Lili is a revolutionary mobile game for iOS devices that is set for release on September 21st. We caught up with the folks at Bitmonster Games, a new indie company that is founded by the folks that brought you the Gears of War franchise. The six developers left Epic Games but maintain ties to “stay part of the family” as described by founder Lee Perry. In this exclusive interview with Gaming Illustrated, the team behind Lilidiscusses how their company was formed, the inspiration for the game and details revealed for the first time.
If you haven’t read it yet, check out the Lili Announcement and Details article.
GI: What made you decide to form Bitmonster Games? Why focus on this sector (mobile platform) of the industry over others?
Lee Perry: It was a combination of factors and timing. We had just finished the Gears trilogy and were interested in starting a new chapter of our careers. It seems like a rare time in the industry where you can do your own thing and not need huge external support to get something out there. The playing field isn’t totally level, but it’s as even as it’s likely to get.
Lee Perry: They were very supportive and understanding, we signed a multi-year agreement to use their technology and it helps to keep us feeling a bit like we’re still family. We hope to continue it long term, their new technology looks great, they’re incredibly stable… they’re not going away anytime soon.
GI: Why will Lili be debuting on iOS devices, but not Android? Will we see Android compatibility in the future?
Lee Perry: We’ve never said it wouldn’t be available at some point on any number of platforms… we just don’t know. If it does well, we’ll see then what other avenues to explore with it. With only 6 guys, we can’t afford a great deal of time doing R&D on new devices, so we have to aim for the biggest possible bang for the buck. But, there’s loads of shops out there who do some porting, and the tech of course works… so… we don’t rule anything out. Obviously if Lili doesn’t do as well as we expect, we would rather spend our cycles on new projects.
GI: What platforms does Bitmonster have plans for developing for in the future?
Lee Perry: Well, it’s one game at a time really. We would really love to do something on the PC in the near future. We have fantastic high end art guys here so it would be great to see how far we can push the engine on PCs at some point.
GI: Most of your team is made up of Gears of War veterans, what can you say about your experience in moving from that franchise into new, uncharted territory?
Lee Perry: We all worked on all of the Gears games, and it was invaluable experience for sure. There’s a million little lessons that all are still valid, regardless of if you’re chainsawing someone in half on a screen, or running around a park. It’s been refreshing though, not taking things serious, adding dumb jokes, making super quirky character choices. It’s a mixed blessing being on an established successful IP.
GI: Lili looks worlds away from your past work on Gears of War. What were some of your inspirations for this title?
Lee Perry: Definitely some Zelda and Studio Ghibli work, with a healthy dose of Ico / Shadow of the Colossus thrown in as well. Most of those influences really turned out to be subconscious. Aside from that there’s years of mobile gaming hits that we’ve drawn from.
GI: Why did you decide to use Unreal Engine for Lili and possible future titles over an alternative?
Lee Perry: All of us have been working with the tools for over a decade. There’s that saying about a painter not being an artist until his tools are invisible… it’s something like that. We are just so familiar with Unreal technology, the engine is excellent of course, and we know how to push it out of the box. That’s important for hitting the ground and doing something like Lili in the very short timeframe of 7 months that we have. Living off savings… R&D is not attractive.
GI: What other RPG’s would you compare Lili to, if any, in regards to gameplay style and character development?
Lee Perry: It’s a tough thing to nail down. Very casual, but very fun… we hope in a Zelda meets Monkey Island way. We’re not hardcore about leveling or min-maxing stats, and there’s much of the game that feels like a classic funny adventure game. Our “combat” system, if you want to call it that, is much more targeted towards what people generally play on their mobile games already. It’s an interesting hybrid.
GI: There is so much speculation about what you mean by your non-combat system and we here at Gaming Illustrated are no different. Can you give any hints as to what this might entail?
Lee Perry: Sure! Well, we never said it was a “non-action” game, and we hope we’re not going to disappoint anyone who’s expecting some sort of text to speech debate game mechanic. It’s just that we’re trying to make something that’s not really violent. We have some action mechanics that would feel at home in games with bloodshed, but nobody is getting killed, no blood, no real weapons, etc… there’s some elements in the games like enemies who toss bombs around as things to avoid, but they’re just gameplay elements in a very cartoony sense. Ultimately much of Lili is about picking flowers, if you’d believe that… but you’ve never picked flowers like this, haha!
GI: What can players expect to pay for Lili upon release?
Lee Perry: We’re going back and forth internally now; we’ve narrowed it down to a small range, but we’re still discussing it. We’re following a paid model, but trying to keep it low. Probably several dollars less than you would expect. We’ve been careful to make sure our in-app purchases are completely optional. We don’t want anyone to feel that the game is incomplete without some additional gouging, that typically annoys us greatly.
GI: In a very short time you’ve gotten a serious buzz from the industry for Lili. Was that expected or has this overwhelmed you and your staff?
Lee Perry: The response has surprised us, definitely. It seems like there’s a major buzz right now for games that are “Mid-core” and we just happened to be doing that for our first game. It looks like people are intrigued with games that look high end, but aren’t gritty or overly targeting established gamers. Plus, our comments about having violence on the back burner really seems to have caught the imagination of people out there… that certainly wasn’t something we calculated, but we’re glad to see it. We added the “non-combat” mention at the last second of our announce press release; we were worried that would be a big turn-off for people. We’re glad to see it’s not.
GI: After Lili is released, what do you hope the game reflects about your studio, Bitmonster Games?
Lee Perry: I hope our sense of style and humor. Lili actually has some very relatable and serious undercurrents to the story, but we’re ultimately 6 guys cracking up all day in a room together. If you can get the player on your side with humor, and a drive to just keep exploring and talking to characters, you’ve got the start of a lifelong fan. I know it’s cheesy, but if we can just make people smile, with some random aspect of the game, that’s what it’s all about.
We’d like to thank Bitmonster Games and Lee Perry for their time with this interview!
Executive Editor Sean Gibson also contributed to this article.