In many video games, most of the player’s attention is directed towards the main event. The epic battle. The catastrophic disaster. But what about the aftermath? The recovery process, and that crucial time needed to heal? This is something Jack and Fraser of Two Headed Alien kept in mind when coming up with Project Diagnosis.
Who are Two Headed Alien you ask? According to Jack, they are an indie game studio making weird and eerie games with a narrative focus. Following on from their extended weekend exhibiting at WASD x IGN 2023, I fired off a few questions via email to pick their brains. Topics covered included inspirations, their success in acquiring funding, and if they’ve had any personal experience with alien abductions…
Can you describe Project Diagnosis in your own words?
J: “Project Diagnosis is a sci-fi investigation game about caring for victims of alien abduction. As a harassed doctor under pressure from shadowy government figures, you need to keep your patients alive while trying to uncover the truth of what happened to them.”
It explores themes of care and listening in an uncanny world shot through with offbeat humour.Jack reflecting on Project Diagnosis
Where did the idea come from for your game? Hopefully not from personal experience.
J: “Thankfully not from personal experience! Though perhaps we had our memories wiped and this game is how we finally discover that fact…”
“Thinking back, we were drawn to the idea of what happens to characters after a major event or experience. Reflecting on what has happened, and processing potential trauma – and how different characters might reflect on that experience in radically different ways. Where another game might focus on the abductions themselves, we wanted to look at the aftermath. What happens to those left behind.”
“That led us to the creation of our protagonist, Dr Harrison, tasked with caring for the abduction victims. We thought there was an interesting tension between the obligation of a doctor to care for their patients while having extra demands put on them by outside influences looking for an explanation. In this case, government agents whose motivations remain mysterious for much of the game. Dr Harrison being outside of the initial abductions also allowed space for the player to form their own opinions on what ultimately had happened to each of the victims and gave them the challenge of working through any contradictions in the victims’ accounts.”
“From a design perspective, we were excited to combine some of the investigation mechanics of games like Return of the Obra Dinn with the story atmospherics of Kentucky Route Zero. While bringing our own Two Headed Alien flavour of course!”
What game engine are you using?
J: “We’re using Unity. And so have been keeping an interested eye on the recent announcements on that front…”
Can you tell me more about your experience securing funding from the UK Games Fund?
J: “We had already been part of an accelerator scheme with Creative Enterprise for games start-ups and so had already begun to think about things like our business plan, where Project Diagnosis might fit in the market and our intended audience. So when a new round of the UK Games Fund was announced, we felt we were in a good position. A key focus of the UK Games Fund is outlining how the funding will contribute to the growth of your business.”
“We were lucky to be able to get some advice from other people in the Creative Enterprise network who had been successful in receiving UK Games Fund funding in the past, who helped us think carefully about things like our project timeline, detailing what work we had done so far, and so on. We’d certainly be happy to pass on any of that knowledge to anyone who might be thinking of applying in the future.”
“In terms of the process with the UK Games Fund, there was a written and video application. Then an online interview where we expanded on the answers we had given. We are incredibly grateful to have received the funding, as we wouldn’t have been able to complete our current demo without it and it enabled a new collaboration with our artist Rachel Ford, whose fantastic work has really brought the game to life.”
Any tips for would-be game creators who are on the lookout for funding?
J: “We have certainly found it helpful to tap into knowledge from the wider games development community. People are often incredibly helpful and willing to give advice, especially if there are specific opportunities to which you are considering applying. If there are meet-ups, game events or game jams in your local area these can often be great ways to meet other developers. We initially met through the Bristol Games Hub – and Project Diagnosis likely wouldn’t exist otherwise!”
What’s been the hardest part of creating Project Diagnosis so far?
J: “Probably the process of turning a concept into a polished demo. We had a playable prototype fairly early on, which allowed us to get a feel for whether the idea had legs, but it was getting a distinctive visual style that matched the mood of the game that really elevated things, and that took a long time to get right.”
And finally, what is your favourite alien-themed movie of all time?
J: “I’m a big fan of the film Arrival and the way it presents an extraterrestrial relationship that is ambiguous and eerie. Sometimes threatening, sometimes amicable, always mysterious. My colleague Fraser prefers 2001: A Space Odyssey.”
WASD x IGN 2023 Content Hub
An interview with Milk Bubbles Games | An interview with the makers of Project Diagnosis