Kickin’ it With Matt White – Ghost Song
Have you missed the 2D Metroid releases of ages past? Are you looking forward to a game that takes the Super Metroid formula and runs wild? Then you are going to love this new Kickin’ it With!
4cr: Thank you for joining us for Kickin’ it With. Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Sure. I like comics, games, movies — And I’m known to play guitar and be a bit of a gear head in that regard. Up until a couple of years ago, I was very busy drawing comics. Graphic novels, more specifically. My work was somewhat eastern-influenced, with great admiration for titles like Appleseed and Battle Angel Alita.
I made a few attempts at web based graphic novels that I had trouble sticking with (it’s a long haul doing a detailed graphic novel — Each page taking a dozen hours or more) and had a brief stint doing a published work for the now-defunct Zuda Comics.
I liked comics, but what I was more fascinated with was the general idea of telling a visual story that didn’t require expensive equipment or actors or large budgets. It was around 2010 when I first started paying a lot of attention to the indie game development scene and starting to realize that maybe there was something for me there. That maybe my art skills could translate to game art; that maybe my life-long assumption that I’d be good at game design was true.
Took me a while to figure it all out, and learn a bit about programming, and make some connections — But, here I am. Growing pains mostly behind. Mostly.
4cr: Ghost Song is being described as a “Metroidvania” style game, and the Metroid influence is something the game wears on its sleeve. Why did you decide to create a game that honors Metroid and takes its formula to new territory?
Ghost Song began about a year ago as I was honing my platforming gameplay prototype and using Metroid as sort of a target model. A reference point. When I began to make a game out of it, sticking with the Metroid feel and formula seemed natural.
Super Metroid has been a life long love affair of mine. Since grade school my answer to “best game ever” has been pretty consistent. I figured out sequence breaking when I was about 11 and never had the internet. I didn’t even know what it was, I just knew I was pumped that I wall jumped passed the zoomers without the ice beam after about fifty tries and got the super bombs early. I sprang the Dachora out of its little area after hours of attempting just to see what would happen or if it were possible. This is a game I loved. 2D Metroids, in general, are games I love, and I feel I understand them implicitly.
What a shame, then, that no one actually makes games like this anymore. Nintendo hasn’t bothered with it since 2003 when the rather good (but still not Super Metroid) Zero Mission was released. Third parties and indie developers may emulate many types of games — But almost never this.
Therefore, making a Metroid-like seemed pretty reasonable. It began as a Flash game, with a relatively limited scope and with few plans other than that I wanted to do a game with some kind of powersuit and a great mystery surrounding the wearer of this suit. (I came up with the best mystery of all — Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about it. That’d spoil the fun.)
I built outward from here. I built up game mechanics never seen before in a Metroid game, and a rich story that I fell in love with. At some point the thing just became way too ambitious to be a flash game; way too much development time and a need for way too many assets to make for fast loading times in a browser. I also really wanted the game to be played with a controller, which can be hard to do with browser games.
Ultimately I made the decision that I wanted to end development on the Flash game and turn my eye towards Unity, where I’d revamp the gameplay and make all new high-res assets, perfect for viewing on a big screen. I loved the game too much to finish it out with compromises.
To do all this, I needed help. I needed someone who knew Unity and, more importantly, I needed someone who was a far more technically proficient person than I am who could take over the programming of the game. My friend Roger “Rekcahdam” Hicks was the obvious choice. We just needed funding to really focus our time on it, and the rest is history.
4cr: Your Kickstarter campaign for Ghost Song: A Journey of Hope has been very successful, and was actually funded within less than 2 days after launch. The campaign is still going strong, and you’re now at $32,349 total. How will the game be improved with the extra funds?
I want to state before anything, that our stretch goals, while substantive, are also relatively modest compared to what they could be. The reason for this is that I want “general polish” to be the main stretch goal. I want to assure everyone that if we have more time and resources to work on this thing, the overall product will just be better in general terms. I’m a perfectionist first, and extra resources plays right into those instincts.
Anyway, I thought a lot about the possibility of extra funds prior to launching the campaign, but didn’t really expect it. I remain a bit shocked by the success of the thing and that I found myself, so early, in the position of needing to address this at all.
I’ve become a bit weary of the game show I’ve observed in some Kickstarter campaigns, where it sort of feels like the game design is chopped up and parsed out willy nilly for the purpose of entertaining stretch goals. Something feels wrong about that to me. At the same time, I recognized the need to keep people engaged and involved after funding.
My solution was to look at things I actually did want to do in the past prior to sort of deciding not to do because it’d be too hard. For example, the “Enhanced Pet System” goal. The idea of a droid familiar and some sort of pet system is absolutely elemental to this game; It was one of my very first ideas. My very first platforming/collision tests featured a little circle following the character around. This was never not a part of it. I had big ideas about doing something kind of like the MAG in Phantasy Star Online. I wanted people to end up with different pets than their friends; I wanted people to compare notes. I wanted rare forms to make you feel special.
Doing all of that properly is actually a pretty tall order, so I sort of set it aside at some point in favor for a more simple system. The $30k tier is to bring back that original ambition.
The higher tier provides an additional, brief, campaign after the game’s credits roll. This, also, is something I always loved the idea of but never really expected to do.
The highest goal we have right now (and probably the highest we’ll ever need) is the Wii U goal. While it’s a significant burden for a couple of small time indies to promise support for a console, particularly this early in development, I’m willing to shoulder that burden if our funding is wildly successful.
Beyond that, I just love Wii U, and I know the folks playing this system are a bit title starved. I’d love to put my game on it.
4cr: Since the game isn’t set for a release until May 2014, there is a long wait ahead for those that have backed the project. What do you have in mind for the updates to all backers during the months you’ll be working on developing Ghost Song?
First off, it’s not that long, really, especially relative to the delivery time on many game projects.
May 2014 is an incredibly rough guess that I made simply because Kickstarter forces you to provide a guess. I came to this estimate by considering a few factors. I have a pretty iron clad game design and some of the game done in Flash, but we still need to set the whole thing up on a new engine. I have a lot of art assets done, but I need to redo them (or scrap and start over, in some cases) for high res. It’s either a monumental task or a fairly reasonable task, depending on what day you ask me. Ultimately, I think this thing will take a while, because I want it to be everything I dreamt it to be, and I want to deliver something awesome to the backers that they can feel good about. Those things take priority over release dates.
I want to involve and talk to the backers during development. We may go quiet for a little while initially as we start to put the thing together, but once we have cool things to show, I have no doubt that we’ll start showing peaks at some of it.
4cr: You’ve focused on making the campaign rewards be digital since creating physical rewards would keep you away from actually working on the game, which makes sense. But with such an ambitious project, will you be working by yourself until the end, or are you considering perhaps increasing the amount of people working on Ghost Song if enough funds are secured?
Ghost Song, as a funded Kickstarter project, is officially a two man job. I’m doing art and design, and Roger Hicks is doing the programming and audio. We’re in it to the end, and there has always been the assumption that we may need to work on this on our own time to some extent — Which is not new to us. We’ve done many projects together. Nothing as big as this, but projects nonetheless.
If funding blows out anything we ever imagined I would certainly consider getting a little more help, such as a dedicated environmental artist to help me cram in more and more detail and variety. That’d probably be the first type of person I’d be interested in hiring if we had extreme resources.
4cr: Super Metroid is known for being a game that can quickly be finished (thanks to sequence-breaking techniques), and it is an extra incentive that has kept the game Super Metroid on the spotlight for decades. Are you considering developing Ghost Song to be a speed-run friendly game? Or is this something that you won’t factor into your design?
I’m all about sequence breaking. That said, it’s a bit premature, and certain other aspects of the world design are forefront in my mind before making guarantees about the ability to do this. Just know that I get it.
4cr: Is there anything else you want to tell our readers?
If you love 2D Metroid, I understand you. Come check out the project. You’ll be home.