After the release of a scintillating trailer of their maiden project, Dear Charlotte, Method to Madness Studios has been the talk of the town. Having garnered the attention of the international community even though its release isn’t scheduled for another two years, never before has an indie game from India received such praise. Our writer, Punyesh Kumar, interviewed Mr. Jeffy Zachariah, the director and programmer for Dear Charlotte. Check out what he had to say!
Punyesh – Hi, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Hey there, my name’s Jeffy and I’m the designer and director of the project Dear Charlotte. I’ve been working in game development for half a decade now, mostly with the Unreal Engine. The first game editor that I used was the GtkRadiant to made Quake maps, back in 2009. And ever since then, the game industry has had huge technological advancements and I spend a lot of time trying to catch up with the new tech and techniques used in game development. I’ve worked as a character technical artist, a level designer and a game designer over the years. I’m an avid DotA player and a Navi fan (Artstyle for TI6 boiz). I love competitive games but love a strong single player campaign experience even more. I’m still waiting for the day Half Life 3 will be announced.
P – Could you give a short summary of what your upcoming title Dear Charlotte is about?
Dear Charlotte is a narrative-driven psychological horror game that tells the story of a broken father, John, who wants to reunite with his daughter. The events of the game take place within the ruins of Quantic Medical Research facility and the story further, explores the aftermaths of an outbreak that happened there. The game lays heavy emphasis on character development and it is being developed using Unreal Engine 4.
P – How did you guys start out? Game development in India is quite an unorthodox prospect even for smaller games. So it must be quite a bit harder for a game of the kind of scope you’re aiming for.
We started like any ill-informed and clueless guy coming on the forums who wants to make a great game. We began from failure. It didn’t stop us, though, we learned what we know about game development ourselves from failures. Be it getting a custom character playable in an editor, or customizing a weapon mod, whatever be it. We failed over and over until we started doing things right. I was involved in working with small teams over the forums and doing things like level design, prop art and things like those.
Game development in India is an unorthodox prospect when you are talking about PC / console game development. Even then, there are a few teams who are doing their best to make small scale PC games. There are plenty of successful mobile titles from here, something which I am not really a fan of. For a game of our scope, yes it is hard. Really hard.
P – Where did the idea for Dear Charlotte come about? It seems like much more of a narrative-driven horror title than the usual Monster Maze affair. Especially since you seem to aim to stretch out the experience over multiple episodes.
Dear Charlotte is a narrative-driven horror title. Think of it like a blend of Soma and Outlast. We’re aiming to have a good balance between narrative delivery and the horror experience and trying not to overwhelm the player with either. We want to tell a huge story with this project. It’s too big of a scope to do this in one game. The only way to make the scope of the game workable was to break it into different episodes. It doesn’t really cause much of an issue breaking the game into multiple episodes because our narrative style is non-linear. Hence it would work with different episodes.
P – How did the funding for Dear Charlotte work? I think it’s safe to say that it’s the highest fidelity game to ever come out of India and that suggests a relatively significant budget. But given your small team would you describe it as more of an indie affair?
Dear Charlotte might turn into the highest fidelity game to ever come out of India, and it does require a huge budget compared to over productions that are taking place in India. As for funding, we raised our funds from family and friends. We haven’t acquired external funding from any source at the moment, allthough we are looking for it. The problem with being self-funded is that you cannot work on the project full-time. We work other jobs to pay our bills and keep the project moving. It’s a hard life. That is one of the pros of becoming an indie dev I suppose. Game development, especially PC, and consoles are an expensive business these days. Considering how far games have come since in the past two decades. To give you an example, Outlast, was a 12-man project, and cost a little more than a million dollars to develop. It is an indie title too. We’re not looking for that much of a budget, not even half of that, mainly because we’re not working under one roof. We’re remote, like Frictional Games. Working remotely among known people helps reduce the budget by a huge margin. Also, breaking the game into episodes helps us in a way that we can try and fit the game into a workable budget.
P – Where are you guys based out of? Is the entire team local or is there any cross-continent involvement?
We’re based out of Trivandrum, Kerala. The entire team isn’t local. We’ve got cross country involvement. Around half our team members are from India though, only me and Joel from Kerala.
P – The trailer shows some interesting voice-acting work. Is it all done in-house or has it been contracted out?
Our sound designer, Jamie Lewis, is from the UK. And it’s his mastery you all heard in the trailer. Jamie’s been with me on the project since 2012. He’s part of the team and has his own awesome sound setup in his studio in the UK. But as I said in a previous answer, we work remotely. So the voice-action was done “in-house” while literally not being “in-house” at the same time.
P – The game development scene in India is still in its first stages. How does it feel like trying to push the boundary forward on an industry that many says don’t even exist here yet?
It’s a great feeling. It’s our primary goal with this project as well. India is a well-known outsourcing hub for every major development studios out there in the world. It’s literally sad that no in-house development or IP has ever been developed and produced in India. It’s a very risky venture. We understand that. Plus, it’s not something that the business minds of the nation are that interested in. We’ve spoken with some private investors about improving the game development scene in the nation, especially with the younger generation being exposed to video games more than ever, there can be a huge potential for the industry here. But they think on another level. They want small investment and quick returns. Our ideas just didn’t resonate with them. Maybe our entertainment industry might have been a better option.
P – How far along is the game in production? Have all episodes been planned out in advance or are you waiting to see the consumer response first?
We’re still early in development. Working on different design ideas and testing what works and what doesn’t. What actually delivers the experience we are looking for, etc. All episodes haven’t been planned out, but we’ve figured out what we want to do with episode two already. Consumer response is quite important for any development team. But we are confident that we’ll be able to please our consumers . We spent a lot of time on pre-production so that we could have the least problems during production and development. So far it has been working well.
P – And finally, when can our readers expect to get their hands on Dear Charlotte?
We’re unsure of a final date at this point. It could take a while. If we manage to raise some funding and convert ourselves full time to this project, then you might have a definite answer for that question .
ASidCast thanks Jeffy for his inputs, and wish him and his team the best of luck in pulling off this awesome project!