Where Shadows Slumber” is a new game by designers Frank DiCola and Jack Kelly that casts the player in the role of a little old man named Obe who must find his way across a world plunged in darkness on one final adventure. The game is produced via Game Revenant Ltd., a collective of talented independent developers and artists [VIDEO] who are dedicated to video games.

Game designer Frank DiCola established Game Revenant Ltd. in 2015 after graduating from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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There he earned a Bachelor's of Arts in Visual Art & Technology and a Master's in Software Engineering. His debut game—“Where Shadows Slumber”—is essentially a puzzle game for mobile phones.

Frank previously self-published a board game, but this is his first foray into virtual games as both a creator and a producer.

Frank discussed his career in games, his plans for the future, and more via an exclusive interview on September 6, 2018.

Inspirations, characters, and Obe

Meagan Meehan (MM): How and when did you first get the urge to make Video Games and what are your biggest inspirations?

Frank DiCola (FD): I've loved video games since I was a young boy. I have fond memories of watching my old brother try to beat Super Nintendo games on the old TV in our basement. I loved joining him in co-op adventures like “Donkey Kong Country 2” and “Double Dragons.” When you love something for a long time, you eventually begin to seek participation in that thing, whatever it is. Somewhere in my high school years, I decided I would rather make video games than make 3D animations (another passion of mine) and directed my studies toward computer artwork and programming.

My biggest inspiration is also my favorite game: “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind” which changed the way I viewed video games forever.

MM: How did you form Game Revenant Ltd and was it hard to get it off the ground?

FD: My parents have always been very supportive of my career choice. When I told them that I wanted to spend the first few years after graduate school creating my own business, they gave me a small loan and allowed me to complete my work without insisting that I get a paying job. That focus allowed me to work on a few different games before devoting my time to “Where Shadows Slumber” 24/7. I formed Game Revenant in November of 2015. My friend Jack, the programmer of “Where Shadows Slumber,” wanted to make video games with me but had no interest in actually running a company. (A wise choice - the menial tasks that come with running are business are tedious) So I formed Game Revenant as an S-Corp, with me as the CEO and sole agent of the company.

MM: Can you explain what inspired “Where Shadows Slumber” and how you came up with the character of Obe?

FD: Jack had a few different ideas for dungeon-crawlers that he was thinking about.

After we completed “SkyRunner,” we weren't working on any projects together, and he had some time to brainstorm.

Eventually, he came up with some kind of concept where objects that were hidden by shadows would disappear (or reappear) the next time you saw them. It was an original idea because it's beyond any kind of "puzzle mechanic" - it's a weird rule of this world that occurs at a fundamental level. He was inspired by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and wanted some way to visualize that in a game.

Somewhere during 2014, Jack also played “Monument Valley,” and he was blown away. He insisted that I play it as well. I think in his mind, he fused those two things together and had this vision for a beautiful isometric mobile puzzle game where all of the puzzles were focused on light and shadow instead of the optical illusions that us two employed. Obe was designed over the course of a year, as we toyed with other parts of the game.

I wanted an innocent looking "little lantern man" who would serve as the player's guide in the darkness. Eventually, I draped him in more clerical garb, because we liked the idea that he was some monk-traveler who lost his way and discovered a lantern to lead him out of the darkness. A lot of his character is still up in the air because for a game like this you don't really need to give people a lot of details.

MM: How many levels or worlds are in the game and have you any favorite sections?

FD: In “Where Shadows Slumber,” each Level is a puzzle. So, we have thirty-eight puzzles (Levels) spread across eight different Worlds. Each World has a different theme, like "the City" (a windswept desert capital) or "the River" (a swampy river dotted with ashen rocks and dead trees).

The Worlds help to tell the game's overarching narrative and prevent the game from looking too similar for too long. My favorite word is probably "the Hills," because the rainy Irish hills inspire those puzzles and there's something serene about the endless rain bearing down on you.

MM: How tough was it to get “Where Shadows Slumber” developed and how do you get them ready for release?

FD: We've been working non-stop for three years to complete this game. Jack began brainstorming and prototyping back in 2015, and since then we created an entire playable demo along with the final game. It's really difficult to do this as a small team, especially since most of our team members have full-time jobs and they can only work on “Where Shadows Slumber” morning and nights. I had it a little bit easier since I've had the privilege of just working full time on this. But I needed every hour - art and animation for a beautiful game like this is a painstaking process. The way we got the game ready for release was just by testing it over and over again with the team, making small improvements, and testing again.

Play NYC, game styles, and the future

MM: You participated in an event called Play NYC this August so what was that experience like?

FD: PLAY NYC is a really great show, and I recommend it to game developers of all stripes. There's room for serious indies and AAA publishers at the higher end of the price range, but you can also get a small stand-up kiosk for a reduced rate.

Not to mention, you can just buy a badge and walk the show floor to meet people. Game developers like meeting other game developers because there are so few of us on this Earth! I really enjoyed our second outing at PLAY NYC. Last year, we met our composers (Alba S. Torremocha and Noah Kellman) at the very first PLAY NYC ever. So, I went in with high expectations, and I was not disappointed. I was also surprised with how many new people I met - I expected many customers to remember us from last year and be angry that they couldn't purchase the game yet. Instead, we met a lot of new faces!

MM: What sorts of themes and game-play styles do you hope to produce or try out in the future?

FD: I know that Jack loves real-time strategy games like “StarCraft II.” If he ever makes another game again after this (development is draining on your soul), I would expect him to try his hand at that. Personally, I'm enjoying making mobile games more than I expected.

My next project might be another mobile puzzle game, or perhaps some kind of an app/game hybrid focused on getting young people interested in community service. If I was dreaming, I'd tell you that one day I want to make an “Elder Scrolls” inspired experience for PC that is designed for two players. Those games really inspire me, but they've always been single-player titles. Since my brother and I love those games, and we love co-op games, it would be a blast to experience them together.

MM: What are your biggest hopes for the future of “Where Shadows Slumber” and your company as a whole?

FD: The obvious answer here is that everyone's really hoping it makes a lot of money. Because we have so many business partners involved taking a percentage of the money - Apple being one of the biggest - the game would need to generate a lot of revenue in order to make our time investment worth it in the end. I don't want to jinx it, but if we don't make a few million dollars, every team member is probably going home with a tiny paycheck compared to the time and energy spent on the project. I'll need to clear $50,000 just to pay back the loan to my folks.

But as far as the game is concerned, it's already exceeded my expectations. I know Alba and Noah are in love with the game and they're very proud of it. As audio designers, you don't really get to dictate the projects you work on. It's up to you to find something that's already awesome and see if you can jump on board to make it better.

They definitely did that with Where Shadows Slumber! And I'll always be proud of the hard work Jack put into the game's level design and development, as well as my artistic contributions. For as long as the game will run on existing hardware, it will be an enduring cultural artifact that people will enjoy for generations.

My company is another story - really, it's just a vehicle for me to work on my own designs. As long as there's money in the bank account and my business partners are happy, I'll use it to fund my next dream project. If you liked this behind the scenes look at our development process, you'll love our blog at the official Game Revenant website. Be sure to follow my company on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter by searching for Game Revenant.