We’re video game advocates here at Third Coast Review. We believe in the power of play and that games are art worthy of recognition just like film, literature and physical works of art. We’re also all about shopping local and recognizing the wonderful and unique things we have right here in Chicago and the surrounding areas.
From the Logan Playtest Party to Bit Bash events and Chicago’s conventions, Chicago is full to overflow of amazing game developers creating some truly fantastic stuff, and we’ve had the great privilege of being able to have seen them way back when the cards were still on notebook paper and the video games in their first stages. We thought it’d be fun to catch back up with some of the developers we’ve gotten to know over the past few years and talk about what they’ve been doing lately and what the latest on their games are.
Our first checkin was with the guys at Can’t Get Enough Games. We originally met this foursome at the Logan Playtest Party back in 2018, where their game, Cold Calling was first on display. The Cold War Era White House switchboard puzzler with a great sense of humor caught our eye–and we weren’t the only ones. Cold Calling took home top honors for video games, and thus won a booth at the following year’s C2E2.
They were back at the 2019 Playtest Party with more features including some interesting gameplay modifiers and a great teaser trailer that made us very excited for a full release at some point in the future.
Since we last saw them, it turns out the team from Can’t Get Enough Games has been plenty busy, working on great new content for the game as well as taking it to MAGfest and a special exhibition at the Akron Art Museum in Ohio, but we were able to catch all four for a fairly zany Discord video chat with all four members of the team–Austin Frick (Artist, Lead Writer), Cole Funck (Artist) , Thom Cote (Programmer, Composer, Writer) and Brett Prank (Sound Designer, QA) recently and found out more about what’s new in the world of Cold Calling.
Third Coast Review: It’s really cool having all four of you for this interview. Thanks!
CGE: We were already together–we always have our weekly meetings where we just talk about what we’ve worked on over that week. It’s always constant iteration being done on the game.
We were surprised when we got the email from you but we’re always excited to talk to people about the game.
So, we met you guys all the way back in 2018 when you were at the Logan Playtest Party. If you think back to where you were in the game’s evolution at that point, what did you think would be happening with Cold Calling in 2020?
COTE: I don’t know if we were thinking that we’d be working on it at all past the Playtest Party. It all depended on how people liked it and how we felt about it. I think at the time I had a sense that it would take several years to finish. So I wouldn’t have been surprised at the time to learn we’re still working on it now.
Have we gotten further than we expected? We still don’t have a hard and fast timeline that we’re going by. A lot of us are working full time or part time or have other stuff so it’s not like we’re doing 40 hours a week on it but with that in mind we’ve made some good progress.
FUNCK: I don’t remember exactly what the game was like at the Playtest Party but I remember what it was like for us at C2E2. We tested so much with people. We definitely learned a lot from how people played it then,and I think we’ve been making progress toward making the gameplay more dynamic. We put more choice and more strategy into it.
I think that’s important for a puzzle game. Otherwise, it’s easy to get bored of the same puzzle every single time.
FUNCK: That’s definitely something we were running into before when people were playtesting the game at various events we took it to, so we’ve been really paying attention to that and making it a lot more fun and interesting.
There’s a lot that can go wrong with puzzle games– whether they get too repetitious, too hard, not hard enough. Balance is really important.
FRICK: Definitely. We’re working on many ways to spice up each individual level, not just in its dialogue, but making sure each level has a unique way through it.
I noticed that you added lockboxes and other gadgets that pop up during gameplay, Tell us more?
PRANK: I can’t remember whose idea that was. Maybe Austin? That was part of a bigger system that we’re still adding stuff to. Do you want to talk about the lockboxes themselves, Austin?
COTE: It’s part of what we’re talking about with trying to make the gameplay more dynamic. A gadget system, I guess is what we’re calling it,where it’s almost turning it into a tower defense-ish game.
FRICK: So one of the biggest pieces of feedback we got after C2E2 and Magfest and something we noticed was that although the plot and character development and the art had grown a lot since the original demo, the gameplay hadn’t really evolved. We’ve been working to make the gameplay have as much variety as the plot. The plot has a lot of variety and interesting characters and settings, and that’s kind of the selling point of it, so to keep that fun silly tone up, we have this gadget system where you can add little gadgets to your switchboard and it changes the way that the game behaves. There are little teleporters, speed-up things…some are on the Cold Calling Twitter account but we have a whole progression of different fun little things you can change or add.
PRANK: So there IS a lootbox at the end of the level, but it’s the non-predatory lootbox.
So, this is a chicken or the egg question–which came first–story or gameplay?
PRANK: Hmmm. I would say that at first, the very first genesis of the game was definitely just the idea for the gameplay–the screen and the high concept of the game, like the switchboard kind of gameplay. Then afterwards, I’d say we pretty much wrote the whole script at once, didn’t we Thom?
COTE: I mean, it was over a period of months, but yeah. The game originated as part of a games jam, so we made the gameplay first and based it on the concept of connecting calls on a switchboard. So after we had the gameplay our first thought was, we have gameplay people seem to like, let’s expand the story around it, so we wrote out this whole story which quickly outpaced how deep the gameplay was.
FRICK: The story is structured in a way to have minor variations in the ending. We’re not exploding our scope with completely different plotlines, but we’re aiming for it to be at least somewhat replayable, so hopefully these changes will make it more interesting.
As you went through the development process with Cold Calling, how important were events like the Playtest Party and C2E2 to you?
FRICK: Those events are a really good opportunity to gather data. It’s also a super good morale booster for us. It feels like it gives the project forward momentum-like we’re accomplishing things and hitting goals rather than it being a project that’s isolated to our little computers and stuff–it makes it feel like a real thing that’s out in the world.
C2E2 was pretty good, although it’s not really as gaming focused as things like the Playtest Party. With the Logan Theater especially we got a very focused crowd of people who come in with a background of knowing about games. It’s been a tougher sell for conventions, since it’s not multiplayer and not an arcade style game. In fact, for another event we went to, we created an endless arcade mode for the game.
That sounds cool.
FUNCK: It was just endless rounds of calls, which we’re going to keep in the game as an optional thing. You lose a part of the specialness of the game when you take out the characters talking to each other, but I’m glad we tried it and I think it’ll be something we’ll keep in the game.
I think endless modes are never the meat of it, but they’re fun to have.
FRICK: I was surprised how many people sat through and enjoyed all the levels that we made. Especially at C2E2 or events like that, people would go through the first level and be like “ok, I get the idea” and move on, but it’s really cool to see in the most recent builds that a substantial amount of people go through the whole demo and are actually invested in the plot.
Do you guys have a planned release date at this point?
FUNCK: What we’re talking about is putting out a playtestable demo on July the 4th. We’ll have the same core content as we had at MAGfest, which is the first four levels of the game, but we’re expanding on it. We’re adding a whole prologue level to give people the beginning of the story instead of starting slightly after the beginning, which is what we were doing before, and then we’re also gonna add more polish. There’s an intro movie and a movie at the end.
PRANK: We’re aiming for July 4th for that because theming. It’s a very patriotic game
FRICK: America, baby.
COTE: I’m really excited for that though. It should be a proper vertical slice, so everything you can expect in the final game will hopefully be in there.
Ok, just for fun, it’s time to needlessly pit you guys against each other. Obviously the humor is a part of the draw of Cold Calling. Who’s the funniest of the four of you?
PRANK: Oh Jesus
PRANK: I think it’s not much of a contest, I’d say. Austin and Thom are such a good comedic duo. They wrote the whole story together and it’s been a hoot to work with these fellas.
FRICK: It’s a funny dynamic cuz my humor is so–not bound by logic or anything that matters or makes sense. It’s all just like dumb poop jokes and Thom’s sense of humor is all puns, heavy wordplay and it’s a lot more structured. So it’s interesting to see how they intersect in the plot. It works really well, strangely.
It escalates from kinda restrained but absurd humor at the beginning and then by the end it’s full ‘aliens materialize from another dimension’ psycho. Wild stuff happening. The whole game was inspired by the movie Dr. Strangelove and that movie also escalates. It’s satire and it’s making fun of the government and politicians and stuff but by the end you’ve got the guy riding the bomb down. Just completely absurd. So it escalates in a similar way.
FUNCK: My favorite part of the game is how weird it gets.
No matter how weird it gets, we’ll be excited to see it too. Thanks to the funny, friendly developers at Can’t Get Enough Games for taking the time to talk with us. You can download and play the current demo right now on their itch.io page, watch the trailer above or highlights from when we played it below, and get hyped for the latest version to drop on July 4th, which will with any luck give us something to celebrate.