Interview with the Phoenotopia Awakening Team!

Posted by Barry Carenza on

PE: Introduce yourself and let our readers know who you are and a little about yourself?

Q: I'm Quang, lead developer of Phoenotopia. We're a small indie team, so that means I handled the programming, level designing, and some other stuff.

 

A: I’m Anna/Pirate. In charge of all the artsy stuff for Phoenotopia.

 

W: I'm Will, aka sillythewilly, and occasionally I like to make music in my free time.

 

PE: What's your background in Game Development? How did you get into making video games?

Q: When I was a kid, games were the best thing I had going on. Games were more fun than school, friends, movies, TV, etc. Their stories and the gameplay really captivated my imagination. Games let you travel the world on a budget, visit fantastical locations, fight monsters, shoot guns, and wield swords. What's not to like?

At some point early on, I realized I wouldn't be content just playing games, I had to make them as well. It became my purpose. So I carried this as a goal throughout middle school, highschool, and college. At this point, the road to indie games development was a complete mystery to me and you didn't have as many resources online as you do today. As unformed as my destination was, it still guided my career choices. I chose Computer Science as my major, worked as a software engineer for a while, and when the conditions became right, jumped completely into indie games development.

 

A: In my high school, we had an annual game jam. First year, I joined simply because students that took part in it were sometimes excused from lessons. The team I joined already had all the roles filled, except for the artist position, so I didn't have much choice in that regard. At that time, I doodled a bit here and there, but I didn’t really consider myself the artistic type.

Surprisingly, we ended up coming in 5th place! That made me realise that this could actually be a realistic job prospect, which was of course exciting since I always loved games. So I started doing some freelancing in my free time. Couple years passed, and in our graduation year we managed to finally win that 1st place, which I took as a sign to take the leap and become a full-time game artist!

 

W: Growing up I learned piano and violin, but it was only in college that I started getting into music-making and recording. I would frequently trawl audio forums and articles to teach myself audio production, and I came up with half-baked song ideas here and there throughout the years. Of course, the first few songs (or first few dozens) were ... let's say very amateur-sounding. But each song was a learning experience, so I'm grateful even if some of them make me physically cringe now. That's progress! Anyways, a few years after becoming friends with Quang, he started working on the old Phoenotopia and asked me to write the music.

 

PE: What other titles have you worked on?

Q: Of the titles that are publicly released, there's just two: Phoenotopia:Awakening and the Phoenotopia Flash game before that. Like any creative, I have tons of half-developed game projects that were abandoned due to lack of ability or interest.

 

A: A bunch of smaller titles that either aren’t really worth mentioning or have never been released. During freelance years I used to work on 2~3 small projects at a time, but after work on the Phoenotopia: Awakening commenced, I decided to go full-in on it!

 

W: There was the old Phoenotopia Flash game, of course, but that's it. Oh and I guess a credits song for a small RPG Maker game way back in the day?

 

PE: What inspired you to create the massive masterpiece known as Phoenotopia Awakening?

Q: It being massive was more a side-effect of idealistic aspirations and unrestrained feature creep. It started as a practice project but became the main show. Other inspirations would be the Zelda game series and Cave Story.

Fairytales are another one of my big influences. I read a lot as a kid and I had this image of a humble farmer going on a big adventure. Of course, where it started and where it ended is quite far from the source material. The game as it is surprises me in a lot of ways. 

 

A: When it comes to the art of Phoenotopia, I drew a lot of inspiration from real cultures, as I wanted each area to feel familiar and real. For example, the Anuri Temple is inspired by the majestic Hoysala architecture, Atai town in turn by the lavish Ottoman empire, while Daea is filled with Tudor-style houses - the epitome of sophisticated Medieval architecture.

 

W: For Phoenotopia, what initially came to mind were the game soundtracks I enjoyed listening to as a kid, particularly SNES JRPGs like Chrono Trigger and Tales of Phantasia. I loved the memorable melodies that instantly brought back memories of in-game moments and environments, and I wanted to do the same with the Phoenotopia songs.

 

PE: Is there anything you wish you had done differently with this game?

Q: There's a LOT. I wished I managed the game's scope more properly because 6+ years of development was too much - I didn't think we were going to make it a bunch of times. Many times we could have taken an easier road that would have made everyone happier. For instance, if the inventory system didn't have limited space and you could just pick everything up? Players prefer that. And from a dev perspective, it would have cut down the programming complexity of the inventory system a ton! How the game's launch and marketing was handled was another BIG thing I regret.

Anyway, I know to not punish myself too much for past mistakes since they're all things I couldn't have known. I'm looking forward to getting it right next time!

 

A: Since the development took such a long time, many of the art assets actually already were revised several times by the time the title launched. Of course, there were things that I felt were lacking polish - but art is so subjective that, after release, I found out that for a lot of people the areas I was least satisfied with ended up being their favorites!

 

W: It would've been neat if I could've cleverly weaved in recurring musical themes and callbacks throughout the soundtrack. There's a bit of that, but I was also constrained by pre-existing melodies since I hadn't really bothered doing that with the old Flash game's soundtrack. Still, it worked out in the end.

 

PE: Are you working on a new project? If so, can you tell us about it?

Q: I am working on a new project but I'm not talking about it yet. I maintained a dev blog for ~7 years while making Phoenotopia. It only had a small audience and that was enough for me to feel the weight of people's excitement and expectations. It was heavy! So it's nice to develop in quiet for the moment.

 

A: Currently working on that aforementioned new project as well. It’s still pretty early on in the development, but I am already really excited about this new title, can’t wait till we will be ready to shed some light on it!

 

W: Nothing at the moment, but if/when Phoenotopia 2 happens, I’ll be there!

 

PE: If you could design a game for any video game series, what would be your dream IP?

Q: My answer for this changes depending on where my imagination is currently at, but for now I'd say Fire Emblem... OR... Skies of Arcadia.

 

A: Here’s to hoping we’ll all get to work on a new game for the Phoenotopia 'series' once again one day! But if we are purely day-dreaming here, then getting to work on a classic, gritty castlevania of yore would definitely be a dream come true.

 

W: Hmm ... I wouldn't want to tread on someone else's musical legacy. Maybe standalone songs for rhythm games like Deemo and Beat Saber? .... Aw heck screw it, super menacing Fran's Theme battle remix for Super Smash let's gooooo!

 

PE: Is there any message you have for all our readers? What makes your title so special? Why should they play it?

Q: I might be a little biased, but I think our game has a lot of "HEART". It's a nebulous thing that's hard to describe, but I think that's what this game's got.

 

A: Take your time, relax and just enjoy the journey! There’s so much to immerse yourself in in the world of Phoenotopia. Lush areas to explore, colourful cast of characters to befriend, collectibles and trinkets to collect, secrets to uncover… And the game will reward you for all of that! So if those are the things that matter to you the most when playing, Phoenotopia will keep you entertained for many an hour.

 

W: A big thank-you to all fans old and new! It's awesome being able to catch glimpses of the community's dedication with things like the Phoenotopia fan wiki or cool fan art. For those curious about the game, definitely check out the demo! For me personally, some of the highlights in my own playthrough were the sense of exploration and the fun dialogue.

 

PE: Thanks so much for your time! Last question, where can people follow you to know more about all of your current and future projects?

Q: Do follow our twitter, which is twitter.com/phoenotopia

The next game ISN'T Phoenotopia, but when it's ready to be announced, the phoenotopia twitter will reveal what it is.

 

A: My personal portfolio can be found over at klimkovich.com

 

W: twitter.com/sillythewilly & sillythewilly.bandcamp.com


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