Interviews & Opinion

City From Naught discuss Keyword2: Hotpot Detective and their experiences in Indie development

City From Naught discuss Keyword2: Hotpot Detective and their experiences in Indie development

The Big Indie Pitch is a regular event run by the makers of Pocket Gamer and PC Games Insider. It sees indie developers engage in a speed-dating-styled pitching competition for fame and those sweet, sweet promotional packages.

The event gives indies five minutes to pitch their games to a panel of press, publishers and industry pundits. The judges then pick three winners and everybody gets valuable feedback.

The indie view

The Big Indie Pitch is getting bigger and bigger as we bring it to events all across the world. To give you an idea of what the event is like, who attends the events and the games on show, we've sat down with several past Big Indie Pitch contestants to offer their views.

Today, we're speaking to Shala Chen from City from Naught, who submitted Keyword2: Hotpot Detective to The Very Big Indie Pitch at Pocket Gamer Connects Seattle 2023 and walked away as the runner-up.

All the pitching madness

Sophia Aubrey Drake: Tell us a little about yourself and your indie studio - who is on the team, and what are their inspirations?

Shala Chen: My co-founder, Leon, and I were both machine learning engineers working full-time when Keyword started as a side project. At one point, a friend of ours asked if we could hack the person who had been stalking her. We used some social engineering techniques and took that account down. We found it really interesting, so we turned it into a game, which became Keyword: A Spider's Thread. While creating the game, we realized there were many repetitive tasks that could be automated, so we developed an internal tool called Marleen to assist our own artists with those tasks. As it turned out, investors were highly impressed with Marleen, so we transformed it into a standalone tool, and now we are working on it full-time together with a sequel to the game and actively seeking publishers.

Tell us about Keyword2: Hotpot Detective that you pitched at the competition.

Keyword 2 is a world that is "an inch wide but a mile deep." Anywhere you look, you can go. The city draws inspiration from Kowloon Walled City, emphasizing verticality and offering unique traversal opportunities and secrets in every corner. In Keyword 2: Hotpot Detective, players assume the role of detective Kurt Jiang, summoned to the penthouse in the middle of the night to investigate the murder of the most powerful man's daughter in the city.

One of the most distinct and captivating aspects of Keyword 2: Hotpot Detective is its departure from other detective RPG games. While those games often boast vast worlds, they tend to lack depth. The primary focus in such games is typically on the characters, with extensive 3D assets and cities serving as mere backdrops for players to complete tasks and move on. However, in Keyword 2, we shift the spotlight from the characters to the city itself.

The city is teeming with countless Easter eggs, stories, locations, and secrets waiting to be discovered. The immersive experience of exploring the city sets Keyword 2 apart from other RPG games, creating an unprecedented level of depth and engagement for players.

Keyword 1

Keyword2: Hotpot Detective is a first-person open-world detective RPG. What made you choose to make this type of game, and what do you think you bring that may not have been seen before?

Keyword 1 is a detective puzzle-solving game set within the confines of a single apartment. Players are restricted from leaving, but they have access to various tools, including binoculars and a computer, that enable them to explore the entire city remotely. Despite being physically confined, players often express their desire to venture out and explore the city. In response to their feedback, we have created an expansive city for players to explore in Keyword 2.

This time, we have built a fully-realized city that players can freely explore. The game features a captivating storyline with multiple endings and branching paths, providing players with a rich and immersive narrative experience. NPCs in the game have their own unique stories, and their lives are portrayed vividly, adding depth to the overall gameplay.

How did you come to choose the platforms that you would develop Keyword2: Hotpot Detective for?

PC is where we initially started with Keyword 2, and we believe that the visuals for the game have reached a level that is suitable for console platforms. We have received numerous inquiries about the availability of a Mac version, and we are thrilled to announce that now is the time for us to develop and release the Mac version of our game along with other consoles.

Looking at the studio a little more now. How hard is it to survive as an Indie developer?

For us, developing an AI tool to enhance the efficiency of our work and attract funding has been crucial. We have found Canada to be an advantageous location for this endeavor, as the government provides extensive support. The assistance we receive has made the process significantly easier compared to what it might have been without their help. We are grateful for the support we've received, and it has played a vital role in our progress.

Are there any tips and advice you would give to independent developers out there who are just starting out?

Finding a team rather than going solo is highly recommended when making an indie game. Developing a game independently can be a lonely journey, and it's often challenging for a single person to possess all the necessary skills to create a complete video game. By assembling a talented and dedicated team, you can distribute the workload, leverage each team member's expertise, and provide mutual support throughout the development process until the game is ready to be launched. Collaboration and teamwork can significantly enhance the quality and success of an indie game project.

Keyword 1

How did you find your experience pitching as a part of the Big Indie Pitch?

Indeed, pitching the game to experts offers a valuable opportunity for self-reflection and highlighting the unique aspects of our game. It allows us to receive timely feedback, which is particularly beneficial during the early stages of game development. Taking advantage of this opportunity to gather feedback from knowledgeable individuals can significantly contribute to the success and improvement of the game as we continue to develop it.

What do you feel you have gained from the experience, and what do you still hope to gain?

It gave us a lot of confidence in what we are building. The feedback proves that we are on the right track.

What are your hopes for this game in the future, and do you have any plans for any future projects?

We aspire to find a supportive publisher who can provide the necessary funding to take our game to an even larger stage and help us reach a wider audience. Additionally, we are concurrently working on a developer tool with the aim of benefiting more game developers. Our goal is to enable a greater number of individuals to create their own games more efficiently, empowering them with the necessary resources and tools.

Want to show off your exciting new game? We host Big Indie Pitch events throughout the year, so be sure to keep an eye out on our events page for an event near you, or even our new Digital pitches.

All our upcoming pitches including how to enter can be found over on our upcoming events page on

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Developer Evangelist & Big Indie Pitch Manager / Special Features Writer

Queen of all things Indie. Sophia is Steel Media’s Big Indie Pitch Manager and Developer Evangelist. She’s also a global speaker and lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that she’s written a thesis on one and lived in the other.