Nic and Chris Bischoff may not be household names in the gaming industry just yet, but we suspect that is only a matter of time. The two brothers hailing from South Africa burst onto the scene in 2015 with STASIS, and to say it was an impressive debut is a major understatement. The sci-fi horror adventure set in the aftermath of a spacefaring genetic research facility gone terribly wrong managed to get just about everything right. From its fantastic art and sound design and sadistically grim atmosphere to its detailed backstory, the derelict Groomlake pulled us in and never let go until it had wrung our year-end Aggie Award for Best Adventure from our petrified hands.
The Bischoffs gave themselves a hard act to follow, so what did they do next? Merely offer their next game free. CAYNE returns players to the STASIS universe, but this time as a pregnant woman who must survive the terrible medical facility in which she’s trapped and escape with her baby. With upgraded graphics, a new story and an improved engine, this isn’t merely a rehash of STASIS with a different character either. Offering several hours of gameplay, it’s a far more polished, complete adventure than many commercial offerings. (Did we mention it is FREE?!)
For their next full-scale project, Nic and Chris (appropriately dubbing themselves “THE BROTHERHOOD”) are leaving space and keeping things a little closer to home: in their case, the African continent. In BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION, a highly advanced, mysterious alien object became the catalyst for an earthly apocalypse of misused technology. Now the survivors are left to pick up the pieces of this lovely but curious retro-future world, including Mark and Don Leslie, along with their four-legged reconnaissance drone named POOCH. In order to complete the game, the Bischoffs turned to Kickstarter for funding. The good news is that with only a few days left, the game has managed to nudge its way over the top to reach its minimum goal, though there's still time for stretch goals and breathing room.
If you’re still on the fence about supporting the game (and even if you aren’t), read on as we chat with artist/designer Chris Bischoff about the brothers’ earlier successes and the BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION ahead.
Adventure Gamers: So, two brothers from South Africa, of all places, became adventure game developers. How did that happen?
Chris Bischoff: It's been 14 years that Nic and I have been working together professionally. We started an architectural illustration studio that we ran – and grew – for more than a decade. Before that (being brothers) we had years to work on small game projects together growing up, and a multitude of other creative ideas blossomed.
We work well together – both bringing a unique set of skills to our projects and businesses. I think it's our respect and understanding of the other’s roles and capabilities that make our partnership so powerful.
But with this being said, we're not bulletproof! Living at the tip of Africa and being in this field certainly has its challenges. Working within tight budgets and with limited resources, in a small game development industry in South Africa, has perhaps stretched our creativity even further.
In BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION's case, we're lucky to have access to a unique environment we can incorporate into our projects.
AG: I believe it was Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw who once suggested that an indie developer shouldn’t publish their first game (knowing the many rookie mistakes it is likely to contain). You guys ignored that sage advice… and went on to release our Game of the Year for 2015 on your first try. So much for that theory! How do two independent upstarts get so good so fast?
Nic and Chris Bischoff
Chris: "The more I practice, the luckier I get!" Although STASIS was our first official game, we have been making games together since the mid ‘90s, including a Scorched Earth clone that we gave away for free and an overly optimistic take on a Star Control II-inspired space trading game.
Both Nic and I thrive on success. Our parents are also business owners and instilled in us a drive to succeed by our own sweat – so do it ourselves because nobody was going to do it for us!
Many late nights (turned early mornings) of development and what felt like endless hours of play testing turned into STASIS. It was born out of a desire to tell our own story, which is perhaps why we shied away from taking on a publisher.
While STASIS itself took five years to make, in reality it has been many years in the making! Every conversation we had, every movie we watched and book we read... every time we played through a game over and over again, and discussed what we would've done differently – all of those things came together into The Brotherhood.
AG: The Kickstarter for STASIS referred to classic Sierra and LucasArts titles such as King’s Quest and Monkey Island. Were you big fans of point-and-click games when you were growing up, and what drew you to the genre?
Chris: I grew up on Space Quest and the Sierra games – which is probably why the idea of death in adventure games comes so naturally to me. I spent countless hours on Space Quest (being a huge Star Trek fan, Space Quest was an easy thing to love), but it wasn't until I played The Dig that my eyes were opened up to the idea of adventure games being a vessel to tell a hard science fiction story.
Star Control II was also an obsession of ours! And we were soon distracted by the tools we had to create it.
In both of those instances, we loved the stories. Adventure games are games that bring characters to the forefront in ways that few other games can – and it's what we love about the genre!
AG: Following on from that, it's still a pretty big leap from there to the horrors of STASIS. What made you want to explore such a dark future, rather than, say, exploring a tropical island and using monkeys as hand tools?
Chris: Alien changed my life. I can't remember how old I was when I first watched it, but I do remember it leaving a profound mark on me.
In comparison to Star Wars and Star Trek, that I'd become so familiar with, Alien was dark and terrifying. The Space Jockey, the derelict ship, the planet itself, and of course the creature... for the first time in my life I saw something that was truly alien.
Wrapping up horror into science fiction added an entire new level of emotion. Fear and the unknown are the two greatest things that I love about the horror genre, and weaving those into a science fiction world seemed natural.
It's exciting and tantalizing – and that's what we want players to feel.
AG: STASIS feels very cinematic; it’s clear you’re sci-fi film fans as well. How did that influence translate to an interactive medium?
Chris: As well as the huge influence Alien had on STASIS, others like Event Horizon, Sunshine, Logan’s Run, Pandorum – all of these films have had an influence on us as artists. Everything from the model sound design, story, cinematography and dialogue that make these masterpieces found its way into STASIS and CAYNE somehow.
AG: One of the standout features of STASIS is its detailed worldbuilding, both in terms of the ubiquitous PDAs and hints at events such as the Eugenics Wars. You’ve already returned to it once with your impressive freeware spin-off CAYNE, but with BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION taking a different path, is this nonetheless a universe you plan to return to at some point in future?
Chris: I would love to return to the world of STASIS. There is much to explore, and we have a detailed view of the world beyond the Cayne Corporation facilities.
We have some rough ideas for a new devilish story and I'm sure we'll revisit this world, but we've lived inside those decrepit halls for a little too long, so I'm looking forward to getting out into the open plains.Continued on the next page...