Interview with Will O’Neill, Creator of Actual Sunlight

Actual Sunlight Screenshot 3

Last week we reviewed Actual Sunlight and were drawn in by its intense narrative. Developer Will O’Neill was gracious enough to let us have an interview with him discussing the game’s creation and a little bit more. Today Pixel Pacas is proud to present this great interview!

Pixel Pacas: How did you get started developing games? Were there any independent developers you looked up to at the time?

Will: Actual Sunlight is my first game, but I have a much longer history as a creative writer. Eventually, I had the thought that maybe I should try to merge my writing into the world of the games that I also loved and had spent so many of my years living. I was definitely inspired to believe that it was possible through other very story-heavy games such as Christine Love’s Digital: A Love Story, as well as Kan Gao’s To The Moon. Atmospherically, I love a lot of survival horror games – Silent Hill 2 especially. The best written game of all time in my opinion, however, is Star Control II…!

PP: Were there any points during the development of Actual Sunlight that you feared it would not be completed? How long did it take to finish the project?

Will: I wrote it in the second half of 2012, and at that time was sort of restarting an earlier version of it that doesn’t really resemble what it eventually became. I was worried all the time. You worry all the time. I was so relieved when a lot of things started to click, and the pace of my writing on it really picked up towards the end of 2012, ultimately enabling me to release the very first version of it in 2013.

PP: What led to design decisions such as the RPG-esque visual style?

Will: I liked the idea of doing it in RPG Maker VX ACE because I felt it would be a way of commenting on the way Evan saw the world: Through the eyes of a person extremely trapped in himself and his own addictions, especially games. Of all the tools that somebody with my lack of experience and expertise could have used to make a project like this, I think I chose the right one.

PP: Did you have any expectations to how the gaming community would respond to your game? Have you been surprised at the response since its initial launch? Have things changed due to the Steam release?

Will: When I was finished, I knew that I had done something that was really quite good – definitely better than anything I had done in the past. Still, I was very surprised to see just how many people were really moved by the game, and how deeply. I have more than one letter that starts with ‘I never write to game developers’ and which then proceeds on for hundreds or even thousands of words. I’m very honoured by the things that people have shared with me in return for what I’ve shared about myself through the game.

It’s too early in the Steam release to know if anything will really change, but I doubt it – hopefully it will just be the same thing on a much larger scale. I’m really proud of Actual Sunlight and want it to be played by as many people as possible.

PP: Will you continue to pursue making serious, narrative-focused games in the future? What do these types of games offer players that is unique to the medium?

Will: These are definitely the kinds of games I will continue to make – before anything and everything, I’m a writer. The further I move away from that, the less I think I’ll be interested and the worse I know I will do. That being said, I would like to grow, and so I see myself moving towards some kind of greater interactivity. One of the things I’m working on now is in a more traditional adventure game format, so we’ll see how that goes!

I don’t know if they offer anything unique, but I think everybody ought to be up for a good bit of reading now and then. 🙂

PP: What made you decide to recreate Actual Sunlight in 3D and what is the current status of that project?

Will: My initial interest was in wanting to create a version of the game that would be playable on a Mac. As I started to mess around with lights and shapes in Unity, however, I quickly started to take it a lot more seriously. Ultimately, people didn’t seem to connect with it the way that they did with the original, but I’d like to continue development on it if the current version does really well on Steam. It’s very much an issue of not knowing whether or not I should dedicate the necessary resources to get it done the way it ought to be.

PP: What were some of the first video games you ever played? What do you play today?

Will: Oh man. I’m 33, so I grew up in an Atari 400 world – the first games I played were old-school Electronic Arts games like M.U.L.E, Mail Order Monsters, Archon, and titles similar to that. Later on I went through early consoles and early PC gaming especially, loving all of the classic Sierra and LucasArts adventures and a lot of other things as well. Right now, I’m into a lot of other indie games, both big and small. Been playing a lot of Nuclear Throne, but I also feel like games such as Horse Master and Save the Date are quietly the most awesome things out there. Papers, Please was also out of this world incredible, and deserved everything it won.

PP: For all those who have yet to experience Actual Sunlight, why should they give it a try?

Will: You won’t necessarily relate personally to Evan Winter if you play Actual Sunlight, but I tried to write him in such a way that even someone who is not like him could understand why he feels the way that he does. If you slow down and invest yourself in it, and don’t try to project your own judgments, I think you’ll find yourself in the middle of a really unforgettable experience.

A big thanks goes out to Will O’Neill for taking the time to participate in our interview! If you’re interested in playing Actual Sunlight, you can grab it on Steam.

Interview with Daniele Giardini and Isak J Martinsson, Creators of Goscurry

Goscurry Logo

In late January, we provided our first-ever interview here on the site. If you missed it then definitely check it out! We chatted with Michael Stearns who was one of the lead developers on Tiny Barbarian DX! This time around we interviewed not one both of the main people behind Goscurry – developer Daniele Giardini and musician Isak J Martinsson. We at Pixel Pacas are proud to present this great interview!

Pixel Pacas: How did Holoville Games get started? Were there any other independent developers you looked up to at the time?

Daniele: I jumped quite suddenly into the Unity game engine, because I installed it when I got a job where I had to recreate (along with Paul Harden and Grazia Genovese who made the graphics and the design) an interactive version of the lost Kircher Museum. After I finished it, I was in love with the engine, and wanted to do more. Games obviously, since I made some in the past, but Flash-based and super small, never taking them seriously. So I created the Games subdivision of Holoville (my tiny company, which existed since many years but for interactive stuff dedicated to museums, tvs, or things like that – and which I closed at the end of 2013 by the way, so bye bye Holoville Games).

I always had a passion for games, but my true passion were comics, which I loved, studied, and wrote/drew, while I didn’t really have a serious knowledge about the game development culture. So I wasn’t really looking up at anyone at the time: I just wanted to make games. Only later I got to know the indie scene more (a lot more), and was lucky enough to become friends with people like Isak and his wife Natalia, which I respect and admire, and to find great sources of inspiration all around.

PP: When designing Goscurry were there any existing games you found inspiration from? How did the cool and colorful minimalist art style come about?

Daniele: The only conscious inspiration were Canabalt and the first two GTA games, or Micro Machines. Those games that had a top-down view with controls relative to the vehicle and not to the camera. And obviously Canabalt, since it’s the first (and almost only) runner I played, and which inspired me to make one myself. After putting Goscurry on Greenlight, I saw people saying it was similar to Audiosurf. I actually didn’t know it, but when I searched for it, I was “wtf! it’s a ship! on a road!”, though the gameplay is indeed very different.

The minimalist style is first and foremost due to the fact that I decided to make Goscurry 3D, and 3D doesn’t make sense to me unless it’s minimalist. The colors are probably inspired by the colors I sometimes used for my comics, which in turn were inspired by the works of Lorenzo Mattotti, among others.

PP: The game is pretty difficult with players needing to hone their twitch reflexes to last on any stage. How long did it take to get the difficulty settings “just right”?

Daniele: Getting the difficulty “almost right” was pretty quick, and I think it took no more than a week. I used a playful approach to development, where I would just create the engine, add some parts, play like crazy with my lady (Jelena, who is very into games but not into action/arcade ones, so she provided a great alternative feedback), and then tweak it until it felt good. It was fun, and when I heard her screaming, swearing, and saying “one more!”, I knew I was going in the right direction. Getting it “just right” instead was a longer road, where the feedback of all the players of the first free online version was fundamental. I tweaked little parts of it for all the 6 months, maybe more, of development.

PP: You’ve been very open to input from the community of Goscurry players. Did they bring up some good points that you didn’t consider while working on the game?

Daniele: They did indeed, and it was great! The Friends list, the average score, the much harder difficulty that you can choose if you unlock every achievement, were all done thanks to feedback from players. And most of all, I have to thank KingOreO, who suggested me to add different sceneries after a given distance, in order to give players something to reach (and who was also the first player to show me that Goscurry, which I thought was very hard, could be almost too easy for a special kind of crazy gamers). That’s why I chose to create all the Goscurry cities. By the way, you know all the avatars in Goscurry? Many are invented, but many are also based on players who helped me somehow, as a small way to thank them.

If I can take a small digression here… I believe that, rather obviously, being open to the community of players is extremely important. Both because they give precious feedback, and because, what the hell, they’re playing your game, so they deserve your respect and your gratefulness. That said, it’s also a risk. As a developer, you would tend to implement everything they say, as long as it makes sense, to make them happy and to egotistically revel in their satisfaction. You have to pay attention there though, because you risk going astray and changing your game into something else. Instead, it’s very important to keep your vision (and to make it grow in future games, but that’s another story). So, yes, being open to feedback is very important, but it’s also important to keep your game personal, by filtering everything in the right way.

PP: An integral part of the Goscurry experience is its music. How did you approach composing the soundtrack?

Isak: Before I started making the soundtrack I listened to the 80s music revolution really much in an unhealthy way, because everything from that age sounds just happy and awesome. So for Goscurry I wanted to try make something to tribute my feelings I got from those magical years. Later on I found out about the wonderful style “Electro” and you could say the Goscurry soundtrack is like Electro on speed! It needed to pump the player, keep them pumped and dancing in front of the computers while struggling not to explode. I always test my tracks with my love Natalia first to see if she starts shaking with the beats, then it’s usually approved. Her body is a very good critic! And Daniele’s feedback was a great value, he seems to understand my irony and music sometimes better than me when I start gliding too far off the concept.

Daniele: I just want to say that Isak’s music blew my mind. He was, like, “hey, I could make a music for it”, and then kablam! He made Rackety (the first Goscurry song)! I first listened to it with Jelena, and I can’t describe enough our happy faces and the wohooos we emitted. I knew Isak was good, but that was totally unexpected.

PP: Speaking of the music, what inspired the names of the tracks? Titles like “The Secret Indie Circle” and “Swedish Taxes” come to mind. What are your favorite songs in the game? (I personally love “Abductination” and its use of theremin sound effects!)

Isak: The names are just my way of communicating with people, since none of my songs have vocals. And sometimes it’s just the lack of an idea to a name that creates something ironic from the essence of the song, or something like that. The secret indie circle (that’s misspelled forever!) came up after we made a crowd funding and learned a lot how the “indie elite” game development scene works, and it’s a weird thing. I just wanted to point it out, that there’s a secret circle. Like illuminati. And we don’t fit in that group. Swedish taxes is there just because I’m from Sweden and the taxes are sick! I was angry at that point of naming the song and felt it was the right one. Also, N.A.T.I is short for Natalia and I made the song for her when she was angry. I love all the songs, but my favorite must be Abductination. It was a long time the underdog and bullied song that nobody liked, but I found a way to make it special so it would be accepted.

Daniele: About my favorites, I love them all, seriously, each of them for different reasons. But my favorite one must be “Rackety”. Mostly because it’s the first one Isak made, and as I mentioned above it blew my mind. Sometimes, when I go to bed, even if I didn’t work or played with Goscurry, it just starts playing in my head. Another super-favorite is “Aaa”, which I find very epic in an anime way, but with a touch of hidden drama inside. Then “Abductination”, for the exact same reasons Isak said, and because it manages to be both energetic and deeply romantic. And “Face to Foot”, because it’s the first Goscurry song where Jelena and I had sex, while it looped over and over and we sometimes laughed and said things like “you see, the song is good”.

PP: What were some of the first video games you ever played? What do you play today?

Daniele: My memory really sucks, but the very first game that left a lasting impression on me was Loom, by the greatly missed LucasArts (Lucasfilm at the time). I was so little, that I didn’t even know you could save games, so I kept replaying it from the start each time. Nowadays, I play all kind of games as long as they don’t require powerful hardware, since my computer is pretty old, with a predilection for turn-based strategy. My favorite game for last year is definitely “Papers, Please”, for many, many, many reasons. Still, I keep getting back to Chivalry (the rare times it works and doesn’t crash because of some of its many bugs – which is a pity because otherwise it’s a really fun game), since my stepson Aki and I love to cut each other’s heads in multiplayer.

Isak: First game was Mario, and I played it for hours until our NES got a meltdown and we had nothing left. As for today, I try playing a variety of games when I have time but there’s a clear winner that has stolen all my time and that would be Dungeon Defenders. I’m hyped for the release of the second one!

PP: For all those who have yet to play Goscurry, why should they give it a try?

Isak: Anyone who enjoys dancing in front of the pc at the brink of rage but still hanging in there for just another try, to beat the highscore and be the champion of all, should give Goscurry a try! When you master the speed and obstacles, it’s really a very relaxing game to play when you had a stressful day.

Daniele: I suck at self-promotion, but I agree with Isak: weirdly, it can be a really relaxing game, in spite of its high difficulty. It deserves to be played at least to see if you can reach illumination in the midst of chaos. And because it’s really challenging, obviously!

Thank you both Daniele and Isak for taking the time to participate in our interview!

If you missed our Goscurry review, then go give it a read! Those who would love to support Holoville Games can do so by purchasing the game on their website, or by upvoting it on Steam Greenlight. Or, you can take a shot at entering our massive Goscurry giveaway!

Interview with Michael Stearns, Developer of Tiny Barbarian DX

Tiny Barbarian DX Giveaway

We’re venturing into new and exciting territory here on Pixel Pacas… Interviews! Since we have such adoration for independent and otherwise interesting games we figured this would be a nice new feature of the site. Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading the interviews too! Our first interview is with Michael Stearns, who alongside Daniel Roth and Jeff Ball, created one fantastically fun game by the name of Tiny Barbarian DX.

Pixel Pacas: How did StarQuail games get started? Were there any other independent developers you looked up to at the time?

Michael Stearns: We started quite a while back, though we had some trouble getting started and didn’t release anything until 2006. As we were working on those projects, I think the indie developer (as we’d call them) that I looked up to the most was Moonpod, they were really pushing for slick production values that not many indies were doing then. Generally I take a lot more inspiration from 16-bit console developers. Those were the games I loved and wanted to see more games like, I strongly believed there were a lot of people like me who wanted that, and I knew that those games were made by fairly small teams and couldn’t have taken too long to make, so I figured with current development tools we could do something similar. Of course, it turns out that making these games is a lot of work, so it took quite a while to really get going!

PP: The Tiny Barbarian DX Kickstarter was a success but was there ever a point you feared it wouldn’t make it? What do you think most drew people to the project to fully fund it?

MS: We had a really strong start, but it wasn’t timed very well, right before Thanksgiving weekend in the US. So on those first few days it showed every indication of meeting the goal, but the holiday really slowed things down, and I felt like maybe I’d ruined my chances by letting it get so close, and then Christmas would be coming up soon the next month. But I’d also looked a lot at other game Kickstarter projects and I’d seen that games that had a strong start tended to make it, the ones that didn’t seemed to be in trouble from the beginning, so I felt pretty confident.

I think the thing that worked for our game, and any game really, is that we had a game that people wanted to play. You just look at a thing and go “hey, I really want that.” There’d be moments in the trailer that just show those little touches, like deflecting an arrow or hopping on the cat or seeing the enemies climb up at the start. Coming at the game with a lot of “stuff” at that initial reveal makes a really strong impression.

PP: When designing Tiny Barbarian DX (or even the original Tiny Barbarian), what game-specific inspiration(s) did you pull from?

MS: Oh, there were quite a few! From a visual, thematic kind of standpoint I was thinking a lot about older arcade games like Rastan, Karnov, and Rygar. These are games that I have to admit I never really liked, but always found really intriguing, they had interesting settings. But for other stuff, probably the biggest inspiration was Shinobi 3, which had a fun up-close attack (I always wanted to use it instead of the ranged attack!) and kept the game feeling really diverse, like you’d ride on a horse in one level, or there’d be a big elevator in another, it always felt fresh and that’s what I tried to recreate. The elevator in Tiny Barbarian DX is a really cool set piece but it’s also a really obvious homage to Shinobi 3’s elevator. Instead of guys with guns crawling through the walls, I put in little guys with blow darts. (I always think of blow darts as a funny weapon for some reason!)

Tiny Barbarian Featured

PP: Conan the Barbarian is noted as one of the main inspirations for the game. What about the sword and sorcery world made you want to create a game in the same vein?

MS: It was actually Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser that got me into Sword & Sorcery, and what drew me in was because, see, in high school I had read all these sprawling epic stories like Wheel of Time in particular, and they just started to become tiresome. I still liked that sort of theme, but when I found S&S, maybe this is obvious, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that Fantasy didn’t have to be “epic,” it could be about these smaller-scale conflicts that are more personal. The stories were shorter, and in the cases of the ones I really liked–I may get in trouble here–better written! So I thought that was a bit like the old video games that I like so much, they’re much shorter but also much denser, and that’s what I like in a game. So it seemed like a good match, and I had never played a Conan game that I really liked, so I thought I’d try with a Conan-esque.

PP: What is it about pixel art that made it the perfect choice for Tiny Barbarian? Do you find the style equally, less, or more expressive than polygons?

MS: For Tiny Barbarian, besides the S&S concept, the other thing that inspired it was just making the character. This isn’t a good way to develop a game, but this is a case where the player sprite was the first thing I did. I had been thinking about how to do my barbarian-themed game idea, and I just thought it would be a funny interpretation of the character to make him so low res, and that’s really where the title came from, he has a very small presence on screen. And I think the “old” look of the game really meshes with the old feel of the pulpy serials that originally ran those stories. I would say you can definitely be more expressive with higher resolution art, either 2D or 3D, but it’s different–a high res character doing pantomime or not talking doesn’t feel right the way a low-def character does.

PP: How did you guys manage to make Tiny Barbarian DX’s music so awesome? What is your favorite track?

MS: That’s ALL Jeff Ball–he is the secret! He was already a fan of classic games but he spent some time researching the types of games he wanted it to sound like, and he would focus on the “feeling” that a certain section was meant to evoke. A really good example would be the Wizard battle theme, where I wanted this ominous quality to match my artwork, but he made a song that was surprisingly upbeat, because he felt it was important that the player not lose heart or be overwhelmed here. And I was resistant at first, but it was a great song and before long I couldn’t imagine something else playing there.

My favorite tracks are the dungeon theme, and then the palace, when you bust in through a wall and the music starts with that crash. Also all the boss themes, I really like those.

Tiny Barbarian DX Screenshot

PP: What were some of the first video games you ever played? What do you play today?

MS: Well, we’ll keep this brief! The very first game I remember playing was Frog Bog on Intellevision, which a friend of my dad owned. Later we’d get an NES, but the first game that really turned me on to games to the extent where I realized that video games were amazing and a thing I might seriously want to do and made me kind of obsessed was Sonic the Hedgehog, and later Gunstar Heroes. Last year (2013) my favorite games were Volgarr the Viking, Super Mario 3D World, and Pikmin 3. I turned into a Sega fan with the Genesis but these days I appreciate Nintendo more than ever. 🙂

PP: For all those who have yet to play Tiny Barbarian DX, why should they give it a try?

MS: Oh gosh I’m bad at this, this is why we have trailers and gameplay footage, you should be able to tell easily if you are interested just by looking! But if you love old school games, especially from the 16-bit period, then you should definitely give it a look. There are lots of games claiming to have been inspired by that era but not all of them actually capture the feel successfully, and I hope you’ll agree that Tiny Barbarian DX does!

Also we should mention the episodic style–three new episodes will be added to the game over time at no additional cost, they’re just free updates, so the game will continue to get more interesting. You can get it now and be ahead of the crowd!

Thanks for interviewing us and I hope you’ll love the game!

A big thanks goes out to Michael Stearns of StarQuail Games for allowing us to have an interview!

If you missed out on our Tiny Barbarian DX review you can check it out right here. Feel free to let us know how we can improve future reviews, or even suggest people that you would like to see interviewed!