Gameranx Interviews: Black Hive Media (Kova)

Kova: A 2D Sci-fi Metroidvania that puts the existence of intelligent life under the microscope.

If you were to ask Agent Fox Mulder whether aliens existed, or whether it was in fact supernatural phenomena that were responsible for the countless, inexplicable mysteries too bizarre even for science to rationalise, he would most likely say yes. But it’s human nature to question, to want evidence. We live in a world where seeing is believing, where the definition of what is true and real is determined by the constraints of our own perception. By that logic, if we haven’t encountered intelligent life at this stage of our evolution, does that mean that it doesn’t exist?

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Kova is a sci-fi adventure game currently in the works that seeks to address that question. Naturally, solving it won’t be easy. You control a space mercenary, who is peacefully sailing through the intergalactic jungle of the multiverse, when suddenly, a foreign beacon momentarily captures your attention. It’s a moment too long, because before you know it, you’ve collided with another ship and crash-landed on a frozen planet. What happens next? Well, Blake and Mandy Lowry aka Black Hive Media is leaving that up to you.

Gameranx: Tell us about how you got into the games scene. What’s your story?

Blake Lowry: I got into the game scene pretty young making a game with a friend that got attention from an investor. That eventually led to a few local game jobs around town (Austin) working as an artist.

Mandy Lowry: We both grew up playing games, so no surprises there! I always had some console to beg my parents for, and it was a hobby that I never grew out of. Hell, we have on display our old consoles (and of course new ones). I followed more of the traditional career route, going into accounting or banking. It wasn’t until a few years after Blake got into the industry when I realized that building games could be a possible career path. But seeing what he was working on was so inspiring. He encouraged me to get into programming, so with iOS being the easiest platform to self-publish at the time, we bought a Mac and I jumped right in!

Gameranx: Kova Rimor, the protagonist of the game, totally sounds like she could fit on the crew of Deep Space Nine. What’s the inspiration behind the name?

Mandy:  I know we are going to get some shit for this, but we aren’t huge fans of Star Trek…but we love pretty much every other sci-fi out there. We’ve often found inspiration in Firefly, Dark Matter, Terminator, Alien (the list goes on) all of which have strong female leads. But Kova’s name was actually inspired by the first female Astronaut, Valentina Tereshkova. We’ve also been told that the word kova in Finnish means hard, and we felt like that was also fitting for her attitude.

Gameranx: Kova is a mishmash of 2D side-scroller, RPG, and metroidvania with a sci-fi skin and narrative driven gameplay. Why did you opt for this particular structure?

Mandy: We like a wide variety of games, and there are certain features in different genres that we really love, so we decided to design a game around those features. We’ve always made 2d games, and we enjoy playing side-scrollers, so taking the other elements of crafting, mining, dialogue driven storyline and exploration all wrapped up in an action game was something we felt would just be incredibly fun to play.

Gameranx: The animations are freakishly realistic for a 2D game. How did you achieve them? Was high-quality animation an important factor going into development?

Blake: We are hand animating using the skeletal animation tool Nima. The method is used a lot in games, but it is often under-utilized. It’s quite powerful in that you can combine 2d disciplines and 3D techniques to achieve very convincing movements. We set out to produce rich visuals, animation definitely being part of that.

Gameranx: The premise of Kova rests on the shoulders of the Fermi Paradox. What motivated you to explore something so deep within the confines of a game? What questions will Kova raise in the minds of players?

Mandy: We know it seems like such an ambitious topic for a 2D game, but it’s a question that is on our minds. It is also something everyone has thought about, so we feel that it is a topic that will pique the interests of many. Part of the Fermi Paradox tries to calculate the probability of intelligent life out there, while the other part seeks to explain why we haven’t come in contact with intelligent alien life. There are two concepts in the paradox that we are targeting in Kova: The nature of intelligent life to destroy itself, as well as its nature to destroy others. Part of the latter concept intertwines with the Great Filter, which is also a concept that we pulled into the storyline of Kova. These are all incredibly complex ideas that players will explore in the game.

Gameranx: Can you reveal some of the inspirations for Kova from an audiovisual perspective? Are there any particular games it borrows from?

Blake: Gosh, there’s so much visual inspiration for Kova over the years. Game-wise, Halo, Mass Effect, Metroid; maybe even Ori and the Blind Forest and Limbo in some regards. Movies have also played a big influence, from the likes of Blade Runner and Aliens, even some anime. On the audio side, we’ve had major influences from mind-bending synthwave that take on a more dark hard sci-fi melody. We’re really going all in on this atmosphere.

Gameranx: What has been your favourite part about working on Kova and why?

Blake: So far the best part about working on Kova has been the excitement from the team to produce something that is pushing the boundaries for a genre. We love a large array of games, but they generally stick to a formula. We’re excited about blurring the lines, especially for a 2D title.

Mandy: The most obvious answer is being able to finally bring our old concept to life and doing so with my husband. We’ve worked hard to get to this point and we are working harder than we ever have to make this game a reality, but it is super fun and incredibly rewarding!

Gameranx: Kova is currently set for PC, Mac and Linux following a successful greenlight campaign. If the kickstarter campaign really takes off, would you consider porting the game to PS4, XB1 and Switch?

Mandy: It’s always been a dream of ours to have our own game available on consoles. At minimum we will be releasing on Steam, but we are also testing the game on our dev kit of a certain console and we’re already approved developers of other consoles. We have a lot in store for Kova and with additional resources we can make it happen for console.

Gameranx: Million dollar question – do you believe in extraterrestrial life? Is the truth really out there?

Mandy: I want to believe. We love watching documentaries about the concepts and conspiracies out there, and we have road trip that we’ve been planning for years to visit Area51. So it is always something on our minds. I think Enrico’s theory gives us all hope and what you find in Kova might teach a lesson in pursuing the truth.

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Gameranx thanks the Black Hive Media team for their time and expertise, and making this interview possible. Kova is currently on kickstarter, and has at the time of publication raised $3,424 of its $28,000 (USD) funding goal. What are your thoughts on Kova? Is the existence of extraterrestrial life just a fabrication by a brilliant mind? Or are aliens already walking amongst us?