1954: Alcatraz: Indie Dev, Daedalic Team on Period Adventure

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Gene Mocsy only had a rough-but-playable demo of his adventure game, 1954: Alcatraz, when he showed it to reps from Daedalic at the 2013 Game Developers Conference. It didn’t matter; the German publisher liked the title so much that it signed up Mocsy to create the game.

Since then, Mocsy and Daedalic have worked together to create an adventure game that is unlike anything else in the developer and publisher’s catalog. Set in San Francisco in the 1950s, Mocsy’s game tells a story that’s filled with drugs, beatniks, murder, gangsters, and centers on the iconic prison, Alcatraz. The period game — ostensibly a story about getting out of the prison, but also about the marriage of its two main characters — has all the marks of a Daedalic title, yet still stands out from the rest of the crowd.

Mocsy’s story — going from working on a game alone for a year to being backed by one of the biggest names in adventure games — is a bit of a whirlwind. It started when his boss at Autumn Moon Entertainment, itself an adventure game maker, leased Mocsy the company’s engine — for the price of a dollar — to make his own title. Mocsy set about bringing his vision to life, using reskinned pirate characters from Autumn Moon title Ghost Pirates and taking photos of San Francisco to use in creating the game’s backgrounds.

“That took me about a year, but I had a fully playable demo,” Mocsy said. “I showed it to Daedalic at GDC, and they liked it, and they said, ‘It needs to be upgraded,’ which is right.”

When Daedalic said the game needed upgrading, the studio meant that it wanted to help. That meant putting a team on the title, improving it more than Mocsy could have on his own.

“They’ve been repainting all the backgrounds — there are 70 locations. It was easy when I was roughing it out, but now they have to repaint them all. They’ve also been helping me polish the design, and making it look more like a Daedalic-style game. And they have testers, which I didn’t have, and all the luxuries of a real studio. I was super-lucky; I know how lucky I got. Not many people get to pull this off.”

Space was at a premium Daedalic’s E3 2013 booth, a meeting room in the concourse area between the two major halls in the Los Angeles Convention Center, when I dropped by to see the German developer and publisher’s slate of titles. With four games coming out this year, all of which needed previewing, the meeting room had its share of shuffling as journalists and developers slipped past one another, taking seats in front of one screen or another.

So when it came time to see Gene Mocsy’s game, it might have been a similar situation to when he showed it at GDC. Another journalist and I took seats on either side of him on a nearby couch outside the booth, near the flow of foot traffic, and he fired up 1954: Alcatraz on the laptop he carried with him.

It was an intimate way to see a personal, well-loved endeavor of a game.

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