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Interview with Steve Hoogendyk on Lilly Looking Through
Developer:Geeta Games
Article Posted:June 2012

At the beginning of May, I received an e-mail from Steve and Jessica Hoogendyk, the husband and wife team behind Geeta Games. They were working on an all-ages adventure game called Lilly Looking Through. A playable demo was already available through the game's official site. Intrigued, I decided to try playing the demo with my daughter.

The game opened in a beautifully-painted village with the main character, Lilly, playing with a frog. A magical scarf drifted in and landed on a nearby house. Just as Lilly reached up to grab it, the scarf flew farther away. Our mission was clear: We needed to get that scarf. But first, we had to figure out how to get to the other side of the village. My daughter and I had a great time as we worked our way through the puzzles and chased after the enchanted scarf. There was something immediately compelling about Lilly's world. It felt mysterious and ancient. There was also a touch of sorrow. This was an old world that had seen better days.

Playing as Lilly was similarly compelling. She seemed keen on understanding the world around her. She was not afraid to explore. Yet as a small child, she occasionally needed a helping hand. The puzzles were built around helping Lilly overcome various obstacles. Rather than coming across as arbitrary challenges, the puzzles felt like a natural extension of the game's setting and story. The game also held true to its all-ages promise. While the puzzles were certainly complex enough to keep me occupied, the excellent animations and the magical setting were entertaining for my daughter. By the end of the demo, we were very impressed with what Steve and Jessica had put together. My daughter and I are looking forward to playing the finished game when it is available.

As the Hoogendyks continue development on Lilly Looking Through, Steve and Jessica kindly agreed to answer our questions about their upcoming adventure game.

[Adventure Lantern]: Can you tell us a little about Geeta Games? When did you start the company?

[Steve Hoogendyk]: We officially became a game studio on January of 2012. We are a husband and wife team who have a passion for creating story driven entertainment. Chris Beazer is also a part of Geeta Games, and responsible for writing the musical score. The name Geeta actually came from our youngest daughter. She was just starting to babble and speak, and for a week or so she crawled around the house saying "geeta geeta". How she said it reminded us of something an ewok from Star Wars would say. It stuck, and we became Geeta Games.

[AL]: Can you tell us about your experiences in gaming and animation prior to Geeta Games?

[SH]: I worked 6 years in film on such movies as Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, and The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as Animated features including Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Walt Disney’s Bolt . Before film, I worked over 8 years in Video Games and worked as a production designer, game designer, and artist on many adventure games including Myst 3:Exile™, RealMyst™, and Uru™: Ages Beyond Myst. On Myst 3:Exile, I was the designer responsible for creating the layout and all the puzzles for the Amateria age . I also created some of the puzzles on J'nanin the "Hub" age. When I was working at Cyan on Uru, I worked on the design team creating puzzles, environments, and ages with some of the original creators of Myst, Rand and Ryan Miller.

Jessica also has a background in animation. She worked on a Sci-Fi channel miniseries called The Triangle, The Chronicles of Narnia, Barnyard: The Movie, 10,000 BC, and a 3D artist for Moving Picture Company’s commercial division.

[AL]: What got you interested in developing adventure games?

[SH]: As soon as I played the game Myst with my dad I was hooked. Growing up my dad and I really connected when we played adventure games together. Even when we weren't playing them, we were talking about the next thing we could try to solve a particular puzzle we were working on.

For a really long time we didn't think it was possible for us to create a game on our own. Fairly recently it seems like an incredible market has opened up, for smaller indie studios to create an original gaming experience.

[AL]: What are some of the elements you consider important for an adventure game?

[SH]: It always depends on the adventure taking place, but for "Lilly Looking Through" its important that everything in Lilly's world to be filled with magic, mystery, and marvelous machines that celebrate a sense of wonder. That being said, Lilly’s world is not void of real turmoil and challenges placed along her path.

As parents we have been given the gift of reliving childhood through our kids, that fuels our inspiration for creating an adventure game. Much of our effort goes into trying to help us all remember the world as magical, seen from a child’s perspective.

[AL]: What are some of your favorite adventures?

[SH]: If we are talking about games I've enjoyed adventuring in they would be: Myst, Ico, Beyond Good & Evil

If its movies that have taken us on an adventure they would be: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark

[AL]: What was the inspiration behind Lilly Looking Through?

[SH]: It started with a picture Jessica took. Our oldest daughter used to love to wear hats, glasses, scarves, bowls, anything and everything on her head. One particular week she was wearing swimming goggles on top of her head everyday. When I saw the picture Jessica took, I knew right then we had an appealing character and the seed for a videogame.

[AL]: What can you tell us about the game's story?

[SH]: Lilly is an 8 year old who has a fascination with how things work. Quite often this is to the dismay of living things, like frogs. She likes to explore on her own rather than have her brother Row (6 years old) tag along. That being said, she loves her brother more than anything.

She is pretty athletic and isn't afraid to get messy. As well, she has no apparent fear of heights. If she sees a lever she is going to pull it. However, she is a child and can't do everything, so she needs you, the player, to help. Hopefully, you will feel compelled to help Lilly. That’s sort of the way we set the puzzles up. You are helping her do what she must do, as she goes on her great adventure.

[AL]: Can you describe the overall setting and atmosphere?

[SH]: The world that Lilly lives in is very old. She’s presently living in a time after a great golden age has passed. Everything from technology to architecture has seemed to regress to a more primitive and simpler way. Along her journey she will come across remnants of that golden age.

The unique atmosphere is largely created by the hand-painted backgrounds. There is just something magical about a painted environment that resonates with us, and makes us happy. We work hard at creating an atmosphere where the player feels like they are living in the painting with Lilly.

[AL]: What can you tell us about the game's interface? How will players interact with the environment?

[SH]: The general rule is that if Lilly is close enough to an interactive object, then the player can click on it, or pick it up and drag it around.

We have 2 main interactive icons. A hand icon that tells the player they can interact with that object, and an animated running icon that tells the player they can run to a new location.

Your cursor will also turn into a movie icon when an animated scene is playing. This is a hint, that what is happening might be important. So watch closely; it may help you solve a puzzle later on.

We also have a hint button. Pressing this button will cause something in the environment to glow. This gives you a clue as what to do next.

Lastly, we give you a very special button at the end of the Demo. This button becomes a huge part of the rest of the game. To see this button in action, play our demo!

[AL]: What are some of the areas players will get to explore?

[SH]: I would love to tell you, but at the same time I feel like we would be giving too much away at this point. I will say that Lilly journeys through a full spectrum of environments on her adventure.

[AL]: What kinds of puzzles can we expect to encounter?

[SH]: There are a variety of puzzles, and many of the puzzles build on themselves. Quite a few of the puzzles will challenge the player to think about things in new and different ways. Many of the puzzles require the player to really observe and think about what they are seeing. Some of the puzzles are humorous (at least to us), or slightly outlandish, but always rooted in some kind of logic. We find many of our puzzles are solved best by playing with someone else or as a family.

[AL]: At the end of the demo, Lilly finds a rather intriguing pair of goggles. Could you elaborate on what that item represents?

[SH]: The only thing I feel comfortable saying about the goggles at this point (as we hate to spoil surprises) is they allow Lilly to see something she wouldn't normally be able to see. As well they are a huge part of the rest of the game. I realize that the demo has a bit of a cliffhanger, but like any good movie trailer it will hopefully entice you want to play the full game.

[AL]: What is the target audience for Lilly Looking Through? What kinds of gamers would you expect to enjoy the game?

[SH]: At the start of Geeta Games we wanted to create an adventure game that my wife and I would like to play if someone else made it. As well, we wanted to create an entertaining animated adventure experience that could be enjoyed by people watching you play.

If you are looking for a game you could play with your family that would challenge all of you on different levels, then I believe Lilly Looking Through fits the bill.

So the short answer is any adventure gamer from 5 to 99 could enjoy Lilly Looking Through.

[AL]: What were some of the challenges you encountered during the development process?

[SH]: I am sure we aren't alone on this, but money is one challenge. Deciding to make our own game instead of getting another job in the film industry was a hard decision. It's a huge risk to try and do something on your own and many will think you are crazy. Luckily Jessica and I have a loving supportive family who understand us and our passion to create adventure games. We are also encouraged when we see the latest level completed, and watch someone play and enjoy our game.

[AL]: What platforms will the game be available?

[SH]: Initially we will be releasing on PC, Mac, and Linux. Depending how the game does would could add more platforms in the future. As a small developer we have to be super focused on what we can do with the funds we have.

[AL]: When can we expect the game to be released?

[SH]: We are looking at releasing Lilly Looking Through sometime in 2013.

Adventure Lantern thanks Steve and Jessica Hoogendyk for providing us with information about Lilly Looking Through. Based on the interview and the demo available through the Geeta Games Web site, Lilly Looking Through is shaping up to be a very unique and compelling adventure game. If the completed game carries the same kind of atmosphere and puzzle variety as we saw in the demo, adventurers could be in for a real treat.

Since we originally conducted the interview, Steve and Jessica also started a small Kickstarter campaign to help with their development expenses. They are hoping to raise a humble $18,000 to hire additional developers to complete the game in a shorter amount of time. If the campaign raises $36,000, they are also planning to release Lilly on iPad and other tablet devices. Here's hoping the fundraising effort is successful and we'll get to play the completed game as soon as possible.

To find out more about Lilly Looking Through and to play the demo, visit the Geeta Games Web site. If you enjoy fantasy adventures, Lilly Looking Through is most certainly worth putting on your radar.