http://i.imgur.com/nyuEdCt.png
I sent Jon and Sean at Analgesic Productions some questions about their new game, Anodyne. Read on to find out about the development of Anodyne, their feelings on gaming, and why you shouldn't fight baby chocobos.

Sean and Jonathan, thanks for agreeing to talk with us! Anodyne is creating a lot of buzz lately in the indie gaming scene and people are really enjoying it. Have you been surprised at the response?

Jon: I have been really surprised. After working on it for so long, it was hard for me to get a sense of the project as a whole, fresh experience. I feel like we just sort of had to put it out there, believe in it, and hope for the best.

Sean: I guess I'm a little surprised things turned out how I was hoping they would - having a good number of people liking the game, and generally positive reviews! I'm very thankful for all of it.

Some have compared Anodyne to early Zelda games but it seems to have been influenced by far more than one franchise. Can you share your influences in creating this game?

Jon: Graphically, some people recognize elements of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, Pokemon, and other Gameboy/SNES games. I didn't look at a lot of games specifically while making Anodyne, but certainly studying the graphics of many games has helped me figure out how to use pixels in general. A lot of the NPC dialogue was inspired by things that I had heard people say or thoughts that I had had that stuck with me.

Sean: World design was strongly influenced by Yume Nikki's way of juxtaposing varied areas in jarring manners. I wanted to go for that at first, but Jon helped me decide it would be better to attempt a coherent narrative instead. I wanted to give a sense of wonder and discovery in finding the new areas that wasn't totally incoherent once thought about for a bit (Though it may come off as jarring initially). Game design - obviously took a bit from Zelda and tried to see what I could do with a few mechanics. Music, well, a ton of game music and music in general really - little passive influences here and there.

It took me a long time to figure out the trick to the first boss fight. Then, I got lost and ended up backtracking. I was reminded of my early days of gaming, staying up until my eyes were burning too much to keep them open, trying to find that next item or location. How important was the focus on self-reliance and trial and error in the development process? Also, do you think modern games tend to hold your hand too much?

Jon: I think there is a lot of rich design philosophy that can be sifted from old games. You have to be really careful, because sometimes it's really hard--or maybe it's kind of impossible and everything just depends--but it can be pretty hard to separate the good from the bad. A general trend in some big budget games is to explain the story and game mechanics really clearly. In a way it seems like a common sense progression of good design. How would a player feel empowered or engaged if they don't know how the game works? But really, moments of figuring out or working around mysterious things can bring a great sense of wonder or fulfillment to a player.

Sean: I think if the player figures things out themselves (and you design in a way that eases that), without lots of guidance, they are better set to tackle the exploration of your game world! Thus you need to be a little bit axiomatic at how you introduce mechanics. I haven't played a lot of modern AAA games recently, to be honest. Skyward Sword might have been the most recent, I think one of the newer Ratchet and Clank's...both were pretty linear, so maybe hand-holdy in that sense, but that's okay with Ratchet and Clank (more action I think), with Zelda it wasn't really that exciting or adventurous... I haven't played enough to really say for sure!

There’s a particular puzzle that you’ve said is too hard, and that you’re going to fix it in a patch. Was this puzzle designed this way, or is its difficulty a bug?

Sean: It was designed (poorly) that way - the clues just were misleading and unhelpful. In the most recent patch it's been replaced with *good* clues by Jon which are much easier to reason out the solution with.

You recently ran a promotion on The Pirate Bay, allowing anyone to download the game for free, as a response to finding it had been submitted there. How has this promotion gone for you?

Very well :) I made a little write-up on it at http://seagaia.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/anodyne-pirate-bay-promo-post-mortem/ . In short, much more traffic, many more sales, many more people playing Anodyne, which is wonderful!

As an indie studio, how do you feel the indie gaming scene is affecting the industry as a whole?

Jon: It's kind of hard to say. While in some circles it sort of seems like indie games are the future and everything, even the income from the biggest indie games wouldn't support a huge game studio. There are just different measures of success, because indies are working in small groups, so they can have more niche audiences and still succeed. I hope big studios are excited by and interested in some of the design innovation found in some good indie games. I don't know, though.

Sean: Possibly through design innovation. I doubt indies will ever take over though, large game companies seem to be pretty well-off. It's pretty good now, companies of all sizes seem to be getting along fine, and I think I'm fine with it that way - there are games worth making that need large teams, if only large corporations were able to take more risks more often!

Would you ever kneel before Zod?

Jon: Nah, the Power Warrior Courageous will defeat Ultra Zod. I have no idea what I'm talking about, I just took that from Wikipedia.

Sean: If he gave me a bagel. Who is Zod?

The music in the game is perfect for the mood. What were your thoughts and influences when composing the music?

Sean: Other composers that were influential were - Joe Hisaishi, David Kanaga, Rich Vreeland (disasterpeace), Terence Lee (lifeformed), Yasunori Mitsuda, Satie, Chopin, Ravel, Liszt, Mussorgsky. As for other influences, sort of just life and remembering certain feelings from experiences - banal as walking up a staircase to some nice nature-y sort of thing. I usually wanted to evoke a mood for the area in order to help build up that area's aesthetic in conjunction with the art and gameplay for the area, and for doing that I would take that mood/feel and look to a sort of musical vocabulary I've built up with influences, from music and life, to try and convey that feeling.

On the bandcamp page you mention you used free soundfonts, I wonder if you could share what those were?

Sean: Yeah, I used: Earthbound, Ultimate Megadrive, "Vintage dream waves", some harp, and I think that was it.

What was the overall tone and feeling you were trying to convey with Anodyne?

A sense of unease and isolation, maybe even a little bit of anxiety, complementing Young's activities in the dream.. I think that tone helps in complementing the game's story and themes, as well as the darker areas, and forms a nice underlying tension in some of the calmer places.

What were each of you doing before starting Analgesic Productions? How did you get where you are today?

Jon: I was, and still am, an art major at Carleton College. For money, I was doing stuff like web design and poster design. For art, I'm interested in comics, books, animation, and games.

Sean: I had just finished up a crappy platformer, Inspiration Dave, and was studying computer science in schoool (still am). I made a handful of small, not very good games before that, and had writing a bit of music too.

When you aren’t writing games, what games are you currently playing?

Jon: I just played through To the Moon. I think it's a great example of why working low tech can actually have a meaningful purpose. People tend to see small sprites and pixels and assume that the only reasons they were used were to appeal to nostalgia or to save time. While these are often contributing factors, I believe that there can be effective and intentional use of these design elements. For instance, I am almost certain that I wouldn't have been nearly as impacted by a version of To the Moon with next-gen, movie-like graphics and full voice acting. When you limit the amount information conveyed to the player, they fill in the blanks with their imagination and experience. This is a fundamentally different experience then trying to transmit to them a fully-realized alternate reality.
I have logged a ridiculous number of hours on The Binding of Isaac, and still play that now and then. Also recently played Antichamber and Portals 1 and 2, all of which I appreciated and enjoyed.

Sean: Ah, I'm always trying to finish The Real Texas, but it's pretty tough! A lot of conversing and talking, but I want to see what mysteries it holds. I was playing Secret of Evermore but got a little tired a bit into the 3rd world - the fighting felt a bit clunky, and I got tired - just picked up Seiken Densetsu 3, we'll see how that goes! Another in-progress game is Phenomenon 32. I'd like to finish that at some point. I finally finished Braid the other day, and I did play through Antichamber once! Both ar great.

Would you rather fight one adult chocobo or 100 baby chocobos?

Jon: Definitely one adult. It would probably kick my ass, but at least I wouldn't have to hurt any baby chocobos!

Sean: Do I get more experience points fighting the 100? Depends on my gear. I guess you could like, fashion a weapon out of the bigger chocobo's bones, make a helmet with its skull, and maybe in general just get this really grim set of gear from it. The 100 babies would probably give me like 300 EXP max, plus nightmares. And then you could sell off the big chocobo's other parts for money. Killing the babies might give you bad press, you could spin the story when fighting the big one to say it was attacking you.

How do you feel the recent push toward cross-platform gaming, and new consoles like the SteamBox and Ouya will change how and where we play games in the future?

Jon: I haven't got any new (used) consoles since a PS2 in high school. Usually there are a couple console exclusives that I'm interested in, but not enough to want to invest the time, space, and money into getting a new machine. I'm not really sure what effect SteamBox and Ouya will have. I think I would be more excited about developing for a more open handheld console. I guess smart phones are a thing, but I still am pretty attached to the directness and physicality of buttons in terms of design and experience.

Sean: Hmm, the "where" doesn't interest me so much as the "how" - I'm open to the idea of an open console in that we won't have to deal with all of the shit with porting between platforms, and dealing with whatever wacky crap Microsoft/Apple decides to do with their OS's in the future. It'll take a while though, and the OUYA/etc. will have to keep growing, before the audience is large enough for that to be financially viable to develop for. But one uniform platform that is widely adopted would be ideal to develop for, but I don't think that will be a reality for quite a while - the computer is closest to that, though we have the different OS's.

What are your top five games of all time?

Jon: This is really tough. Here are some of my favorites. I don't think they're all necessarily the best in terms of objective qualities, but these are just some I really enjoyed and that stick with me: The Binding of Isaac, Final Fantasy IX, Megaman X4, Pokemon Red and Crystal, Link's Awakening.

Sean: Hard to say and rank. I really enjoyed: An Untitled Story, Fez, LoZ Oracles, Metroid Prime, Cave Story, some great worlds in those.

What’s next for Analgesic Productions?

Sean: Steeeaaamm???...heh, well, not sure. If Steam, then we will probably be financially well off enough to do another game together in the near future. In any case I'll be working on prototypes in the meantime and seeing what happens!

Jon: It's still uncertain! I hope getting Anodyne on Steam, but maybe that's not what you meant...

jdodson   Admin wrote on 02/22/2013 at 03:54am

Awesome interview thanks @panickedthumb.

This game is REALLY unique. Feels very akin to Link's Awakening which is right up my alley for rad. I will post my thoughts on the first bits of this game very soon.

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