Interview with Christopher Brendel
May 16, 2006
up. The last thing you remember was lying in bed at home. But you aren't
home anymore. Looking around, you quickly establish four things: you're in a
prison; your clothes are missing; your hands are tied; and you can't
remember how you got here.
So begins Stonewall Penitentiary, a gritty "whodunit" mystery
thriller adventure game by the creator of Lifestream and Shady
In Stonewall Penitentiary, you play the role of William Thane, a middle-aged
man down on his luck. You, along with six others, are trapped in an
abandoned prison, held captive by a psychotic killer obsessed with justice.
You must find a way out before you are all killed. But there's one small
catch: one of you is the killer!
Christopher Brendel is an independent developer and the founder of Unimatrix
Productions. He wanted to make computer games since he was eight
years old and he got his first taste of gaming at this age. Through the
years, he has spent most of his free time learning about the process of
creating games. Two years ago he decided to turn his interest into a side
business and he began development of his first game, Lifestream.
Lifestream was released in 2004 and his second game, Shady
Brook, was released in 2005. This interview was done so that it
will help us learn more about his latest work, a thrilling adventure game, Stonewall
know, the story is one of the most important things in a game. Can you tell
us a bit more about the story in Stonewall Penitentiary, and what
gave you the idea for it?
in my life, I became obsessed with mysteries. I loved the traditional
“whodunit”, because on top of the story was an obscure puzzle that you,
the viewer, could solve. In a traditional murder mystery, there are
several rules: there must be a group of suspects, one of which is the
killer; they must be in an enclosed environment or location; and there must
be a logical solution to the puzzle, shown via hints throughout the story,
so that a careful observer can figure it out before the end. As I was
always fond of this genre, I felt it was time to pay tribute to it, given
that there are far too few games out there like it, in my opinion. One
thing I wanted to do from the onset, however, was update the “whodunit”
to a present-day climate. In other words, I took some traditional
horror and thriller elements and added them in to give the story a more
real-world feel, as opposed to the more classical feel of, say, an Agatha
Christie book. The story of Stonewall Penitentiary represents my take
on a modern-day “whodunit”.
What was the most interesting thing you learned when you did the research
for the game ?
was quite shocked to learn that the layout of prisons is not standardized. I
had expected most government-run facilities to be laid out in a similar
manner; but the actual floor plan varies greatly from prison to
prison. This actually helped me in the end, because it allowed me to
design the game’s prison in a way that best suited the story, while still
keeping things real.
What was your role in the development of the game and is there anyone else
involved in the project?
name it, I’m doing it. Right now, I’m the only developer involved
in Stonewall Penitentiary. The game engine I am using was made by a
third party. The story was written by me and co-written by Liz Zivney,
a wonderfully creative individual. Then there are voice artists, of
course. Last, I'm lucky enough to be working with a very talented
composer, Steve Veach.
have you decided to change the name of the game from Awaken to Stonewall
was due to legal reasons. The name Awaken is trademarked by another
developer, who is working on his own (quite different) game. Awaken
was always only meant to be a working title, and so I had no qualms changing
it to Stonewall Penitentiary, which better represents the game anyway.
I really like the plot idea of being trapped with several characters, one of
whom is trying to kill me! Can you tell us what drew you to a location
like an abandoned penitentiary?
needed an enclosed location, and I wanted that location to have a sort of
terror in and of itself, instead of just being a backdrop for a murder
mystery. My original idea was an abandoned institution, but I later
decided that, thematically, a prison made more sense. I can’t say
much more without revealing too much of the story, except to say that the
prison itself has its own rich history…
From what I read on your website we will play the role of William
Thane. Can you tell us a bit more about this character?
is a nice guy who happened to make a mistake in his past that cost him
everything, including his family. Now he has little left. Driven by
guilt, Will – guided by players – searches through the prison to find an
escape for himself and the others. Through the course of the story,
we’ll learn more about what happened to Will to make him this way.
Can you tell us more about our fellow inmates?
trust any of them. What they say may or may not be the truth.
Take everything with a grain of salt and don’t accept anything unless you
can actually see it with your own eyes.
What do these other people
have in common besides the fact that they’re all prisoners?
only other commonality is that they all live in the fictional Californian
city where the game takes place, Tunitia. At least, that’s all they
think they have in common…
Will there be many places
to explore or will the game be pretty much restricted to a few rooms in this
prison? The screenprints show the prison to be a dreary place,
understandably, but will there be any flashbacks or cut scenes that will be
in brighter colors, as a counterpoint to the prison atmosphere?
entire prison is explorable. The prison itself is fairly small, as it
is a prison geared toward the mentally unstable and only holds a few dozen
inmates. In addition to this, there are a series of flashbacks –
some playable, others only during cutscenes – that will contrast the
What are our goals for the game? to escape? to thwart the killer? to save
the others' lives? all of the above?
I began writing the story for Stonewall Penitentiary, I asked myself how I
would react if I were really in that situation. I had to admit, that
my only thought would be to escape. As such, that is the player’s
only goal: find a way to save yourself. Everything else is trivial.
Adventure gamers enjoy how the music contributes to the atmosphere of a
game. How will the sound track composed by Stephen Veach fit in with
this game? Has he worked on any other games?
am quite excited about the soundtrack, because this will be the first time a
musician has created a score specifically for my game. Steve Veach is
a newcomer to the gaming genre, but he is a veteran in other media. I
am working closely with Steve, and we are taking a minimalist approach to
music in Stonewall Penitentiary. The most important thing in the game
is the atmosphere, and so – more often than not – you will hear the
sounds of the prison in the background, as opposed to music. Certain
locations do contain music, however, where it can enhance the spine-chilling
atmosphere and tense mood even more. Steve has already completed a few
tracks of the soundtrack, and I must say that it is superb! The music
itself is a blend of orchestral and synthesized instruments, giving it a
true cinematic feel.
Will everyone be pleased with the level of difficulty and the variety of the
certainly hope so! The puzzles vary greatly so that nothing feels
monotonous. Hopefully, the level of difficulty will be just
right. In the game, there are inventory-based puzzles, manipulation
puzzles, sound puzzles, and visual clue puzzles, along with several other
kinds of challenges. There are no sliders, but there is one small maze
(although not exactly...).
Are there any timed sequence puzzles in the game?
is one, yes. However, a very generous amount of time will be given to
Are the saves unlimited?
When we have finished the game, will we be satisfied that the conclusion is
a good end to the story? Or will you leave us wanting more and looking
forward to a sequel?
game has a definitive end, one way or another; there will not be a sequel.
Does the game have multiple endings?
going to be able to buy the game online from the website?
depends largely on whether or not the game is published commercially.
If I decide to market the game on my own, as I did with both Lifestream and
Shady Brook, then yes, it will be available for purchase on my website.
When will the game be released?
of now, I am anticipating an October release, though this is still subject
If you were a salesman for your game, do you have just a few words that will
intrigue adventure gamers enough to purchase the game?
is not your typical adventure game. In most adventures, you walk
around collecting objects, causing things to happen. In Stonewall
Penitentiary, things happen to you. Lights go out. Floors
collapse from under you. People die. Instead of thinking like a
gamer, you will have to place yourself in the role of William Thane and
think how you would actually try to escape, as you fight a losing battle
against time. And all the while, the killer could be anywhere...or
What's your favorite part of the game?
my favorite part of the game is the one part that I will never get to enjoy:
the mystery. Stonewall Penitentiary has an outstanding cast of
suspects, each one suspicious in his/her own way, and figuring out who is
the killer will be a blast! Remember, clues could be anywhere…
there anything you'd like to talk about that we didn't ask you?
I think you’ve about covered everything!
Chris, what will you be working on next?
Stonewall Penitentiary, I’m going to take a bit of a break. After
making three games in a row, I definitely need one. But after that, I
will begin work on a science fiction epic game titled The Alpha Report,
which is going to be loosely based on a short story I wrote in high school
that was published locally.
Chris, it has been such a pleasure to speak with you and learn more about Stonewall
Penitentiary. There is always so much that goes on behind the scenes
in the development of a game and knowing a bit about it only adds to the
player's appreciation for a great adventure gaming experience. We wish
you the best of luck with Stonewall Penitentiary! I know I'm looking
forward to it!