The ability to fail without fear of consequence is a skill earned through loss; it’s the sound of pages ripped from design documents, the shadow of deadlines long past due, the smoldering smell of money burned. But it’s a skill we should all acquire, as it builds character and prepares us for even more difficult roads ahead. We recently sat down with Mike Gale of Disaster Cake for a sobering discussion of what happens when things don’t go as originally planned.
Gamesauce: So tell us a bit about what you’ve been working on.
Mike: Soul Saga? It’s basically inspired by the “Tales of” series, a long running series of role-playing games published by Namco. I grew up with the “Tales of” series, so I really wanted to capture its essence. It’s a very immersive experience powered by a procedurally built storyline.
GS: Something built from the ground up to feel organic?
Mike: Yeah, that’s kind of what I had in mind. And as I was developing this story, I fell in love with what I would call “easternized western” games. Games like Oblivion and Skyrim. Specifically the way you could choose how you interacted with the individual characters and how the storyline evolved based on the players choices. I love what Bethesda is doing in that space.
GS: Yeah, they are doing great things.
Mike: They are, but over time I realized that it would be too difficult to pull off. Those games require teams of hundreds of writers. That’s a lot of pages to test. Too many for a team of my size.
GS: I can definitely see where it would be overwhelming.
Mike: It was. And if I’m going to put my name on a game, I want it to be complete. I want it to work. I don’t want my storyline broken because I didn’t have the manpower to test all of those variables.
GS: So your concept evolved?
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Mike: Well, I started to play a game called Catherine, a puzzle-platformer psychological horror adventure game published by Atlus, and while it wasn’t necessarily too much about a branching storyline, being mostly visual, it was still a procedural story.
GS: It had an interesting approach, yeah.
Mike: I liked that the character used his cellphone to communicate with his girlfriend. He’s doing it while all of these supernatural things are going on. He was a social creature. We all are. Look around right now and you’ll see people texting more than anything. I wanted elements of that – a storyline where fantasy meets reality – and in the middle of it all, you’re building friendships and inviting people to join your party.
GS: Your project was initially a 2-D game, right?
Mike: That’s right. Unfortunately, when I first started, I was just learning about game design in general. I mean, I had developed some apps while I was at Microsoft, but it wasn’t anything quite on the level of game design. I knew I wanted there to be an element of character customization, but when I ordered the art assets – and I was doing all of this on a paycheck to paycheck basis mind you – I realized that changing the sprite’s appearances was going to be very problematic.
GS: In what way?
Mike: Let’s say, I wanted my character to equip a new sword, and I wanted this change to show up visually. Well, with the 2-D artwork, I couldn’t do this without a redraw. The shadows and lighting were all baked in.
GS: Sounds like an expensive lesson to learn.
Mike: It was an expensive one but I wasn’t about to cut that customization feature from my design document. If I cared about money I might have said “Screw it. I’m just going to finish this.” but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because when I’m on my deathbed, I don’t want to regret that I didn’t follow my passion to the fullest extent that I could.