An interview with Gossamer Games’ Thomas Sharpe

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, January 31st, 2018 at 8:00 PM
An interview with Gossamer Games’ Thomas Sharpe by Britton Rozzelle
'Sole' is in development now for PC and Xbox One

Having your gaming project noticed by publishers and press can be a difficult battle, especially for new developers. Indie projects by the thousands are released on Valve’s Steam platform on a weekly basis, but a select few have the chance to be picked up for release on a major home console. 

After months of development and almost 6,000 views on the official Xbox channel, “Sole,” created through Gossamer Games, is one of those projects. 

Described succinctly as, “an ethereal adventure about painting with light,” Thomas Sharpe of the Philadelphia game company serves as director for the project, available later this year for PC and Xbox One.

“Sole” was recently shown off at MAGfest in Baltimore, a yearly four-day festival for games, music and art. This followed a year of growth and development for the game and the team behind it, sprouting from a successful Kickstarter (that raised over $16,000), and which included adding new team members to help with development. 

“Outside of our composer who’s a big music guy, none of us had actually been to or heard of MAGfest, so we didn’t really know what we were getting into,” Sharpe said. “We had been reassured by our composer that this would be awesome for us to participate in.” 

Shown off on the Xbox One console for various demonstrations throughout the event, “Sole” was one of the more talked about indies on social media, especially within the Philadelphia scene.

“We were excited; everywhere we’ve taken the game and everyone we’ve shown it to has been a great experience,” Sharpe said. “People have been responding really positively, which is such an encouraging sign for everyone on the team.” 

Just five members strong, Gossamer Games was established out of Drexel University’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio, which exists for students and graduates to transition from student projects to commercial indie projects. That bridge, however, remains a difficult one to cross, even with a talented crew. 

“Drexel is still one of the top ranked game development programs in the country,” Sharpe said. “It has a great curriculum and a great faculty, but we had a very small class — maybe 20 of us — and upon graduation, I’d say only five or six of us ended up working in the industry. 

“It’s a very small amount, even coming from one of the top programs in the country, so as you can imagine, breaking into the industry coming from the perspective of a recent graduate is really difficult.” 

Sharpe attributes some of the difficulty for students to the sheer number of games, especially indies, available across all platforms. Just last year, Valve worked to crack down on this phenomena, as small, cheap games were taking spotlight space away from indies on the store. 

“The thing is that a lot of them (indie games) are really good,” Sharpe said. “You have these experienced devs (developers) coming from the AAA space and branching out and doing their own indie projects, so trying to break through the noise and compete with these veteran designers for the same space in the market is a challenge. 

“We’ve had a lot of support from Drexel, from our Kickstarter and the community. I feel like we’re in the right space at the right time with the right people.” 

Part of that connection comes from working in Philadelphia on this project, with help from three different groups that make up the local scene — the Entrepreneurial Game Studio, The International Game Developer Association chapter of Philadelphia, and Philadelphia Game Mechanics. 

“We have a really good student community,” Sharpe said. “We’re making a lot of connections and we’re starting to see everyone feeding off of each other, so I think in a few years there’s going to be a lot coming out from Philadelphia from the indie scene.” 

“Sole” and Storytelling 

“Naturally, the things we’re experiencing in our lives and the emotional experiences we’re all having...our goal is turning those into a video game,” Sharpe said. 

Inspired by aesthetically driven games that feature art and atmosphere rather than story like those from Thatgamecompany (of “Journey” and “Flower” fame), or more recently “Abzu,” “Sole” exists as a playable experience not to tell a specific story, but to portray emotion. 

“We’re really interested in exploring video games as an empathetic medium and basing our games on trying to capture certain feelings through play,” Sharpe explained. “When we sat down and started thinking of ideas, we weren’t really thinking in terms of what you would be doing in the game or what the mechanics were, but focusing really on what we wanted the player to feel.” 

Much like any other creative work, the team had to first settle on their goals and ambitions for the project — specifically something that could be well-received and accepted by a new public audience. 

“Early on, we decided that it would be interesting to explore the idea of being lost and not knowing where you’re going or what you’re doing, which, in hindsight, makes total sense because this is our first kind of big title so we don’t know what we’re doing,” Sharpe said, laughing. 

“It’s almost very natural that we try and capture that emotion because it’s something we’re all feeling right now,” he continued. “We’re all trying to wander through and figure out how this all works, which is actually what the game is all about.” 

Exploration in this context is something explored in other games like “What Remains of Edith Finch,” where the player experiences short vignettes that tell a tale. The big thing is — it’s up to the player to piece things together. 

“I would say there are a lot of really awesome games out right now that are doing some great things with storytelling,” Sharpe said. “With ‘Sole,’ we’re less concerned with telling an explicit story than capturing a certain feeling through the atmosphere of the game.” 

In “Sole” that atmosphere almost acts as a character itself, working with the player to change and shift as the emotions do. Grass and trees grow where the player’s light touches, music changes depending on where and how you move, and it all ties together into one cohesive experience. 

“The main mechanic of the game is exploration, but we have the music responding to your movement and the visuals; you’re lighting things up around you,” Sharpe explained. “Everything is hinging on the player’s action and how they’re moving through the space. It’s a different form of storytelling.” 

What’s next for Gossamer Games 

Within the coming months, Gossamer Games looks to continue work on “Sole” in order to reach a release by the end of this year, as well as starting development on a new project that will build off of experience gained from the process of making their first big game — this time working with the Chemical Heritage Foundation. 

“We started working with one of the local museums here in Philly called the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and they are a museum that specializes in collecting paintings and artwork regarding science and the history of science,” Sharpe said. “They were interested in turning some of their paintings into an interactive video game so people didn’t have to go to the museum to engage and experience their artwork.” 

According to Sharpe, this new project will take the form of a first person puzzle game based on the history of alchemy. 

“We’re doing some balancing acts here,” Sharpe explained. “But we’re doing this really cool museum project too, which is great because that really is helping us establish ourselves as a professional team here in Philadelphia.”

“Sole” will be released later this year on Steam and itch.io, with a console version announced for Xbox One, but with no set release date. For more information on Sharpe and the team, visit gossamer.games. 

Images and video provided by Gossamer Games.
Britton Rozzelle can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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