What Games Inspire Irish Game Developers?

Some time ago, we at Bone-idle did an article on Eternal Spirits, an indie game being developed here in Ireland. It caught our eye because of its retro feel and charming visuals.

While catching up with the team behind the game, we were startled to realize that a casual drink had transmogrified into an interview without us even realising it!

We asked them a ton of questions about Eternal Spirits, what games inspired them and how long it will take for them to become millionaires.

The team is headed up by creative director Joe Chu, with Audrey Dooley as lead animator and Sean Bolger as lead programmer, though the team stresses that they all contribute quite evenly to all aspects of Eternal Spirits


 

So, what exactly is the goal of Eternal Spirits?

Joe:
The goal of the game is fulfilment. The game is challenging and at the end of it, we want the player to be able to sit and back and feel like they really achieved something, rather than had their hand held through an experience.
That’s also our goal, because we think that, when we finish this game, we will be able to sit back and say we made something really good. Good enough to get our own Google-style offices, with beanbags and hammocks and knock out one amazing game after another!

Audrey:
It would be really nice to be self-sufficient, to make something that we’re really proud of.

Sean:
I’m just in it for the money!

What sort of game would you make if you had those sort of resources?

Sean:
I like to think my Magnum Opus would be a really big RPG. Jobs, class systems, three different roles per character, that sort of thing. Seven, no, twelve playable characters!

Joe:
I’m a really big fan of 2D platformers, so I’d like to make something very similar to what we’re doing now but push it further…but a big JRPG sounds great too!
I guess, I do love platformers, but JRPGS, when I played them, that was the first time I really read and enjoyed a story from a game, like I would from anything else.

Audrey:
I’d like a JRPG too, but one with animated cutscenes, 2D ones with high quality

Joe:
Like Tales of Xillia, that is one high quality game.

Sean:
Remember Ristar on the Mega Drive? That was the first story in a game I really identified with. Which is strange considering it has no dialogue, hardly any basis. The whole game is just “You’re a hero. Go save stuff.” Then you find out that you were actually on a quest to save your father, who was missing. Because he was the real hero.
At the end of the game, it did this beautiful thing where it tells you the story of the levels backwards. So it takes you back through your adventure, towards the start again, where you realise your father is missing. That sort of story-telling is something I’ve always wanted to do.

What sort of games inspired you to make Eternal Spirits? What would be your favourite games?

Sean:
If I had to pick one, the obvious choice would probably be Klonoa on the Playstation, even though I didn’t play it until years after it came out. The graphics, the gameplay, the music, the story, it just wrenched tears from my face!

Audrey:
Kingdom Hearts would be one of my favourites. It’s simple to grasp, but with depth, which is a lot like Eternal Spirits, I think.

Joe:
…can I choose two? I’m going to choose two, because they’re both so relevant to Eternal Spirits. So one of them is Mega Man 2, because I really like the character design. I think that feeds into Eternal Spirits.
The other is [Castlevania:] Rondo of Blood, that’s the sort of gameplay we’re really striving for with Eternal Spirits.

 

Those games are pretty retro…did the earlier games you played have more of an effect on this game than modern games?

Joe:
We’re going for a retro feel with Eternal Spirits. The first game I think I ever played was Alex Kidd on the Sega Master system, and there’s a bit of that in Eternal Spirits too.

Audrey:
Same, the first game I remember playing was Crash Bandicoot on the PSOne, which is also a pretty simple platformer.

Sean:
For me, you might find this surprising, but it was Earthworm Jim on the Mega Drive. I was 5 and it was my uncle’s console, up in the attic. But the second game I remember playing was Pong, with the wooden dials and everything so, you know….aging backwards….

Being retro has certain connotations nowadays. You said Eternal Spirits was challenging. Is that code for punishingly hard?

Joe:
I don’t think it’s too hard…but that’s me. It will seem hard for some casual gamers, but it’s something they’ll get used to. It’s fair. And it builds, so the beginning will ease them in a little gently. But they’ll be grateful for the tougher bits, when they beat them.

Audrey:
I’m terrible at games, even though I like them. I found it pretty tough when I played it. I died about 50 times, but I learned, so it’s a lot like Dark Souls in that sense. Maybe a little harder!

Joe:
If you die, it’s not the game’s fault, it’s your fault! I showed the game off at a few conventions and most people were able to complete the prototype, so it’s skill based.

Sean:
I died when I played it, but only at the very end. So I’m good, I guess. It’s a little like Super Meat Boy, in terms of fun and difficulty. Both games have tight controls so, like Joe said, it’s skill based.

Joe:
Meat Boy is a great comparison actually. If you play the first few levels of Super Meat Boy, it’s not that hard. Nothing kills you, you just stroll to the end really. The buzz saws only really come in at level 11.

What has the reception been like for Eternal Spirits, when you showed it at conventions, or released trailers?

Audrey:
It’s been mostly positive. Some artist friends have given us some constructive criticism, “you should do this or do that”, but mostly it’s been quite positive.

Joe:
A lot has changed in the game since that point though.  I showed an early version of the game to my lecturers and classmates.* There were a few people showing off their games, but Eternal Spirits really got a lot of attention. The students loved the trailer. A lot of other projects were story-driven games, in which it was basically just an interactive story, which can be great.
But I remember a few people coming up to me and saying “Your game actually looks like a game and looks fun to play”, so that was a great feeling. We got great feedback from the character design too, people really like the look of Shen.

*Joe recently completed a Masters in video games development in DIT

Sean:
We very recently applied for Eternal Spirits to be greenlit on Steam as well, and we’re hoping the reception on that will be as good.

 

Tell us a little more about Shen.

Audrey:
He doesn’t talk much, he’s very quiet.

Joe:
Shen is made up of four elemental spirits, and he doesn’t know his own back-story. That’s up to the player to figure out, what has happened and what is going to happen to him. There are a few twists and turns in his story that I don’t think many people will expect, it’s going to be a real emotional rollercoaster.

Audrey:
He has powers as well of course, being made up of four elemental spirits. There are the usual four, but there’s also light and dark as well.

Joe:
Each elemental spirit is represented by a zodiac animal. The Tiger is Wind, the Phoenix is Fire, the Dragon is Water and the Turtle is Earth. Each animal has a function in the levels.
For example, when his attack is the Wind, you can move like the wind, ie. You’re faster and can double jump. When fire is equipped, he is more aggressive and has stronger attacks. Earth is a defensive stance, so you can block but you can also manipulate the Earth around you. And Water, as you might expect, allows you to swim really fast but also manipulate water and ice in interesting ways.

Considering the four different elements and stances you have in the game, you’ve effectively quadrupled the amount of time and effort that’s going to go into animating and coding. Is that not a little too ambitious for a first game?

Joe:
We go big. Otherwise we may as well go home. We don’t really see this as a one-off game that, if it goes well, we might do another one. This is the start of our company and we want to be proud of every game we’ll produce. And this is the game we want to make.

Audrey:
It just feels natural to go for something like this. We want to be passionate about our work, which is easier to do when it’s a little complex or epic. We didn’t want to settle for something simple.

Sean:
We’re always going to aim big but we don’t see it that way. A big task is just a lot of little tasks, taken one after the other. We have to look at it that way, so we don’t get bogged down in the vastness of it.

Joe:
It also helps that we’re all part of a team, and that we’re all so ambitious. We push each other when we start to feel like there’s too much.


So, when will Eternal Spirits be ready to play?

Joe:
It’s impossible to say really. We don’t have deadlines and we’re pushing for this by ourselves. We don’t know what problems we’re going to come up against.
But if I’m being optimistic, I think it might be available late 2016. If everything goes well! It’s not going to ship if I’m not happy with it, so don’t take my word on that. But we’ve got a good team and good ideas, so let’s shoot for 2016.

 

Keep an eye out for Eternal Spirits on Steam Greenlight, coming soon!

-Written by Stephen Hill

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