A Jaunt Through The Doll House
Alisa Hands-on Preview
When making a throwback, there is a question to ask: how do you make it? Are you more interested in the idea of the throwback, something that keeps the spirit with modern sensibilities, or do you want it to be as accurate as possible? In the context of Alisa, the answer is the former. Now on Kickstarter, Alisa is a survival horror game all about authenticity.
Modeled on horror games like Resident Evil, Alisa recreates the old school thrills of the genre with pixely models, pre-rendered backgrounds, and tank controls. Not only did we get to spend time with the demo, but we also got to interview Alisa’s developer, Casper Croes, about his love letter to 90s gaming.
Alisa takes place in a bizarre mansion known as the Doll House. In the demo, our titular protagonist wakes up in the house dressed like she’s in Alice in Wonderland. With this straightforward intro, she is forced to deal with clockwork monsters as she tries to find out what’s going on. Survival Horror might be welltread in spooky mansions, but its use of clockpunk aesthetics and iconography makes for a stylish game.
What makes Alisa stand out is a couple of things. Enemies you beat down will drop “toothwheels”, a currency that can be used to purchase supplies, ammo, and new dresses. Alongside that is its old school approach to combat. Rather than the more standard “lock-on” mode common in survival horror, Alisa instead gives you a marker that lights up when you aim. It takes some time to get used to, but it allows for some proper risks and rewards.
While the demo is worth your time, it has one big hurdle for newer players: namely its lack of checkpoints or save points. The full game will have options to save, but be careful as you face the dolls and machines in Alisia. It might be tricky for those unaccustomed to the controls, but anyone itching for that type of game will find something authentic and a heartfelt homage to the genre.
Developer Interview: Of Terror and Toothwheels
Alisa’s Dev on Solo Development, Community Feedback, and PSX Nostalgia
To get a greater perspective on Alisa’s clockpunk world and how it was made, we asked Casper Croes about the game and why he chose Kickstarter.
Daily Bits: To the uninitiated, who are you and how did Alisa begin?
Casper Croes: I’m a solo indie game developer from Belgium, with a long history of hobby game development. I started with mods and total conversions for Eduke32 and then moved over to Unity after Unity 3 released. Since I didn’t have any proper education within the game industry, it was very difficult to get a job. I had to do all sorts of terrible dead-end jobs and one day I started working on a game called Alisa. It grew out of a random conversation with my girlfriend who is called Arisa. I said something like “Alisa… could be a Resident Evil style game with some weird Alice in Wonderland stuff” because we talked about Svankmajer’s Alice. It started with just a 3d model in the art-style, then came a story and now we are here!
Daily Bits: Alisa is incredibly accurate to the survival horror of the PlayStation, all the way down to the pre-rendered backgrounds. What makes this era so appealing to you and other indie developers?
Casper Croes: Back when I started, I often worked in an odd low-poly style like Quake 2 and 3, but for some reason I just tumbled into this PS1 style… so primitive and so interesting. It was an amazing challenge for me to try to follow the limitations of that era (I just like to give myself challenges). I started back in 2017, and these graphics weren’t very common. But development took extremely long, and every year I saw more and more of these games popping up. I guess there were more developers with the same idea out there.
I think these graphics remind many of us gamers of our happy childhood and that’s why it makes us a little bit happy when we see it. The other reason why horror works well in these graphics is because low-res graphics are something vague, and our imagination fills up what our eyes can not see. A blurry image can become sharp with our own interpretation, which can make these games extra scary. This is something hyper realistic games can not do. They can make realistic gore, but that’s not really my cup of tea.
Daily Bits: What has been the hardest part in faithfully recreating a PS1-esque horror title?
Casper Croes: Definitely the backgrounds. I did a lot of research into how [developers back then] rendered lighting, colours, and models. It took a couple of tries and rebuilding scenes to get the perfect look.
Daily Bits: The original demo for Alisa came out back in January and has had steady updates since. How has feedback affected development?
Casper Croes: I have an amazing community. Many people did lots of bug testing and that made it easy to find them and make fixes. I also watched all the playthroughs on YouTube to see where people struggled and what they needed. I tried to update it as quickly as possible so less people will struggle with the same issues. I also suffer from perfectionism, so it’s never really good enough. I feel sorry when someone bumps into an issue!
Daily Bits: Starting a Kickstarter is always tricky, no matter how big or small the project is. What made you choose crowdfunding to help with Alisa?
Casper Croes: I have been thinking about starting a Kickstarter 2 years ago, but I was never ready for it. I had to finish the demo first and need enough followers and all kinds of things. Now, I felt ready enough. I still felt it to be pretty tricky, but my community believed in it and so I did it. If it fails, I will still learn many valuable things. I chose crowdfunding because that’s the best way to keep my vision compared to working with a publisher.
Daily Bits: Do you have any suggestions or tips for otther people who’d like to start developing games?
Casper Croes: I have some:
- Don’t go for big projects. I made these mistakes, everyone says it, don’t do it.
- You need serious dedication to finish a game if it has quite a size.
- Write down what you want to make, scrap what’s not essential to your game, and try to create the smallest version of your game that still shows what your game is.
- Watch “GameDevUnderground” and “GameMaker’s Toolkit” on YouTube. These are very helpful game design related channels.
A huge thanks to Casper for letting us interview him during such a busy time. If you want to support his game, the Kickstarter campaign will be running until June 21st. If you want to give it a go before you invest, the demo is available on Itch.io.
Today’s issue of DailyBits was written by Gavin Herman.