Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is an insanely fun looking game coming from the small game developer, FuelCell. The trailer for this great looking indie game can be found in a previous Platform Nation article. I got to do an interview with two of the guys at FuelCell about the game. Michel Gagné, an amazing artist and FuelCell’s Joe Olson. The interview is separated into Michel’s answers and Joe’s.
Questions for Michel
On your blog you have finally shown the final design for the alien pilot. What made you decide on him as opposed to the many other possible designs? (Also, he is adorable and badass all at once.)
MG: When I was trying to come up with a design for our alien hero, I wanted to strike the right balance between cute and edgy. Some of my early designs were too weird and not relatable enough. Others were a little too cute. It’s a fine line to get just the right flavor. The whole team feels good with what I came up with in the end. From our early animation test, I can tell you that the little guy is going to be a lot of fun to see in motion.
The graphics and animations in the game look incredibly beautiful and smooth. How hard has it been to get the game to look and move exactly how you want it?
MG: From the get go, I was adamant about the game feeling like an animated feature film. I didn’t want to see pixels or choppy animation. I wanted to make sure that I could animate stuff traditionally, hand drawn on paper, and be able to incorporate it in the game and have it play very smoothly as if you were watching a movie.
It definitely took some trials and errors before we were able to achieve the look I was going for. My animation expertise is mostly from the film medium so I never really had to deal with size and frame limitations the way I have to with this project. Because I didn’t understand the limitations of the medium, I encouraged the Fuelcell team to help push the technology to accommodate my vision. I’m sure I drove them nuts with my insane nitpicking, but after a couple of years working on the project part time, the folks at Fuelcell made some incredible breakthrough that allowed me to translate what I had in mind, into an interactive environment.
Parts of the game look very lush and beautiful while others look like they have come from a nightmare. What inspired the unique look of Insanely Twisited Shadow Planet?
MG: Those who are familiar with my work will see bits and pieces from several of my past projects. The alien world where our story begins is very similar to some of the environments from my graphic novel, The Saga of Rex, which is currently being serialized in the Flight (www.flightcomics.com) anthology. As the story progresses, we enter the shadow world and things get progressively weirder and more nightmarish.
I’ve been doing silhouette work my whole life and many of the shadow world designs are spawned from some of my previous projects. The UFO design is from a series of interstitials I did in 2005 called Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets. Other concepts originated in my book, The Great Shadow Migration which was published in 2000. All my art has a string going through it. I see parts of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet that goes back to my childhood. My first commission at age 9 (http://www.gagneint.com/Final%20site/Gallery/misc/specialite_gina.htm) was a silhouette logo that bears a striking resemblance to some of the elements in the game!
Part of the trailer shows your ship turning some of the Shadow Planet green and nice. Is this a major part of the game as a whole?
MG: The nice green forest you are referring to is from the home world. This is where you begin your adventure. Before you get beamed to the Shadow Planet, you first have to fight your way through a shadow infestation on your home planet. Once you get beamed to the actual Shadow Planet, then all hell breaks loose!
After working in so many mediums; movies, TV, comics, why did you decide to make a video game?
MG: The main reason I went into this head first is because of my partner, Joe Olson. I had a good feeling about Joe the very first time we met. He made me see the potential of creating a game with him and his team. Joe was a fan of my work and his pitch was that he wanted to make a “Michel Gagne style” game. That’s why my name figures at the beginning of the trailer. He’s the one who recognized that my art style would be a good fit for a video game.
I love having so much control over the artistic vision of the project. Whenever I work on a feature films, there are several designers and my voice is one among many. With this, I’m the visual maestro. I can express my artistic vision in an undiluted manner. The Fuelcell team is determined to bring my visual sensibility to the screen and I have the utmost confidence that they will make the interactive experience memorable.
What is similar and what is different when making a video game compared to everything else you have made?
MG: In the past, my projects have either been of a more personal nature (books, comics, short films) where I completely run the show; or work for hire, where I bring my expertise to a specific area of a project. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is different as it is my first 50/50 collaboration. My reason to get involved in this is to make a beautiful work of art. Joe and his team at Fuelcell will make sure that it’s a kick ass game. We rely on each other to bring out the very best.
Of course, every project has its own set of rules and technicalities. But when it comes right down to it, what I’m mostly interested in is being creative and using my imagination – and in that respect, I’m using the same part of my brain that I usually do.
Did you realize how awesome that trailer was while you were making it?
MG: I’m glad you liked it. Fortunately, I had a lot of great video capture footage to choose from and a great piece of music to work with. The music established a nice rhythm and helped me come up with the visual progression. My hope was to convey the scope and visual variety without revealing too much. This is the second trailer I ever put together so I’m quite a novice in that area. I’m glad it’s getting a good reaction.
Will we be rocking out to metal while trying to survive that shadow planet? If not, what will the in-game music be like?
MG: One of the aspects of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet that’s very dear to my heart is the music. From the moment we started the project, my mind was totally set on the type of score I wanted: Symphonic Metal. I’ve been a fan of the genre since its inception and I’ve always dreamt of combining this type of music with my animation style.
When trying to choose a score for our latest trailer, I listened to hundreds of tracks. Music is extremely important in how it creates a mood so I didn’t want to choose lightly. One of the pieces I kept coming back to was “Blood Hunger Doctrine” from Dimmu Borgir. To me, this piece is a perfect example of how heavy metal, combined with orchestral sound can create a powerful and intense musical experience. I was sad to have to edit out Shagrat’s powerful singing (just couldn’t make it work in the trailer) but hope to be able to integrate these type of vocals in parts of the game.
For several months now, I’ve been in contact with Nuclear Blast (the best metal label in the world) telling them about my vision of combining the music I love (epic/symphonic metal) with this game project. After putting some tests together to demonstrate what I had in mind, I managed to convince everyone involved of the potential of such a combination. We’re glad and thankful that Nuclear Blast is excited about this project.
Our goal is that Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet will not only be a groundbreaking piece of animation gaming but also a cutting edge symphony of epic metal.
Questions for Joe
What would you like people who have never heard about your game to know about Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet?
JOE: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a side scrolling action adventure game that puts the player in the role of the main character in an interactive feature quality animated film drawn by Michel Gagne.
How long have you been working on the game? How close are you to being completely done?
JOE: We’ve been working on the game here and there in our spare time since 2007 – being an independent studio these days can be challenging, especially without funding in place. We’ve all had to take on many work for hire contracts to keep the money flowing and the team together. It’s been great for building the studio and acquiring equipment and resources and while we’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of good people on some really exciting projects, it ultimately takes time and focus away from Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. As of now the release date is unknown as we are currently speaking with publishers, and each has a slightly different vision for the scope and release platforms. Keep checking the development blog and hopefully we’ll be able to post an update on release date and platforms soon!
Will players get to upgrade their spaceship throughout the game and, if so, how?
JOE: Absolutely, one of the main features of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is upgrading the UFO’s arm with new attachments as the game progresses. Each level features a new attachment tool and a mechanic that teaches the player how to use it.
Will a so-called “casual” gamer be able to get into and enjoy the game? The trailer shows some very intense and precise gameplay required to make it through alive.
JOE: We get this question a lot, and one of the toughest aspects of game development is balancing the experience. We approach each gameplay scenario with the mind that it will need to be scalable and tweakable, and try our best to implement it in a way that makes future balancing easier, as well as allow for difficulty scaling. I will say that in my opinion game developers/publishers don’t give gamers enough credit these days and opt on the side of making it too easy or hold the player’s hand too much rather than rethink a mechanic that proves too difficult for some. Try playing the first few Mega Man games or Ghosts and Goblins again, those games are incredibly hard but also really well designed and balanced. When you do pass a level there is a real sense of accomplishment I feel is missing in a lot of games these days.
It seems like there are many games going back to 2D but with modern visuals. What do you think is causing this resurgence and why did FuelCell decide to go with a 2D game?
JOE: I’ve been interested in 2D gaming for quite a while now. I grew up playing NES and the like, and just haven’t seen that type of solid design in recent years. I mean, companies like Valve always make a great experience, but there’s a ton of grey and brown 3D shooters out there just clogging the market. When the idea of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet came about I could feel the industry was ready for a shift in that direction. With the onset of HD platforms like Xbox360 and PS3 as well as the recent success of games that leverage their power for crisp 2D visuals like Castle Crashers, Braid, and Geometry Wars, I’m happy to see that shift is finally happening! Most importantly I think the big name publishers are seeing it as well, so hopefully we’ll see an influx of high quality 2D games on the market in the coming years.
What is the best part of being a smaller game studio?
JOE: The best part about being a small studio is definitely the work environment. We have a lot of very talented people on the team who are here because they believe in the project and the company, not just to collect a pay check at the end of the month. That makes a huge difference in the quality of the work. The culture is extremely open and collaborative and being smaller helps that a great deal. Fun is an important factor for me as well. We basically make toys, and I say if you’re having fun creating it, that fun will transfer to the product and be passed on to the player.
I personally love that there is room in the gaming market for a game like Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and something like Halo 3. Do you think that the indie market will continue to grow?
JOE: I sure hope so! There are a lot of talented and creative people out there working on innovative games and the indie market is definitely a driving factor in that. Every time there is another hit game in this arena it makes it easier for the next team to get backing. Ultimately it’s up to the consumer to stop buying the clones and sequels to really effect a change.
It looks like there will be a wide array of things trying to make your ship go boom. What are your favorite enemies in the game?
JOE: That’s a tough question, but as it stands I’d have to say I’m pretty partial to the Rock Herders. They’re these little energetic balls with spidery legs and a long snout for sucking up and hurling rocks. They generally stick to their own business of moving rocks from one area to another, but if the player gets in the way they’ll start hurling their rocks at the UFO. The AI tries to predict where the player might be in the near future, so they can be incredibly accurate.
What is in the future for FuelCell?
JOE: We of course have a backlog of game ideas we’d love to take a crack at, but Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is the first order of business. We also really enjoy working with Michel and there are some ideas on the table for another collaboration in the near future.