Paperbound Developer Interview with Dan Holbert

We were lucky enough to have a crack at Paperbound while it was in its pre-alpha stage of development. When we heard that indie developer Dissident Logic had got the Greenlight on Steam, we had to check in with developer Dan Holbert and see what was new.

Mariah Beckman: Hey there! Thanks for carving out some time to talk to us about Paperbound.

Dan Holbert: Thanks. Paperbound is a game where you are gravity ninja. You fight your friends as hand-drawn characters who jump into old storybooks, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth, where gravity can be any direction. I really wanted to create something with that ninja feeling but that also tickles your mind by messing with your perception of reality a bit. It’s a 4-player multiplayer game where each player’s gravity adjusts to whatever surface he or she is running on. It’s really fast-paced. With two players, it has a cat-and-mouse feeling, and when you bump it up to four players, you get these crazy, frenetic battles.

I’ve played it an absurd number of times now, and I still have a blast every time. You won’t believe how one second, you’re swearing at your friend, and the next second, you’re giggling like an idiot.

MB: So, who are you and what do you at Dissident Logic?

DH: I’m Dan Holbert. I started Dissident Logic after not being creatively satisfied in the AAA world. I wear many hats at Dissident Logic (too many), but the main ones are designer and programmer. I do all the gameplay features, level design, and tech. Throw onto that promotion, team management, art direction, and accounting, and you can see why I rarely give myself free time!

MB: Who worked with you on your most recent release, and what might we recognize their work from?

DH: Paperbound is Dissident Logic’s first game. I am lucky to work with some great artists and a gifted composer, as well. They are mostly newcomers to the industry. For example, the composer, Chris, has worked in TV. Mike, the character artist, has done character design for an independent film. The initial artwork for the prototype was done by Emroca, who has a really unique style. You have probably seen his Mario paintings on Kotaku.

MB: How did your prior experiences shape Dissident Logic’s mission? What makes your studio different or stand out from other developers?

DH: I wanted to create a studio where everyone involved felt like they could leave their mark on the game. That was something that I was sorely missing in the AAA world, so it’s important to me to provide that opportunity to those I work with. Dissident Logic also makes games that we want to exist, and that’s the reason that we make them. We don’t chase trends, and we aren’t afraid to buck the established way of thinking (that’s where the company name comes from). We also want to bring something new to the table with each game. If it feels like you’ve had this experience before, then we aren’t doing our jobs.

MB: Talk to us about Paperbound. I’ve had a lot of fun playing it in it’s early development, and it looks as if you’ve really expanded quite a bit since I last played (new characters, rich backdrops and a more developed story were just a few of the things I noted from watching the game preview).

DH: The last time you played it, it was a single-player game. It’s become a multiplayer affair. Each level takes place in one of several books, and the characters come from those books, as well. So far, we’ve fleshed out Journey to the Center of the Earth, Skull Kingdom, and Dante’s Inferno. We have Egyptian- and Japanese-themed books on the way, and we’re thinking about other classics like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Treasure Island.

But, for me, the main thing about the game is the way it plays. The smooth way that you can run up a wall and transfer to another surface, and then fly across the map for a sneak attack…it’s thrilling. At this point, I don’t think I can get tired of it.

MB: We know that Paperbound has received some recognition; can you tell our readers a little about that? Do you have any plans to submit this title for future accolades?

DH: Paperbound was a finalist in the Seattle Indie Game Competition back in January when it was in a much rougher state, and Den of Geek named it one of their highlights from PAX East. We just submitted a build to the folks at IndieCade, who put on a great event in October that everyone should attend. It’s in LA, and not only will you discover tons of great and inventive video games, but you can participate one-of-a-kind live games, learn about making games, and meet lots of really cool people. I made some friends last year, and also got to meet John Romero. It’s a really relaxed event, unlike, say, PAX or E3.

In general, I try to enter every competition that’s relevant. I’m also entering Paperbound in the Intel Level-Up contest in a few weeks.

MB: Sum up Paperbound for us in a haiku, if you would? In case you’re rusty, these poems are constructed with a limited syllable/sound count; in school, I think those counts were, like, five-seven-five. Take your time–I can wait.

DH: Falling from the floor
Sneak attack with readied sword
Blown up by grenade

MB: I know I would love to see this title as a handheld; any plans to port this title for iOS or Android? What about consoles?

DH: I want to bring Paperbound to any consoles that I can. I’m working on bringing it t PS4 right now. The Xboxes are also on my radar. People mention the mobile thing to me a lot, and I can appreciate that. I think it stems from the fact that it’s a quick pick-up-and-play 2D game that you can play for 5 minutes at a time, if you want to. But it’s a multiplayer game, and it really plays best with a controller, both of which pose problems for mobile. I really have trouble seeing it as being fun with a touchscreen, and mobile controllers aren’t widespread-enough nor of a high enough quality to really target that platform.

MB: What other titles, if any, do you presently have in the works?

DH: I always have a ton of ideas, but I’ve only got time for one game at a time. It takes a lot of work to make a game!

MB: What sort of titles and development can we expect from Dissident Logic in the coming months and years?

DH: I have this growing list of ideas that includes a physics-based team FPS where you have to build and destroy bases (think Rampart meets Team Fortress 2 with Red Faction physics), a silly game about walking on stilts, and a game that’s basically Attack on Titan meets Shadow of the Colossus. I also want to try making a game that takes place in the real world, and you use your phone to keep track of things and receive information.

MB: Are there any developers or studios that your team admires or that you’re sort of aspiring to? In your opinion, who are some of the industry leaders right now that gamers should be watching out for? (Dissident Logic aside, of course.)

DH: Well, it’s funny, because I really respect and admire how Double Fine approaches making games. They have the Amnesia Fortnight game jam within the studio that spawns a bunch of unique games that end up becoming actual products. I love how empowering and engaging that is for the people who work there, and I like how they have a lot of small, experimental games that they produce. Ironically, though, the games that they product don’t really match what I’m looking for as a gamer, so I haven’t really enjoyed the fruits of their labor.

I really like Mark of the Ninja (developed by Klei) and The Swapper (made by Facepalm Games). I aspire to create games with the same level of quality and that can evoke some of the same feelings that those games do, so I really look up to those guys.

MB: What’s your favorite video game? It can be old or new, one you’ve worked on or one that you feel is iconic?

DH: Gahh. It’s so hard to pick just one. But I think I have to pick the original Portal. It was so mind-blowing. It was exhilarating to play with these new physics and master them, planning and executing a plan that plays out in a few fast seconds. Discovering and applying the fact that I can build momentum through multiple portal jumps is a moment that I’ll always remember.

MB: And now, quite possibly the most pressing question of them all: In the style of Kafka, you awake to find yourself, to your abject horror, trapped inside the body of_______. Who is it, and why is this awful? (You could be a unicorn, Barbara Streisand, your mother–whoever.) 150 words or less: go!

DH: Candy corn. You know you’re in the candy family, and everyone’s supposed to love you. But they don’t. You’re a black sheep. The thought of being eaten simultaneously scares and comforts you. You fear the day will never come when you can fulfill your purpose and be rid of this existential crisis.

MB: I love it! Again, we thank you for taking the time to sit down with our readers, and we look forward to reporting on future developments from your studio.

Thanks again to Dan for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’d like to find more about Paperbound, head on over to the game’s Steam Greenlight page to upvote the game as well as find regular updates on the game’s progress from Dan.

Mariah Beckman

Mariah lives in Seattle, and is really 3 midgets inside a lady suit.

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