Rob Pigott is a brand new VN developer who released their first title Portrait of a Texas Family under their studio Lookout Drive Games. The game has been getting attention from multiple outlets online and even has even been featured on the news! Coming off the success and love of that title, Pigott is working on their next game, Bitter Silver. Today, we sat down with Pigott to learn more about themselves, their journey in game development, and the advice they have for developers in the indie circle.
Discloser: Rob Pigott is a supporter of the VN Game Den Patreon.
Hi Rob! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
My name is Rob (they/them). I’m a 29 year old bisexual, NYC-based, film and TV editor, writer, and game developer who’s been working in the film industry for the past seven years on projects such as Tiger King 2, Ready Player One, and United Skates. I’m also a proud union member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, Local 700.
What inspired you to get into game development and how did you get your start in the industry?
Honestly, I’ve had a love for games since I was a kid. Some of my favorites include Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, Unavowed, the Psychonauts series, The Last of Us series, the Life is Strange series, Fallout: New Vegas, The Secret of Monkey Island, Mass Effect 2, Knights of the Old Republic II, The Witcher 3, and the Danganronpa series. But I never thought I was smart enough to be a programmer or talented enough to be a good artist to make my own game. However, being alone and inside a lot during most of 2020 because of the pandemic got me to play so many video games. It rekindled my passion for the medium and made me think about wanting to make my own, narrative-driven games. I took an amazing game writing class with industry veteran Susan O’Connor and learned a lot there while also meeting tons of cool folks from around the world. From there, I just started making small games for game jams with other folks and finding dev communities to join.
You’re the founder of Lookout Drive Games. The studio’s first game was Portrait of a Texas Family released for NaNoReNo 2022. It tells a story of a family trying to raise their transgender daughter in Texas. It’s a very real and powerful story that was inspired by a series of tweets done by Amber Briggle. Can you tell us a bit why you made the game?
I was having a conversation with my friend and story consultant/voice actor for “Portrait of a Texas Family” Meredith Nudo and she and I were raging about the order given in February by Governor Greg Abbott of Texas to investigate parents of trans children in gender-affirming households for “child abuse.” It was incredibly reactionary, targeted, cynical, and inhumane. After seeing tweets and stories from transgender activists and parents of trans kids based in the state, one particular thread caught my eye by a mother named Amber Briggle. She explained the concept of a “safe folder,” a folder containing items affirming your trans child’s gender and showing that you are a loving and caring parent for them in case of investigation by CPS. It was a heartbreaking thread to read. But Meredith and I realized there was an idea, a concept here we could flesh out into a potential game idea, one that would be handled with sensitivity, care and consultation from other trans folks and trans young people. So we decided to make a game that would allow the player to make a customized character and play as the parent of a fictionalized trans child and go around collecting items for their own safe folder and experience flashbacks to important moments of raising their child after they came out to you. In some small way then, through this fictionalized experience, we hoped players would be able to feel the love, anxiety, nervousness, silliness, and ultimately, hope, that gender-affirming families with trans children feel, not just in Texas but everywhere.
Portrait of a Texas Family has started getting the attention of multiple media outlets and has even been featured on the news in a section with the Briggle family themselves! Congratulations first and foremost. Secondly, were you at all expecting this kind of reaction to the game?
Thank you! And absolutely not! We’re all still stunned by it. It’s been so surreal. The game came out in April at the end of NaNo to little fanfare but very positive reaction from those who played. I think over the course of April 1 to mid-September, we got about 300+ downloads. Then, what started off as a reporter from the Houston Chronicle interviewing myself and a few members of our team, led to interviews with them, CBS News, and even a German site called COSMO. Amber Briggle even saw the article on them and really appreciated the game. We’ve connected via Twitter DMs as well and she shared some very encouraging words to myself and the team about the game. She was the one who shared that MSNBC featured the game during the interview with her and her husband. Does that make “Portrait of a Texas Family” the first visual novel featured on MSNBC (or cable news in general)? Maybe! But the best thing about these articles coming out is we’ve gotten nearly 300+ downloads in the past two weeks so more people playing and sharing the game with others has been wonderful.
Covering LGBTQIA+, racial, or social issues in any capacity proves to be a challenge to creators because of the very vocal minority out there who believe these kinds of games who say things like these games are “pushing an agenda, is SJW-propaganda, etc”. What do you have to say to developers who want to make games that talk about these topics but are scared of the backlash they might get?
To developers that want to tackle real-world social issues, especially current event ones, with their games but are afraid of backlash, you need to understand that you will absolutely get some backlash. Unfortunately, we’ve had to deal with some transphobic comments here and there that have now been deleted from our pages but thankfully nothing more than that. However, it’s vital to remember that these people’s opinions don’t matter. They’re almost never playing your game to begin with and are engaging with it from bad faith. The most important thing you should worry about is putting in the work to make sure whatever topic, issue, and/or group of people you’re dealing with is handled with sensitivity, care, and emotional honesty. Hire sensitivity readers or work with people on your team from these marginalized groups or who are affected by these issues you’re tackling to make sure authenticity is prioritized. There’s so many great indie devs out there from all walks of life you can connect with and work with. Expand your horizons and find cool people to work with that normally don’t get these opportunities to make these kinds of games in the first place and instead have had to watch huge companies drop the ball trying to tackle them in homogenized, corporate-controlled AAA games over the past decades.
Moving on from Portrait of a Texas Family, Lookout Drive is currently developing Bitter Silver, a space western VN inspired by Cowboy Bebop. Players will be able to control Lucia, a queer Afro-Latina who is the captain of the spaceship Athena. Can you tell us a bit more about the story and what players can expect to see in this game?
Bitter Silver is a Cowboy Bebop and Mass Effect-inspired space western visual novel. The story focuses on Lucia Lopez, traveling across the Milky Way Galaxy on the spaceship Athena with her partner in crime (and love) Zap Matters, the only known half-human, half-gresemer alien in the galaxy, and Hobbes, a robotic talking tabby cat with the consciousness of a pretentious human engineer. The core gameplay loop has you playing as Lucia, a bounty hunter with a player-decided backstory that affects gameplay, as you track down bounties with your crew while on your latest mission. Along the way, you’ll be making choices that affect your personality and how others view you, be able to hang out with your crew on the Athena and get to know them more, decide what you want your romantic relationship with Zap (who is nonbinary) to look like, and take charge on how you and your crew want to take down bounty targets together. All of this leads Lucia down a path she has spent more than a decade of Earth years on: finding the answers to a curse that has been plaguing her for her entire life. What is this curse? Well… you’ll have to play to find out.
What were some lessons that you learned through Portrait of a Texas Family that you’re putting into Bitter Silver?
The 3 biggest lessons we learned through making Portrait of a Texas Family that we’re putting into practice with Bitter Silver are having your UI figured out and iterated on to make the player experience of reading lots of text engaging, not being afraid of throwing out big chunks of writing and starting over if stuff isn’t working, and the value of working with team members that can bring their own world views and artistic viewpoints to the table to make something better than what you originally envisioned.
When can players expect to play Bitter Silver?
If all goes well, the demo for Bitter Silver will be released October 14th on Steam and Itch.io. You can follow us on Twitter @LookoutDrGames and subscribe to our newsletter at lookoutdrivegames.com to get access to future updates and both current and future demo builds before public release as well as get access to our Discord community of players. We will be spending 2023 pitching to potential publishing partners and may potentially crowdfund it ourselves so ideally a full release will be sometime in 2023 or early 2024. By the time this interview goes up, you can also wishlist us on Steam! It helps indie devs like us a lot!
If you would like to check out Rob and their work, you can follow Lookout Drive Games on Twitter page here and the studio’s itch page here. Check out and wishlist Bitter Silver when its demo launches on Steam. Originally the demo was going to launch on October 14th, but its now been pushed back to October 17th! Keep up to date with it and the rest of Lookout Drive’s future titles by subscribing to their newsletter through their website!