We’re just a little over two weeks into 2016 and I’ve already fallen in love with a game. It’s unique, it’s fun, and it’s even frightening in an absurd way. The game in question is Pony Island, a game about playing a game that’s much more nefarious than the name and promise of ponies suggests. Recently, I was able to get in touch with Daniel Mullins, developer of Pony Island (The game for sale, the titular “Pony Island” you play through is programmed by a much less personable developer) to discuss some of the game’s best moments, secrets, and his inspirations.
Before you dive into the interview, I do feel the need to give out a spoiler warning. There’s a particular mindblowing moment near the end of the game that will be discussed in the interview. This has been your warning.
TechRaptor: Pony Island drops its cheery facade quite quickly. Why does the game turn to insanity so quickly?
Daniel Mullins: What I was most happy with when developing the game was the mood. I knew I had a great mood the first time I combined the low, relentless humming of the machine with the gently shaking CRT-style graphics. To me, this is the most iconic aspect of Pony Island. Some have also questioned why the cheerful vibrance of Act III didn’t come before the rest of the game to be slowly stripped away. My answer to that is the same: I wanted to get to the “real” mood ASAP.
TechRaptor: What games inspired the creation of Pony Island?
Daniel: I took great inspiration from The Binding of Isaac in the way it used Christian Demonology to create a creepy, mysterious atmosphere. The sarcastic dialogue of Lucifer is definitely inspired by Portal’s GLaDOS as well as the various ways he toys with you. Although Undertale came out more than halfway through development, I did take inspiration from some of the methods it used to subvert player expectations.
TechRaptor: The bit with fake messages from your steam friends is genius. How did this idea come about?
Daniel: Although I have never played Metal Gear Solid, I had read about the boss battle with Psycho Mantis years ago and it had left a strong impression on me for being hilariously unique. I realized that after having the “puzzle” boss (Azazel) and the “battle” boss (Beelzebub), I needed the “fucks with you” boss. So I started thinking, with Psycho Mantis in mind, “what tools do I have to fuck with the player”? This led me to examining the Steam API and when I learned that I had full access to the friend list I knew what had to be done.
TechRaptor: There were tons of free Steam codes in the game’s “Code Storage” area. Don’t you think having all those codes laying there was a bit of a risky idea?
Daniel: Not at all! I have refreshed the storage twice now so around 250 codes are out there. Many of the people using these codes may not have purchased the game anyways and, for the amount that would have purchased it, I think it is a worthwhile investment. People were grateful for this and also found it unique which reflects well on me. I plan to continue developing indie games so it is good to have the community on my side.
TechRaptor: Some of the tickets are really hard to find. Are you surprised by how quickly people have made it to the true ending?
Daniel: I’m not too surprised. When people collaborate on the internet these things get solved very rapidly. I am, however, very glad I spent the extra time on making the ‘true ending’ worthwhile. That was one of the last things I added to the game and it was only a week before release!
TechRaptor: Does the amount of positive feedback you’ve gotten from Pony Island surprise you?
Daniel: It surprises me to some degree. It was more of a gradual realization from the very beginning that I was making something interesting. I started very unsure but then I received some positive feedback for the game jam version, and then later the playtesters really liked it, and then early YouTubers really liked it, and by the time it was released I knew it was already something that a lot of people would like.
TechRaptor: Are there any secrets of Pony Island that haven’t been found yet?
Daniel: A few days ago, I could have said ‘yes’. But the guys on the forums moved very quickly. Almost everything has been found, but most of it is still not commonly known to players. It might be a bit of a circus if it was.
TechRaptor: Finally, now that Pony Island‘s done, do you have any other projects on the horizon for fans to look out for?
Daniel: I am in the very early stages of the next project; it’s mostly just brainstorming at this point. I can’t say much other than that I want to make something very different from Pony Island as a break. I hope to make a sequel to Pony Island at some point in the future, but I don’t want to be seen as pandaring to public demand.
TechRaptor: Thank you for your time.