Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 12, 2012
Here is the continuation of Ruber Eaglenest’s interview with Driftmoon and Notrium developer Ville Mönkkönen from yesterday. Today they discuss more of the nuts and bolts of developing the game, influences, and a little about the “indie scene.” Enjoy!
Ruber: Let’s talk about the graphics. Driftmoon’s graphics feels indie, in the sense of being a little humble, and screenshots do not do it justice. I think the game looks beautiful in movement, you must see it in action to appreciate it. And the world, including darker areas, is full of colour. Tell us something about this, influences, hard work, limitations, inspirations, etc.
Ville: I’ve always loved graphics design, I even wanted to be a painter as a kid. We debated long over the graphics style in Driftmoon, eventually going for the current fairly realistic look. This way we can more easily use our photographs as source material, especially for the environment. At one point Anne got so eager at photographing new textures for the game, that I barely got to talk with her on our walks, she was always pointing her camera somewhere. Most of Driftmoon‘s plants come from our own neighborhood, which is a bit funny considering we live near the arctic, and a lot of the game happens in jungles.
This year we’ve joined forces with Johanna Sundström, who is training to be a graphics designer. She has the arduous job of drawing the face portraits for the game. There are nearly a hundred characters in the game, so she is definitely getting a crash-course in portrait drawing. But more than getting an enormous amount of amazing portraits into the game, we’ve loved her company, and her insights into the game’s characters.
Ruber: What about the technical point of view of the graphics? How do you made them and implement them into the game. The game is a weird 2.5 D – 3D Hybrid. What parts are 3D, and what parts not?
Ville: I’ve always loved sprite-based animations, so from the start we decided to make the characters and most objects by drawing them on a tablet or photographing them. I don’t feel it’s a limiting factor, but it’s definitely a great way to speed up development – we can usually make a new character in a matter hours. We chose to make the terrain fully 3D, because it gives a great sense of depth. The visual look is pretty different from most games, and that’s always a good thing.
Ruber: Speaking of collaborations: Anne, your wife, is the other half of your little company. Does she mainly contribute plot and text? Dialogs in the game are really great. This is a game FULL of text. Dialogs have plenty of options, some optional, some not, some funny, but none boring. I like having a lot options in conversations, as it feels a little like the exploration component of the game. Tell us something about all this, and about how Anne approaches her role in developing the game.
Ville: Being indie game developers we both wear many hats, from testing to all game development tasks. Pretty much the only thing Anne doesn’t do is program C++, although she sometimes uses the in-game scripting language. Anne started out by mainly taking photographs and working with the sound effects, but she’s surprised me by being an excellent writer and level designer.
We write most of the plot and the dialogues together, taking turns to refine each of our texts until we’re fully satisfied. Sometimes we end up in edit wars over some minor details, but as a married couple we have the benefit of each respecting the other’s opinion. It’s a good thing that we have two people working on writing the text of the game, since it’s easily the most time-consuming part of the development process. We haven’t counted the amount of text in the game, but there’s easily enough to keep you reading for hours. As an interesting side-note: we can only work together late in the night, when the kids are sleeping.
Ruber: I was amazed by the soundtrack. It is really really good. I recommend to all who likes epic soundtracks of medieval fantasy to go to the official bandcamp of Gareth Meek and listen to this excellent music. Tell us something about Gareth and the collaboration for the game.
Ville: We got a surprise one day when Gareth suddenly sent us a music track for our trailer video. We immediately knew we had found our man, so we immediately nabbed him. Early on we decided we don’t want to fill each minute of the game with music, that would make it way too repetitive. So we had Gareth make us tracks that fade in and out of the background seamlessly without the player noticing anything. Gareth has been a great addition to our team, and working with him has been extremely effortless and quick – we just sent him the description of each level, and within a couple of days he came up with suitable pieces for each level.
Ruber: Given the emphasis on realistic art in Driftmoon, it struck me as off as to how colorful it is – even in dark areas. Although you have realistic textures, the world exudes fantasy with every pixel. Tell us something about your art and color decisions.
Ville: In reality, we haven’t used a single photo straight from the camera. So there’s always at least some editing involved in making photograph-based pictures that actually fit well in the world of Driftmoon. I’m very careful about keeping up the overall look of the game. We made a conscious decision about using photographs as starting points as much as we can, because (1) Anne is good at taking photos, and likes to do it, and (2) it saves us a lot of work to not have to start from scratch with each and every little bush we add in the game. If we hadn’t had the help of photographs, we wouldn’t be nearly as far in the development as we are now – so, not a bad choice, I’d say! Even with the help of the photographs I’ve had to draw a lot of pictures by hand, especially the humans and other NPC characters – it’s nearly impossible to get the Rakan lizard warriors to be still long enough to be photographed.
Ruber: So… about the use of color..?
Ville: We didn’t want to make Driftmoon a gray, gloomy game; we want to have plenty of color. We also wanted to give the game a lot of variability, and create different moods for different areas. As a matter of fact maybe it’s not as much a matter of choosing a general style for the game, rather I’ve been looking for a specific style for each map. If you look closely, each map and dungeon has a slightly different feel to them. To make this easier, I actually made a tool that’s, for example, able to paint a wintery landscape, or a dungeon landscape, and now we can easily use those predefined styles when creating new areas.
Ruber: On the technical side of taking that photographs… you know, you said you get a lot of textures around your neighbour, but all elements in the game are view as a zenith camera. Did you must acquire some weird photo material to take zenith photos?
Ville: It’s easy, being as tall as we are! Nah, in reality it does take some work taking good pictures for a top-down game such as Driftmoon. We use chairs or anything that’ll allow us to take a picture from higher above, but we have just a regular digital camera to take the pictures with. At some point I was tempted to learn to fly a kite to photograph trees for us, but in the end it was easier to use houseplants as trees. You’ll notice that most Driftmoonian trees are actually tiny plants from our world.
Ville: My previous game Notrium used long sprite sheets, where each frame of an animation had to be drawn. When starting Driftmoon we decided that it was impossible to do that for our nearly hundred different character types, so we opted to make the characters out of small parts like hands, legs and head that could be animated by moving, scaling and rotating them using the ingame animations editor. What’s more, our modders don’t need to learn 3D modeling either, all they need to make new characters is a program to paint the individual parts of the character, the legs, hands and so on. I think the system works fantastically for Driftmoon, it gives a very fluid style to the game: Being able to animate anything within the game editor itself has made us, well, animate pretty much everything.
Ruber: Let’s talk about the indie scene. How do you see the indie scene right now? Do you follow it?
Ville: I’ve managed to befriend some indie developers, and we always love playing indie games. Ever since we started making Driftmoon we’ve been eager to see where the indie RPG scene is going. It’s great to see indie RPG’s finally starting to get the kind of respect they deserve. Though I’ve yet to see any one RPG break out big, I’m fairly certain that Driftmoon will be an exceptional success.
Ruber: What differences are between this time and when you began to make free games?
Ville: I started in 1998, of course a lot of things have happened during that time. The Internet happened, mobile gaming happened. Back in 1998 the way to get your game out there was to get it on magazine cover discs. That was the time of 3D, when all you had to do to be famous was to make a 3D game. In a lot of ways it’s easier to be an indie developer these days, there are great tools to get your ideas developed, great ways to get people to play your games. These days you don’t even have to know how to program to be able to make a game, all you need is to make a mod using the Driftmoon editor.
Ruber: What roleplaying games do you like, or want to recommend?
Ville: I did enjoy the previous Bethesda bunch, Oblivion, Fallout 3. I’ve yet to try Skyrim, but I will as soon as we finish Driftmoon. I like modern RPG’s, but they somehow feel bland to me when compared to the ones from my childhood. I’ve heard this from a lot of people, I guess it’s not that today’s games are any worse, it’s just different to play games when you don’t have unlimited time to play. I’m a huge fan of the golden age of about a decade ago. Games like Baldur’s Gate 2, Planescape: Torment, Arcanum, Fallout 2. Also games from two decades ago, like Star Control II, and especially Ultima VII. I think Ultima VII is still one of the best RPGs that exist, it’s still fully playable using Exult or Dosbox.
Ruber: And what about indies?
Ville: I’ve had some fun times with Mount and Blade, and Torchlight. But I like my RPGs a bit more story-heavy, and I haven’t really found that many good story-oriented indie roleplaying games. I can never get the hang of combat in jRPG’s, and both the Spiderweb games and the Eschalon series require so much time investment in the user interface and the combat mechanics that it’s a bit hard to get into them (and at the moment, I don’t have that much time to spare). But once you learn the ropes, I’m pretty confident they’re great games.
Since I myself have this experience of being too pressed for time to get a good grasp of many interesting games, we’ve tried to put a lot of thought into making Driftmoon easily approachable. But you’ll have to tell me how well we’ve succeeded in that.
Ruber: There are a lot of ways to monetize one game, I’m sure, thanks to indies and groundbreaking games like Minecraft, a lot of ways to pay the bills has appear around in the later years. Indeed, one could say that you have used alphafunding or betafunding. Right now (correct me if I’m wrong) there is a catchy discount in your website to buy the game early. It is in beta, and it serves as a pre-order with access right to the game. And it allows to you to receive feedback from buyers and to receive support of your fans; in sum, a great way to support your development. So what do you think of alphafunding, crowdfunding, and all those errrfunding things? How important have the pre-orders been for the development?
Ville: Alphafunding has worked fantastically for Driftmoon! More important than paying the bills, is that it keeps us motivated. Every time we release a new version we get tons of feedback and encouragement, and that keeps us going. It’s a lot of work too, we have to make sure each version we release is fit for actual players. And we have to make sure people playing one version can continue with the next version. But it’s well worth it, if only for the useful (and very motivating) feedback we’ve received, and the new friends we’ve made from our players.
Ruber: As we’re finishing up here, what awaits in the future for Instant Kingdom after you release the game? Maybe a port for tablets? I think the game would fit great in Ipads and such.
Ville: After Driftmoon is released, we’re definitely considering an iPad port, as well as porting to Linux and Mac. After that, the time might finally be right for Notrium 2…
Ruber: Ville, It has been a pleasure to meet you and I wish the best for you, your family and your children (game included) Thank you. In conclusion, would you like to say anything about your overall goals or hopes for Driftmoon?
Ville: Thank you for the interview, Ruber! I think one of the most important goals for Driftmoon is that we have wanted the game to have both lighter, more humorous sides, and also a lot of depth. So, we hope Driftmoon will surprise you and give you lots of smiles, but it will also present you with deep and interesting stories, and some food for thought. So, since you’ve read this far, why don’t you go download the Driftmoon demo? We’re hoping Driftmoon will take you on a fantastic, unconventional adventure that you will not soon forget!
You can grab the demo at http://www.instantkingdom.com/
Take now the discount of 20% here: http://www.instantkingdom.com/discountcode/
The basic price of the game is 14,99 €. (Ed. Note – About $19.50 in U.S. Dollars – R.C.).
Note that you can take the discount now, and use later, forever and ever. Use it when you want.
Also, Driftmoon – like so many other games – is now on Steam’s Greenlight and can use votes.
About the Interviewer
Ruber Eaglenest is a wannabe indie author, that is, he is trying to start his career creating graphics games. He comes from the Spanish Interactive Fiction scene where he was known as El Clérigo Urbatain. He has three remarkable games: El Extraño Caso de Randolph Dwight, Por la Necedad Humana, and the remake of the Spectrum classic Rod Pike’s Dracula. He has a wide experience writing for Spanish e-zines and blogs, his most recent collaboration has been in Game Under.
Filed Under: Guest Posts, Interviews - Comments: 2 Comments to Read