Interview – Remnants of Isolation

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There were a lot of entries, and only a few could be awarded, and only one could be considered “The Best”. This week, I got to catch up with the team that made that game, Remnants of Isolation, and ask them a few questions about their experience in the contest. Also, make sure to check out the Remnants of Isolation game page on RMN to grab Remnants of Isolation Deluxe! Featuring an enhanced and rebalanced version of the game completed after the contest was over!

Remnants_of_Isolation_Title1: So Remnants of Isolation won our grand prize. When you submitted it, what did you think of your chances? Were you confident that you would win something, or were you completely surprised?

unity: I certainly was hoping to win something, but given the high volume of entrees and the high caliber and skill of many of our fellow contestants, I didn’t in my wildest dreams think we’d go all the way to the top. It was possibly the biggest surprise of my life when I opened the site’s page and saw “Grand Prize: Remnants of Isolation” at the top!

Sooz: Oh man, I kind of briefly entertained the idea when we first entered it, because I felt like we made a pretty solid game. Then, we saw the number of entrants EXPLODE and I scaled back to, “Well, I hope maybe we win an honorable mention or something.”

Unity called me when she found out, and we spent a couple of minutes just yelling “OH MY GOD!!!” and “HOLY SHIT!!!” at each other like idiots. There were so many cool games, it was completely out of left field!

Red_Nova:  You know, I don’t think winning a prize crossed my mind when we started development, or even after the submission deadline. I didn’t go into the contest with the mindset of winning; I went into it wanting to make a game. Nothing more, nothing less. I mean, winning anything would have been awesome, but I told myself that with so many amazing developers, I had to be realistic in my expectations. So when I heard that not only did we place, but won grand prize, it was such an unexpected turn of events that I, frankly, am still in the middle of processing it.

Sooz: Yeah, I felt like the reward of making a good game in 30 days was great! The grand prize was sort of a fun daydream, but the fact that we got a result that people loved was really amazing.

2: How did the idea of Remnants come about? What inspired you to make this game?

unity:  Red Nova deserves the credit for the base ideas for RoI, but we all pitched in and bounced ideas and suggestions off each other until the story and game took shape into what you see here. A lot of thought and effort was put into portraying the game’s story and theme through gameplay, and I think it all worked out very nicely. I think that each of the characters and the castle itself has a bit of each of us in them, as we all put forth a lot of ideas and efforts to bring them to life.

Sooz: I joined in after Unity told me about the game, so a little after the initial idea. I know she’s a great designer, and she and Red seemed to have a good thing going on, so I volunteered my help, because it seemed like it’d be a fun thing to make.

Red_Nova: I had finished the 74th replay of my favorite game ever, ICO, and that was the only thing on my mind for a long time. I was in love with the way ICO bridged a gap between player and player character though its gameplay. I wanted to do something like that with a game for the contest: use gameplay to allow the player to feel attached to the characters.

That’s what I wanted to do, but I had no idea HOW to go about doing it. But when unity came forward with the idea for the MP charging mechanic for a battle system, I saw that as a jumping off point for the backstory. After that, we bounced ideas back and forth until it became the final result shown.

Sooz: It was funny, because when the idea was first pitched to me, I was like, “You’re basically describing ICO.” We worked pretty hard to move it away from that, but before we settled on a title, I named the folder of all my work “Not ICO.” 😉


3: How did you handle the workflow? One month is a short time to make a game, did you find it difficult to manage?

Red_Nova: We certainly had a few hitches here and there. For the most part, though, we all had our roles that we decided on in the beginning. While we constantly asked questions and made suggestions to each other to help improve the game, we mostly stuck to our own tasks. For me, personally, I was afraid of setting too unreasonable of expectations. This was the first time I had ever worked with a team to develop a game, let alone set the deadlines and such, and I was scared that I may have gone overboard.

unity: I’ll say it upfront: This was the hardest I’ve ever worked on a project before, and I forced myself to get the work done at a rate that I didn’t know I was possible for me. The looming deadline and trying to get everything into the game to make it what we wanted it to be was a daunting task, but had a sense of thrill to it.

Sooz:  I feel a little guilty, because I didn’t have quite as much work as Uni or Red. It was still a big push, though! I basically cleared my calendar– I had to suspend work on my webcomics for the month– and spent an entire month kind of living in the RoI world, no other projects. It was intense.

4: Since Remnants was made by a team, who did what parts? Did you have any conflict over the game’s design?

Red_Nova:  I wrote the story and laid out the framework for the game, as well as set specific deadlines when certain parts of the game need to be done. Unity designed the individual levels, mapped them out, and designed the battles. Sooz focused primarily on the character art and sprites. We had a sort of checks and balances system going on, though, and were in constant communication so we were still on the same page.

As for conflicts, you bet we had them. Plenty of them, in fact. They were the good kind of conflicts, though; The kind that were born when we loved what we were doing so much that we REALLY felt a certain direction would be best for the game, even if someone else said otherwise. However, we all knew to give ground when we had to, and no one thought anyone else’s suggestion hurt the overall game. So, even when we didn’t agree 100% on a direction to take the game, we continued to build off their ideas to make it as best as we possibly could.

unity: To put it in the strictest terms, Red Nova was in charge of the story and keeping us on track (so he acted like an editor/administrator), Sooz was in charge of the art, and I was in charge of the mapmaking and battles. But in all honesty, each of our roles bled over into the other domains. We all made sure we liked and approved of what the others were doing, and we were consonantly getting feedback, so it’s not as if we each did each part in a vacuum. Far from it, in fact.

As far as conflict goes, there were definitely times when we disagreed. But all three of us have a mutual respect for each other as creative people, and we all compromised when we needed to. Red Nova generally went with a “majority goes” approach when we couldn’t agree on things, but for the most part, we worked together surprisingly well. I chalk this up to having awesome and open teammates!

Sooz:  It was such a team effort that it’s a little hard to tell afterword who did what. We all had a hand in the concept, story, and gameplay- we figured out the main themes, characters, and basic storyline beforehand, and then implemented everything, so the whole thing had cohesion.

I was mainly in charge of the player characters: it started out as just doing the design, then I kind of got my tentacles into the writing when Red let me edit the script to punch up the dialog. I ended up taking over the characterization, and I’m really grateful he was OK with my revisions. I also suggested the dual facesets; the initial idea was for Celesta’s interaction to just be in the sprite, but I knew it’d make her more relatable and endearing if we could see more subtle, detailed expressions.

We had a lot of disagreements! Mostly just minor things, since we were bringing different attitudes to the table, but there were a few areas where there was a big sticking point. I particularly remember Red having a more downbeat ending in mind, where Celesta leaving the Palace leads to the monsters escaping; I felt like this made the characters a little too selfish and unlikeable, and we went back and forth on it until Red came up with what we’ve got now. It was mainly a matter of talking things out until we found a path everyone could agree on. And, y’know, respecting each other as people, so we didn’t get all dumb and emotional over anything. It was all about what worked best for the game, after all!

Castle_Tutorial5: What part of Remnants did you spend the most time on? Why did you devote so much time to that part?

Red_Nova: Celesta’s development as a character. As the player character, she couldn’t follow the same rules as Melchior when it comes to personality and development. Celesta was the player’s conduit into the game world, and goes through the same motions as the player throughout the course of the game. This means that she had to react the same way a player would react in different situations. Since each player will go through the game with a different mindset, she had to give enough personality to hold her own, but still leave plenty of wiggle room for players to feel comfortable stepping into her shoes, so to speak.

This is why, when the ending came around, Celesta’s actions would perfectly mirror the player’s mindset. Without spoiling anything, I feel like there is no “Good” or, “Bad” end. The ending is simply the summation of the player’s thoughts and feelings towards the characters and how much they really care or don’t care about them.

unity: My time was pretty evenly split between the maps and the battles, but in the end I may have spent more time trying to balance the battles than anything else. Both of these elements are crucial to me.

The maps need to draw the player in so they feel like they’re part of the environment and that they are tied directly to the game itself, and make, as much as possible, an environment they are exploring.

The battles were equally important in my opinion because most of Melchior and Celesta’s interactions take place here, through the gameplay, and the battles were meant to emphasize the power of them working together. Battles with just Celesta, for example, needed to feel much different and less whole. Not to mention, battles need to be fun to keep the player engaged so he/she will play the story all the way through.

Sooz:  I think it’s a tie between the facesets and the sprites, for different reasons. Celesta was really quick and easy to draw (especially because she’s so restrained in her movement and emoting), but kind of a pain to color. Conversely, Melchior was SUCH A PAIN in the drawing and inking stages! All those braids seriously gave me hand cramps.

The sprites were time consuming partly because I’m still a beginner at pixel art, so I was learning as I went. Another aspect of it was research: I spent a lot of time looking up movement for things like walking and jumping, so everything would look natural. After that, I had to translate everything to the “chibi” style of the sprites. It got complicated sometimes!

6: What would you say is the strength of Remnants?

Red_Nova:  Its ability to connect the player with the characters through gameplay. The moment the players uses their first Spell Fusion, a tiny bond forms between Celesta, Melchior, and, most importantly, the player. At first, the player may not be aware of it. However, that bond grows stronger and stronger with each Spell Fusion, and the three of them grow closer together as they become less like cooperating individuals and more like parts of a whole.

unity: I think the strength of the game is the interplay of the game mechanics and story, and the characters themselves. We also wanted the theme and atmosphere to feel solid, and I think we accomplished that. We wanted to show a little slice of these characters’ existence in an otherworldly place.

The highest goal I can strive for is making a game that I enjoy playing myself, and this definitely passes that test.

Sooz: Like Uni said, the cohesion of theme and gameplay. We worked damn hard at making sure that everything worked together, even to the point of having a lot of backstory that we never intended to use, just so we’d all know how things functioned and could keep it all consistent.


7: What is the one piece of advice you would give to other people trying to make their own game, with RPG Maker or otherwise?

Red_Nova: Take care of yourself. It’s one thing to pour your heart and soul into creating beautiful graphics, compose wonderful music, or design a series of maps. However, the moment you decide to stay up until three in the morning two or three times in a row adjusting pixels on your sprites, or skip a couple of meals to fine tune a boss fight, is the moment you need to step away from your computer and readjust your sights. Unless it’s two hours before deadline, in which case either you had your sights misaligned from the start or you’ve been taking care of yourself a bit too much.
You don’t run 100 Kilometers at full speed from start to finish.

unity: My advice is that follow-through is the most important aspect of game-making. So many people lack this and will start a project just to set it aside before completion. I’m guilty of this myself. To anyone who has this problem, contests like this one are a godsend as they force you to make a more manageable-sized game and have a deadline to keep you working on it.

Sooz: Seconding Unity: an imperfect finished thing is better than a perfect unfinished thing. As long as you keep making things, and you’re focused on improving, you’ll get awesome. Never give up!


Thank you to the Remnants of Isolation team for taking the time to answer our questions! What were your experiences with the contest? What parts of Remnants do you think stuck out as amazing? Join us in the comments section below.

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