Continuing our build-up to Debug Indie Game Awards 2024 and discovering more great indie games! Ahead of the big night, we spoke to Tom Hardwidge from Tall Story Games who has 2 nominated on the night with Lucy Dreaming (ICYMI) and Heir of the Dog (Most Anticipated)…

THE JOURNALIX: You accidentally became a video games developer, right?

TOM HARDWIDGE: Well, sort of. I run a digital marketing agency with my wife, and we were approached by one of our clients (The Roman Baths museum in Bath) to see if we were interested in creating an online game to support one of their promotional campaigns.


During the meeting, I jotted down a couple of ideas and, immediately, my mind started to picture the game as an old-school point & click adventure like Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and the LucasArts classics I adored growing up.

We pitched this idea to the client and they loved it. This then gave us a window of about three months to design and develop the game, called Where’s my Cloak. At this point, I had never heard of “indie developers” or “game engines”. So, instead, developed the whole game from scratch in HTML and JavaScript.

We finished the game on schedule and delivered it to the client. But now that I had created the framework for the game, I was keen to re-purpose it for a new game at some point. The opportunity for that came during the first UK COVID lockdown in March 2020…


I used my existing code to develop a new game called Lockdown. Thus is another point & click adventure but about home-schooling, Zoom meetings, hand sanitiser and running out of bog roll!

THE J: Is your Lockdown game still available?

TOM HARDWIDGE: Both Lockdown and Where’s my Cloak are both still available to play for free on
I like to keep it there to remind me how far I’ve come since then.


THE J: You work alongside your wife, right? Do you find you constantly talk about work, or does it work the other way around?! Somewhere in the code there will be a shopping list of groceries…?

TOM HARDWIDGE: Haha, yes. Emma and I work together to run our video game studio, Tall Story Games, in the same way that we have for almost fourteen years with our marketing agency. It’s a huge part of our lives together, but we always have a very clear division of labour. I make the games, and Emma does pretty much everything else. From office management and QA testing to PR and accounting.

As so much of the context and humour in the games is influenced by real life, lists of groceries are just as likely to spark an idea as anything else. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s always helpful to have a sounding board for ideas, and crucial that we both know what’s going on on each other’s side of the business, although I think Emma would sometimes appreciate it if I kept some of it to myself. There will be times when I will stagger into the bedroom at 4am, after trying to fix a particularly persistent bug, and will tell Emma every last detail about it. At length.


THE J: I loved hearing how you find inspiration from your son when working through puzzles… Could you tell us more about this process?

TOM HARDWIDGE: After we released Lockdown on its own website, it was picked up by a couple of Twitch streamers who were playing all of the submissions from a recent Adventure Game Jam. I watched the stream and got introduced to a whole community of other indie adventure game developers I never knew existed. They introduced me to the concept of a game engine. And this encouraged me to think about creating a more robust, full-length adventure game.

That became Lucy Dreaming, my first commercial game which released on PC, mobile and consoles just over a year ago.

After Lockdown, I loved reading the responses from players who enjoyed the fact that the game reflected their own lives in some way. So I looked around at my own life to see what I could draw on for my potential new game. At the time, our son, Robin, was five years old and, when my wife and I would read to him at night, he would often dream about the characters and scenarios in the books we had just read.


This sparked the idea of using dreams as a basis for the game, and books as a way to conjure up and control the context of those dreams. Robin was (and still is) hugely enthusiastic about the idea of creating video game puzzles. He offered a myriad of suggestions throughout the development of the game. Many of these were so outlandish as to be unfeasible with my limited development skills. But some made their way into the final game. Players can thank him for the interactive puzzle cube and the village fete’s “Goosey Wallop” mini-game in Lucy Dreaming.

He also provided the voice acting for one of the characters in the game. This wasn’t the original intention but, after letting him “have a go” on my microphone one day, I was genuinely surprised by how well he delivered some of the lines. So we let him record the whole lot and he knocked it out of the park!

THE J: Is Lucy Dreaming in the Sky with Diamonds…?

TOM HARDWIDGE: A couple of people have asked this, but it’s not a reference to LSD. It’s just a play on words for “Lucid Dreaming”, where someone attempts to influence their own dreams.

THE J: You wouldn’t be alone to be influenced by The Beatles, The Simpsons have done it…

TOM HARDWIDGE: I am a huge Simpsons fan, and there are a couple of subtle references to Simpsons gags in the game. I grew up watching British comedies like Black Adder, Monty Python and Red Dwarf, so I’d say that the sarcastic and sardonic humour in the game is more heavily influenced by them than anything else.


THE J: Is there already a published version of Heir of the Dog? If so, how will this differ?

TOM HARDWIDGE: Heir of the Dog is my brand new game which is in production right now! Back in October 2020, I was in the process of developing Lucy Dreaming, but decided to take a bit of a break to take part in a game jam run by the UK’s Adventure Game Expo AdventureX.

In twelve days, using my new favourite game engine, Visionaire Studio, I created Hair of the Dog.

This was a short, free point & click adventure inspired by Jekyll & Hyde and set in Victorian London. I decided to release it on Steam and mobile as a bit of a test case… And, since then, it has been downloaded over 50,000 times!

While I was completing the development of Lucy Dreaming, at the back of my mind I was always thinking “I really want to make a full-length version of Hair of the Dog.” So, once Lucy Dreaming had been released, I started working on a playable demo. Now called Heir of the Dog, the demo is similar to the original jam game in terms of the puzzle design. But the UI, artwork, voices and music have all been overhauled to create much more atmospheric and high quality gameplay.


THE J: Are there any plans to port the game over to home consoles? Personally I would love this! Nintendo Switch seems to be the port of choice these days for indies, why do you think this is?

TOM HARDWIDGE: Absolutely, Lucy Dreaming is available on the Nintendo Switch and Xbox already, and I have the same plans for Heir of the Dog.


THE J: What does it mean to get a nomination at this year’s Debug Awards?

TOM HARDWIDGE: I’m absolutely thrilled. Being nominated for any award is always an amazing feeling!

I originally met the founders of Debug at OLL22 and have kept in contact with them ever since, they are truly some of the most passionate advocates of indie games I have ever had the pleasure to meet. I was incredibly proud to have Lucy Dreaming reviewed in issue 1 of Debug Magazine, and the demo of Heir of the Dog will also be available to play at Debug U, prior to the award ceremony.

THE J: And what will you do if you win?

TOM HARDWIDGE: Wow, I’m not even thinking that far ahead! Point & click adventure games are pretty niche, and both Lucy Dreaming and Heir of the Dog are up against some other incredible indie games in their respective categories. I also know many of the other developers personally so, whoever wins on the night, I’ll be delighted for them.


THE J: What does the future hold for you in gaming?

TOM HARDWIDGE: I’m taking it one game at a time. At the moment, I am still continuing to work on marketing projects, supporting both our businesses.

The end goal would be to make Tall Story Games fully-sustainable. So I can feel free to spend more of my time making games without feeling guilty! I do pretty much everything related to the production of the games, from the design and artwork to the development and publishing… I love every single part of the process and, as such, struggle with reconciling it as “work”.

Surely, if it was “real” work, it wouldn’t be this much fun!