“To whom can I expose the urgency of my own passion?…There is nobody—here among these grey arches, and moaning pigeons, and cheerful games and tradition and emulation, all so skilfully organised to prevent feeling alone.” – Virginia Woolf
Far Few Giants is a small UK based indie games studio that focuses on short narrative experiences that aim to ‘say more in 10 minutes than most games say in 10 hours’! They are responsible for a number of succinct, poignant and socially relevant titles, such as The Night Fisherman and The Outcast Lovers.
The studio was formed by artist, animator, and marketer Richard Tongeman and writer, designer, and programmer Antony de Fault after the pair met in Yorkshire; in their own words ‘Antony creates the stories and sets the tone (and) Richard crafts the visuals and brings the message to the masses‘.
In this interview, I get to speak to Antony and Richard (mostly Richard) about their various game titles, motivations for their work, highlights of development, challenges presented when bringing games to market, their new Kickstarter campaign and of course, what the future looks like for Far Few Giants!
How did you first get into game development and how would you describe working in the industry?
One day, while treading water in a writing degree, I decided enough was enough and I had to get serious. I asked a lecturer what I should do about graduating into a job, and she told me to go to a networking thing. One of those led to another, then to another, and I ended up going to game jams all the time, just to meet people and make random stuff very quickly.
A lot of that has stayed with me. Making games, to me, is about people. It’s about asking for help, helping others, making something that communicates an idea, and just hanging out making cool stuff. Then, I guess, about convincing people to play it. I’ve been lucky to avoid the worst parts of the industry though. Almost immediately we just set up shop working on whatever was in scope for our skill set, which was enabled by local government funding. For me, working in games has been consistently great.
I started out making comedy flash animations for Newgrounds before I went to university to study games animation. My course was not suited to a young artist finding his voice, it was designed to generate drones for the local AAA studio and very quickly any sense of unique identity I started with was drilled out of me.
I’ve always been independently minded but working in the industry has radicalised me to the point where I had to start my own studio to gain any sense of control and am instead attempting to challenge the industry to better itself in the small ways I can impact.
The first two instalments of The Sacrifices, The Night Fisherman and The Outcast Lovers, were short but poignant experiences, what else can we expect from the series?
RICHARD – We’re living in an unprecedented moment in time and The Sacrifices is designed to reflect that by being reactive to the headlines – almost as they happen – to fall somewhere between journalism and political drama, attempting to tie the individual stories into a larger picture of global trends as a warning. There is, of course, a journey that we have in mind, but each chapter along the way could look very different depending on the month it’s written in and will be peppered with inspiration from the evolving world. The goal is to act as an impulse to perhaps stir something inside of the reader to encourage them to take action and engage in the real world.
For example, right now we’re discussing how the next game will morph depending on the outcome of the upcoming US election. You play as a protest organiser holed up in an apartment, and you’re coordinating the crowd outside the window. You have TV and text messages telling you the situation, so for example, if the police are moving in to destroy an aid station, you have to decide whether to tell the protestors to hold the line, pull back, etc. But the nature of the protest, the participants and tactics involved, all that is deliberately left until some news item comes along which we want to comment on by incorporating it into our game.
10mg is a fantastic collection of short minigames, how did the project come about and what was Far Few Giants’ involvement in it?
RICHARD – 10mg began as a pipe dream by stuffed wombat, but it’s something that had been stirring in my mind for quite a while also, the concept of short, divisive games which break the mould of first-to-the-bottom pricing, which respect your time and most importantly bring that rebellious attitude from outside of the safe confines of itch.io to the writhing masses on Steam. The issue that we were collectively facing was an issue of obscurity, producing transcendent works for free for a tiny audience. In an economy where price-per-minute is king, by banding together we were able to produce the equivalent length of a full indie release, with a price tag attached and activistic campaign to force the press to treat us as serious business. Every review, every article, every video legitimised our existence and brought the obscure to light.
We were approached initially because of our poignant shorts on Steam, so we were able to coach some of the younger developers through Valve’s labyrinthian back-end. Our involvement ensured that the collection wouldn’t go unnoticed, as the group was doing something groundbreaking and noteworthy and we had the skills to reach out to press. I personally created the launch trailers for the collection which I’m very proud of.
The Twitter group took off way before the announcement when we teased the pill logo and by the time we revealed the name and logo we were already at 1000 followers within 48 hours, a number which took me 3 years to achieve on my own account. There’s a sense of something larger that people want to be a part of. But also a combination of our collective following joining together and proving demand for short worthwhile experiences.
We wrote quite a spicy statement of intent in which we expressed our dissatisfaction with the state of Steam for smaller developers, which ended up on the front page of Gamasutra. I recently found out that Alden, developer liaison at Valve has read it which I’m quite proud of.
Far Few Giants are becoming a bit of a game auteur; each experience has the same stylised aesthetic and similar narrative themes making them recognisable as yours, was this something you set out to achieve from the beginning?
RICHARD – I’m sure Tony would love to hear that, he fancies himself as a bit of an auteur…
Absolutely, when we look at brands out there that feel familiar and recognisable, Supergiant, Campo Santo (rip) they feel more like a supergroup than a game developer, with every member’s distinct style shining through. You know within the first chord or the first frame who made this and how it’s gonna make you feel. That’s the goal, to have a consistent aesthetic and writing style that can tie abstract pieces together as a whole. We want to take our audience to explore the boundaries of narrative design and we want to bounce effortlessly between mechanical genres without becoming stale and whilst maintaining a core sense of identity.
Before we coalesced into Far Few Giants we tried and failed to make a few different short films and games, and looking back they were far too complex and expensive for the two of us to complete on our own in our free time. But when I discovered Subsurface Circular, and the concept of a ‘short game’, sub-two hours, something clicked in my brain that actually the barrier to entry was a lot lower than we’d anticipated, all it takes is one impressive screenshot and some sharp concise writing and you have a game that you could publish on Steam and charge money for.
My job is to heave Tony’s writing out of the realms of a black-on-white HTML fiction and treat it with a level of care and respect that forces a stranger to pay attention. I do that through a surreal, emotionally-driven palette, and a focus on character. But the biggest contributor is the inclusion of 3D graphics, which provides a high perception of quality for the relatively low amount of time spent, which we tend to get a lot of re-use out of. And the secret is that once you’ve actually started playing, it’s the impactful writing that keeps you engaged and brings you back wanting more.
What has been the most difficult part of creating these games and bringing them to market?
RICHARD – If you’d asked me a year ago it would have been a stagnant market and lack of desire for innovation, now it’s just the speed at which we’re releasing. We aim to spend a month on each title and only two weeks of that is spent entirely on actual game development. There’s a slew of other tasks involved with self-publishing videogames to the level we have been in order to unlock the explosive growth in audience we’ve seen this year. There’s a requirement for marketing and PR, store page creation and trailer editing, as well as riding the wave of ever-shifting self-promotion techniques which all take time and effort to research then actually see useful results out of. So much so that the end product almost becomes interchangeable as long as the core brand remains the same.
The fact that we actually are able to get news pieces on a monthly basis is a huge win for our small team, we’re providing plenty of ways to discover our works and we’re able to grow a lot quicker than developing one large game in the darkness. In return, we get a constant input of feedback that allows us to tailor the studio’s output to our audience.
I understand that Ring of Fire, which has a demo on Steam, is currently on hold, can you tell us more about this and if there are plans to continue work on this project in the future?
RICHARD – Ring of Fire has had a troubled history but I think it’s a useful case study for younger developers, it started out much like one of our shorts, as a two-week prototype, and, if I had it my way we would have published it in that state immediately. But instead, we managed to gain some public funding, I began reading industry advice about honing pitches to publishers and that began a snowball that escalated to the point where we had 6 episodes planned, an extremely polished pitch-deck, two fully fleshed out prototypes, a contract with a television studio and a two-year content plan for a game that nobody wanted to fund and nobody could play.
This is where The Sacrifices comes into play, at almost a tenth of the size per episode, we hope that by proving to ourselves that early access episodic narratives can work then we can produce larger works of interactive fiction in a similar manner. Then we won’t need to go through the publishing system to produce it, as we will have an audience of fans waiting for the next thing.
Far Few Giants launched a Kickstarter at the end of October, what is your overall goal and what else can you tell us?
RICHARD – The goal of the Kickstarter is to take The Sacrifices, finish the series, polish it up, backdate any improvements, and publish it with some actual marketing budget. In the current day, the only way to be sustainable is to be available on every platform, so these are stretch goals we kinda need to achieve in order to go on to make the next big game.
We’ve had a lot of requests for more episodes, and the Kickstarter is a way to prove that that demand exists, that there’s purpose in producing more of that series. That said, we still want to release the majority of the episodes for free. But if you want to support its continued development, and enable the message to reach the masses, then this is going to be the best way to do so. This will unlock the ability for us to provide a consistent user experience across all the episodes and niceties like dev commentary, accessibility options, and localisation.
How has this difficult year affected the studio and is there more to come from Far Few Giants in 2020?
RICHARD – Far Few Giants has always been remote by name and by nature so, apart from us struggling to divide work and home life like everyone else it’s been alright!
There is so much more to come! We had a slight hiccup when Tony was unable to move to Ireland as planned during the first wave and narrowly missed the same again in the second wave, and my wedding being constantly under threat of cancellation. But generally, Far Few Giants has had our best year yet, we’ve been supported by local government funding who have been very open to our unique brand of experimental publishing and unconventional stories which is more than we could have hoped for, and in return we’re trying to pass on any experience or knowledge we have through our podcast.
You can expect a couple more games from us this year so watch this space!
Far Few Giants’ Games
The Sacrifices Episode 1: The Night Fisherman (Review Here)
The Sacrifices Episode 2: The Outcast Lovers (Review Here)
The ongoing production of The Sacrifices can be supported via Far Few Giants’ Kickstarter campaign.
The Imagined Leviathan
10mg Collection (Review Here)
Locked In (Review Here)
Ring of Fire Demo
If you enjoyed reading this, you can find more developer interviews here!