Evan Anthony: Creative Director of Nirvana Noir

PnT: Can you tell us about the origins of your studio Feral Cat Den?

Evan Anthony: We’re a small studio based in New York City, founded by myself and Jeremy Abel, our technical lead. We both studied new media design at the Rochester Institute of Technology. After graduation, we worked in advertising, installation art, motion graphics, and animation here in New York. This allowed us to learn from numerous talented teams and diverse creative processes across the city’s vibrant studio landscape. However, many of the projects we worked on were ephemeral; installations would come down after events, websites would disappear after months or years, making it difficult to revisit or showcase our work. We reached a point where we wanted to create something with lasting impact. Unlike these short-lived projects, we were drawn to the world of indie games, where we could develop long-form creations with opportunities for monetization and business growth. Indie games offered a perfect intersection of interactivity, animation, and storytelling, allowing us to explore ideas in depth.

Interview Nirvana noir

In our spare time, we started experimenting with small projects. Eventually, I stumbled upon Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino, a collection of short stories that deeply resonated with me. Calvino uses scientific premises as springboards for imaginative narratives. For instance, The Distance of the Moon imagines a scenario where people climb onto the moon as it moves away from Earth, blending humanistic storytelling with scientific theory. This fusion of science and philosophy captivated both Jeremy and me. As I walked across one of New York City’s bridges one day, gazing at the skyline, the idea struck me that the Big Bang could be interpreted through the lens of film noir. 

PnT: You’ve been working on Nirvana Noir for the last 3 years now, can you talk to us about the production? 

Evan: So we finished Genesis Noir in 2021, and initially, we weren’t sure if we were going to embark on another game project. It was an incredibly taxing and risky endeavor. After its release, we spent the remainder of 2021 addressing numerous bugs and issues that surfaced post-launch. We also developed DLC, including additional levels that we felt were essential to complete the game’s vision.

During this period, we explored various narrative concepts and game ideas, generating around four potential projects. One of these concepts was Nirvana Noir. Ultimately, we chose Nirvana Noir because throughout our work on Genesis Noir, we remained engaged and passionate about exploring similar themes and creative spaces. The conclusion of Genesis Noir presents the protagonist, No Man, with a pivotal decision that results in two distinct endings. Given No Man’s unique perspective as the embodiment of time, perceiving both past and future simultaneously, it felt natural to consider both outcomes as canon, exploring the consequences of such duality.

This concept intrigued us deeply. What does it mean to live two parallel lives or to face the repercussions of pivotal choices? It offered a rich narrative exploration of duality, complemented by contrasting visual styles: one timeline in black and white, the other in vibrant color. We presented this idea to our publisher Fellow Traveller and sought feedback from peers, receiving enthusiastic support across the board. Encouraged by this response, we decided to move forward with Nirvana Noir.

Interview Nirvana noir

PnT: You made Genesis Noir, which focuses on the science and theory on the creation of the universe. It had a very successful launch. Now, you’re back with a sequel, Nirvana Noir. Are you going to delve into the unscientific compare to Genesis where you’re talking about the Big Bang? I saw online that you’re now talking of an adventure in inner space.

Evan: Nirvana Noir definitely places a greater emphasis on metaphysics and spirituality, particularly exploring the intriguing intersection between science and spirituality. When you delve into areas like quantum mechanics, you often find that even the most esteemed physicists acknowledge the challenge of disentangling religious concepts from scientific ones. One concept I find particularly fascinating is the participatory universe. This idea posits that our relationship with the universe at such a granular level is so intertwined that it becomes nearly impossible to separate the observer from the observed.

We’re incorporating this complexity into Nirvana Noir. Unlike Genesis Noir, where scientific and philosophical ideas were presented through self-contained levels set in various time periods, Nirvana Noir employs a different structure. Genesis Noir introduced each level with a caption that set the scene, providing context and objectives for the character. However, Nirvana Noir offers a more traditional adventure game experience, with a continuous environment that evolves as the story progresses. This means there are no introductory texts that you must read before starting each segment.

Interview Nirvana noir

Instead, we aim to engage players’ intellects through environmental storytelling. As you explore the cosmic city, you’ll encounter street signs, UI elements, and other contextual clues that provide information about your surroundings and the events unfolding within them. For example, we have a main street called the Middle Way, a nod to the Buddhist concept advocating a balanced approach to life, avoiding both extreme materialism and extreme asceticism. This street serves as the central hub of our environment, and as you venture further out, the settings become more abstract and cosmic.

PnT: We can’t talk about your games without mentioning the visual style. I saw in an interview that you were taking some inspiration from Oskar Fischinger. Can you tell me about your inspiration and your creative approach? 

Evan: Oscar Fischinger is a pioneer in the realm of animation, particularly known for his work in abstract animation. His creations, often described as visual poetry or visual music, were among the earliest examples of motion graphics. Instead of depicting characters or tangible objects, Fischinger animated shapes, layering and repeating them to form captivating visual patterns synchronized with music. His work is incredibly beautiful and inspiring, especially for someone like me with a background in motion graphics. The concept of using repetition creatively, rather than striving for the intricate character animations seen in Disney films, resonates deeply with me. By taking simple elements and manipulating them through repetition, scaling, and rotation, you can create visually compelling layers of motion. This approach is especially valuable for indie game developers like us, who operate with limited budgets and resources. It’s about maximizing impact by doing a lot with a little.

Interview Nirvana noir

PnT: Nirvana Noir deals with intriguing themes such as cosmic events, parallel realities, and detective noir. What were your main inspirations behind these themes, and how did they shape the game’s overall tone and atmosphere? We can see on your kickstarter inspirations going from Grim Fandango to Yakuza and psychedelic rock. 

Evan: Oh, there’s definitely so much inspiration to draw from. For instance, I have some books right here by Paul Kirchner, one of my favorite comic artists. We’ve been delving into the 60s and 70s, particularly the psychedelic and counterculture movements in the United States. That era is fascinating, full of intrigue with elements like the government’s MK-Ultra program, hippies, and biker gangs. It’s such a wild period of history. We also draw a lot of inspiration from spirituality. While working on Genesis Noir, we were primarily inspired by scientific theories, but as we explored those, we began to see how closely they intersect with spirituality. This realization has led us to read extensively about Zen, along with other classic spiritual texts. 

PnT: Why did you choose Kickstarter to help fund both your games over other funding options?

Evan: Kickstarter is fantastic for several reasons. First, since we’re mostly self-funded, raising capital through crowdfunding is really useful. It helps us gauge how big our audience is and understand what they respond to. Moreover, presenting our work on Kickstarter forces us to think deeply about our creations and how we convey them to others, which is incredibly valuable during the development process. We want to directly involve our audience in the story and themes of the game. During the development of Genesis Noir, we learned many lessons, one of which was the unexpected value of our backers’ contributions. For example, we had an area in the game where players could leave messages on spaceships as a crew or passenger manifest. Initially, we didn’t put much thought into it or provide detailed instructions, but our backers understood the concept perfectly. They created beautiful poetry and heartfelt messages that we included in the game. These messages resonated with players and meant a lot to us as developers.

For Nirvana Noir, we’re excited to integrate our backers’ messages even more deeply into the game. We aim to make these contributions a focal point, creating memorable moments that align with the game’s themes and wouldn’t be possible without our audience’s involvement. I’m thrilled about this aspect, though I try to be careful with my words to avoid spoiling our plans. 

Interview Nirvana noir

PnT: How did you approach the demo that is available during the crowdfunding of the actual game? 

Evan: Creating the demo was quite a challenge due to the dual timelines or stories that alternate in the game. Introducing players to each story and their connections is a lengthy process in the full game experience. Our vertical slice covers the entire beginning of the game, but the demo features two scenes from the first act of both timelines. We iterated on the demo to identify the most effective scenes to showcase. Ultimately, we chose two scenes with relatively understandable objectives. In one scene, you talk to a butcher, and in the other, you go to a concert club to find a light bulb. Each scene has a self-contained interaction and a mini-story, although in the full game, these scenes aren’t next to each other. 

PnT: How does Nirvana Noir expand on the universe established in Genesis Noir? What new aspects of the cosmic city and its inhabitants are players going to explore in this sequel?

Evan: In our first game, we had a cast of three main characters and deliberately chose not to include dialogue. This decision helped us constrain the elements we needed to create. For Nirvana Noir, we wanted to explore the story of two versions of our detective. One version focuses on the traditional detective role, where you find clues, read documents, and follow a trail of evidence. The other version emphasizes being a detective through conversation, extracting secrets, and employing deception. These two detective modalities create an intriguing juxtaposition. One part of the game revolves around dialogue, word puzzles, and visual typography interactions. The other part is about manipulating items and clues, similar to the gameplay in Genesis Noir. Additionally, we’re no longer jumping across time and space, where you meet a character and then leap a thousand years into the future, rendering that character irrelevant. Instead, Nirvana Noir is set in a metaphysical metropolis, a cosmic city, where we tell a more intricate conspiracy involving characters and factions. 

Interview Nirvana noir

PnT: What emotions were you aiming to evoke in the player through your story, visuals, and music? What feelings did you intend to inspire with your work?

Evan: We aim to provoke a wide range of emotions throughout Nirvana Noir’s journey. From pondering existential questions to moments of lightheartedness and discovery, we want players to feel immersed in our universe. The game is a blend of philosophical exploration and narrative intrigue, punctuated by moments of artistic expression that we hope resonate deeply with our audience.

Kickstarter of Nirvana Noir

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