Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2007
entrants, today’s interview is with Robert DeMaria, Daniel Coleman and Ian Bowie of Semnat Studios
, developers of 2D platformer Eduardo the Samurai Toaster
The title, which is entered in both the main competition and the student competition, is described by the team as the world’s first game to cast players as a “Brazilian samurai toaster”. Over “dozens of diverse levels”, Eduardo must fight through his “toaster pastry enemies” - either by toasting them and using them as projectiles, or by using various pole fighting attacks – in order to reach the final goal.
Semnat Studios are currently aiming for a first quarter release for the game, on both PC and Mac. We spoke to the trio about the game, its entry into the IGF, and its unique art style.
What is your background in the games industry?
: I've never had an actual job in the games industry. However, in high school I made levels for Quake
. Starting in college I began building games from scratch with Daniel.
: No professional experience, just the projects I've worked on with Robert.
: I've almost completed my degree at UAT in Multimedia with an emphasis in Game Design and digital video. Worked on some various mods but this is my first real project.
When was Semnat Studios formed?
: Officially in early 2005, but Robert and I have been working on games since 2003.
What inspired Eduardo the Samurai Toaster, and why did you decide to make it?
: After my freshman year of college I finished work on a really terrible turn-based strategy game. After a little time went by I felt like making another game. The intention was to learn how to make a larger game than the few that we had worked on before and to see if we could make a really excellent game. I asked Daniel if he had any ideas and he jokingly suggested that we work on a platformer where you play as a toaster that fights magical fairies. After a minute we both realized that his idea actually sounded pretty fun and we began development.
A little less than a year went by and we had made a game that was not very good, but we saw the potential in the concept. We started over from scratch and Daniel rethought the character design. It was at this time that Eduardo became a samurai with a sweatband.
: Right, Robert started working on this strategy game that we refer to as "the Monster game" which I did some horrid character designs and animations for, and doing that got me really interested in game design so after that atrocity was abandoned we thought about what we could do next. So I wrote up a brief description of a sidescroller where you'd control a toaster that shoots out stuff and it was so absurd that we thought it might be a fun project to work on. We began work on what was then called Eduardo the Magical Toaster
, and started over from scratch after we realized that we had learned enough to make something much better.
So there wasn't a grand plan at the beginning, just a silly email I wrote describing what the game would be like. Eduardo
has changed drastically over the years, and we've stuck to the concept and made something which I think is quite cool.
What inspired the more visually experimental levels in the game?
: The first art I did for the second version of the game (where Eduardo became a samurai) was the blossom tree area. I didn't have any real plan at the time, but the theme grew out of that and as I grew more comfortable with creating art in PC paint programs, I started thinking about what might be cool and interesting to do, something unusual for a videogame. And I'm a huge fan of foreign cinema and especially 50's and 60's Japanese movies, so I wanted to create areas in the game that would look like they came out of an old samurai flick. The grassy area that is seen in some of the screenshots at our site was inspired by the Masaki Kobayashi movie Harakiri
, for example. We've just been having a lot of fun experimenting with the visuals in Eduardo
, and I've put in aesthetic touches from different things that have had a big influence on me. Like movies, Chinese ink paintings, and Japanese woodblock prints.
What were your expectations from your game, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations?
: When I first started work on the game, I just wanted the experience to teach me how to make a good game. Since then I think I've learned an immense amount about game development both in a programming sense and in a design sense.
Additionally, I think we succeeded in making a very fun sidescroller. Along the way we began thinking about how, visually, most 2D games are still very similar to Super Nintendo games. One of our goals became to develop the game so that we could break away from the way things typically look in video games. What we've come up with is something that looks like a cartoon or a moving, interactive painting. I think we've been very successful in achieving that goal.
: Well, we still have a lot of work left to do. But it's coming along very well. We started out with a simple concept that changed over time, and we kept on pushing ourselves to do better and better. I think the end product will be something that we can be proud of.
: The concept has evolved and changed for the better so many times, so I’m sure the final game will not disappoint.
What do you think the most interesting thing about your game is?
: How Eduardo
doesn’t really look all that much like a regular game, with the way in which we’re using our art assets. Our tiles and the lack of a HUD help to achieve that. I really tried my best to create an interesting style that you don't often see in video games. And Ian’s animations certainly make it look very different for a 2D title.
And the final melee combat system is going to be very unique, but we're not quite ready to unveil that.
: One of the things I think is interesting, from a programming point of view, is the fact that we’re not doing anything cutting edge on a technical level, but we’re making technical decisions that are significantly different from most other 2D games. The technical choices we have made allow us to have less visual repetition and to make things look more alive. For example, we decided not to use traditional tiles to build our levels. This gives us much more organic looking levels with less of a repetitive look. Additionally, we use 3D animation to produce complex and smooth looking character animations that would have used too much memory had we gone with a sprite-based approach.
: I'd really have to say the thing most people will see and immediately appreciate is Daniel's art style. It's a unique blend of cartoon and Japanese/Chinese-inspired art.
How long did development take?
: We spent roughly one year making the first version of the game before Eduardo was a samurai. We then started over from scratch and spent about a year on that version. This is when Daniel re-worked the character design. After that, we switched to the Torque Game Builder from an engine I made. It's been a little less than a year since we switched engines. So we've been working on Eduardo
for about three years.
What has the development process been like?
: It's been an immense amount of hard work. Everyone working on the game has day jobs in addition to college classes. Development has to occur when you can squeeze in time. This makes coordinating everyone particularly difficult. But even when it's difficult and you're stressed-out, the fact that you're working on something you love makes a huge difference.
: Hectic to say the least but almost immediately rewarding. We've come up against a multitude of problems that would cause most other teams to just quit but we're a team full of passionate people who want to deliver a game that people will honestly enjoy. That's the motivation.
: A lot of hard work. We've been going at this without a break for years. But this shows our passion for the project, and our determination. We're in constant communication over email and phone, and we meet in person at least once a week to evaluate our progress and plan for the weeks ahead.
I'm still working on art, revising things and working on new assets. And Ian is busy with animations. We're all involved in the gameplay design process, though I'm in charge of the direction for the game. But it’s very collaborative.
What do you think of the state of independent development, and how do you think independent games fit into the industry?
: I think independent development is really just in its infancy at this point. Right now it still seems uncertain if there really is a place in the market for games developed with a hand-full of developers and a tiny budget. But, every year there seems to be a tangible difference in the quality of independent games and the number of options available to independent game developers. I think the future looks very bright for independent development.
: Indeed, especially with the opportunities of downloadable console games that Microsoft started with Xbox Live Arcade. And of course the IGF, which is such a great help for independent developers.
: We're in a new generation of independent games due to the advent of online distribution to all the new major consoles. We haven't seen this kind of opportunity since the early days of PC gaming where three guys in their basement could make a game that sells thousands upon thousand of copies, and the great part is that people don't even have to leave their homes to purchase your game. The marketing is practically in the availability alone!
Have you checked out any of the other IGF games?
: I've checked out several of the entrants' websites, but I haven't had the time to play many of them.
: I’ve had the chance to play a few of them.
Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?
: Castle Crashers, Samorost2, Aquaria
, and Bone
to name a few. And I have to give props to the fellow Coloradoans that made The Woo
in just a few months.
And Press the Spacebar 2000
! Ha ha, I got a kick out of that.
sounds very interesting and I’m going to have to give that a try when it comes out. I thought Plasma Pong
was a cool idea. I found myself playing it when I needed a five-minute break from work. I loved the atmosphere and art of Samorost1
. I just need to find some time to play Samorost2
Which recent indie games do you admire, and which recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why?
: There's this Danish game called Limbo
that I believe is being done by only one guy, and he was given a grant by the Danish government. It looks incredible. Right before I discovered this game we were working on a level for Eduardo
that's black and white and has the middle ground in silhouette, and when I saw Limbo
I said to Robert, ‘Ah man, it's like everyone is having the same idea’. Not that my idea was terribly original, but it was a funny coincidence.
is another indie game that I think looks really terrific, from developer Squashy Software. This is also being done by just one guy, which blows my mind considering how great it looks.
Oh and Façade
, which I heard about on Gamasutra actually. Really cool tech there and I hope it continues to evolve and that other devs show interest in that kind of technology. I believe that sort of interactivity is important for the future of games.
As far as recent mainstream titles go, my biggest personal influences are the folks at Sony who made ICO
and Shadow of the Colossus
. Fumito Ueda, Kenji Kaido, their entire team. Those are my two favorite games from the last gen of consoles. The unique and stunning aesthetic of those two games coupled with the design philosophy behind them have had a great influence on me. I'm also a huge fan of weird and funny games like the Katamari
series, which everyone that I've shown it to loves. Okami
is a very recent game that's bursting at the seams with artistic beauty and creativity. It goes to show just how far incredible art can take you. It's a PS2 game, yet I think it looks better than anything else released this year, even if games like Gears of War
are much more graphically-impressive on a technical level. Gears
had some great art direction as well, though.
I admire any game that's unique in some way or of a high quality. The Metroid
series, the Metal Gear
series, the Virtua Fighter
series, the Elder Scrolls
. New Super Mario Bros.
was a terrific game and I hope Nintendo cranks out a sequel soon. I got a Wii at launch along with Zelda
, which is an excellent game. But I'm so busy that it's tough to play everything that I want to. It's rare that I'll finish a game these days. But I'll have to make some time, as I really want to get into games like Mass Effect
and Lost Planet
early next year. And Metal Gear Portable Ops
, which just came out. Too bad it's almost finals week though.
: Apart from the stuff Daniel mentioned, I really enjoyed Samorost
. I really liked point-and-click adventure games in their heyday and I’m glad to see that people are still willing to make them. That goes for Bone
and the new Sam and Max game as well. I wish I had more time to play games because there are several indie games I’d like to check out.
As far as recent mainstream games go, the last game that really blew me away was Shadow of the Colossus
. On artistic, gameplay, and technical levels the game was perfectly executed and demonstrated innovation in each of these areas.
: Well, the frame rate wasn’t too hot. But to be honest that didn’t really hurt my enjoyment at all.
Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?
To our fellow contestants, keep up with the good work. And thanks to everyone who supports the IGF!