Interview: Indrah & Fomar0153 Talk Sunken Spire, Development Cycles and Characterization

C-C-C-Cashmere

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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 powerhouse duo Indrah and Fomar0153, developers of RPG Sunken Spire along with MakioKuta and Racheal. Set in the collective Arum universe, the game follows two veterans from previous games, Alma and Elsa, on their new quest near the town of Leveida. When the heroines are ordered to inspect and dismantle a secret and potentially dangerous laboratory, it quickly becomes clear there is more to this mission than originally thought. When a gigantic spire suddenly emerges near the art-obsessed town and people start to go missing, the situation is close to getting out of control. It is up to our hard-boiled heroines and their new companions to unravel the mystery of the Spire.
Hey Fomar0153 and Indrah. Thanks for the interview. Firstly, tell us a bit about yourselves, for those who might not know you.
Fomar: Well I'm 26, from England and have been using RPG Maker software on and off for over ten years now. I partnered with Indrah for the first time three years ago. I have been handling the majority of the scripting and most of the gameplay stuff.
Indrah: I’m 27 and from Spain. I handle writing, mapping and eventing, plus most of the resource management. (This changed recently when we worked with Maki and Rachel, however, and I mostly did the writing and mapping).
I forget how long I’ve poked around the RM programs for (I never got past poking very vaguely for many years and quickly dropped the programs). My first real “public” demo (as in having any small amount of work in it) was for a really crappy game back in March 2011 called Lafrenze. I tired a few things for a while and then started getting “serious” in March 2012 with In Search of Dragons. After that, I met Fomar for the mystery contest, and the rest is history.


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You guys have worked together for quite a while now (I believe you call yourselves Blue Coral Games), with In Search of Immortality, The Grumpy Knight, and others. MakioKuta and Rachael are also quite a prolific duo. How'd you guys happen to get together to make Sunken Spire? Was it just a meeting dictated by chance, or something more meaningful?
Fomar: We all enjoyed each others' games and we had been talking about making a game together before the contest and then the contest was announced. So we went for it. It was a great experience working together and was really fun. We fit together really well and worked well as a team so we're hoping we can partner up more in the future once we finish off some prior projects on both sides.

Given that you've been working together for quite a while now, how would you describe the team dynamic between you? What do you think makes you such an effective team?
Fomar: Our development cycle usually goes something like this; agree a plot and characters, Indrah makes the maps and does the writing, I do the scripts and gameplay, then finally in the last couple of days (once or twice hours) we merge the projects and test. It works for us most of the time. Occasionally communications break down a little and you get an odd occurrence for example in the Grumpy Knight I didn't realise the castle area was optional so most of the encounters there were originally much weaker than the beach area enemies who were a bit strong for what turned out to be the first area. As for what makes us effective, I guess it helps we can trust the other to get their work done. We seems to be quite good at working to deadlines but I guess most people are.
Indrah: I have a lot of time (no day job) and can dump endless hours when truly focused, and Fomar is really quick when he really sets to work, so we work pretty well under pressure. If nothing else working with NO deadline has been our biggest hurdle so far.


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Where did the idea come for Sunken Spire?
Fomar: I really wanted to have some returning playable characters as up to that point we had fresh characters each time. We were both keen on Alma returning and then we haggled a bit and Elsa and Ezekiel returned as well. Indrah was keen to explore Rumen as we've referenced it several times previously. Indrah also wanted to try alternate levelling systems, there was a game she liked where you had monster party members who you fed to level up and hence the Slime was born. My biggest challenge besides the volume of systems was reimplementing Elsa and Alma. Alma wasn't too bad she just left a lot of her previous inventions behind and builds mostly new ones. Though she kept a few skills and converts her old golem into an automated party member. I don't like in general how characters start over in sequels so Elsa was a much bigger challenge, at the end of the grumpy knight Elsa was given a weapon which gave her 4 of each rune type and had 12 skills. Which wasn't going to be very friendly to newcomers. Eventually it worked itself out but I'm not keen for Elsa to be playable and controllable again.
Indrah: I wanted to have something centralized so we made a very tall tower sort of dungeon and one town…that got away from me. Seriously, it was supposed to be the tiniest, most basic thing, but once I started to map it, it simply ran away from me and since it was done I pushed for it to have side quests and stuff in it, which gave birth to a lot of the sidestuff and NPCs in town. We did not have a strong plot for the game, as initially it was just “hey let’s bring back these characters and have a dungeon!” sort of idea. We made a plot that could fit into that, but of course it expanded and branched off and now we are looking forward to adding a bunch of extra stuff into the game’s future release.

(Disclaimer: The new release of Sunken Spire is canned, as this interview was conducted about 8 months ago and plans have changed since then. Continue on, bold interview reader.)

What kinds of things are you wanting to add into the future release? You were saying the scope of the game went out of hand, and was that a good or a bad thing? Are you looking to expand the scope of the systems that you currently have, or rather try to provide more depth to them, like you said earlier about developing the single town and dungeon?
Fomar: The original plan was for Ezekiel's section to be it's own scenario. You click new game it asks you to choose between the main story and Ezekiel's story. The current plan going forward is that we'll be doing that but expanding Ezekiel's story to cover the whole game, Rachel recently finished the system where we store what levels, stats, skills, equipment the main party has at the two boss fights with Ezekiel, so expect to suffer. We might also add a couple more scenarios. In terms of the scope getting out of hand, it didn't really affect me other than having to make more enemies, I was always going to be making the four characters and their systems. Originally I was going to create some of the dungeon puzzles but I ran out of time, so I'll probably aim to create some fun dungeons for some of the less interactive dungeons sections.
Indrah: It’s still on just the idea stage, but we also wanted to expand the side quests and cutscenes in town and force the player to come back to town after each segment, since a lot of people reported never or too late noticed they COULD do things back at the town. A number of systems are getting improved (we’re making a consultable list of missing people with a small tracking of who you’ve saved and where they are) and a bunch of other things that story-wise we want to improve, since lack of a strong plot was something feedback reported. While the story won’t change that much, we want to tweak and expand it a bit.


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In your games, one thing that people say they are in love with is your characters. What do you think makes the characters in your games so lovable, and why do you think people get lost in and/or captivated by the world of Arum?
Indrah: To be perfectly honest I could not explain in exact words how I write characters. It’s something that for me happens automatically and I’m terrible at theory. If I had to say anything I’d be that I love making characters bounce off each other rather than serve a fixed plot. I use them more as people doing things on their own rather than the plot’s pawns. Often we’ve changed details or even chunks of the story itself to fit how we wanted the characters to act. Something I notice that also is common in fantasy games (especially the Rpg Maker community) is that most developers try to either be very serious or go too far with the random “lolz”. In the first case they forget to have fun once in a while and the game comes out as super serious, straight, no fun allowed; and in the second case the attempts at random humour tend to get tiring very quickly. I try to write characters I enjoy and that I find amusing, even if they do have serious or dramatic moments. I’ve never been a fan of super dramas, tragedies or super serious high fantasy (and in fact I don’t read much of it outside Terry Pratchett because all the ones I find are so grim or take themselves so bloody seriously), and as a developer I make the stuff I like myself, so it ends up with silly characters that refuse to take themselves too seriously, and apparently people enjoy that.

Am I right in saying that a lot of your games have been contest entries? Do you find the contest deadlines good in motivating you to do stuff? What else motivates you, especially when development feels like a slog?
Fomar: Yes you're right; In Search of Dragons, In Search of Clues, Dead Moon Night, In Search of Immortality, Final Quest and Sunken Spire were all contest games. Only In Search of Freedom wasn't made for a contest. Deadlines are great for motivation and we tend to set deadlines even when there isn't one e.g. over a weekend my goal could be to finish a character, their systems, skills and equipment. The thing with contest deadlines is that they force us to limit the scope of the game and really focus. We often end up having to cut further to meet the deadline. With non-contest games we let them have a bigger scope and don't tend to cut content. Which is fine but then they end up taking an awful lot longer. We find that we can take time off a project and can come back and just pick it straight back up, which is what we keep doing with our commercial project (that one day we will reveal). We find it helps to occasionally (whenever there's a contest) take a break and try out new ideas. I know it must sound like the worst advice ever but so far it's what has worked for us. I think the best advice I could give anyone is to find what works for you.

What do you guys like to do in your spare time? Things you do when you're not making RPGs?
Fomar: Game making is my main hobby and eats up most of my free time but I enjoy reading, I've just started the Way of Kings. A Song of Ice and Fire is my favourite book series. I also play games, Guild Wars 2 and League of Legends mostly at the moment.
Indrah: Reading manga, sometimes watching anime, sometimes reading, surfing the internet for funny articles and images...gaming sometimes (not as much nowadays), maybe playing MMOs if I can convince someone to play with me.
Fomar: I'll play GW2 but I've had enough of FF14 sorry :(
Indrah: See what I have to deal with? PICKY GAME EATERS. DANG YOU FOMI >c

What are your plans for the future? What do you think you'll be doing in, say, 5 years' time?
Fomar: I hope that we will be successful with our commercial games and that maybe I could reduce my hours at work to focus more on game making.
Indrah: Game Making as a full time job/comercial games. Maybe living abroad somewhere else if the money permits.

That's fascinating. Let's close off with "favourite" questions.


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Favourite food?
Indrah: Pasta.
Fomar: I do like my curries, or maybe fudge (I make home-made fudge).

Favourite actor/actress?
Indrah: ...I've no idea. I liked Arnold Swarzenegger when I was a kid?
Fomar: Ur I dunno, I enjoyed Thomas Brodie-Sangster in GoT he's come to mind first.

Favourite ice-cream flavour?
Indrah: Dulce de Leche (dunno what the english name is).
Fomar: Blue Cotton Candy but they only make it once a year for charity and with the new labeling laws coming in they might not make it next year :(

Favourite musical artist/style?
Indrah: Nothing in particular, I tend to listen to JPop because I download anime openings I like.
Fomar: I like most music not that fussy, though I listen to Adiemus on loop probably a third of the time I'm game making.

Favourite day of the week and why?
Indrah: Weekends. Because my parents leave and I have the house to myself.
Fomar: Saturday, I can enjoy it and know I have another day off the next day.

Favourite RM Game?
Indrah: Ib. Definitely Ib.
Fomar: I'm fairly standard for the most part; A Blurred Line and Kinetic Cipher. Though I did really enjoy Phylomortis: Avant Garde. It convinced me to get into scripting.

Favourite game of yours?
Indrah: Uh...not sure. In Search of Immortality, maybe? It's the one with the strongest "drama" while still being mostly lighthearted. Polish wise, Sunken Spire is out best looking game for sure, made with a bigger team.
Fomar: Either Sunken Spire or In Search of Freedom. Sunken Spire definitely has more depth but in Freedom has the Psychic Tree boss who literally abuses all the systems he can for example you can equip commands in Freedom and he can unequip them for you in battle, he'll be hard to top.

Favourite part of making games?
Indrah: Mapping, but once the TILESET is prepared. I can just turn off my brain, set some funny videos in the background and work quietly for hours.
Fomar: I enjoy the design process more than actually implementing the ideas but I think everyone does. I always have a lot of fun designing the character systems and seeing how I can design the battle system around the abilities e.g. In Search of Immortality, Ellis's time magic can alter the battle queue to control the flow of battles.

Fomar: OK thanks for interviewing us, it's been fun!
The pleasure's mine.


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Touchfuzzy

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You know, if you ever want to do these officially for the rmw blog, hit me up. You do a good job.

Also, @Indrah, we also call it Dulce de Leche :p . And it is delicious.
 
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Seacliff

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It seems you are picking this back up again.

Another good job as always, It's nice to know a bit more about our fellow forum members!
 

Makio-Kuta

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It should probably be clarified that that future release is pretty well canned at this point. (Also, the irony that the image above the part where Indrah talks about writing, is a screenshot of dialogue that is entirely mine. xD Writing those two old crones was entertaining.) Writing with Indrah was an interesting process- but it works well because we both have a similar mindset in what we enjoy overall in a game's tone. Even if she's a bit less willing to dig down in the dark, messy emotions.

I agree with the Fomar's comment that the four of us work really well together~ (and that we are working together again soon has me really excited!!)
 

C-C-C-Cashmere

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It should probably be clarified that that future release is pretty well canned at this point.
It should probably also be clarified that this interview is about 8 months old, which shows how terrible I am at delivering through with promises. But "I got better!" (from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail").

You know, if you ever want to do these officially for the rmw blog, hit me up. You do a good job.
Will do.
 

Fomar0153

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Yeah the new release is canned. At some point I'd like to deal with the outstanding issues but that won't be for a while.


Also I still haven't had chance to check about the cotton candy situation :(
 

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