If you could work at a radio station as a DJ in a small town, what kind of music would play? Would you try and play all the hits or would you maybe tone it down and play what your audience wanted? Would you add interviews into your routine and interview the local hero or try and get those bigger stories? But more importantly, do you think everything would go to plan as you envisioned it? Being a DJ would be hard work, but it would be interesting to be a part of it in some way just to see what would happen. So when I heard that developer Numinous Games was making a game where you get to be one of the stars and communicate with a cast of characters, I had to know more. So I reached out and the writer and narrative designer, Amy Green, was happy to talk about their newest game AREA MAN LIVES, and Virtual Reality.
Interview with writer and narrative designer of Numinous Games, Amy Green
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at NUMINOUS GAMES?
“My name is Amy Noel Green, I’m the writer and narrative designer at Numinous Games, and a director of AREA MAN LIVES.”
Gaming is an important part of so many lives. What have been some of your favorite gaming moments and what was that one VR experience that really drew you into the world of Virtual Reality?
“I’ll never forget the first time I beat an entire video game (Pikmin) and I have fond memories of when I found my family’s original NES and took it to college with me so my roommates and I could speed run the original Super Mario Bros. I loved seeing how quickly the muscle memory returned even over a decade later. One of the first VR experiences I tried had a giant that towered over you, and the way the developers played with scale felt magical and made me want to create more experiences in VR where your presence in the game is felt and the world itself feels like a space you can live in.”
NUMINOUS GAMES really has a variety in their portfolio from such titles as Learn Spanish, Painted Waters, and That Dragon, Cancer. Your newest game is something you have been working on that involves mixing comics and radio drama called AREA MAN LIVES. What can you tell us about this game?
“At Numinous Games, we’ve made a lot of titles that we really poured our heart into, but AREA MAN LIVES feels like the first game that really captures our personalities and sense of humor. It’s quirky and offbeat, with elements of magical realism. We never get tired of playing it no matter how many times we playtest it. It will definitely make you laugh, and it has even made some people cry. I don’t think there’s anything else quite like it in VR. It requires the player to open themselves up to the experience, use their imagination and choose to play along.
Was a radio drama always the basis for the game or was there a different look and direction when the game was first thought about?
“When we first imagined this game and pitched the idea, it was going to be a space game! So, the “Numinous Space Game” is still a phrase that gets thrown around when we laugh together about how much this game has changed since we started development. But one thing that has never changed is that we wanted the player to speak out loud to create a connection to characters in the game who weren’t sharing the same space they were in. That element has always stayed no matter what creative diversion we’ve taken in the process.”
You have quite a celebrity cast for the voices. What can you tell us about the different characters and who is the Area Man?
“The voice talent in this game is amazing! We feel so fortunate to have been able to work with our entire cast. Ronan Farrow is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, and he is playing our bumbling local newscaster. He narrates all the hilarious ways you will inevitably kill the Area Man before you finally figure out how to help him. Joel McHale, an actor and stand-up comedian who you may have seen in The Soup or Community, plays John. John was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was hijacked by the Area Man and forced into participating in his misguided antics. But by the time the game ends, you may start to wonder if perhaps John was exactly where he needed to be the entire time. And, Max Greenfield, the actor who played Schmidt in New Girl and is currently starring in The Neighborhood plays the Area Man. The Area Man is on a self-proclaimed mission to save the day, only he has no idea who he is supposed to be saving or what he’s supposed to be saving them from. No matter how much chaos he creates he will not be deterred from his faith that Taylor at the radio station is leading him on his journey to prevent a catastrophe.”
So the players get to play as Taylor and interact with the different characters?
Yes, you play AREA MAN LIVES as a fill-in DJ named Taylor. It’s your first day on the job at a local radio station. So you speak on-air and talk to callers and do all the things you’d expect to do as the DJ of a small-town radio station. And then the Area Man starts leaving messages on the station answering machine and everything gets a little weird from there. You are able to speak out loud to the characters in the game, and they respond to you, conversationally.”
Were there any challenges that you were not expecting when having the player be able to communicate with the other characters?
“No matter how much you know you can’t control the player character, you still have to remind yourself that they are free to say whatever they want. It takes some getting used to because we tend to want to assume we can craft that player character like we craft all the others, but once you get used to writing in response to a player that you can’t predict, it’s a really fun challenge and opens up a lot of unique gameplay moments. We are still surprised by things players say and can’t wait for the game to come out so we can hear about more funny conversational moments within the game”
Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about some of the puzzles in the game?
“There are things you can do inside the radio station that impact the world outside of the studio. So, within the game, you are trying to figure out what you need to do to help the Area Man through all the circumstances that pop up.”
And did I read correctly that there are 98 different ways for the Area man to die? Which one is your favorite?
“Yes, there are 98 ways to kill the Area Man. It’s so hard to choose just one favorite death, but I think my very favorite way that the Area Man can die is when he gives mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a Racoon who wakes up and bites him, giving him rabies which, eventually, kills him.”
Virtual Reality is all about immersing the player in the world. What have you found to be the most surprising when it comes to working with Virtual Reality?
“We take a very different approach to Virtual Reality because we rely so much on the player’s imagination and lean into almost theatrical setups rather than impressive new locations that pull players into the moment in realistic ways. So, I think we’ve been surprised by how well this minimalist approach works. We are always impressed by how vividly players are able to imagine the scenarios we describe, and how powerful imagination really is for grounding a player in a space.”
Sound is important. Were there any sounds that took a little bit longer to try and perfect to make sure you had the right radio drama feel?
“Yes, there is a scene where we needed the sound of bird poop hitting a windshield and that sound took a long time to get right, and then there are other scenes where the soundscape is so fun and outrageous that we just had a blast putting it together.”
Speaking of sound, can you tell us more about how the recording of the commercials and interviewing callers will work?
“So, it works how it would work in real life. The producer tells you to record a commercial, and you hit the record button and read your script. Or the phone rings and you answer it and say hello, and the conversation goes from there. The speech detection within the game should make those moments feel natural and intuitive.”
AREA MAN LIVES will be released on the Oculus Store, Steam VR, and Viveport. Are there any plans for it to be released on PlayStation VR/2 in the future?
“We do not have any current plans to bring AREA MAN LIVES to PSVR or PSVR2, but we are a big fan of that platform in general. So, if the response to AREA MAN LIVES is strong and players really love it then we would consider ways to expand the availability.”
If you walked through the door into the world of AREA MAN LIVES but you had to play Taylor and could pick 3 famous people from any time period to interview, who would they be and why?
“I love this question! We have talked about expanding AREA MAN LIVES in the future and one thing we’d love to let the player do is interview celebrities, so let me think. …I think I would choose to interview Amy Sherman-Palladino because I’m a huge fan of her writing, and I would just super love that conversation even though it isn’t dependent on the magic implied in this question, and I would choose to interview William Shakespeare because I would be super curious how he would perceive the way humor has changed through the centuries and the ways it never changes and what he thinks about the evolving mediums of storytelling, and then my third choice would be Madeleine L’Engle because I have loved her books and feel a kinship to her that makes her an irresistible interview choice. So, those are my nerdy, nerdy writer answers, I should have probably tapped-in a different member of the team for this question so you would get some more action-packed answers!”
With the content for Virtual Reality continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience AREA MAN LIVES?
“People regularly tell us that they’ve never seen anything like it before. So if VR content all feels basically the same to you, we have something that will feel fresh. We think it is a truly unique experience, and it’s super funny.”
I really want to thank Amy for taking the time out of their day to give us a closer look into AREA MAN LIVES as well as talking about Virtual Reality.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.