirdly accessible. So there’s no time pressure on people. There’s no reaction times required. You don’t need to be able to use your thumbs. You just click, and you can sit there and have a think about it. I think of it as a Sunday afternoon game. I don’t always play games like that. But I like the fact that every single one of my friends can play this game. The minimum age is about 11. The oldest, I think, is in their 60s. It’s male and female, all the age ranges, different types. I really like that.
How do you find having to take on different roles, as a programmer, writer, artist, and musician? Would you rather just do one?
I don’t know. I think if I did writing full time I’d probably miss doing music, and if I did music all the time I’d miss coding. If I did coding all the time, I’d miss writing. I think it’s the full thing, because it’s all me. That makes it feel like it is singularly mine, in a way that a novel would be for a novelist. I feel like I’m quite lucky. When I made Holy Molluscamony, the sense of revelation — I felt that I’d suddenly found something that I felt like I was put on earth to do. And then everything else has worked out. ‘How can I make this work? How do I make it so that I cannot just make one but keep making them?’
How do you make sure you can keep making them?
These games need to be cheap to make because there’s no money in it. That’s why the pixel art, (I’m so pretentious), I call it ‘neo-impressionist pixellism’, which is absolute bollocks, I made it up. But it’s impressionist as it’s all really just about colour and form in the same way that the old impressionists were. It wasn’t really about detail. It was more about a feeling and a mood. That’s why I call it neo-impressionist. I call it pixellism because it’s made out of pixels. But I didn’t want it to look like Japanese-style arcade pixel art. It tries to be a more painterly approach to pixel art, warm and accessible and friendly. I had this idea that I just want to make games that have old people or people with beer bellies or people with fat bums, people with problems and just day-to-day normal stuff that people can recognise. And just because you’re doing pixel art doesn’t mean to say you have to then immediately go for generic forest world or generic ice world or generic fire. You can still reflect some kind of reality. And it turns out people really like it when you do.
How do you get inspiration for things to put in the game?
These days it’s just whoever comes in the door. Every time I go out now, I’m constantly looking for ideas. From an art point of view, I do “location shooting”, get in the car, drive around, and take some snaps. I took loads of shots of dry stone wall and things, because I was trying to figure out how to render that in pixels. A tile is ten by ten pixels, and that’s just nothing. So it’s hard to express anything, but it’s easy to get across the overall feeling of just beige everywhere, beige and green and that sort of thing.
Do you think games have any advantages over other media when it comes to making art that represents a real place?
Well, from a meta point of view the fact that games aren’t doing it at all means that a game may have an advantage over a television show. Happy Valley is obviously a TV show set round here, and it’s the most miserable thing. But that fits with the way that a lot of people, like commissioners and producers who are maybe working in London, like to think about what Yorkshire must be like, which is that it’s a miserable depressing horrifying wasteland. Whereas as a games maker, I have absolute 100% creative freedom to do whatever the hell I want, really, although I want to do right by the area, because I’m not actually Yorkshire myself. On the other hand, because I’m not from here, the game isn’t full of just Yorkshire in-jokes. And the captions in the game are all just normal English. It’s designed so that an international audience can understand it.
What’s your favourite thing about working on this game?
The favourite bit is once it’s actually out there and then people respond to it and seem to enjoy it. Every now and then someone will randomly say, ‘Oh, I’ve just played Yorkshire Gubbins, and I really liked it,’ and every time it completely knocks me out. And just that sense that I’ve actually done something, anything, that exists. The world that we live in these days is just so ephemeral. I’ve done a decade of web dev work, and what have I got to show for it? It’s just all gone. And I wanted to do something real that actually existed, that I could point to and say, ‘I was actually on the planet for a bit.’ I’ve got a brother who’s ten years younger than me. I remember sitting down and playing Monkey Island with him, and just how much that broke his brain as well, and how much he loved that game, and just that experience of sitting down and sharing the time and working through the game, the thought of making something that might give other people that sort of experience, I just think that’s something that maybe I can do. The world at the moment is just so awful, that anything that we can do to try and make it slightly more bearable, in some way, that’s kind of how I look at it.
What are the advantages of making games where you live?
Well, obviously the main advantages are rent is probably quite cheaper than it would be if I was living in London or wherever. Yorkshire specifically seems to have quite a good game dev community. We have various meet-ups and gatherings and things. We have the Feral Vector event. That is, as far as I’m concerned, just the best weird little game event. I just love it. Even if all I ever do when I go there is just run around in the fields, I don’t care.
Are there any disadvantages?
For a solo indie dev, from my point of view, no. If I was trying to recruit talent, I suppose, it might be quite difficult to get hold of it. If I wanted a job working for other people, that would be a bit of a problem as well. But in terms of just creativity, there’s no restrictions at all. You can make games anywhere where there’s a roof, basically, as long as you can get the people together. So you should definitely come to Yorkshire, I guess.