Rem, creator of Lifelong

Clearly, I hadn’t seen Lifelong coming. After making a few tweets to find solo devs in France, I came across Rem’s page and my heart stopped. In a few seconds, I had the impression of seeing a distillation of my personal hobbies: David Lynch, a bit of Severance, an alienating representation of work and an aesthetic close to dither-punk. So I contacted him to discuss his playing and his influences for the solo dev format.

Point’n Think: How did you get into gamedev? Is it something you do on a daily basis? Are you in the video game business or is it really a side project?

REM: My background is in video games. I did a professional degree in video games in Montpellier, at the Université Paul-Valéry. It all happened a bit by chance, because in reality, I’m what you’d call a school failure. My background is more in vocational training, with a BEP and a bac pro in sales and management, which doesn’t have much to do with development. But video games were a childhood dream. I’m from the 90s generation, so I grew up with my eyes full of stars in front of video games. I had the opportunity to join this professional degree program, and that’s when I started to think of myself as a game dev. However, we often suffer from impostor syndrome, especially when we’re on our own and doing everything ourselves, which is complicated.

Solo dev Lifelong

PnT: I think it’s a syndrome that perhaps disappears when you’ve finished your first game. It’s the same for an author when he doesn’t have a finished book.

REM: Exactly. I don’t know if it’s the case for other solo devs, but there’s this need to see the project completed and available for that weight to disappear. It’s absurd really, because before LifeLong, I had created a game called HitFlesh with one of my roommates. It was a game about toxic masculinity in online games. That period politicized me, because our professional degree made us aware of other methodologies and how to make video games differently. Normally, private schools train technicians, which is fine, but this more committed approach made a big impression on me.

PnT: It seems that many game creators feel a kind of imposter syndrome. Do you think this affects your decision to seek a publisher?

REM: Yes, absolutely. We often doubt the maturity of the project and our legitimacy to present it to a publisher. It’s a feeling shared by many independent developers. But I think it’s important to overcome this feeling and recognize the value of our work.

Solo dev Lifelong

PnT: So, are you currently working in a studio or freelancing? How are things going with LifeLong?

REM: The end of the license was almost 10 years ago. In the meantime, I had a food job that wore me out, especially with Covid. That’s when I started thinking about the idea of LifeLong, while working on HitFlesh and a short film. For the past year, I’ve been an artist-author, thanks to a writing grant from the CNC. But between that and pre-production, there’s nothing. So, if you want to continue financing your game, it becomes more complicated. That’s when LifeLong was born. Between unemployment and public aid, these are the main sources of funding for indie games in France, I think.

PnT: Yes, it’s a common thread among some developers, unfortunately.

REM: We’re lucky to have this support, because when I see game devs abroad, it hurts my heart. They don’t have this support and often have to give up their projects to go back to food work.

Solo dev Lifelong

PnT: LifeLong was born more or less during Covid. I noticed that it was a period when a lot of creations around liminal spaces emerged. How did you come up with the ideas for LifeLong?

REM: It was unconscious at first. The project was called The Office and had to do with PCS. Then I moved on to liminal spaces. This aesthetic interested me. As a cinephile, we’ve encapsulated an era in which we haven’t lived, like the 70s and 80s. This imaginary world has always been with me. The man in the tie and television are part of the collective unconscious. It was while watching The Office that I said to myself: “Let’s talk about work”. It’s been a recurring theme for me ever since my professional degree.

PnT: Yes, Covid also accentuated this questioning of the meaning of work. A lot of people feel a loss of meaning when they work from home. How did this influence your project?

REM: During the Covid, everyone was working from home, which reinforced this sense of loss of meaning in work. This certainly influenced my approach in LifeLong, where I wanted to explore these themes. I worked in a pharmacy during this period, and saw first-hand the effects of the pandemic on everyday life. I was working around 23 hours a week, sometimes less, and the situation was becoming difficult to manage. At that point, I really wondered whether my life was going to be reduced to a food job with no real meaning. This introspection prompted me to return to my passion for video games.

Solo dev Lifelong

PnT: You live with other video game designers. How has this influenced your work on LifeLong?

REM: Living with other designers has been a constant source of motivation and inspiration. Being surrounded by people who share the same challenges and ambitions creates a collective emulation. It’s one of my strong points, because we’re all in the same boat and it encourages us to support each other.

PnT: You also mentioned an introspective short film you made before embarking on Lifelong. Can you tell us more about it?

REM: The short film was very personal and cryptic. It reflected a period when I was going through depression and a break-up. I needed to put words and images to what I was feeling. Making this film made me realize that burn-outs and depressions can affect anyone. This experience made me want to continue exploring these themes through video games, but in a more playful and accessible way.

Solo dev Lifelong

PnT: How did you choose the gameplay for LifeLong? Why a first-person shooter?

REM: I’ve always loved first-person shooters, ever since Half-Life 2. This genre offers total immersion, which was crucial for me. I took Soma by Frictional Games as a reference and started with a sandbox. The idea was to create an immersive experience where the player finds himself in the shoes of a character with a TV head, interacting with a 60s-70s environment in black and white.

PnT: The black-and-white visual aspect of LifeLong is very striking. How did you develop this aesthetic?

REM: The idea for the black and white aesthetic, or rather black and grey, came from my admiration for what Lucas Pope had done with Return of the Obra Dinn. It was a technical challenge to reproduce this particular shader. I experimented a lot before finding the right balance between contrasts and textures, to avoid the image becoming too confusing.

PnT: Working alone on such an ambitious project must be a challenge. How do you manage the various aspects of development, especially those that aren’t your specialty, such as graphics and sound design?

REM: It’s true that managing all aspects of development is complex. As for graphic design, although it’s not my specialty, I have a certain sensitivity to images and I can ask my roommates, who are graphic designers, for help. As for sound and music, I’ve decided not to take care of that myself. Even though I’m a musician, sound design is a very specific field that requires a lot of inventiveness. It’s crucial to recognize your limits and know when to ask for help to save time on the rest of the project. It was a pragmatic decision to save time and guarantee a certain quality. As for the rest, I like to tinker and test a lot of things, and I use Blender a lot for 3D. I’ve found that modeling in 3D makes more sense to me than drawing. I also have a lot of references from games like Dishonored and Bioshock. For music and sound, I prefer to leave that to the professionals.

PNT: You talk about your influences and the games that have left their mark on you. You mentioned immersive games like Dishonored and Bioshock, but are there any other games that have influenced your work?

REM: Yes, of course. One game that really stood out for me recently was Outer Wilds. It’s a gem of game design that blew my mind. I also discovered the Souls games at that time. I really like their dynamics and sometimes incorporate elements of their game design, like the hidden paintings in Dark Souls. Immersive sims have always fascinated me by their ability to offer unique and surprising experiences.

Solo dev Lifelong

PnT : That’s interesting. We recently interviewed Arkane’s Dinga Bakaba, and he talked about the fascination of seeing Dishonored’s speedruns, where every run is different. You develop on the Unreal Engine. What made you choose this engine?

REM : Yes, I’m on the Unreal Engine. I chose this engine for practical reasons. I’d already worked with it on a previous project, HitFlesh, so I thought I’d continue with it. It’s a powerful engine, although sometimes Unreal Engine games can have very distinctive lighting. I’m trying to rework this aspect to avoid this visual “flaw”.

PnT : In terms of organization, how do you manage the development of your game? Do you use methodological tools like Asana, Trello, Notion, or do you prefer a more traditional approach?

REM : Honestly, I could do better in terms of organization (laughs). I use post-it notes to jot down big ideas and deadlines. I’ve tried tools like Notion and Trello, but they don’t really work for me. I prefer a more flexible approach, and since I’m my own boss, I can afford not to constrain myself too strictly. The important thing is to remain productive without stressing myself unnecessarily.

Today’s tools make game development much more accessible than ever before. With engines like Unity, Unreal Engine and Godot, you no longer need to be a programming expert to create a game. Tools like Blender for 3D modeling, and project management software like Trello or Notion also make the process easier. The accessibility of these tools means that many designers can get started, even with limited resources.

PnT : I imagine that being able to discuss your projects with your roommates on a regular basis must help you get your head out of the game. Have you ever organized playtests for LifeLong?

REM : Yes, we do. The fact that we regularly discuss our respective projects helps a lot. As for playtests, I organized an official one last year. I prefer to call it a “proof of concept” rather than a demo, because there wasn’t much narrative at that stage. It was mainly to check that the basic mechanics worked well, such as walking and jumping. But for the final version, I want to develop a more linear narrative to convey the message about the absurdity of the working world and the evils of big corporations.

Solo dev Lifelong

PnT : It sounds very promising. What’s your approach to integrating this more linear narrative into the game?

REM : I need to create a solid story that guides the player through the various stages of the game. The idea is to maintain a red thread that exposes the themes I want to tackle, such as bureaucratic absurdity and the oppression of large corporations. This calls for a more linear structure than in the initial “proof of concept”, which was mainly about solving puzzles without any real narrative progression.

PnT : At events like Indie Game in Lyon, how do you network with other developers and publishers?

REM : It’s a combination of everything. There are conferences, interaction with other developers, and publishers dropping by to chat and give advice. It’s a great opportunity to exchange ideas and receive valuable feedback.

PnT : Has the question of publishing your game ever arisen? Do you prefer self-publishing or are you looking for a publisher?

REM : The question arose quite quickly. An English publisher contacted me within the first ten months of the project. However, I haven’t yet found the right time to actively look for a publisher, as I want the project to be sufficiently mature. That said, a publisher could provide considerable financial and logistical support.

Solo dev Lifelong

PnT : How do you see the importance of the community and the resources shared by other developers in your career?

REM : I used to follow a lot of designers like Doc Geraud and La Développeuse du Dimanche. It’s interesting to see their backgrounds and methods. However, at the moment, I prefer to feed myself with content that has nothing to do with video games, to keep an open and creative mind.

PnT : What are your plans for upcoming video game events and festivals?

REM : I had planned to take part in Stunfest, but it’s been cancelled. I’m going to try other events like the Game Cup. While online events are convenient, there’s no substitute for direct interaction with players and other developers.

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