Some of us are currently away at the Game Developers Conference, but we’re less than two weeks away from our Regional Indies Spring Showcase! We hope you’re just as excited as we are to meet all of the studios and playtest some of the latest indie games to come out of the region. We sat down with Conner Rush of FYRE Games to learn more about the studio, his creative process, his influences, and more. To check out FYRE Games’ currently published roster of games, find more information at the end of this post! Don’t forget to RSVP for the Spring Showcase on our website.
Conner Rush, 21 year-old computer science major from Fairmont, West Virginia, has been the driving force behind FYRE Games since its inception. Considering FYRE Games’ status as essentially a solo-development studio, Rush has years of programming, design, writing, sound, and musical experience. In addition to his computer science education at West Virginia University, he also is a member of the Game Developers Club, and performs bass and vocals for various Morgantown bands, including his own, Auric Echoes.
The studio has come a long way since the release of its first title, Into the Unknown, almost 7 years ago. Having even released one of his games, We Never Left, as part of the Dread X Collection 5 by Dread XP in the last year, it is evident to see that both his personal and contract projects have kept him busy and growing. “It’s basically a one-man studio,” Rush said. “We’ve released five games so far, and are currently about a year into the sixth project.”
The start menu for We Never Left
Into the Unknown, Welcome To The Dreamscape, Summerland, The Colossus is Coming, and We Never Left build out FYRE Games’ atmospheric, cinematic, and experiential portfolio. Rush’s passion for filmography and ambient storytelling give each title a recognizable tone and feel. “My biggest inspiration are just movies and films. I love making games into cinematic narratives,” Rush said. Robert Eggers and Charlie Kaufman amongst others were named as influential in his design choice.
“I don’t think I’ve ever tried to come up with an idea,” Rush said regarding his creative process. “It’s never like I have to sit down and think about coming up with a game idea. Usually something just happens, and certain ideas stick with me.” He quotes the media he consumes as influential in helping him determine a thematic foundation for his games. “I had a general theme, and that’s what most of my games start with. My friend was really into this movie… and as I was watching it, I liked the style of it, and I came up with a game premise that is barely even related to the movie whatsoever in terms of plot or anything. I was just watching it, and I thought this is what I’m going to do for a game.”
He strives to maintain his jurisdiction over his creative output. “A lot of my process is just me wanting to make stuff,” he said. Rush’s consistency in terms of his games’ cinematic style help him to continuously refine his skills. “What do I want to make from the next game? Let’s see how I can do that, as well as take what made my last projects good and make them better… I want to look at what I feel is improving.”
One of many memories from Summerland
When asked about unexpected challenges he has encountered as a developer, he points to player criticism and feedback. “I struggle a lot with reading reviews and focusing on all of the negative ones,” Rush said. “Just feeling like I have to conform to something. I want to make what I want to make without the pressure of an audience, but it’s hard to not conform.” Rush prefers to focus on improving overall and investing in a new project, rather than spending a considerable amount of time refining or molding currently-released games per player feedback. He finds that putting too much weight to Steam reviews can be detrimental to his own success as a developer. “I definitely try to improve with each game, I’m not saying that I want to stagnate and not listen at all, but I try not to listen too much to general reviews, because they’re always contradictory in a sense. People love something about the game that half the people don’t like. There’s never a right answer when it comes to listening to reviews, so I found it much easier to just make what I want to make.”
Rushsays he’s used to being the lead on his creative projects, and is most in his element when he has his hands in a bit of everything. “It can be a bit freeing because it’s less individual stress,” he said regarding his experiences working as part of a larger development team. “I like working alone because I get control over what I want to make. A lot of my games tackle things that are very personal in a non-personal lens. It’s my vision and this idea I want to make and I get very passionate about it. I can dedicate three years to it without skipping a beat, but being on a team is different.”
“As an individual, my games aren’t solely individually developed,” he clarified. “I usually take on the bulk of everything, but I can’t 3D model. I’m not a visual artist by any means, so I get a lot of freelance help to fill in the gaps that way.” This style of collaboration was essential in elevating one of FYRE Games' most noteworthy titles, We Never Left, to an unforgettable player experience. Featuring a star-studded voice cast including Jonah Scott, Jenny Yokobori, and Garrett Watts, this grainy and gritty first-person horror game tasks the player with one parting instruction from their mysteriously missing cousin: "FINISH THE GAME." We Never Left's polished presence from trailer to endgame could not have happened so flawlessly without Rush's collaboration with these outside resources. (Just watch the trailer, and you'll know what we mean.)
Exploring the house in We Never Left
Whether he’s the solo-developer behind a new game, or the writer, producer, and engineer for new music, he said “I love having my own vision and my own project. So it’s a given to work individually versus as part of a team.”
This isn’t to say that his projects as part of a team aren’t prolific, especially when considering Rush’s musical achievements over the past few years as part of bands such as Auric Echoes and Cranberry Station. His musical creative process is actually quite opposite to his game development style. In contrast to some of his anxieties about the way his games are received by players, Rush says he is grateful for performing live. “When I’m performing, I feel like it’s more localized people that paid for a ticket to be there. They want to be there, and they already like what you’re doing. It feels good.”
The overlap between his game development and musicianship served as the inspiration for the game The Colossus Is Coming, where the playable experience is an extension of the album itself. "An Interactive Expansion to the Auric Echoes Album" of the same name, the tightly intertwined audio-visual experience is a perfect package to show off Rush's production capabilities.
A clock tower from The Colossus Is Coming
His group preferences are also much different when working on a musical project, and he is very open to asking for help from people with more experience. “I find that collaborative music is more rewarding to me than collaborative game development,” he said. “I get very perfectionist with game development. I feel like I know a lot and I feel like I can focus on little things, like this needs to be better. With music, it’s less like that. If someone’s mixing and producing a song, I don’t know what’s going to make this good. You probably know better than I do, so I’ll let you take care of this.”
Rush’s ownership over his projects have helped him to become a multifaceted designer with a wealth of knowledge to round out a full game as a solo developer. Knowing his talents, we’re excited to see more of his work both in the indie games space as well as the local music scene around Morgantown. On top of currently working on FYRE Games’ sixth studio title, Rush also reports that he is actively writing and recording music with his band, Auric Echoes. Between these creative endeavors and the influx of contract works from beloved publishers, players and listeners alike can look forward to exciting projects from Rush and FYRE Games.
Check out more by Conner here!
Auric Echoes: https://linktr.ee/auricechoes
Dread XP Collection: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1899810/Dread_X_Collection_5/
Don’t forget to RSVP for the Spring Showcase: https://www.monrivergames.com/events/spring-indie-showcase-attendees
Also, registration to grab your own table to show off your game ends tomorrow. Do that here: https://www.monrivergames.com/events/spring-indie-showcase-studio-vendor-sign-up