This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here.
GoNNER may be a challenging sidescrolling roguelike shooter, but it's hard not to smile at the whistles, pop, clicks, and other silly noises it makes as the player moves along. Even when getting torn apart by the wobbly, chubby monsters that lurk in its procedurally-generated stages, it's impossible not to crack up at the bubbly, cheerful noises the creatures make.
Everything in GoNNER is a source of lighthearted sound. The ground makes a playful tone as you walk across it. The protagonist makes silly noises as he shoots, jumps, and dies. The transportation tubes make a rumbly noise as you pass through them. Everything about the audio in GoNNER is a source of fun, making it a pleasure to listen to even as you try to keep your body in one piece as you fight to make a giant land whale happy.
With GoNNER being nominated for Excellence in Audio for this year's Independent Games Festival, Gamasutra reached out to the game's programmer, who goes by the name Ditto, to ask how sound came to be such an important part of the game, only to find out that, in many cases, the audio came first, the game naturally forming itself from the silly sounds themselves.
What's your background in making games?
I started learning programming in high school. Immediately I started making small little games, mostly to practice my programming. Making games quickly turned into an obsession. Later I was lucky enough to be selected for Stugan, a games accelerator in Sweden where I got to live for 2 months, meeting other developers and mentors from the games industry.
After that I moved to Karlshamn where games incubator Gameport is located. There I learnt about how to make this obsessive hobby of mine into a profession.
How did you come up with the concept?
Honestly there was no "concept". I experiment with visual effects a lot, and came across the visual style of GoNNER almost by accident. I was tweeting about the process and got contacted by Martin Kvale (sound designer). Martin thought it looked interesting and saw the potential in giving it an unexpectedly cute and squishy soundscape.
Since then on, the design process has mostly been us discussing what we like and dislike in video games, and trying to steal all the cool ideas while leaving out the things we dislike. A month or 2 into the development Joar Renolen got involved in the project to compose music.
Something that's been central to the whole project is the three of us always trying to challenge each other. Joar said he's comfortable making one song per month, so Martin asked him to create five in a single day.
It turned out very chaotic.
What development tools were used to build your game?
I'm using a Ducky Shine 3 keyboard and a mouse with LEDs in it. It looks super cool. Martin used an OP-1 synth to make every single sound effect and Joar uses Fruity Loops to compose music.
How much time have you spent working on the game?
The project started almost exactly a year before it was released on Steam. I continue to work on it though, updating it regularly with new content and stuff!
GoNNER features a cute art style that almost hides its vicious difficulty. How did you come up with this style? What drew you to this silly, charming look?
I don't really enjoy the process of animating, so if an animation takes more than 10 minutes to draw, I come up with a way to make it simpler.
For instance, Sally, your space whale friend, was originally supposed to be a little creature living in a house, I struggled with drawing a nice looking house, and ended up drawing a huge face instead. In fact, a lot of the design process for the game is based on that "if something is boring/tedious to create, how can I make it more interesting for myself?"
GoNNER's audio is as adorable as its look. What were you looking to capture with its sound design?
The sound has been a big part of how the game has been shaped ever since the beginning. A lot of enemies started as a sound effect, Martin would send me a funny sound and ask "can you turn this into something fun?" and I'd quickly mock something up and send it back. If it made us laugh, it stuck in the game.
Same goes for the music. We're only 3 people making this game, and 2 of us are "sound people", so I think they had more say in the design than what you're used to in a "very typical shooter game"!
Sound can enhance of break aspects of a game. What thoughts go into creating a given effect for an interaction or action to make sure it builds upon what you've created?
What would happen is Martin and Joar sent me a folder of scrambled sound effects or songs that they had created. Sometimes they had suggestions where to put these sounds. I'd throw them in the game where I thought would be fun/unexpected/cool, sometimes I even followed the suggestions. They'd then playtest it, and send me back a list of adjustments and ideas that came from that.
Sometimes the adjustments were simple, sometimes they were complex. But I think the key was the back and forth where we tried to surprise each other all the time. Being surprised by your own creation is a lot of fun, and opens up for creative choices you wouldn't expect!
GoNNER carries itself with a sense of humor. What do you feel that humor can add to viciously challenging games?
Huh, that's an interesting question. I don't think we ever thought about it like that. The game is a difficult roguelikelike game because that's the type of game I enjoy and wanted to make.
Everything else, the cute artstyle and soundscape, the characters and the mechanics comes from Martin, Joar and me having a good time making a game together!
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?
I love Bamboo Heart. It plays exactly how I like action games to play, it's fast, it's dirty and violent. It's dope! I've player quite a few of them. Like INSIDE. Holy shit. That game is pure magic.
I actually picked up Overcooked after seeing it on the list of nominations and it quickly became an obsession for me and my girlfriend to play. Overcooked is by far the best multiplayer I've ever played.
Finally I've spent a LOT of time exploring Mu Cartographer. That game never ceases to impress and surprise me!
What do you think are the biggest hurdles (and opportunities) for indie devs today?
There's a lot of everything now. There's a lot of devs, a lot of games, a lot of platforms to release on, a lot of publishers and a lot of players. I think it's easy to get caught up in trying to do everything, and falling flat halfway if that's your approach. We're lucky enough to have our publisher Raw Fury help out. Without Raw Fury we would have had to spend most of our time on everything that isn't "making the game", something that it's really hard to afford doing when you're a small team like ours.
Shigeru Miyamoto famously said: "Life's hard duder, find a dope-ass pal to hold your hand when shit goes wild."