When you work on a game as big and iconic as Halo, you can pretty much write your own ticket.
But instead of making their own sci-fi shooter, former Bungie staffer Damian Isla and his pals at Moonshot Games decided to do in a very different direction with Third Eye Crime, a noir-flavored stealth puzzle game they’ve made for iOS and, soon, Android devices too.
We spoke to Isla, who’s both the president of Moonshot Games and the creative director on Crime, about the game’s origins, its cinematic influences, and why you won’t see them doing a Halo-like mobile game anytime soon.
TabTimes Games: What kind of game is Third Eye Crime?
Damian Isla: Third Eye Crime is a top-down stealth puzzle game for tablets and phone. You play as Rothko, an art thief who also happens to be telepathic. So the central idea of the game is that you can read minds in order to out-think and out-maneuver your opponents and steal things.
As for games we’re similar to, two specifically come to mind. Monaco is one that gets mentioned to us a lot, though we feel the gameplay is pretty different. The comparison I like making is to the old Metal Gear Solid games. Third Eye Crime is about sneaking around through very maze-like environments, getting chased, and using clever gear to get in, grab the loot, and get out alive.
The game is clearly influenced by hardboiled crime movies.
Yeah, we are huge film noir fans. We had a long “required viewing” list for everybody who worked on the game.
To me, the absolute quintessential noir is Maltese Falcon. It’s a terrible movie, but the dialog, the look, the characters are all there. Other ones I really like are Double Indemnity, Kansas City Confidential, The Killers, The Killing, Detour, and A Touch of Evil, which has the most amazing opening shot I’ve ever seen.
Then there’s The Big Sleep, famous because its plot makes so little sense that even the writer could not explain how some of the murder victims died. But it also has Lauren Bacall as the femme fatale, who, to me, is the most perfect femme fatale ever. She’s probably the most direct inspiration for our “Dame” character.
Third Eye Crime is currently on iOS devices, but you’re also doing an Android version. First, why didn’t they come out at the same time?
We built our own engine from the ground up, which is kind of crazy, but it also has its own benefits and liabilities. The benefits are that the engine and toolset is super tailored to the specific game we’re making. But the drawback is that unlike, say, Unity, you can’t just press a button and suddenly, voila!, you’re running on Android. So it just takes some development effort, but yes, it’ll be coming for Android as well.
Will there be any differences between them?
The game will be evolving somewhat through app updates on the iOS side, as is standard with mobile titles. But the Android version will have all of the same features as iOS.
Prior to starting Moonshot Games, you guys worked at Bungie on the Halo games. How hard was it for you to transition from making a big budget sci-fi shooter to making a relatively smaller puzzle game for iPads?
Actually, the difference isn’t that great. It’s all just programming, and they’re both just computers. Though the difference between going from a 200-person team to a 4-person team, yeah, that’s pretty huge. All of a sudden the scope of what you have to worry about — whether it’s engineering or marketing or promotions or whatever — is enormous. At Bungie, you have the entire Microsoft PR and marketing department pushing your game. Obviously, that’s completely the opposite with a small venture like Moonshot.
But despite the terror of it, I love working on a small team. From a purely personal point of view, I’ve probably never had as much fun making a game as I did working on Third Eye Crime. There’s just a creative agility that comes from working with two people instead of fifty.
Have you talked to you old pals at Microsoft about doing a mobile Halo game?
No, not really. I think I’ve had enough Halo for several lifetimes.
Now when it comes to buying your game, people can either get the whole thing for $4.99, or they can buy the first act for $2.99 and then the other two for $0.99 each. Why did you decide to go this route, as opposed to free-to-play with microtransactions?
People who have done this sort of thing before point out that if you’re going to do a free-to-play, you really have to design that into the basic mechanics from the get-go. We did not design a free-to-play game, mostly because we didn’t have experience in it, but also because we felt we were already exploring new grounds for ourselves with this new gameplay style and new platform. So we started with the game we wanted to make, and that pointed towards a premium experience.
Finally, I’m sure you’re sick of people asking why you’re making a game about a third-rate ’90s rock band, but I do have to ask, after the first six or seven hundred times, why didn’t you change the name? Y’know, maybe something like Nickelcrime or Stone Temple Crimelots?
I don’t know what you’re talking about… [smiles].