UK-based developer, Red Chain Games, has recently released the first-person puzzle/shooter, Boxed In, for PS4/PSVR (playable on PS5). It’s a cracking game and I’ve become a little too precious about it – at the time of writing, I’m the number one player on the leaderboard, having edged out competition from the developer – much to his annoyance. I recently sat down to talk to Richard Smith, one half of the two-man team that is Red Chain Games.
The idea was that we would speak on Skype, I would ask my questions, he would answer them and we would go our separate ways. Instead, we ended up talking utter shite for an hour, and only a small portion of that conversation was dedicated to Boxed In. As two grown men who’ve been locked away because of the nasty germs outside, we were just a little bit giddy to be talking to people that weren’t our families.
After a brief introduction where I was quite flustered after having had a day of stress surrounding our Resident Evil Village review and how it was going to get done on time, so opening up Skype and whistling loudly and clapping down the mic to make sure Richard could hear me seemed like completely normal behaviour.
Chris: Most of the time, whenever we do interviews, it’s typically us sending the questions to the PR rep, the PR rep passes it on and then returns the questions with answers. It’s so impersonal. So, seeing as we’re locked away (at least here in Germany) why not get on the tech and have a bit of a chinwag. I’m sick of talking to a five-year-old
Richard: I appreciate it! To be fair, in the 19 years I’ve been working from home, this is the first game-related one of these I’ve ever done.
Chris: Really? Wow. Well, I’m a little bit honoured… If a bit unprepared. I’ve got my questions tapped up somewhere among the 30 tabs I’ve got open on Chrome.
Chris: Is this water FDA compliant? Nope.
Richard laughs very loudly at what I thought was a bit of a cheap gag to be making. I had open the silly promo website that Curve Digital and Double Moose Games had set up to “sell” the bathwater of grannies and grandpas to promote the brilliant Just Die Already. I explained this to Richard and suggested he could have gone the other way and sold some Rubick’s cubes or something.
Chris: So, Richard of Red Chain Games, the main developer of Boxed In, who are you and what do you?
Richard: Good question! Well, let me take you back to the beginning. I was born a white middle-class child to two parents…
Chris: Wow. Me too. What are the odds?
Richard: Haha! OK, so who am I? Well, I’m Richard Smith. I have been in the games industry since getting out of university in ’98. I started at Codemasters for two-and-a-half years working on a game that you may have heard of called LMA Manager
(I proceed to raise my hands in respect because game recognises game and I was a big fan of the LMA series as a youngster)
Richard: And then the sequel, and the sequel… But then when I asked to change teams to one of the racing games like TOCA or Colin McCrae, they said “oh sorry, we really need you here on the LMA team.”
Thing is, I’m not into football. This isn’t a total negative, because I can be very objective about the material and not be influenced.
(Richard then told me about a certain guy on the team who was partial to Carlisle United and that with a bit of skullduggery, this guy had made it so Carlisle United would win far more than they should… His name has been omitted because a) I can’t remember the name and b) nobody wants it on public record that they support Carlisle United.)
Chris: But you don’t like football? My world has been shaken!
Richard: Oh I’ve got some stories about my time at Codies, and about LMA Manager!
Chris: Go on, please!
Richard: OK, so one time we had Alan Hansen coming in to sign our copies of LMA Manager –
Richard reaches behind him and pulls a pristine copy of LMA Manager from his shelf of gaming mementoes, which I would later learn included actual sealed copies of two PlayStation (1994) games that he worked on.
Richard: See, there? That’s his John Hancock.
Chris: That’s ace!
Richard: So, the guy who I sat next to in the office, Andy Bastable, whose face is actually on the cover of the game, he decided it would be hilarious to wear his England football shirt to the office on that day.
For those not aware, Alan Hansen is a Scottish ex-football. There exists a rivalry between Scotland and England dating back to when the Scottish men wore skirts and… the English wanted to look up them? I don’t know. Google it.
Richard: So, Hansen is going around the room, he comes to me, says ‘hello’, does his thing, then moves on to Andy. He doesn’t say a word. He just looks at his shirt for a few moments then says “you having a fucking laugh?” and then walks off.
Chris: Alan didn’t appreciate it then…
Richard: No, but I thought it was hilarious because Andy was like “it’ll be so funny, he’ll see the funny side” – he didn’t see the funny side. He was fuming about it. And so, yeah, that’s the time we met Alan Hansen in the office for LMA Manager.
Chris: Fantastic story. I love when stuff like that backfires. Except for when it happens to me… Anyway, do go on.
Richard: So, yeah, I worked at Codemasters but they wouldn’t change me to a racing team so I left to go to Rebellion, which was closer to where I was living and I had my wife at that point. When I got there, I was supposed to be working on a game based on Magnum PI, and so for about a month we were working on Magnum PI, but then it turned out that Rebellion hadn’t even got approval from Universal to do it! But they thought that because they had such a good relationship with Universal because of The Mummy (2000) that they’d be able to do a prototype of Magnum PI on the PlayStation, and then when we show it to them they’ll be like “great, thanks!”
Chris: I’m guessing that wasn’t the case…
Richard: No… Anyway, Universal came in for a meeting and I guess the meeting went very badly. When Rebellion said that they were working on a Magnum PI game, Universal was like “we didn’t ask you to do that, stop” and it just died dead, instantly.
Chris: Oh dear…
Richard and I talked a further 30 minutes about his time at Codemasters and Rebellion before Boxed In was mentioned again. Had I transcribed the entire interview, we’d be on 9000 words and three lawsuits.
After some time at Rebellion where he pissed off a few people by being a bit too good at his job, Richard left and started a new company with a fellow ex-Codies developer, Dean Baker, and the two set out to create their own games, starting with Custom Play Golf.
The game did OK but it didn’t set the industry alight. At least not the traditional games industry. It did, however, get the duo noticed by the golf simulation industry where Richard and Dean are now absolute ballas. They’re basically the rockstars of indoor golf simulation.
Richard: Until around last year, I spent about 70-80% of my time working on golf simulators.
Chris: Do you like golf?
Chris: Hahahaha! So you’ve built your life around football and golf games and you don’t even like either of them!
Richard: I know, right? Dean knew that I’d had enough when I said “look, I can’t do this anymore, I wanna do something else – I want to work on things that I actually want to play.”
Chris: Understandable. It’s why I write about video games and not hair products…
Richard: Exactly. Well, at that time a friend had just come to visit and showed me something new – VR. I was so sceptical. It took half an hour to set up this HTC Vive and then the first game he showed me was Zombie Training Simulator, and I swear to goodness, three minutes in, I was sold. I was like “this is incredible, I don’t want to do anything else – VR is for me.”
So I went back to Dean and said that we’ve got to do a VR game, but obviously I still had commitments to the golf stuff. But Dean loves puzzle games so he went away, thought about it, and came back with the idea of a first-person puzzle game and I was like “yeah OK,” and so I did it to his design and we released it on Steam.
This is something I already knew going into my chat with Richard. I’d seen the game on Steam and noted that there were just two user reviews, indicating that the game hadn’t found a receptive audience. Hopefully, this miscarriage of gaming justice is fixed with the release on PlayStation.
Richard: It didn’t do much. It’s not much to look at so the problem is that it’s not going to grab anybody’s attention, but everyone who has tried it says the same thing – that the game is actually quite good.
Chris: So how did it come around to going from PC to PlayStation?
Richard: On a whim, I contacted Sony and this was around 2018. I’d seen Operation Warcade was getting a release on PSVR and was also a Steam game, so I thought that if they can do it, we can, too. So I said to Dean that I’m going to fill in the forms and he was like “no chance, Sony will never go for it” – anyway, shock horror, they came back and basically said, “yeah why not.” From there, we bought a devkit which then sat around doing nothing for 18 months… And then we finally got around to porting it and here we are. So, there’s your first question answered!
Chris: You’ve answered about four or five of them, actually.
Richard didn’t know this, but he will find out when he reads this – I only had four or five planned questions and I was going to wing the rest of it with my good charm. Hence the reason we ended up talking shite for an hour.
Chris: Hey, I don’t mind. This is something different for me. It’s entertaining and it’s like watching something that isn’t Netflix. I was going to ask why PSVR and not PSVR 2 – why not hold off until PSVR 2 and try to ride that wave. But obviously, you’ve got the original devkit, so that’s another one of my questions answered…
Richard went on to tell me the process they had to take to get their work sorted with Sony. It sounded stressful, and for a small development team of just two, downright annoying. Richard was very diplomatic but he painted a picture of corporate bureaucracy getting in the way of progress, something no developer wants to be on the receiving end of.
Our chat didn’t really gravitate back towards Boxed In until we said our goodbyes, where I told Richard I wasn’t sure who was reviewing the game or where the review code had even landed. Instead, we talked about everything from his time at Codies, how his wife pretended to like games when they were first dating, to his ambition to create something that will be a legacy of sorts; to create a game that has an impact on people in the same way the games of his youth did on him.
Will Boxed In be that legacy? Probably not, but it has had something of an effect on me at least – it’s a game I’m genuinely good at and for the first time since my childhood, I’ve found myself chasing high scores on a leaderboard, and even now that I sit atop the charts (humblebrag) I still want to push further to make sure nobody else beats my score. As a grown man of 30, I’d call that a bit pathetic, but it was nice to be pushed back to my teenage years where it was kind of acceptable to sit up until the early hours of the morning playing video games. They were simpler times and as I get older, I find myself looking for things – not just games, but books, foods, films – anything that sends my brain backwards rather than worrying about what’s to come as middle age shuffles towards me. If I kick the bucket tomorrow, at least I’ll have left a tiny bit of me on the top of a leaderboard for a dinky little weirdo game, and if Richard doesn’t get to make his masterpiece, he’ll still have Boxed In, which is more than 99% of us will ever have.
Boxed In is out now on the PlayStation Store for £5/$6/€6/¥660. Alternatively, you can grab the game on Steam.