And let me play among the stars
Let me see what summer’s like
On Jupiter or Mars…
Erm, yes. Well anyway:
There once was a man called Kan
He thought “a computer game to make I can"
An epic story to span
And an indie game reviewer came up with a plan
To interview this man called Kan
Can Kan fit in with the plan?
He certainly can!
All of which leads me rather neatly into an interview I did with Kan Gao, creator of the story-driven game “To the Moon”, of which you might also want to read my review.
1/ "To the Moon" took 1.5 years to complete - can you describe the process of taking it from an initial concept to released game?
What I initially intended to make was a short that would be completed in about 2 weeks. Then it went to a month, then months, then a year, and then over. Feature-creep at its prime, I say!
While I was as fortunate to have many talented people helping with the project, most of the time it was just me chipping away at it – so I pretty much just did whichever task that was required on the given day; be it composing a BGM, writing a scene, or coding a system. Then one day, I woke up, and it was time to make the ending.
2/ Were you trying to create a game that was quite unique from the outset, or did it just develop into something different to most games?
I don’t think I really considered what to make it as; I just wanted to tell a particular story. The rest just unfolded spontaneously as the project went on. Since I didn’t have anyone telling me that I should stick to a set genre to help making selling it easier, I just did what I wanted, and it turned out to be this oddball.
3/ What was the most challenging part of creating To the Moon?
Balancing time and staying motivated. When there’re so many tasks to be completed, it’s easy to be intimidated by the fact that the finish line isn’t in sight for the majority of the process. Dividing it into chewable chunks really helped.
4/ What would you say your main influences have been, both in terms of game design and your story writing?
Perhaps the classic RPGs I’ve played all those years ago, as well as a few films. Eternal Sunshine, Up, and Memento definitely had some impact on how the project unfolded. I was also reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at the time, and I’d like to think that it had an effect as well.
5/ I take it we're going to see more of Dr. Rosaline and Dr. Watts in future episodes?
Yep. Wherever there are serious, sentimental life stories in To the Moon’s universe, you can count on them being right there, ruining the precious moments with their pointless banters.
6/ How important do you feel the music is to building the atmosphere in a game like To the Moon?
Vital. Sometimes when I get stuck writing a scene, I’d go and work on the music first – and once that’s finished, the rest of the scene flows much easier. I think the music’s almost like a buffer of what I wanted to do and what actually gets articulated on the screen.
7/ Is there anything about To the Moon that you're particularly proud of?
Definitely the fact that it got finished!
8/ Anything you wish you could have done better / differently?
The infamous zombie segment of the game. It started out as a tongue-in-cheek attempt to pun Plants vs. Zombies, since you’re literally throwing plants at them and all, but the mini-game ended up being quite messy and off-paced. Otherwise, I think the gameplay overall could’ve melded better with the story.
9/ Can you give us a hint as to what your next game is going to feature?
It’ll be the 2nd episode of To the Moon’s series, and it’ll probably feature The Lion King.
10/ If you could give aspiring indie developers one piece of good advice, what would it be?
Put together a schedule on a spread sheet or Google Calendar, and then cut some slacks into it before following through. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when working on a relatively giant project with a small team, and it’s better to steadily finish a bit at a time than to get exhausted and take week-long breaks every other day.
Thanks Kan for the interview, and all the best with your future as a pioneer of story-driven games with Drs Rosaline and Watts messing up people's sentimental life stories!