Unleash the Giraffe is a small Swedish development team, currently hard at work on their first title, Obsidian Prince. The demo version of the game was only just made available on Steam (today, get it here), and we’re very happy that the Giraffes took time out of their schedule to answer some questions for us, despite being in a rush to get everything ready.
Q1. First of all who are you? Who’s the giraffe? Why does it have to be unleashed?
A1. We’re Mattias and Sigrid. A husband and wife dev team. Both of us have dreamed of creating games since childhood and this summer we finally took the plunge and started a studio called Unleash the Giraffe.
We wish we had some deep, philosophical reasoning for picking the name. Like the giraffe symbolizing our creativity and with the studio we’re letting it lose. Truth is though, we just found it funny. That’s actually one of the main threads through many of our design decisions:
Is it funny? Yes? Put it in the game!
In our game Obsidian Prince you’ll be seeing a LOT of puns, geek culture jokes and odd characters. We aim to make people giggle (possibly while simultaneously facepalming). We are very careful though, to make the humour non-intrusive and optional to ensure that people can just enjoy the gameplay we’ve designed without being assailed by twenty dad jokes a minute, if that’s their preference.
A2. There are a few elements to this question. We’re a small dev team and when we began working on Obsidian Prince we were only able to put in work during weekends and evenings. (now that we have a publisher, Mattias is full time). So, we were looking at, what can we do that has the level of quality we want with the limited resources we have available. Where we can ensure that we have time to produce all the assets we need to make the game feel alive and not an eternal repetition of the same three tiles.
The answer to that was voxels. With practice you can create very expressive characters and general assets with relatively little time investment.
As for the UI, the same is true. As an indie studio we don’t have the benefits of a huge UI design team so we needed something we would be able to maintain good level of quality for, without it eating up all the dev time we want to put into the actual gameplay.
UI is super hard by the way, we’ve redesigned ours at least five or six times and we’re still tweaking it to get it where it is as unintrusive as possible and provides the smoothest game experience.
Sigrid has been playing since her dad brought home a c64 when she was four years old. Mattias was eight when he got his first Nintendo. Both of us are avid gamers in our spare time, and we play a range of different genres solo, together, and with friends. In fact, every Friday we are a group of friends that “meet up” to play games together. It’s a highlight of the week.
We’re veteran gamers and we both enjoy both voxel and pixel art, but if our studio grows to have a big team of artists to work with we wouldn’t be opposed to try another graphical style for future games.
A3, That’s a great question. We’re a roguelike (at least the Endless Mode is, the Campaign would be more of a roguelite since there’s meta progression etc). But we also like to say that Obsidian Prince lends a lot from the ARPG genre despite being turn-based. In fact, you could say that what we’ve done is take the kind of gameplay you see in ARPGs like Diablo and cut it into turns. The result is a more analytical approach to the hack’n’slash gameplay and that “just one more turn” feeling in a game genre which is otherwise quite hectic.
We’ve spend a lot of time thinking about every feature and gameplay element we’ve added to the game. Everything we’ve added means something to the way the player experiences the game. For instance, drinking a potion takes one turn. That’s very intentional. We want it to be a very strategic decision whether to drink that potion, hit that enemy, or move away. We also want people to plan ahead and position themselves well. If you analyse the battlefield and see you’ll be in trouble in 5 turns, you’d better chuck that potion, OR work out a plan so you can survive without it.
Finally, our design ethos has been to infuse play into everything. This is where the tippable cows, popcorn sheep and windmill spinning come in. We want our world to feel magical and to give the player the feeling that there’s always something unexpected to discover as they explore the world. This is very important to us and if you click around on the overworld you’ll find a number of more or less hidden interactable items and NPC’s that are just there for the fun of it.
Q4. In many games, story is second to gameplay. That’s fine, and it’s usually for good reason, but story is still fun. How about Obsidian Prince? Is there a story, and how important is it? I read that the game is procedurally generated. How does that affect the way you tell your story?
A4. Rather than story we want to focus on lore-telling. What this means is we have a story that frames the game and the world. (The fight against the Obsidian Prince), but you can play without bothering too much with it if that’s your choice. But lore… we drop small hints of stories and the characters of the world where we can. For instance. What are those hands sticking out of that purple goo and why is the goo spreading? You may get hints to that in a conversation with an NPC or from a book you find in a dungeon, but it may never be explicitly explained to you.
We are working to make the lore drive exploration and the exploration telling a story which the player can emerge themselves in without having to read 50 lines of text.
Q5. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve dreamt of making my own games. These days, I’m writing instead, but the idea of making a game still holds a certain allure, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. How did you end up making a game together, on your own? Did you have a plan, or did it just happen? Have you worked in gaming in the past, or is this a new endeavour for you?
A5. Both Mattias and Sigrid have worked in the gaming industry in the past. Sigrid wrote for Gamereactor while she was studying, had an internship at Runestone Game Development and then worked at Blizzard as a gamemaster/senior game master for almost 5 years. Mattias has worked as a developer at several gaming studios such as Dice, Paradox, and some smaller gaming studios.
Obsidian Prince is however the first game we launch on our own and that is a challenging, but very rewarding experience.
Prior to Obsidian Prince and before starting our studio we were prototyping a few games until we landed at Obsidian Prince.
We set out with the plan to land a publishing deal and if that didn’t happen to self-fund and self publish.
We’ve actually had a lot of positive attention from publishers, especially as the project took shape and in October we signed a deal with Gameclaw.
There has been a lot to learn even though we are both gaming industry veterans. We’ve had to learn a lot about business plans and budgets and a ton of other non-sexy things, but it’s been fantastic. And now we have a business plan that reaches past Obsidian Prince an into future games.
Q6. Are you working full time with your game, or do you have a day-job to put food on the table? What does it mean to you to be an indie developer compared to working at a big game studio?
A6. For the first almost 2 years of development we were just working weekends and evenings on the game, but since January Mattias has been able to go full time, which has enabled us to pick up the pace of development tremendously.
Sigrid is still working full time at a day job and then on Obsidian Prince in her spare time.
It has been rough at times. Even though this is a passion project and we love doing this together it does sometimes put us under pressure when we’re trying to juggle delivering the game we envision with a day job and being parents to two wonderful girls.
The biggest difference from working at a big game studio is resources. We have to do everything ourselves. That means sound design, creating graphical assets, game design, coding, etc but even things like navigating legal questions and building awareness. We don’t have a big marketing team or legal counsellors to draw on.
With that in mind it has been incredibly touching and very appreciated to see how many of our friends are stepping up to help us get the word out.
It’s also very rewarding when you see people play and enjoy your game, and we’ve made a ton of new friends through our community and the lovely streamers who are helping us showcase our game to the world.
A7. We are aiming for Early Access late April or Early May. If you’re interested, you can Wishlist Obsidian Prince on Steam and you’ll get notified when it goes live. It will also help us a lot. On February 3rd we’re releasing a demo of the campaign. So, go check that out as well.
Q8. And a few quick questions:
What’s your favourite…
…book, in recent times?
Sigrid: The answer to this is always Lord of the Rings (even if that interpretation of recent might be objectionable to some.)
Mattias: Blindsight by Peter Watts. That book has changed how he thinks about sci-fi and intelligence as a whole.
…game, in recent times?
Sigrid: Star Wars Galaxy before the NGE. They had designed an MMO with an almost fully playerdriven economy. I can talk for hours about why SWG was the best. Anyone reading this feel free to poke me on Twitter if you want that discussion. Other than that, I love Slay the Spire, Mount and Blade, CIV… I could go on…
Mattias: Nier Automata. Wonderful all the way through. Fantastic music and game design.
…game design advice?
Never put anything in a game that doesn’t have a purpose. Also, start with finding the fun. If it’s not fun, make it fun, if you can’t make it fun, scrap it!
Just do it. Make a small vertical slice. Nail the gameplay loop then expand from there. Your first couple of games might never be finished. That’s OK. You learn from that and you can reuse ideas that did work in future projects.
Be persistent. It’s like writing a book. You write one page at a time, but as long as you put something down on paper every day you’re moving forward.
Don’t do it for money. Very few games make their devs rich. Do it for the love of putting a part of your brain out there for others to explore.
…source of inspiration?
Diablo, Slay the Spire (and a multitude of other deckbuilders), Hoplite, Final Fantasy Tactics and then a ton of other games. When we play now we simultaneously study and file everything that makes the games fun. Then we reuse it and implement part of that with our design twist into Obsidian Prince.
…way to clear your mind when everything gets a bit much?
We go for long walks together. Our best design ideas often comes when we’re out walking. It’s not uncommon that we’ll just head out the door when we’re stuck on something, then come back 30 minutes later with the solution (and 5000 other ideas we now need to implement).
Walking is gold.
Q8. Do you have any last words?
Channelling our creativity in this way is incredibly fulfilling. The support and positive feedback we’re meeting everywhere is humbling (and may or may not have made us shed a tear or two at times).
We can’t wait to see what the future brings and to create a lot more fantastic games for everyone out there to enjoy.
Games by Unleash the Giraffe:
Connect with Unleash The Giraffe