“The lake is above all a game in which you can relax” | Interview
Escape from here and now
written by Maxime Buitenhuis on
In the calm morning breeze, you roam around at your leisure to deliver mail. It’s a job, but the Haarlem-based Gamious studio decided to turn it into a game. Last September, Lake was already released on Xbox and PC, and in April the game was also released on PlayStation 4 and 5.
In Lake, you play Meredith Weiss, a woman who escapes from her busy work life to take over her father’s postal service for two weeks. For that, she went back to where she grew up: Providence Oaks, a small village on the edge of a lake. We spoke with Creative Director Joss Bowman about the process behind the game, how it felt to launch Lake during the pandemic and how the setup affects the player.
Gamer.nl: When did the idea for the lake first appear?
Josh: About four years ago. We knew Dylan Nagel [gameregisseur Lake, red.] For a while and they wanted to build a game together. At Gamious we often work with other people on a project basis, and this was an idea we all loved. Dylan’s concept originated from an image of a car on a winding road around a beautiful lake; How cool would it be if you could deliver mail at this location in a game?
Gradually more and more little things were added, until you appeared. During production, we noticed interest from potential players and publishers, and Lake has grown into an increasingly comprehensive game.
Good, the idea is there, the interest is there. But of course you must also have a site. What was the inspiration for the place – why Oregon in the ’80s?
Dylan himself once lived in Oregon, so it made sense for us to get into this place. We wanted the place to feel instantly familiar to the players, and we think we succeeded in this one. For example, if the game is to take place in the Netherlands or Norway, you will quickly realize that there are expectations of culture and what influences the game. Of course the United States has that to an extent, but we’re so used to seeing that environment in the media that it almost feels like a neutral place.
Besides location, time also plays a role in the lake. In any case, we wanted to choose a game world without the Internet and mobile phones, as this offers an easy escape from the present. If you had to check your phone in a game, the tension association would still be constant, and we wanted to prevent that. Plus, the lack of technology is good for the game, because you have to travel from A to B to talk to people, because that’s not possible with an app. The postman role is a good reason to actually do it.
The setting set in the 80s also contains a lot of nostalgia, such as classic dinner cafés, movies on video, and arcade machines. This is well known to us as creators, and we hope gamers will see it too. We’ve woven these elements with the village into the game, so that you also feel like you’re stepping back in time.
Nostalgic mail delivery is a totally convenient idea, but of course you also want to make sure it doesn’t stop at a number of simple tasks. How did you deal with that?
We wanted the player to be absorbed into the world as much as possible – it didn’t have to be a game where you have to perform, but above all find relaxation and go with the flow. This is done, among other things, by driving at your own pace, but also by the interactions you have as Meredith with other characters in the game. We wanted people to feel warm.
What I also found important with Lake is that the story is actively experienced and that you as a player actually have options during the dialogues in which you can populate Meredith as a character however you want. Hopefully, this way players will be able to see as much of themselves as possible in the character. In this sense, Lake is a story where you as a player take the initiative and be an active part of what’s going on, even if it’s slice of life† For example, there are a few important options in the game and we wanted to give players real control over that.
How has the pandemic affected your work in the game?
We were fortunate that most of the creative challenges were already behind us: We had already finished our brainstorming sessions and big meetings. During that time, we basically ended up in the finishing phase. We were already far enough away in development that working from home wasn’t even a troublesome adjustment.
Fortunately, your production was not affected much by it. For many players, it seems like the game can feel like a break from normalcy, especially with the busy and isolated period left behind. The main character also takes a “step back” from her hectic life. How does this timing feel for you?
The lake became more important. Even before the pandemic, we had a feeling that a different perspective was needed because of all the crowds. Because of the pandemic itself, I feel that more people need this step backwards. I think the game fits perfectly into that by letting you explore a quiet environment where you can move at your own pace.
It’s hard to enforce the feeling you get when you play Lake. You must be in the mood to walk around, listen to music, and talk to the residents. We hope, of course, that players will have the time and space to try it out in this way.
In fact, once the game is over, you can only hope that the players will get out of it with what you put in it, or maybe more. What are the best comments so far?
Nowadays, you can instantly check on Twitch and YouTube at release time to see how players are interacting with certain parts of the game. I must admit I did a lot, especially in the early days after release. The best comments so far were takes spitting To a lame joke, and some emotional reaction at the end of the story. Plus, it was great to see that the game means a lot to some. And Gary Weta [narratief ontwerper van onder andere Forspoken en Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, red.] He was excited about the lake, it was also great to see him!
Thanks for your time, Gus! We are really excited to discover Providence Oaks for ourselves.
Lake is now available for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, S, Xbox One, and PC.
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