One of the fine people I met at Playcrafting's Fall Expo was Matt Schell of Mirror Fish Media. Mr. Schell was showing off a project titled Monarch Black (formerly titled Pollen). My interest in the title was mainly piqued by the aesthetics and gameplay shown in the 2015 Gameplay Trailer:
I'm fond of games that truly let you move throughout 3-D space, and Monarch Black was more than willing to provide. The otherworldly landscapes were beautiful (and, as I later discovered, all procedurally-generated). The music was beautifully haunting and perfectly complemented the aesthetic of the title. I was anxious to sit down and try the game myself. Before I did that, I had a conversation with Mr. Schell about Monarch Black (and some other interesting topics, too).
TechRaptor: Tell us about your game.
Matt Schell: The game is called Monarch Black. It's a procedurally-generated flying shooter where you play a butterfly shooting other insects in sort of abstract environments.
TR: I saw [in the trailer] [what] looked like the butterfly landing on flowers or something like that?
MS: The main goal of the level is that there are these spherical points that you have to shoot to release pollen grains and collect those. When you collect enough, a gate opens to go to the next level. The secondary goal is that there are other insects trying to guard those plants and shoot you. You can shoot them and collect experience, which allows you to choose between randomized power-ups between levels.
TR: Is it always a thing where you would want to shoot them? Can you outright evade them if you felt like it?
MS: No, you absolutely could. That's kind of why it's a secondary goal. You could just go for a straight ...
TR: Pacifist run?
MS: Yeah. Total pacifist run. You could totally do that. It would get a lot harder in the later levels because you would be underpowered because you haven't levelled up at all but you totally could do that.
TR: Is this still a work in progress?
MS: This is a work in progress, yes.
TR: In terms of the gameplay mechanics, do you have any sort of incentivization for pacifist [runs] or is it just gonna kinda be like a permadeath thing that people do on YouTube for [fun]?
MS: There is permadeath in the game. It's one life per run.
TR: Oh, so if you die ... that's it, you start over.
MS: Yeah, exactly. It's a very distant interpretation of the roguelike idea.
TR: Do you have a life bar? Can you take a certain amount of hits?
MS: Yeah. There's a health bar and you can collect—one of the trade-offs that you're making each time you [complete] a level is that you can choose to refill your health instead of taking a power-up. There's a kind of a resource management tension there.
TR: I know one of the advantages of Unity is that it works basically on every platform. I'm sure there's a refrigerator out there that can run Unity.
MS: [laughs] Yeah, there probably is!
TR: That being the case, you still have to do some platform-specific stuff usually at the bare minimum. What platforms are you going to be looking to get Monarch Black out on?
MR: The initial release will target PC & Mac. I would like to get to Linux, but I have to figure that out. PC and Mac are gonna be the big ones, so that's what I first targeted, but I would like to get to Linux. I think it [plays] well on a desktop, [but] I would consider a console.
TR: Do you think it would be adaptable to mobile at all?
MR: I don't think so. I don't think so. Maybe if we got some ...
TR: You don't think maybe with the acceleratometers and gyroscopes being [used for turning]? That it could work [in that case]?
MR: I think if I was gonna do something mobile, I would like to do something natively designed for mobile. I don't want people to have a sub-optimal experience on a platform the game wasn't designed for.
TR: I have a deep respect for that. A lot of developers would be like, "Ah, screw it! We're gonna put a mobile game on Steam!"
MR: "Let's just put a virtual joystick on screen!"
TR: "Who needs an options menu?" Now what about selling—are you going to sell it independently on your own website?
TR: Are you going to shoot for GOG, Steam, and [similar services]?
MR: Yes. The aim would be Steam [as that's] obviously the big one, but I would like to be on GOG and other strorefronts.
TR: Are you gonna be doing any sort of fundraising for this?
MR: I don't think so. I've done [everything] by myself thus far. I don't strictly speaking need to raise funds. I wouldn't [be against it], but [I don't need it]. Not at this time.
TR: Again, that's something I respect. If I decided I wanted to make a game [I'd probably be the same way]. I can live on like ten dollars a week.
MR: Well, I have a day job. If I didn't have a day job I would be [more open to crowdfunding]. [laughs] I would consider a Kickstarer if only for the reason of kind of building a community of players.
TR: Like a one dollar Kickstarter? The Potato Salad of video games? "I want a dollar, that's it."?
MR: Yeah, exactly. I'd probably make tons of money doing that, actually ...
TR: Yeah, you probably would! [laughs] Okay, is there anything else you would like to get out about you or your game before we finish up?
MR: Check out mirrofishmedia.com and follow us on Twitter!
I would like to extend my thanks to Matt Schell for talking to me about his game and the industry in general. At the conclusion of our conversation I sat down at the demo setup to play his game.
Matt's enthusiasm for music was most evident by the headphones he had plugged into the computer. Sony studio headphones are reliable and provide excellent sound. I owned a pair myself and only stopped using them when one of the cans failed after over two decades of use in my family.
Monarch Black itself ran very smoothly. Levels didn't take terribly long to load. There was no visible screen tearing or other graphical issues I could notice. However, I must state that I only played the game for five minutes, and there is the possibility that I may have missed something. It may be regarded as unprofessional on my part to say the following, but I was so enraptured by the experience of the game that I momentarily forgot that I ought to have been looking at it with a critical eye. I was just too darn busy having fun.
The only glaring issue I noticed is one that may be more unique to people with my particular gaming history. There was no option to change the mouse sensitivty. (Matt stressed that this is something he can easily add in, and that he just hasn't gotten around to it for this particular development build.) Years of twitch shooters have gotten me used to an awfully high mouse sensitivity, and so I had a bit of difficulty flying with the sort of precision I would normally have with my ideal settings. If I were to disregard that particular challenge, the flight felt very smooth overall.
Monarch Black gives me the same vibes that I get from a game like Journey. The combination of the aesthetic and the music work so well together that I almost forget I'm playing a game. It feels more like I'm playing a work of art. I'll be keeping an eye on the development of Monarch Black, and I look forward to getting my hands on it as soon as I can!
What did you think of Monarch Black's trailer? How do you feel about terrible mobile ports? Can your refrigerator run Unity? Tell us about all of your Unity-compatible kitchen appliances in the comments below!