When Kimberly brought the indiegame island to my attention for an interview I said “Yeah, but I want to write the questions”.
Because this game has a sense of nostalgia that I can relate to. It reminds me of playing games with my cousins and friends back in the day. Collection, survival, and battling the way it should be done.
Tell us about Island.
Island is a punishing roleplay game about a castaway stranded on an island in the pacific. The game is inspired by Robinson Crusoe, and built on a set of rules collected from real survival situations. In Island, you character won’t just get hungry and thirsty. He can get hurt and ill, can freeze to death, or deal with terror and psychological afflications. Resources are rare, and weather is unstable. There is no respite, and only two outcomes : death, or escaping the island.
Island has the look of a game that could have come out in the late 80’s. Why did you choose this retro style?
I grow up in the 90’s, and fell in love with 8/16 bits gaming. I love this kind of aesthetics, for me it helps immersivity and atmosphere. Also it allows us to modify elements and prototype new ideas quicker than if it was for example in 3D. This gives us a strong creative power over the game.
Some of the best games of that era were unforgiving and very difficult. Can we expect the same from Island?
Absolutely. Island is meant as a punishing survival experience. If it were a game where you simply roam around, scavenge a few coconuts, fish, and build shelters, it wouldn’t make sense. The game is about that critical moment when everything goes wrong. It tests you :
Your leg is broken, it’s getting infected. You’re hungry, and it’s been pouring down for hours. You could swallow the pain, and go back to your shelter, hours of walk away. Or you could use your spare skill points in first aid, make a splint, and hope to find a natural shelter around, before the night.
This is about how much you are able to stay in control, measure risk, and plan for the worst.
What inspired this tale about survival?
While the setting is inspired from Robinson Crusoe, the hardship is inspired from tales of real survival situations. Usually, individuals that were placed on the edge of death often describe an internal process of transformation where they ‘reconfigure’ themselves to be able to survive. Island’s core concept is about uniting the romanticism from the book and some of the crual, harsh realities of those real situations.
What kind of resources are available in the game to assist players?
Items are divided in 3 categories : food & materials, tools & weapons, and relics.
The most common resources can simply be found and harvested by wandering around and searching an appropriate area. You may, for example, find fruits or branches to build shelters in the jungles, while you’ll occasionally locate small shellfishs on the beaches. Simply collecting stuff around is rarely sufficient to sustain yourself, but is a base step to obtain sufficient crafting material for items of the next category.
Tools & weapons are items crafted from the natural components you find here and there, and then used along with a skill. For a skill to be efficient, you will have to reach a sufficient level at it, use it with a correct tool (or weapon during hunting sequences), and often use it in the appropriate area. Properly trained skills are however usually much more efficient at obtaining resources than random search. This is where a significant part of the decision making takes place : If you are hungry near a beach, it makes sense to become better at spear fishing.
Finally, relics are a completely different category of item. You’ll rarely find one of those : in a crate maybe, or amongst the remains of another boat wreck, on a beach. In the civilization, far away, these would be common, usual items : a lighter, shoes, a pan, a set of vials, a knife. Here, on the island, they are rare, precious, and crucial, because you can’t craft an efficient equivalent for those. Relics, when used well, can significantly alter your strategy. For example, it can be very complex to learn to light a fire, in Island. Finding the lighter will probably mean that you will focus you skill learning effort on the next most urgent matters, like building a shelter or crafting weapons for your next hunt.
What challenges does the player face along the way?
There are in the game many ways to get hurt or ill. Drinking too much unclean water can lead to dysentery. Food has durability, and some type of food have a certain toxicity or can lead to food poisoning. Weather can be a source of danger as well : you can get hypothermia faster if you stay a while under the rain, and get dehydrated quicker under the sun. You are almost blind at night. Getting hurt, or walking around at night without at least a source of light can damage your psychological condition quickly. The fauna is as hungry as you are. Finally, the depletion of local resources is always pushing you into new dangerous areas.
How does one escape the Island?
To complete a run and survive the island, the player will have to escape the island. There are many ways to reach this objective : an advanced skill allows you to build a strong enough raft, or you could discover another repairable boat wreck. Other escape methods are available, but we prefer to let the players discover those. Often, there is more than one solution, and it will be up to you to select the most practical one.
Tell us about how multiplayer gameplay works for Island.
We planned for multiplayer a collaborative mode where a team of 2~8 players should learn to survive collaboratively by pooling resources, building a common camp, and where each player should learn a specific specialization (ex : An expert fisherman + an expert hunter / gatherer + a good camp builder, etc.)
The multiplayer mode is the second stretch goal in the Kickstarter campaign.
How long have you been working on this project?
We’ve been collecting data and refining the concept on paper (and board) for a little less than a year, and started development a few months ago. The rest of the development should take place until near the end of 2019.
What would you say is the most interesting aspect of your game?
The game is designed to not leave the player any respite. It’s meant to be challenging, while giving you strong planning and control on what is happening. A run should usually be completed in one go. As the game is permadeath, the pressure is progressive. Dying at day 3 is meaningless, but dying at day 343, when you were about to complete the last steps or building the raft that would have allowed you to escape, will be pretty dramatic.
The game is also built with replayability in mind. Finishing a run while reuniting certain conditions, or discovering certain events, will unlock certain perks for the next runs. Exclusive relics, companions, and weapons will radically change the survival experience and gaming style of each run.
Tell us about the team of people working on your game.
One thing I love about Island is that it’s the sum of talents from all sides of the world. Our artists are from Latvia, Khazakstan, and Mexico. Our musician is from Canada, and our voice actors are from the US and UK. We’re from France ourselves, and our PR is a Franco-american. So much energy, talent, and passion put together to create what Island is today !
What kind of survival experience do you have? If you were stranded on an Island how long do you think you’d survive?
While I spent quite some time studying survival techniques, and talking to survival specialists, most of the experience is theoretical ! It would depend on how much food resources are available and if I am able to find some sort of shelter, as well how long it does take for help to arrive.
What one item from home would you bring with you if you were stranded?
A solar powered satellite phone. This would limit my stay to at worst a few weeks.
What motivated you to become a game designer?
I became addicted to storytelling and atmosphere in video games at a young age. I have to thank Nintendo, Squaresoft, and Capcom for that. And of course, many others. I owned every console since then, but it’s those games I keep coming back to.
Did you go to school for what you’re doing and/or how did you learn to do what you do?
I did study to become a developer, but in specialty completely unrelated to video games. The job requires much more than coding skills, however. While, to an extent, you are supposed to know a bit about everything, the best advice I would be able to give at this point is to know when to delegate.To know how to fin a good, passionate coworker is best skill you can have to increase the chances of success of your project.
What has been the biggest challenge in developing your game so far? How have you dealt with it?
The bigger challenge we had to face is by far focus. I think most developers work like that, spending a lot of time perfecting a lot of details, often starting things over for a single element that didn’t quite fit the best way it could. When you keep focusing on details like that, it’s sometimes gets hard to get the big picture. We soon understood that it was necessary to get “fresh views” on the game. Since that, we received ton of feedback and clarified a lot of important points. We now firmly believe that, to make a good game, it must be under regular review by those who will enjoy it.
What methods are you using to evaluate progress during the development phases of your game?
We started building a community for the game a few months ago. Many of those individuals, and now backers on Kickstarter, are sending us precious feedback. At the end of the Kickstarter, we will ask if some of them are willing to participate in the first testing phases. Starting from the beta version, we also plan to test the game in local game festivals : Usually direct contact is the best way to collect as much feedback as possible.
What kind of feedback have you received and how have you applied that to your game?
This can sometimes be little things. For example, we received a lot of requests to include Wilson, the volleyball, as a cameo in the game. We loved the idea, but as Island is set in the 18th century, we had to adapt it a little.
We also received a lot of more serious requests about the game’s tone and core dynamic. We often receive multiple occurences of the same request, which gives us a precious insight of how many gamers see one aspect of the game.
The most unexpected request was certainly to add support for certain types of handicaps. Before doing some research, we didn’t suspect how many gamers with a certain type of disability were out there.
One significant feature we decided to add, for example, was support for achromatic vision. Island relies a lot on identifying colors, for example localizing red fruits on some tree in a green jungle. 8% of the gamer population has a form of color blindness. We are also currently studying options for other types of trouble that were quoted to us.
What are you building Island with and why?
Right now the core modules of Island are developped in C++ and visuals are tested using SDL. Once the Kickstarter is over, we will possibly transition to Unity, depending on what target platforms are selected by backers.
You plan to release Island on several platforms. What have been some challenges in multi platform release?
Island doesn’t use a lot of resources, making it a perfect candidate for the portable Nintendo machines. The differences between versions should be minimal.
For the development itself, Nintendo has a very welcoming policy for indie developers, that include development kits and assistance.
What Dev to Dev advice do you have for other indie game developers?
1- Build your community from day 1, don’t wait for the game to be finished, or even in beta.
2- Make a marketing plan. Not just before release, but during all of the game’s development. This should include at the very least a budget, and contacting press.
3- Test your game, in and outside the game’s community, as much as possible. A comment heard more than once is usually a clue that something needs to be reviewed.
Is there any Behind the Scenes information we missed that you’d like to add?
Do not hesitate to contact us with feedback or question about the game. We can be directly reached on Twitter (@IslandTheGame), and soon on the game’s website (www.IslandTheGame.com)
You should probably check out their Kicksarter too. Time is running out to make sure you SURVIVE!