Road to the IGF: Simogo's The Sailor's Dream

It's Simogo's fourth year in the IGF awards, and this time we talk to the company's Simon Flesser about lonesome maritime mystery -- and Excellence in Audio nominee -- The Sailor's Dream.

Swedish mobile developer Simogo's output is impressive: Multiple diverse, high-quality releases in just a few years of the studio's life; from cute, playful games like Beat Sneak Bandit and Bumpy Road to evocative narrative experiences like Year Walk and DEVICE 6, Simogo is both productive and acclaimed.

This is the company's fourth year in a row having a game in the IGF. This time, it's The Sailor's Dream, a "challenge-free" dreamscape of sea shanties and lonesome, atmospheric islands that tell a story when gently explored. The game, full of traditional music as well as the soft chimes of marine bells, old radio and sighing waves, is up for an Excellence in Audio award, and was recognized with honorable mentions across several categories (including the Seumas McNally Grand Prize). 

Once again we catch up with the company's Simon Flesser, for our annual "Road to the IGF" series of interviews with nominees.

You've made some of my favorite mobile games across a short period of time: What's your secret?
Thank you! But, there's no secret. Just hard and disciplined work, and stubbornly doing what you believe in.

What tools did you use to create The Sailor's Dream?
Loads! To a name a few: Pen, paper, Unity, guitars, lightboards, Madtracker, cameras, Audacity, pianos, Photoshop, Maya and Audition.

How long did you spend working on it?

I can't recall exactly, to be honest. I think in its current form about seven months. But it's been in my head in different shapes since October 2013, and we also had a functional prototype of the game in a very different directon before starting what would eventually become The Sailor's Dream.

The folk songs are such an important part of the way the story is structured. How did you develop that approach, and how were the songs made?

That idea actually came a few months into the production. We knew we wanted messages in bottles, and we knew we wanted at least one song with vocals, and we thought there’d be something very surprising, mysterious and charming about a voice escaping a bottle when you open it.
A big part of the spirit in the story in The Sailor's Dream is about creativity and expression (drawing, telling stories, playing music and such) and so making one of the characters sing her story just became a natural step.

There are seven songs in the game, and I'd write down what each song would be about, perhaps provide some keywords, and Jonathan Eng would write the song, record a demo and send to Stephanie Hladowski, who recorded her vocals remotely.

I'd always hear the demo before, and sometimes request changes for lyrics, or writing some of them, and sometimes Stephanie would need the song in a different key to fit her voice, so it was a demanding process with a lot of back and forth.

What other sound elements inspired the experience?

Oh loads. For the monologues spoken by R Bruce Elliott (with lovely direction by Christopher Sabat), radio theatre and audio books was a big inspiration.

We often have a long Spotify playlist for inspiration, not only for the music but also for the general vibe of the game. On that list we had artist such as Penguin Café Orchestra, Opitope, A.L. Lloyd, Tom Waits, Goldmund and Plinth. For the toy-like music interactions the synth OP-1 was really inspiring. As was the DS classic Electroplankton.

Where did you get the inspiration for this sorrowful mystery, scattered across islands of the sea?

There was no direct inspiration; we wanted to explore a type of story which didn't feel like it had been explored in games before. A soft, warm, unapologetically romantic story which would more about longing and love, rather than conflict-based. In its early days the game was going to tell a lot of small unrelated anecdotes and stories. Jonas Tarestad wrote one about a woman in a house which burns down, and one about a Sailor who lost his arm, and I think both me and Jonas were really drawn to those, so we ended up basing the entire story around those two short snippets.

Is there anything about the game you'd have done differently, or want to implement in the future?

We tried very hard to communicate that The Sailor's Dream is a very untraditional game with no typical game-challenges or puzzles, but I'm not sure we succeeded in doing that clearly enough. Maybe categorising it as something else rather than a game would have been wiser in hindsight, even though I feel myself that it is a game.

We're not changing or implementing anything new, but we are working on a smaller, different thing which takes place in the same universe as The Sailor's Dream.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any you've particularly enjoyed?
I played Shovel Knight on my 3DS this Christmas. It's lovely and one of my favourite games of 2014.

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