Interview: Cinnamon talks Unraveled, atmosphere and "show, don't tell"

Discussion in 'General Lounge' started by C-C-C-Cashmere, May 20, 2015.

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  1. C-C-C-Cashmere

    C-C-C-Cashmere Veteran Veteran

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    As part of my interview series, I'm speaking to prominent developers/contributors in the 2014 Indie Game Maker Contest to gain insight on their inner workings. Today we speak to Cinnamon, the developer of the adventure RPG Unraveled: Tale of the Shipbreaker's Daughter, driven by the story of a little girl whose family has gone missing at a ship breaking yard. Based on real events, Unraveled takes you through a child’s imagination as she seeks out her parents. Relive your childhood fantasies on a journey that may make you think, laugh and tear up (just a little bit).
    Hey Aaron. Thanks for talking with me. Firstly, perhaps introduce briefly on who you really are, for those who may not know.
    Hi Benny, thank you for choosing to interview me! I've read your other interviews and I love what you're doing for the community!

    My real name is Aaron van der Brugge, but I tend to go by various usernames -- my account here being 'Cinnamon'. I used to be very active in the RM community a few years ago (around 2007-2009) when I was developing my first (controversial) game: Whisper of a Rose. Back then I even published a couple of tutorials on pixel art. But I'm a traveler and a dreamer, and life got too complicated for me to continue a strong online presence while developing games. I was born and raised in the Netherlands, Rotterdam, and after releasing my second game Sweet Lily Dreams in 2012 I moved to London to study Interactive Animation. Skip ahead two years of traveling, conflict and events I'd rather forget, and I'm back in the Netherlands finally focusing on game development again! My current project is the extended version of Unraveled, which was created for the Indie Game Maker Contest 2014.

    Unraveled is a really cool game. What made you want to make that game, and what were your experiences like when you and your team were creating it?
    I have a very talented friend -- Chancler Harrison -- whom I've known since my first game Whisper of a Rose. Before the contest we were discussing working together on a project. In the past I had only hired him as a mapper, but he's an amazing writer too and we get along very well. A week after we began planning our project the contest was announced and we knew this was the perfect opportunity to push out a finished game.
     
    Unraveled is inspired by a documentary called The Wire Nest in which the life of people who work at ship breaking yards (for example, in Mumbai) are shown. These people are heavily underpaid, plagued by poverty and live with the threat of dying from their job every day due to the lack of safety regulations. The subject receives very little media attention, so we decided to use it as inspiration for Unraveled. Also, the very idea of a ship breaking yard is quite sad. These ships have held many memories and stories, yet in the end they all come together in a rotting pile of rust where the past is forgotten. Memories and dreams have been a main theme throughout almost all of my games as I have a personal fascination with them.
     
    The work process went quite smoothly. I'm the main graphics artist and a jack-of-all-trades, and Chancler helps my art come together with his amazing mapping. Because of how well we communicate with each other (even though we are a thousand miles apart) we got a lot of work done in that one month and managed to deliver exactly what we wanted. And, of course, my years of experience with RPG Maker XP helped greatly.

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    What are the most important things to you when you are designing or making games? What's your personal philosophy about game design and what is your overall dream for how you want your future games to be like?
    What I want to achieve with my games is not just to entertain, but to make the player feel something. Whether it's anger, sorrow or joy, my goal with creating a game is to take an emotion and portray it in such a way that the player feels it as well. Just the other day I received a letter from a player about Whisper of a Rose. He told me that after all these years the story had still stuck with him, as his wife had been through a similar situation. This concerns a case of sexual abuse, though in the game I handle this very subtly. My games are filled with symbolism and atmosphere; you won't find any graphic displays of HBO violence and rape.
     
    As I travel a lot I often get hit by a sudden feeling of euphoria by my surroundings. A subtle summer breeze cooling my skin as the forest leaves dance in perfect harmony; the almost calming bustle of a Taiwanese street market at night lit by countless lanterns; I want to capture these moments and re-create them. I want the player to get so drawn into the game that they can feel what I felt at that moment. It's escapism that I want to offer, and escapism is also a prominent theme throughout all my games. Whether it's in the form of alcoholism, dreams or hate; I believe that everyone longs for something in their life and that everyone handles this feeling of emptiness differently. I have personally went through all these forms of escapism, always having felt disconnected from the place I grew up in, and my life experience helps me write realistic stories that touch the players. If just one player is able to relate to the story and realizes "hey, I'm not the only one who feels that way" I'd be a happy game dev!
     
    Of course gameplay and game design are very important as well, but my personal strong suit is definitely the story and atmosphere. I've had a certain project called Lunafall on the back-burner for four years now. After Unraveled I'll finally be able to focus on that!

    I totally identify with that feeling of euphoria that you get. Games as a form of escapism is a really cool thing. Tell us a bit about Lunafall, if you'd like.
    Lunafall takes place in a full-fledged original fantasy world that I've written and re-written over the years. In fact I spent hundreds of dollars on character art years ago just to use them as reference material for myself. When I was a child I used to write stories, so I've always had a knack for the written word. However, I prefer to work with a visual medium so Lunafall never actually went anywhere. After Unraveled I'll be able to finally focus on turning the story into a video game. We're planning on using the Unity engine to create a smooth HD environment, something that I've always tried to do in RPG Maker but it has its limitations (frame rate, resolution, etc.).
     
    The game will focus on on a cast of character spread out across the world, tied together in one story with the shared theme of "longing". It will switch back and forth between characters like Game of Thrones with each "chapter" having its own sub-plot. In that way the game will play a bit like an anime. The battle system in Unraveled is actually one that we intend to use for Lunafall. I decided to "test the waters" using the contest for feedback. It has been received very well, which is great! I've been writing a production blog on Lunafall since the beginning of this year, if you're interested.

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    Obviously the story for Unraveled is unique and interesting, but so is the gameplay. What was the inspiration for the game mechanics and style and flow of the game, and how hard was it to get what you imagined in your head into an actual game?
    I'm a big fan of "show, don't tell", so we decided to limit the game's dialogue to just two sentences and show everything else visually. The game is seen through the eyes of the protagonist, a little girl. Her imagination turns the environment into scenes that function as flashbacks. The entire narrative actually tells the player what happened before the game, but by portraying it in the "now" it doesn't feel like irrelevant information. Instead it feels like what happened before the game is happening now. It can take hours and hours of tweaking to get something right for me, though! I've spent the last week just on one map: a doll house. It's insane! Other times I get a clear image in my head of what I want and everything falls together almost instantly. Those are my favorite moments, haha. The breaking mirror scene in Unraveled is one of them.
     
    I've played a lot of games from the IGMC 2014 and most of them fall into the trap of throwing a buttload of information at the player right at the start. Not only does this cause the player to zone out -- ignoring all the information -- but the player doesn't care about it at that point. You have to establish your game's hook and characters first. Make the player care about what is going on and then explain it. The book series A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) does this beautifully. First they establish all the protagonists in one area then slowly spread them out across the world. By that point you already care about the characters and so you start caring about what goes on around them and what could happen to them. You need to build things up -- the player hasn't already spent hundreds of hours with your story and characters.
     
    As for game mechanics, Unraveled is a bit of an RPG and platformer combination. Inspired by the old 2D Tomb Raider, we wanted to create a sense of exploration and danger by adding jumping and climbing. We didn't want heavy RPG elements as the game's focus is the story and too many stats and menus would take away from the narrative flow. Plus, we plan on adding even more platformer elements to Lunafall so it was great to experiment with.

    You said you're a traveler and a dreamer. Where have you traveled? What is your favourite place you've been to? Also, have you had any interesting dreams?
    I have most recently been to Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Germany and France. I would say my favorite place in the world is Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. Somehow I really connect with the culture there and even though I hardly speak Mandarin I fit in very well. When I finally finish my BA I'll be moving there to work at an IT company or as an English teacher. Last time I was there for a month with Chinese New Year and all I did was take walks, visit temples with my friends and sit on benches. It was amazing! Especially the street markets and Buddhist rituals are very inspiring. I won't go into politics, but these people are very passionate about their country and its independence. When I went to Malaysia I actually took the same flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that had the recent incident, which made the news even more shocking to me.

    I'd say my least favorite place is probably Paris. I kept getting approached by aggressive homeless people. Literally the first 5 minutes I was there I sat down on a bench with my luggage and a hobo tried to steal my bags while I was changing my jacket then followed me around for 5 minutes yelling things to me in French. It was very... interesting.

    As for dreams in the literal sense, I am one of the lucky individuals who remembers his dreams almost daily. They tend to be elaborate stories -- almost movie-like -- combining fantasy and real life. My most memorable dream was an epic tale about an invasion of spiders resembling the Visorak of Bionicle. I had the capability to fly -- as usual -- and flew all the way south then east to Asia. It started with finding my parents in bed as skeletons with tiny gleaming yellow eyes and a giant tornado on the horizon the size of a continent. I even love nightmares, except the ones where I dream about my past. I could go on and on about how my work is inspired by actual dreams I've had, but I won't bore you with that essay, haha.

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    Cool. Well, this brings us to the final section of the interview, where I ask you about your 5 favourite things.
    What is your favourite:

    ... food?
    Kimchi! It's a spicy Korean vegetable dish. My least favorite is pig blood. I unintentionally tried that in Taiwan and almost threw up when I found out what I was eating.
    ... actor/actress? My favorite actresses by far are Nicole Kidman, Jessica Lange and Emily Browning. Jessica is flawless as Sister Jude in American Horror Story: Asylum! My favorite actor is Bill Murray (Lost in Translation and Groundhog Day!).
    ... ice-cream flavour? I actually don't like ice-cream or sweets in general. I love strawberry cheesecake, though!
    ... musical artist/style? I'm a huge fan of Ayumi Hamasaki, Dido, Avril Lavigne, Madonna, Kumi Koda, and -- to a lesser degree -- of Stevie Nicks, Loreena McKennitt and The Carpenters. I prefer to listen to the entire discography of artists I'm a fan of than follow the Top 40.

    I have to give a special shout-out to Ayumi Hamasaki; every album she has released since 2008 has been strangely appropriate for that moment in my life. It's as if she's my soul mate (I wish, haha)!
    ... day of the week and why? Tuesday or Wednesday! Weekends bring back bad memories and make me feel uneasy. Wednesdays are awesome, though. Lots of good stuff happens and J-Pop releases are always on Wednesday.

    Fantastic. Thanks so much for agreeing to have this interview, it was real cool.
    Thank you for choosing to interview me! It was fun to be able to talk about my work and hopefully it helps someone. Good luck with your future interviews!

     
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  2. Marquise*

    Marquise* Veteran Veteran

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    Woah Cashmere! When you mean business, you mean business :D I'll try to find you on Greenlight!
     
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  3. Cinnamon

    Cinnamon Veteran Veteran

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    Holy cow, IT'S BEEN POSTED.

    Thanks, man! Timing is pretty great, considering our running Kickstarter and all! Thank you! Will link to this. ^-^
     
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  4. C-C-C-Cashmere

    C-C-C-Cashmere Veteran Veteran

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    Yeah, took me a while. And by a while, I mean almost a year. Apologies to you and everyone involved. But at least they're getting out there, right? >.<
     
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