I'm always intrigued by interesting ideas in games, especially indie games. From the brutal, black and white simplicity of Limbo to the zany, absurd story of Hell Yeah!, I often enjoy an indie game's hook more than the rest of the game itself. I recently happened upon Digital Sun's upcoming Moonlighter, an ARPG focused on the oft-ignored shopkeeper, which answers the question that, since the days of the original The Legend of Zelda, always plagued me: what does the shopkeeper do when not supplying the hero with quest-completing wares? I spoke with Digital Sun's CEO Javier Gimenez and Creative Director David Fernandez to answer that and more.
TechRaptor: Thank you both very much for joining me. I saw on your site that you said something about the team coming together because you had been making games for other people, but wanted to make games for yourselves.
Javier Gimenez: We started as an outsourcing company. The goal was always to become a studio that developed its own ideas. We're still doing work for hire. Our goal is to mostly do our own ideas.
TechRaptor: How did you guys arrive at this idea?
David Fernandez: We came up with ideas and created prototypes. This idea was one of those [prototypes]. In adventure games, there's always someone to sell items to the hero.
TechRaptor: Were the prototypes a competition among friends?
Gimenez: We tested several processes. When we started, it was three ideas per person. Now we have 36 people in the office. We started with seven people and developed ideas. We're always trying to improve the process of how to come up with ideas. It's basically a competition among peers. Each person pitches an idea. Everyone votes. The best wins.
TechRaptor: So you voted on the idea.
Gimenez: That's correct.
TechRaptor: In all these RPGs, you see everything about the hero and villain, but I wondered, “Do these shopkeepers just sit around?” Could you go a bit more into the genesis around the idea? How did you build a game around, basically, a gag?
Fernandez: I had an idea about the role of merchants waiting for the heroes to come. Why they sell such expensive armor to someone trying to save the world. I started thinking about that situation.
TechRaptor: The style reminded me of A Link to the Past. Was that something you were aware of? What was your inspiration?
Fernandez: We took Legend of Zelda as a reference, an inspiration. We started with a screen from Minish Cap.
Gimenez: It's more Minish Cap than A Link to the Past. Using more modern colors of pixelart.
TechRaptor: Beyond the top-down look, how did you decide on the art style? What led to where it is now?
Gimenez: It's a process.
TechRaptor: It looked like a fully rendered, modern world, but through the lens of pixelart.
Fernandez: The inspiration comes totally from 8-bit and 16-bit games, but we decided using that style would look too retro. Also, our artists have always loved Studio Ghibli, that kind of animation. They tried to make the game look like that.
Gimenez: From a studio perspective, we've tried to give as much time as needed to develop the art. We want to do great games. I'm not gonna look at the time. As long as it looks great. We're all about quality, forgetting about the budget, you need to keep the scope reasonable. Take as much time as you need. The result is incredibly detailed pixelart. I'm not gonna look at the time. Give the artist room to breathe.
TechRaptor: In my mind, the AAAs can sit around for months or years on concept art because they have capital. Since you're a smaller team, working on the middle phase, had to generate the art, did you ever feel under pressure to kind of finish up because you had to pay the bills?
Gimenez: Honestly, we don't have an infinite amount of money, but the pressure is, more than budget, being able to create the game we want to create. Especially looking at the success of the Kickstarter, we really need the game great. We need to make this combat work. The pressure of raising the level of quality is greater than the pressure of budget. Budget, so far, since this is our first game, our presentation to the market, we want it to be great. We need to be reasonable about budget, but we don't want to put too much pressure on it.
TechRaptor: The indie market is in an absolute explosion right now, given the democratization of game development, with so many games out there, especially rogue-like ARPGs, how do you stand out? What challenges did you face given everyone's making games?
Fernandez: The game, for people to notice you, is the quality. The originality of the idea. The graphic part. Having great graphics. For you to stand out from others, you have to make a huge effort and try to be as original as you can.
TechRaptor: What platforms will the game be on? What's the release date?
Gimenez: The game is gonna be available on all PC platforms, Windows, Mac, and Linux. Also, it'll be on PS4 and Xbox One. We'd love to consider handheld devices. Right now, we're focused on the Kickstarter, creating the game as good as it can be, and release it when it's ready. Our estimation is 2017, April or March. What we aren't going to do is push the game into the market if it's not ready. When we think the game's good enough and we're enjoying it, that's when we'll release it.
TechRaptor: Say this game does well, do you foresee Moonlighter 2, another franchise? Moving to southern Mexico and drinking mai tais all day?
Gimenez: Mexico, absolutely.
Gimenez: The language is already there, which makes things a lot easier! Make more games, more Moonlighter... I'm not sure. Probably different things.
Fernandez: I think so. We have ideas for Moonlighter 2, if that comes. There's a window for it. But if not, we'll change to other games.
TechRaptor: Or expand to multiple games at the same time.
Gimenez: That's an idea we're exploring. We want to be focused mostly on Moonlighter. Digital Sun will be judged by the success of Moonlighter. Since we've already been a company that work for hire, wouldn't it be cool if we could work on more than one small game, games that can be done with 6 or 7 people? That would be exciting. An indie studio that isn't too small, that can produce several mid-sized games is the plan.
TechRaptor: I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining me on TechRaptor!