Recently, I played September 1999, a short horror game made by 98DEMAKE. While only being just over 5 minutes long in total, those 5 minutes were stuffed full of atmosphere and terror, and I wanted to find out a bit more about the design philosophy of the developer behind this short, creepy experience.
So, I reached out to 98DEMAKE (a.k.a. Toni) and was lucky enough to get him to answer a few questions I had about the game:
IndieHangover: What’s the story behind September 1999? What was the inception of the idea?
98DEMAKE: I’m a big fan of true crime literature and films, and the initial idea was to create a something similar to these stories, but in videogame format. To do something that films and books can’t do — put you, the player, inside this crime story.
I didn’t want the player to have control over what’s happening, since you’re essentially “watching” a found VHS tape of the events that unfold in the game.
All in all, I wanted to create something unique, something that hasn’t really been done before.
IndieHangover: The VHS aesthetic at work in September 1999 is incredibly effective in making you feel uncomfortable, right from the first moments: why did you gravitate to this style, and what makes it so effective in your opinion?
98DEMAKE: I thought the best way to tell a story like this would be through the found footage approach. Not only can you have fun with time based progression like I did, but I feel like the tape aesthetic brings an extra layer of creepiness to it all. We’ve all at some point come across a video on the internet — often a video that was originally a tape, where something really horrible is happening yet a lot of people keep watching. I tried to bring that feeling of “I’m not supposed to be watching this“, into the game.
In addition to that, I feel like the VHS look brings an extra layer of realism to the graphics.
IndieHangover: The entirety of September 1999 is barely over 5 minutes long. I’ve seen some critics say that it’s more a short film than a short game. Why was it important to put the viewer/player in the world of September 1999, allowing them to explore instead of simply observe?
98DEMAKE: I feel that as a short film, or a work of any other medium, the story wouldn’t have nearly the impact it has now. If you’re watching a 5 minute video of something horrible play out, sure, you’re creeped out — but videogames are a great medium in that you can be put right where the action is happening, which makes it all the more personal.
Also, as always, I want to do my part in pushing the medium to new directions. A 5 minute game is a game, as much as a 5 hour game, or a 50 hour game.
IndieHangover: Why so many parakeets? I have to know.
98DEMAKE: They’re mostly there to build the character. Given the mute protagonist, you have to build the character through the environment. This person is an obvious alcoholic, who really likes budgies — maybe even is a bit obsessed with them.
Why is this person obsessed with budgies? I don’t know, maybe they owned one and something happened to it? Maybe they still have budgies, and they’re just the biggest budgie fan on the block?
It’s all a part of the mystery!
IndieHangover: What are some games that have been inspirations for you?
98DEMAKE: The horror classics obviously; Resident Evil, Silent Hill and so on. Apart from the obvious, I find a lot of inspiration in — often poorly made — obscure indie horror games. There’s a lot of inspiring stuff and great ideas out there, even if from a technical standpoint they’re a mess.
IndieHangover: What are some indie games/indie dev teams that have caught your eye or inspired you?
98DEMAKE: I follow the indie scene pretty closely, and there’s just so, so many great titles out there that I could list them for the rest of my days, but off the top of my head — just about anything from PuppetCombo, Paratopic, ROT, Anatomy and The Static Speaks My Name. All pretty dark stuff.
Our Thanks to 98DEMAKE for taking the time to answer our question and provide us with some insight into the making of September 1999.
You can check out our older Indie Dev Interviews to learn more about the stories behind a whole host of other indie games, as well as the motivations of the people that make them. Comment, like and subscribe to our YouTube channel if you find them interesting and want more!