An Interview with Jongwoo Kim, Creative Director of Lucifer Within Us

“The players should feel like Holmes, not Watson”

Late last year, on the 15th of December to be precise, we reviewed a very good (but short) mystery game called Lucifer Within Us. When I wrote that review, I also reached out to Kitfox Games, the studio behind the game, because I wanted to ask them some questions about it.

If you haven’t played Lucifer Within Us or heard of it, it’s a mystery solving game with a very unique timeline mechanic. You interview suspects, they give testimony, and you try to tease out the lies and omissions they give you. If you want to learn more about the game, we did a writeup on it! You can read that writeup here.

To my complete and utter shock, Kitfox responded to me! They helped me get in contact with Jongwoo Kim. Jongwoo Kim was the Creative Director on Lucifer Within Us and has also worked as a designer and gameplay programmer on several of their other projects, including Shrouded Isle. He was one of initial founders of Kitfox Games, but was no longer at Kitfox as of the time of this interview. He was kind enough sit down and answer some of my questions about what went into Lucifer Within Us, changes the game went through, and even some of the technical systems underlying the game’s unique timeline mechanic.

Challenges and Cuts – Part 1 of 4

Fritz Wallace: Can you tell me a bit about how the project started?

Jongwoo Kim: So Lucifer Within Us was the first time I had the Creative Director title. This was a point in studio development where we decided we should have two teams going at the same time. So Tanya, one of the other founders, continued to lead her project which became Boyfriend Dungeon. At the same time, I was leading Chronosight, which would eventually become Lucifer Within Us.

Fritz Wallace: It’s an interesting name.

Jongwoo Kim: And you can see why, right? The game’s fundamental mechanic is based around the timeline. At that point in time, the project had a much more Cyberpunk theme. What we determined though was that there are a lot of games that already had that aesthetic.

(Ed Note: Lucifer Within Us was being developed before the release of Cyberpunk 2077. Of course after it came out… well, you can read our “review” of Cyberpunk 2077 here. Kitfox was by no means the only developer who made choices to avoid competition with what at the time was still expected to be an absolute juggernaut.)

Jongwoo Kim: And so around the first year of the development of Lucifer Within Us, we discussed that internally, and came to the conclusion the project could have a much more unique direction. So we went back to the drawing board for the premise, while keeping the existing mechanics. And that’s when the final direction for Lucifer Within Us came forth.

The fundamental idea is digital exorcism. It feels inherently contradictory—

Fritz Wallace: It’s a really cool premise, and it’s something I’d never seen done before.

Jongwoo Kim: I’m super happy you liked it! I think it’s a very cool and unusual juxtaposition, and it brings up a lot of interesting questions. What happens in an futuristic theocracy? What happens when technology advances to the point that you can digitize aspects of a person? And how does that play out and interact with a lot of the questions and issues that tend to come up around spirituality?

The idea of being an inquisitor who exorcises demons became just such a pull once we arrived at that premise, and the team rallied and shifted to make that happen. But as cool as it was as a theme, it did lead to a lot of challenges.

A screen from the first case, showing off the timeline mechanic.

We were a small team. If I remember correctly, even today Kitfox is only 9 or so people. And to absolutely clear, I’m no longer part of Kitfox.

We had a small team, and this was our first 3D project. We underestimated some of difficulties around 3D game production. That, coupled with the theme change made things hard. For a cyberpunk theme, we could have bought assets from Unity Store, or maybe had some contracted work done. After all, a shipping container is a shipping container. There would have been more assets and options for re-use.

But the unique setting made this difficult. What does a futuristic theocracy look like anyway? It was virtually impossible to use any pre-existing assets, and that put a strain in our production pipeline. It made it difficult to have lot of content without overworking the team or going over budget, and there were challenges on that front.

I feel a bit regretful about it. It is a cool setting and I wish we did more to flesh out the experience the and the world.

Fritz Wallace: Were there any big changes in the scope of the game, as a result of those challenges?

Jongwoo Kim: I think everyone on the Dev team would tell you that if it was possible to have more content in the game, more cases, or more buildup to the finale, we would have done it. Whatever the situation, there was interest in having more at release. But as noted above, various factors didn’t line up.

So working under those limitations, we decided it was better to make a polished version of what we knew we could deliver, than taking the risk to add content we didn’t have time to polish. So as an example, sanctums were supposed to be more expansive in terms of what you can do.

Sanctums are the the internal mind and psyche of the NPCs in the game.

In an earlier stage in development, they would have been actual areas you could explore. That would be cool!

But given our limitations for 3D art production, implementing this was causing great strain. Each person would presumably have something different, right? And this is an abstract space. What does the internal mindscape of each of these characters look like? It added a lot of strain while not actually being critical to the mystery solving portion of the game. While you could argue it was essential to the premise of the game, it still ended up being cut.

Fritz Wallace: It sounds like it was a challenging project, and that versions of sanctums didn’t fit with the resources you had. Is that a part of why the released version of the game is somewhat short?

Jongwoo Kim: I think it would have been nice in the “Ideal” version of the game, if the sanctums hinted at the underlying psyche of the character. In retrospect though, we didn’t have the resources to commit to that mechanic.

I think if certain things had been different, such as if the team had gelled before, or if we had greater success at launch, it would have made sense for the studio to continue supporting the game. For example, new cases. I think that post-game content would likely have been the only way in which more content would actually end up in the game. But that’s not something that actually happened.

Of course, Sanctums weren’t the only cuts. This is a bit of a downer topic, for me at least, but it does have to do with what actually led to Lucifer Within Us.

This concludes part 1 of the interview. Part 2 will go up tomorrow. Jongwoo Kim discusses the idea at the heart of Lucifer Within Us, and how that influenced the rest of the game’s systems.