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Interview with Tim Follin on Contradiction
Developer:Tim Follin
Platform:PC, iPad, Android
Release Date:April 2014
Article Posted:December 2013

There is something to be said about video games that feature live-action video. With real actors portraying the scenes rather than animated models, there is tremendous potential for characterization and atmosphere. A well-acted scene can deliver more impact with a simple facial expression or gesture than is possible with lengthy exposition. With a good plot and a juicy mystery to solve, an interactive movie can become a truly captivating and engaging experience. That is exactly what Tim Follin is trying to deliver with Contradiciton.

Contradiction is an upcoming adventure game and interactive movie where players control inspector Jenks as he uncovers the mystery behind the murder of a young woman at a training camp. While Contradiction is planned to feature plenty of traditional inventory-based puzzles, what sets the game apart is its conversation system. Players conduct the investigation by talking to other characters. These conversations are designed to flow smoothly and mimic the flow of a real discussion. The player's task is to unlock the mystery by spotting the lies told by the characters.

After completing the initial design for the game and shooting some footage, Tim Follin has launched a Kickstarter project to fund the remainder of the game. As the Kickstarter campaign enters its final two weeks, Mr. Follin kindly agreed to tell us a little more about the project.

[Adventure Lantern]: We understand you are not new to the world of gaming. Can you tell us a little about your experiences leading up to Contradiction?

[Tim Follin]: I began my career in games primarily as a composer and sound effects editor, working on early games consoles like the NES, SNES and Megadrive. Later I worked on game development and continued to compose, for games such as Ecco The Dolphin on the Dreamcast, Starsky and Hutch, Ford Racing and Lemmings for the PSP, among other games.

[AL]: When did you first come up with the concept for Contradiction?

[Tim]: Contradiction developed out of a game design I’d worked on several years ago with my brother, who also worked in games. It was originally designed as an audio-only adventure game, but as the idea evolved we realised it would work better with video, so you could see who you were talking to. However, the technology at the time didn’t really allow that to work, so we abandoned the idea. It was only with the recent development of tablets like the iPad that I realised they’d be an ideal format for the game and started work on redesigning it.

[AL]: What was the inspiration behind the game?

[Tim]: The idea behind both Contradiction and our original idea of an audio adventure game was always that it would be something that’d create a really involving atmosphere, a world you can get into that feels more like a movie you’re watching, with real characters you can talk to.

[AL]: What made you decide to make Contradiction as an interactive movie?

[Tim]: My more recent career has been in TV - I’m currently working as a Director of Photography for TV commercials - and I think you connect with actors in movies and TV in a completely different way to how you relate to 3D generated characters, even when they’re voiced by good actors. So I wanted to try to add in a more emotional element to the game, to push it closer to a real movie drama, in which you can see all those subtle reactions and expressions that good actors bring to a performance. Also 3D adventures require huge resources and time to create - Contradiction has a much lower budget and if the first game is successful more games can follow quite quickly.

[AL]: What sets Contradiction apart from other adventure games and interactive movies?

[Tim]: Apart from what I’ve already described, I think the main difference is the way the interactivity works. Contradiction uses a large matrix of mostly tiny video clips, all designed to be edited together seamlessly as you play, to give you a real sense of freedom. Talking to characters uses the same technique, to give you the sense that you’re controlling a real conversation, not just asking one question and then watching a long cut scene.

[AL]: What can you tell us about the game's story?

[Tim]: The story starts with the death of a student, a girl who is found drowned in a lake. She was a student at a ‘life skills’ training course nearby called Atlas. Atlas claim to give students a major advantage in the world of business by teaching them ‘skills for success.’ But as you investigate, you discover they’ve previously been connected to other student deaths and have been criticised for causing some students psychological distress. Atlas teach students that the whole idea of morality has been ‘programmed’ into them by the state and that they must be ‘de-programmed’ if they want to be liberated. Most of the characters you meet are either running Atlas or are under its spell, but all are trying to hide what’s going on. So there’s this huge web of lies and deceptions. The story is based on Ayn Rand, a self-proclaimed Russian philosopher who emigrated to the US in the 1920s. She believed that morality and altruism are lies and that selfishness is a virtue. She even praised serial killers for being morally ‘liberated.’ She was essentially a swivel-eyed lunatic, but lots of very powerful politicians and businessmen in the US still think she was a genius!

[AL]: Can you tell us about the protagonist?

[Tim]: You play Inspector Jenks, the detective assigned to the case. Jenks is under your control, but when interviewing and interacting with characters you get to see his personality. He phrases questions appropriately for each character, so he has to be tactful but also forceful when needed. He’s an imposing character, who has a quiet but strong authority. He doesn’t get flustered or lose his temper - he lets others do that!

[AL]: Who are some of the other characters we can expect to encounter?

[Tim]: You meet several students, the leaders of Atlas and a few other characters, including the no-nonsense wife of one of the leaders and a loner, who’s plotting revolution. The main Atlas leader, Ryan Rand, is a flamboyant and overly-confident character, who seems uninterested in Jenks’ concerns and dismisses his critics without a second thought. His colleague is quite the opposite, an introverted academic who is at the beck and call of both Ryan and his head-strong wife Rebecca. Simon and Emma are students in a relationship with each other, but Emma’s dark secrets threaten to undermine that at any moment. James the loner sees conspiracy wherever he looks and suspects everyone of having ulterior motives and agendas, regardless of the logic or likelihood. Those are the main characters!

[AL]: Can you introduce some of the actors?

[Tim]: Most actors have yet to be auditioned, but so far I have two: Chris Jackson is playing Jenks, who both looks the part and has I think just the right natural temperament. He’s able to question characters with that cool, unnerving detective’s stare, pointing out flaws in characters’ explanations with a casual style. I’ve also asked John Guilor to play Ryan Rand. John is an actor who has appeared in many TV dramas and movies and also does a lot of voice over work, including amazingly accurate impersonations of UK TV series Doctor Who actors Tom Baker and William Hartnel. He recently voiced Hartnel in the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, Day Of The Doctor.

[AL]: What are some of the locations players will explore?

[Tim]: This is something I’m still deciding on. Originally I’d considered setting the whole thing in a little English country village, but I’ve since decided that there may be a better setting, such as having the whole thing happen in and around a retreat, where Atlas are based and where all the students are staying. I’m keeping all my options open at the moment to make sure I find the best location. However, wherever I end up shooting it there will be a wide variety of locations to explore, hopefully with quite a large degree of freedom.

[AL]: What kinds of challenges can players expect to solve?

[Tim]: There will be the usual adventure game puzzles, such as finding and using the right objects to retrieve new evidence or working out how to open up new locations, but there’ll also be the conversational puzzles to solve, based around the central concept of the game - Contradictions.

[AL]: A big part of Contradiction appears to be spotting the lies told by other characters. Can you tell us how this will work?

[Tim]: When you’re interviewing a character, you can ask them what they know about any of the notes you’ve made, which are made automatically of any interesting objects you’ve found, events you’ve seen, places you’ve discovered or information someone’s given you. When you ask a character about a note, you see them give you a unique reply, which is then shown as a list of short statements (which appear every time you click that note). So, for instance, after asking the question ‘what do you know about Kate Vine?’ the character’s replies would appear as a list of statements such as ‘Last saw Kate on Friday at 8pm’ and ‘Knew Kate from college’ etc. Then all you have to do is spot contradictions between statements. But they won’t be immediately obvious - if one reply is ‘Was in bed ill all Friday night’ and another is ‘Went to Sam’s party’ you’d only realise those two statements contradicted each other when you found out that Sam’s party was on Friday night. And you only find this out by talking to other characters or working it out from other information you pick up. When you pair those together, you see Jenks asking the character to explain themselves. However, characters don’t always confess the lie straight out; more often than not, they’ll tell you another lie instead. That’s the basic game.

[AL]: What can you tell us about the game's interface?

[Tim]: The interface will mostly consist of overlays on top of the video, to maintain the feeling that you’re watching a movie. Movement options will be shown onscreen, but since this will actually be part of the video it can be subtly done with visual effects, rather than with obvious graphical overlays. Your list of notes will also be overlaid subtly, available when you need it. When interviewing characters, selecting those notes also brings up the character’s previous replies, shown as a short list of sentences. You can ask the character to confirm any of them – if you then ask the character to confirm two contradictory replies back to back, you’ll see Jenks quiz the character about the contradiction. This means you can get through lots of questions in quick succession and uncover the contradictions as fast as you can work them out!

[AL]: What platforms are you planning to support?

[Tim]: I’m hoping to make this available on as many platforms as possible. It’s currently written in HTML5 for portability to all mobile platforms such as the iPad and Android tablets, but it’s also going to be available for desktop PCs. I’m also looking into whether it’s possible to run the game on newer smart TV platforms.

[AL]: How will you use the Kickstarter funding?

[Tim]: Making Contradiction will be pretty much the same as making a short film. The money will be spent on actors, location fees, art direction, props, lights, camera hire, a make-up artist, a production assistant and various other crew members needed for this sort of shoot. There are a lot of people who can’t be expected to work for free, basically. That’s the reason I’m hoping the Kickstarter will achieve its target.

[AL]: What are some of the incentives available?

[Tim]: I’m offering a copy of the game for the basic £10 pledge and some extras for the £20 pledge, such as a CD containing the music from the game and some other tracks. Going up from there I’m offering an out-take reel signed by the cast and your name in the credits as ‘executive producer’ in a prominent position! Plus for those willing to spend £500 and available to get to the UK early in 2014, you can appear in the game as either an extra or as one of the walk-on parts!

[AL]: When can we expect the game to be completed?

[Tim]: If it all goes to plan hopefully it’ll be finished by about April 2014. Fingers crossed!

Adventure Lantern thanks Mr. Follin for taking the time to answer our questions. Based on the information provided, Contradiction is shaping up to be a highly promising adventure game and interactive movie. Taking the role of inspector Jenks to solve the murder mystery sounds compelling. Spotting the lies told by the other characters could make for very entertaining game mechanics. Most importantly, if Contradiction can deliver a well-acted, well-shot interactive movie experience with a detailed story, it could be a very memorable adventure-gaming experience.

If you tried games with live-action video in the past, consider contributing to the campaign for Contradiction. If the fundraising effort is successful, we could be in for a real treat. To find out more about the project and make a contribution, please click here.

Disclaimer: While I personally donated to the project, Adventure Lantern has no financial interest in Contradiction. This interview was solely posted to help spread the word about the project.