Daniil Ermakov, who goes by the nick "Da Neel" is a fairly new game developer who has been very productive. He has already created an impressive selection of games, showing that he's on his way to create his own distinctive style, telling surreal and absurd stories that haven't been told before, but also stories that are personal and honest.
After playing and loving his games, I wanted to get to know this talented man, and I think you'll know that I was spot on on my decision to interview Da Neel after reading our conversation.
Recommended Da Neel games:
Hi Da Neel! I've been loving the storytelling techniques and the surreal settings in your games lately. Thank you very much for accepting my interview offer. What's your background in making games, how long have you been doing it?
The background is pretty standard. At age of 16 I was making one little game with my friend using game maker. It was about a shark-robber that runs away from his evil monster girlfriend. But we didn't finish it and we will never do. Then few years later I dived into Unity and made a game about flying circles and friendship. So now my experience in making games is a little over a year.
Do you do all the programming, art and music in your games? What's your defining quality as a game developer?
Yeah, I like to do everything needed all by myself. I would like to work in a team on some non-profit game, but most of my ideas are too abstract and bizarre. Few times I wrote music for other devs though. That was a cool experience!
Looking at my games, you might say that they are weird and broken beyond belief, but I think that they are still pretty solid in what they are trying to convey. You might not find any storyline or logic but if you got an odd feeling and experience - the game done its job.
Are you a student? Do you work?
I study journalism and work in the position of game designer. Currently we are working on a browser social game for women from 20 to 45. That's funny.
The storytelling in your games is great and unique. Whether it's your mechanical storytelling in "I LOVE YOU", or clues of a story all over "Vernacular", you make great use of the game medium to tell stories. What inspired you to make "I LOVE YOU"?
Thank you! I think these games have pretty good ideas, but implementation is not as good as it could be. I believe that "I LOVE YOU" is about paranoid jealousy. You know, one of these days when you're fighting with a red dragons and then you're struggling with delusions of your wife cheating on you.
It seems to me that your inspiration when starting to make a game comes from a visual style, or a scene, rather than mechanics, or the whole game laid down. Is that true? Can you say you're in a jamming kind of mood when making your games?
Yes, this is a big problem. Most of the time I don’t have any written plan. Sometimes I just come up with a funny idea or scene and start working on it right away, spending much time on making visuals, music and other stuff and in the end there's no game - there's only bugged bunch of media. This is the actual story behind “You are the Horse!”
Still, “Anger is a Way” is pure mechanics and level design based. The bad thing is that I haven’t done enough “polishing on and polishing off” and haven’t done any testing. I saw several let’s play videos on YouTube in which the blocks weren’t destroyed when the character was jumping. Same with “Moon Valentine” - sometimes music doesn't play, bullets go through the walls or you gain ability to move all characters at once by arrows. A whole new experience!
Can you talk a bit about the main inspiration behind your game "Moon Valentine"?
“Moon Valentine” is an attempt to make my own Knytt Stories. The story is about the guy who searches the Monolith (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) on the Moon. He hopes that Monolith will give him the truth about what happened to his girlfriend. The only thing I do like about this game is music. And the fact that if you killed someone innocent, the screen permanently goes black & white and the music turns into the set of random creepy sounds. Also there’s the monk from the "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring" in the house on water. I can’t explain why he’s there.
Your settings and characters are very surreal, and seems to be very much inspired by cinema. What are your main inspirations for the surreal and cinematic feel in your games?
I believe that David Lynch and such devs from GameJolt like Tom Van Den Boogaart and Thecatamites strongly influenced my games. Also I'm in love with Kim Ki-duk’s movies, Alfred Hitchcock's movies, Hideo Kojima's movies (he he he).Generally, it's not that hard to get inspired. But it's hard to do something with that inspiration.
I must say, your visual style amazes me. Every object feels animated and un-static. There is a very coherent feeling in all your games that make them very appealing to me. How did you start playing around with all these visual effects and making good use of them?
It’s just a matter of tools that you use. Well, I guess you should have some kind of an artistic taste and shouldn't overdo with all the special effects. And don’t forget to choose right colors and so forth. When I was making “The Sun does not exist” I found that the picture is static and boring. So it's natural that I started to use various post-effects and distortions to bring some dynamics to it.
Any plans for a paid game for Steam or mobile? Bigger games with more content?
Right now I'm learning to work in 3D environment and to make designs of actual games rather than just weird experiences. So no paid games today. Maybe next year.
Best of luck with your future projects. Looking forward to anything you make!
Thank you :)