Elvis Morelli, Game Designer and developer of the project Game Over Carrara, has discussed the production process, the business side of the game, and the inspiring story that stands behind the game.
Hi, I'm Elvis Morelli. I live in Italy, in the beautiful city of Carrara, the capital of marble. I'm a self-taught artist. My game career started in 1998, I've been creating small demos for friends. In 2003 I won the TGM Game Factory, a contest for emerging developers organized by Xenia, Ubisoft, and Wizard Coast. There I formed a team of 7 people and flew to Thailand where I lived a few years. We've built 7 Raven Studios (still an existing company that develops videogames). I worked there as a Game Designer and Graphic Designer on some games for Nintendo GBA and Nintendo DS until 2009. I designed Broken Circle GBA, and contributed to Word Safari GBA, Beastly Frantic Photo Nintendo DS, Heathcliff: Frantic Foto Nintendo DS, etc.
The one who inspired me the most is undoubtedly Hideo Kojima. I consider him as a visionary genius, capable of creating works that go way beyond the concept of gaming/entertainment and storytelling. His works remind me more of the dramatic writing (another great passion of mine) by Antonin Artaud and Carmelo Bene, so I've started thinking that I could transcribe my fantasies on the screen, it all started from there.
The Story Behind the Game
The story of Game Over Carrara began in 2017. I was working on Dark Dithering, a Zelda-like action RPG, on which I had been working alone for about two years, a very laborious project as all was hand-drawn. However, the public on social media hadn't reacted much to the content I was posting and I started to think that it wasn't a product that could work and I decided to pause it. I left my workshop to take a walk and have a coffee reaching the historic center of Carrara, Piazza Mazzini, a splendid square with a marble sculpture. It was Sunday, and it was lunchtime, everything was closed and there was nobody on the street. I started looking around and taking pictures with my mobile phone, they looked like videogames scenarios, and I started to imagine the scenes of the game. I went back to the office and started working with Photoshop on the photos I had taken. I've noticed that the shots were looking like images of the apocalyptic city, forgotten for centuries. In fact, it is a bit like this, Carrara has a unique history. The Romans came here to extract art from the times of ancient Rome. Over the years Carrara like many other historic Italian cities became a forgotten city. I thought if a video game could convey a message to re-evaluate Carrara, and maybe bring tourists here? I posted those photos on Facebook and received hundreds of likes, shares, and reactions. After that, I've decided to create this game.
The message of a forgotten city with post-apocalyptic scenarios inevitably directed the development towards the Horror theme. Although I would call the game's genre more investigative than horror. The reason was to convey the following message that "Carrara is still alive, its citizens and its shopkeepers have survived and are waiting for you! Come and see how beautiful it is."
I've decided to create several posts on social media and involve citizens to appear in the game, it was great to know so many people, even those who have never played video games, have applied to be protagonists. The local newspapers have created many articles about it. The whole city has reacted positively, people are proud to have a video game that talks about them, and shows that Carrara is charming even in the apocalypse.
Working alone is really hard, it's complicated even to estimate how long it takes to develop a chapter. The first chapter (which is very short) I'd been developing for a month, the second chapter which is instead a complete video game that lasts from 6 to 8 hours, I created in 4/5 months.
Another challenge is involving real people in the scenes, as you have to choose the best time for everyone to be free and ready for photosets or voiceovers. In the third episode, for example, the actors are the backers of my Kickstarter campaign, so they were irreplaceable and I could only wait for their availability, which was complicated due to COVID and lockdowns. Managing the time was the hardest part.
For the 3D models with cinematics for face capture and motion capture, I used iPhone X and the Kinect of the XBOX.
The Business Side of the Game
GOC (Game Over Carrara) was supposed to be free, at least for the first two episodes, so to monetize I thought of involving local shopkeepers and companies, inserting them into the game itself as actors, or scenarios. Based on the space they wanted, they paid an amount, that amount was my income for the development of the game.
Also, I thought about in-app purchases or advertising for a long time, but it would go against the narrative and the atmosphere. Playing GOC is a narrative experience, pop-ups that appear with an advertisement break the mood and ruin everything.
The third episode I decided to support with Kickstarter. This episode is still in development and will be released with the delay due to the impossibility to work with actors, caused by Covid and lockdown. Fun fact: The first episode of GOC was exclusively for a month in Carrara, which means that in order to download it for free, people had to physically come to Carrara, and go to one of the shops of our sponsors, in which there was a QR code to download the first chapter. This was done to be able to bring potential customers even to the game's sponsors.
For instance, to a bar in the area more than 100 guys came in one day to download GOC and each of them had a drink or something, the shopkeeper was delighted with the result, and tripled its investment in just one day.
In my opinion, the experiment was very successful, if we think that Carrara is a very small city, my idea was to start from Carrara and expand to other cities such as Florence or Rome, making video games in small and big Italian cities, with the same concept as GOC.
I would also like to continue working on Dark Dithering sometime in the future.
Advice for Beginners
When I started in 1998 the documentation and support were limited, in comparison to what we have nowadays. I would recommend studying a well-supported engine like Unity. An engine with a strong community has the advantage of having support when you are a beginner, the community can answer 99% of your questions. I would also suggest that you should not overdo it, you can start with complex projects but remember the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). The last recommendation is as difficult as it is: try to do something original, 90% of the products that come out are clones of each other.