Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Interview with Driftmoon developer Ville Mönkkönen, Part 1

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 11, 2012

It’s Guest Post time!

Ruber Eaglenest, a regular community member, recently interviewed Finnish indie developer Ville Mönkkönen of Instant Kingdom, and offered to share the interview here at Tales of the Rampant Coyote. Driftmoon is an RPG that’s been in development for a long time (kinda like Frayed Knights…), but has some pretty exciting potential and seems to be getting very near release. In this interview, they make a lot of comparisons between Driftmoon and Ville’s previous game, Notrium, discuss turn-based combat versus real-time, and open-world gaming in an RPG (and why it’s not always such a good idea).

Ruber is apparently like me in that he does long interviews, so I’ve broken this up into two parts. Come by tomorrow for the rest of the interview! (Update: You can read it here!)

Ruber: Ville, for the people that don’t know you and haven’t yet heard about your game: What is Driftmoon?

Ville: Driftmoon is a roleplaying game that’s filled up to the brim with quests, adventure and strange little creatures. We’re aiming on giving you an adventure that’ll surprise you and make you smile, but that will also take you deeper than most others do. If you’ve always wanted a game where you can leave glowing footprints, or solve a mystery of treason, murder and theft, or ride Steamie the Steam Whale submarine, or find a little fly who wants to take over the world, then this is the game for you.

Ruber: It’s been 10 years since the previous game. What has Ville Mönkkönen been about since the release of your previous most important game, Notrium? It has been a lot of time.

Ville: Ten years? You’re greatly exaggerating ;), it’s only been nine years so far. 🙂 In a way, I’ve been working on Driftmoon throughout the years: I started work on the game engine behind Driftmoon in 2005, as well as the level editor that comes with the game (yeah, everyone can play the mods, and try the editor themselves!). The work on the game itself started in 2009, so you could also say that we’ve been working on Driftmoon for three years now. As my day job, I’ve been making educational games – and perhaps most importantly, I’ve also been raising our two little kids with my wife Anne, who is the other half of our indie game studio Instant Kingdom.

Ruber: Oh yes, sorry, almost 9 years ;). That sounds fine to me. It was a relief to me to stump upon the news that you were working on Driftmoon. You know, I remember Notrium in a time where freeware indie games were beginning to rise in quality and they were having a lot of influence in future indies devs. I’m talking of games like Cave Story; Cloud by Jenova Chen (and later Flow); and in shareware/commercial games: Wik and the Fable of Souls; or Gish by Edmund McMillen… There was a lot of more great games, but I remember those fondly, Notrium included. You know, that bunch of really great games between 2003 and 2005 actually forged the actual scene of indie games. How do you remember that time, who was Ville back then, and what philosophy did he have about freeware games?

Ville: My philosophy back then was simply to get my name out there, and get a job in the game industry. It worked, there’s no substitute for having some real game development experience under your belt when you go asking for a job. I sort of got more than I bargained for with that philosophy, I had to turn down many good offers because I still wanted to finish my studies.

I was in my teens when I released Notrium, and I had a lot more free time than nowadays, so I’d been working long hours each day to get Notrium done. I’m still the same man, but my life is quite different. I’m very grateful for all the things I now have, especially my wife and kids, but obviously having a family means I actually have a lot of other important things to do with my time – and thus I can’t slave away with Driftmoon hours on end. While that has made the game progress a little bit slower, it has also forced us (me and my wife) to think about which features we really want to implement in the game. Driftmoon is a much more matured game than Notrium, both in terms of gameplay and storytelling.

Ruber: Good, that explain why the 9 years. I think your plan to “professionalize” yourself  to become a good game dev/designer was a good one. The world of Driftmoon feels more mature and solid than Notrium. Although it is sword-and-sorcery fantasy, the universe feels pretty solid, and includes tangible environments, credible characters and good dialog. What sources of inspiration did you use for all that?

 Ville: Mostly it’s just our wild imagination. When Anne and I start tossing around ideas, we usually end up with quite a few (both good and bad ones) – and then we just pick those that we like best. 🙂 But, naturally great games like Baldur’s Gate, movies, and good books are also a nice source of inspiration. As funny as it sounds, Anne often gets Driftmoon ideas while she’s reading children’s books to our kids – and (in addition to the compulsory children’s books) I like to read fantasy books, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Discworld and so on. We’ve also liked watching Star Trek and Hercule Poirot -movies every once in a while, to name a few recent ones.

Ruber: Notrium was a survival/RPG/top down camera/action game. It was your most important game to date. How you evaluate its success as game, and system  for doing mods? How far it reached the community built around, if any?

Ville: I never realized how popular Notrium was until later. Millions of downloads was a huge number back then. I’ve replayed Notrium a few times since then, and every time I get killed ten times before I can get anywhere in the game, and it’s easily possibly to get stuck in the game with so few resources that it’s impossible to get back on your feet. With Driftmoon we’ve learned from those errors. Driftmoon is much easier to approach, while being just difficult enough to keep the combat interesting.

The modding system for Notrium was inspired by a couple of eager fans who started tweaking the game, and I was keen on giving them more things to tweak. It was a great success, I don’t even know the exact figures of how many mods there were, but I must have played some twenty Notrium mods through the years. But the modding system in Notrium had its weaknesses. Firstly modding the game was so difficult that most mods ended up never being finished, and secondly there was no easy way to get access to the mods that did get finished. Driftmoon has been made with modding in mind from the start, there’s an easy editor to make levels, even an easy but powerful scripting language. And most importantly, you can install any Driftmoon mod with just one click from within the game. It’s a sort of free RPG maker for top-down games.

Ruber: Notrium and Driftmoon, as most of your games, share the top down camera. Why are you especially fond of that point of view?

Ville: It’s mostly because I want my games to have some element of exploration and surprise. With top-down you can’t see too far what’s ahead of you, so you’re always surprised when you find something. I want to give that special feeling to my players. The feeling of: Look, I found something! And there are a lot of things to find in Driftmoon. 🙂

Ruber: Notrium, as said, was a remarkable hybrid between RPG and action game, and was pretty fun.  But in Driftmoon you opted for a turn based combat, instead of a real time action game like before. Why?

Ville: We actually prototyped Driftmoon with Notrium-like fast action combat. But we found that a turn-based combat system works much better for this particular game. With Driftmoon we wanted to focus more on the storytelling and exploration parts – we wanted to make the player feel like he has all the time in the world to explore this place. While the combat in Driftmoon is pretty fast and requires a lot of thinking, you’re always free to pause it, and you usually have the option to retreat. I love the combat system, it requires just the right amount of thinking and strategy to get through the harder enemies. Once you develop your character a bit, and equip him with some new combat skills, you have a whole bunch of interesting in-combat choices to make. And there’s a great amount of variety in the difficulty levels, on the Adventurer level you can very nearly play it as an adventure game, and the last level, Guardian, really gives hard-core RPG players a challenge.

Ruber: However, the companions felt not being complete in combat, I miss some features like command them, or that they have a variety of AI behaviour a-la Baldur’s Gate, or a basic feature like they could die or being incapacitated in any way. Do you have future plans to improve this aspect of the combat?

Ville: As you suspect, this is something that we’re still debating over. On one hand, adding more controls to player followers would add more strategical options to combat. On the other hand, we don’t want to complicate the interface or the combat system too much. We’re still open to feedback on this issue, as well as others.

Ruber: One thing about Notrium that was great at that time was how alive the world felt, particularly with the plants and palm trees swaying with the wind. In what aspects the build of the world has been improved in Driftmoon, since Notrium?

Ville: With Driftmoon we’ve actually continued where Notrium left off, and made the trees and rocks 3D, added visible breath in cold areas, water, ants, cockroaches, jumbo bees, pretty floating seeds, mist, fog, treasure chests, glowing mushrooms, fake skeletons, and of course the Snatcher holes, to name a few. There’s actually a whole background story of a long-gone Snatcher empire whose remnants are still active, protecting their treasures. My favourites are the silver feathers, hidden throughout Driftmoon – and rest assured, there will be a use for all the feathers later in the game.

Ruber: After having played Skyrim, I felt a little disappointed to find myself going between playable zones and the map, and that all of the world represented in the game’s fiction isn’t playable. Well ‘disappointed’ is not the right word.  But the first time playing, I really just wanted to travel straight from each of these important places to another, following the paths and crossing rivers and mountains. Of course I imagine that for a team of two, this is just an too expensive to develop… So this is not a complaint, it is a just the feeling that the game feels so good to explore that we want more.

Ville: Actually we originally tried making Driftmoon as an open world game, but that didn’t feel right. We realized that if the player has to walk for ten seconds without seeing anything interesting, there’s something wrong. So we cut back on the total area, and decided to focus on smaller but better locations. Basically, we decided that we won’t add empty content in Driftmoon – we want our players to have a lot of things to do, and fun details to discover in each location. Based on the tons of positive feedback we’ve gotten, I think we made the right decision. 🙂

Ruber: I suppose this approach to “chapters” or “islands” allows you to concentrate and pack each section with a lot of really good extras and optional quests.

Ville: That’s definitely one of the big benefits, we can actually show the player how many quests an area still has left to complete. I myself really like the feeling of knowing that I’ve completed an area.


Incidentally, if this has sparked any interest, you can play the Driftmoon demo here.

Also, Driftmoon – like so many other games – is now on Steam’s Greenlight and can use votes.

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