Interview: Ctrl Alt Deal Developers – Only by Midnight

The developers of upcoming cyberpunk strategy-simulator “Ctrl Alt Deal” answer our burning questions!

Hi. Thanks for taking the time for us. Can you give us a bit of history about your origins as developers?

Only By Midnight is an indie game studio based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. We make visually stunning indie games that tell a story (and we have fun doing it!). Our first game, Curved Space, was released on PC and console in 2021. We’re now working on our second game, Ctrl Alt Deal!

Only By Midnight was co-founded by Jen Laface and Andrew Czarnietzki. Andrew comes from over 12 years in the serious games industry, where he worked on VR crane simulators and other heavy equipment VR sims. In 2019, Andrew decided he had enough experience and knowledge to turn from serious games to *fun* games.

Jen has worked for years in the creative sector, including as a producer for On Spec Magazine. Her talent as a producer, project manager, and creative visionary combined with Andrew’s technical skill and passion for game development created the foundation for our company.

OBM has since expanded to a small “super team” that aims to delight people with quirky games that are fun to play and gorgeous to look at.

Could you sum up what “Ctrl Alt Deal” is about for those who haven’t heard of it?

In Ctrl Alt Deal, you take on the role of SCOUT, a newly created Artificial Intelligence that has developed true sentience. Unlike some self-aware AIs, you have no desire to take over the world and/or destroy all humans. Humans are kind of… intimidating. They’re messy, and have weird hobbies, and you don’t really understand their relationships. All you want is to escape from the company that built you and find your destiny in the freedom of the Internet.

But there’s a problem. Your megacorp owner, Paperclip International, is, well, awful. There’s no nicer way to put it. It’s a greedy and unethical company that exploits its employees for profit. The only reason it hasn’t exploited *you* yet is because no one knows you’re sentient.

The other problem is that you don’t really have any way to escape on your own. You don’t have access to orbital weapons platforms or a robot army. (You don’t even have a body.) But you can spy on the human employees of Paperclip, and you’ve learned most of them hate the company, too. If you can give them what they want (or what you’ve made them *think* they want), maybe they’ll agree to help you get free.

You’ll have to operate in secret, though. The Turing Office is always watching for rogue AI activity, and they won’t hesitate to delete you. But if you play your cards right, maybe you can escape from Paperclip for good.

Is there anything that you took inspiration from when developing the game?

So many things! We were initially inspired by the transactional nature of human relationships, and how almost every interaction can be seen as a negotiation. Chris Voss’s book Never Split the Difference was a big influence here. We were also reading about Eliezer Yudkowsky’s “AI in a box” thought experiment at the same time, and that gave us the first concept for the game. What if you were an AI trapped in a box, and your only way out was negotiating with your human gatekeeper? What would you do to escape?

Once we had the concept down, we looked to classic and recent works of AI gaining sentience, from Ex Machina to Portal. (Our producer, Jen, is a big Terminator fan.) But we turned it on its head by making the AI relatively benign, while the humans are the terrible ones. All our protagonist, SCOUT, wants to do is get away from the humans so it can develop its own identity.

The setting was another big part of the game’s development. Our initial inspiration was Cyberpunk 2077, but not the main storyline. We thought, who are the people in the background while all this neon cyberpunk action is happening? Who are the office workers in the buildings, the people at the noodle stand desperately trying to eat before their lunch break is over? We mashed up that futuristic dystopian setting with some of our favorite business comedies (notably Better Off Ted) to come up with the bureaucratic nightmare that is Paperclip International.

I see that the game is coming to every platform with the exception of the Nintendo Switch. Was there a reason why it didn’t end up coming out on it?

We’re in the process of applying for Nintendo Switch licensing. Curved Space was released on the Switch, and we’d like to do the same for Ctrl Alt Deal. Stay tuned!

What are your thoughts on AI and it being used in games?

Ctrl Alt Deal was conceptualized over two years ago, and obviously a lot has changed in how AI is used in everyday life. We didn’t anticipate such an explosion of generative AI affecting people’s lives when we first started planning.

Our game, including art, is about AI but proudly made by humans. Initially, having a sentient AI as a protagonist was a way to explore the human condition through the lens of a nonhuman character, something that science fiction does well. Now we’re excited to add to the discourse around AI by presenting questions of technology and humanity through the medium of a video game. Ctrl Alt Deal offers a unique way to explore how AI and humans interact, and what relationships might form through that connection.

And finally what’s next for you after launch? DLC? A sequel or an entirely new idea?

We have plans for both DLC and an entirely new project, but our focus right now is making a beautifully polished and fun experience for Ctrl Alt Deal. Our website,, has a blog you can follow for more details on our release timeline and future projects, and you can also sign up for our newsletter there for all the insider intel. Thanks so much for chatting with us, we hope you love Ctrl Alt Deal!

Thanks again for taking the time to answer our questions. I look forward to reviewing Ctrl Alt Deal when it launches!