It has been a while since our last piece of content in general, never mind since our last Q&A, but we’re back again and this time we’ve been chatting with Nicolas, one of the great minds working for indie development team Wanderers who are currently working on the survival game Island. Now we could tell you all about it ourselves, but where is the fun in that? Instead, find out all about the game and the team behind it by carrying on through the rest of this Q&A. And, if you like what you see, then we’ll leave all the links you could ever need so you can keep up to date with all the game’s latest developments.
Hello Nicolas, welcome to FULLSYNC. Let us begin with a small introduction of yourself so our readers can learn a little more about you.
Hello! I’m Nicolas. As a GM, I’ve been offering Island for a while in pen and paper scenario form. Later on, I took an interested in the survival world and realized that this idea had a great potential for adaptation in video game form.
I then brought together a strong and passionate team to bring this amazing concept into reality. We do hope that you will enjoy this amazing adventure as much as we do.
What was it that inspired you to pursue a career in game development?
My golden era for gaming was with 8/16 bits consoles. Some of these games had a thing for allowing an extreme immersion for me, and I’ve always wanted to reproduce this kind of experience, this time as the game’s creator. I also pursued other interests, studying artificial intelligence. At that time, indie gaming was almost nonexistent, quite the opposite of what it is today, and I did not agree with the direction video games were taking. This has changed; now there is a burst of creativity for large companies as well as for indie developers. So I took a step back from my other career, to make my dream come true.
Have you previously worked on any other games that people may have heard of before going it alone to work on your own title?
To me, the quality of the game is defined by its capacity for immersion. I played through amazing experiences, and always wanted to offer in return the same kind of experience. Because I didn’t have much creative control as I’d wish, as stated earlier, career-wise I pursued another amazing interest, artificial intelligence. I waited for the perfect opportunity to build my game, as I wanted to build a very immersive roleplay experience on my terms, and this needed a particular development strategy. Island is a work of love, and I do hope you will appreciate it.
We’ve mentioned your game a couple of times now but our readers don’t know much about it yet. How about shedding a little more detail on what the game is about?
Island is a roleplay and strategy game placed in the 18th century, where a lone castaway is stranded on a desert island. Before building this game, we collected information from survivalists, and people that have found themselves in survival situations. While being a 2D game with 16 bits visuals, Island is built directly upon those realistic rules, to offer you a more realistic roleplay experience.
For example, food has a “disgust level” in Island, and it’s much easier to keep down fruits than say, rotten meat you found on a carcass, or worms. As Island is an RPG, you will be able to train a skill that raises this “disgust level”, and will be able to keep down almost everything. There are dozens of skills to train in Island, from the obvious fire, shelter, and trap making, to survival item crafting, making a canoe, passive techniques to ward away mosquitoes, etc.
Every survival situation will be different, and it will be up to you to take the best decisions for it.
And what was the inspiration behind creating Island?
I fell in love with adventure style stories well before discovering video games. When I was around 10, I read and reread obsessively Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as well as most of Jules Verne’s book including L’île mystérieuse (Mysterious Island).
Later on, I discovered gaming with Nintendo in the 8/16 bits era, and let’s say that “the love of adventure met the love of roleplay games”. As an avid RPG fan, I did a lot of tabletops too. Island’s first iteration was actually a scenario for tabletop RPG.
To me, those games & books were all about the atmosphere. It’s now my turn to offer these moments to gamers. Island is as much about survival as it is about the mental struggle of the castaway, and how you will react to the pressure of a seemingly critical situation.
What have you done to make Island stand out from your competition?
Try to put yourself in this situation:
You wake up on a beach, your throat is burning. Your ankle is purple and twice its normal size, and you have no idea where you are. Your boat has been shaken apart for days, during that storm, and you can’t quite remember how you turned up on this beach. This doesn’t matter anymore. The place looks tropical, the kind of land with animals twice your size, and hungrier than you are. You are nowhere, and nobody will come for you.
You are not a hero. You don’t have any skills at surviving. You’re weak, terrified, and hurt, and have no idea what to do next. Only might, cleverness, and pain resistance will keep you alive. In a real survival situation, it’s often the mind that goes first; the body can often take unexpected damage, but the sheer terror, fatigue, and irrational thoughts are the most common cause of failure.
Island is meant to be played with this type of scenarios. You don’t just deal with hunger and thirst, but also with the character’s fears, must care for injuries, and always plan for the worst. This is not just the character’s struggle, it’s about how YOU will react under the pressure.
Here are a few other game elements to help you picture this:
- About the physical and mental symptoms in the form of long-lasting debuffs; A “sprained ankle” will, for example, slow your walking speed for a few days. Mental symptoms are equally punitive; “paranoia”, for example, will decrease your sleeping time, and increases chances of temporary madness. Also, all symptoms can stack. Take care of what is the most urgent.
- This is a strategy as opposed to a “real-time” game. You don’t build your shelter branch by branch, instead, you will focus on actions that matter; where to explore, which area is the most dangerous and which one as the most useful resources. While keeping an eye on the solar clock, you must make sure that you reached or built a shelter before nightfall.
- Nights are pitch black. You don’t have nocturnal vision, and those who venture too far without preparing a shelter for the night are in for many dangers.
- Weather is now a source of danger. Stay too long under the rain and get hypothermia. You can get dehydrated quicker under the sun.
- The game includes a hunting system based on primitive hunting rules. Crouch, keep your scent hidden, and attack at the critical moment or lose your prey.
When developing a game of your own, do you find it difficult finding reliable people to assist with areas of development where your skills may not be so strong?
Believing I would be able to do everything was I mistake I made, at first. When I realized building a strong and reliable team was one of the most critical factors for success, the game bloomed.
Island is now the result of the work of passionate people from all sides of the world. The difference between cultures results in quite an interesting mix. We are from USA, France, Latvia, Kazakhstan, and Mexico.
And following on from that, how do you go about finding people to help you out with tasks? Do you ask friends and family, or are there specific places you can visit online where you can seek help?
Island’s team has been assembled with talented individuals from all over the world. There are many places on the internet to find help. Deviant Art, for example, is a great place to post a job ad to find a digital artist. Twitter is probably better for finding pixel artists. Soundcloud and Newgrounds are great for musicians. There’s an amazing site for voice actors, and I can’t seem to remember its name right now. There are individuals with HUGE talent all over the world, and it’s quite easy to find them, with a little patience.
Back to the topic of the game’s development, what engine did you use to build the game?
Island’s prototype is running on a custom C++ & SDL engine for the moment. While running this build on PC, this strategic choice allows us a greater compatibility with the Nintendo dev kit, as well as optional target platforms; while we didn’t plan for it as first, PS4 and Xbox One have been requested as target platforms, and we decided to include these in the stretch goals during the Kickstarter.
Have there been any particular tricky bugs you’ve had to get rid of during the development of this game so far? Or maybe something that surprised you and ended up being a lot easier than you thought it would?
On a technical point of view, the greatest challenge is to get the map generator right, but that’s far for being where the greatest difficulty is; we want to reach a perfectly tweaked experience that will allow the player to reach the optimal pressure for his survival experience (as punishing as possible, but without dying randomly). The player must be allowed to find his way out of critical situations by carefully planning his actions, choosing the most appropriate skills to train for his particular situation, and carefully measuring risk vs reward in each decision he takes. Some people from our growing community already volunteered to help us in this tuning back and forth process. It’s absolutely amazing to receive such early support. If you want to help us in that process, don’t hesitate to message us via twitter.
I noticed that you recently launched a poll on Twitter for followers to decide what platforms you would make your game for, which I thought was a really nice touch to see. What encouraged you to do this and were you happy with the results?
It’s really important for us that Island’s growing community is involved in every step of the game’s development, from its early steps to its publication and later. The first results of this poll were that apart from the PC, gamers would really love to play Island on the latest Nintendo consoles. Receiving feedback from future gamers is amazing, and comfort us in knowing that we are bringing the game up in the direction gamers want it to be. We later received quite a lot of messages requesting other platforms, that we included as stretch goals.
We love to involve the community in all phases, including testing, to make sure the game is the best version of itself. We love to discuss the game and listen carefully to all opinions.
Now for anyone who may not have seen, your game is currently on Kickstarter looking for funding. How important are platforms like Kickstarter for helping you to develop your games?
Kickstarter is necessary for us, both for reaching a sufficient funding to properly pay our asset makers, as it is for the process of revealing the game to the world. As quoted in the previous question, it’s necessary for us that the growing game’s community bring sufficient return in form of testing. When something is wrong, or just not as it should be, people don’t hesitate to say it so. This is crucial information for making a great game.
What rewards can our visitors expect if they head over to Kickstarter to support your campaign?
Many members of the game community are really passionate about the game, and we want to allow those who want to support us further in making this game a reality to be able to put their personal touch in the game. Through our creative rewards, we’ll allow our most passionate gamers creative power on.
I’d better give you a quick example for each of those creative rewards:
- Relics are rare items that cannot be crafted and are a useful asset for your survival. They are remnants of civilization, found in crates, wrecks, or on dried up body of other unfortunate castaways. Shoes, lighters, Remedies, you will be able to design one of those rare items that are of great aid during your stay on the islands.
- The character will be afflicted by diseases, injuries, and mental conditions that can greatly increase difficulty. Some will simply slow him down, like a sprained ankle, but others may be more serious, like a fever that can blur your long-range vision or a broken arm that can limit access to certain skills. Yep, you can choose an affliction and its symptoms.
- You will hunt and be hunted by many animals on the islands. Each one will offer different challenges, depending on its size, speed, and feeding habits. You will be able to tame some of the animals you meet, and each companion will have a unique skill to help you. Marmosets, for example, can provide for a few fruits without effort, if you use them near fruit trees.
We’ve set two rewards, one to choose one of the wild animals, another to choose of the tamable companions.
Just a couple more general questions to tie things up; firstly for people looking but are maybe too scared to venture into game development and start up a studio like you have, what advice can you offer? Are there any particular pieces of software you would recommend for beginners?
There are tons of advice that I could give at this point. Here are a few:
Firstly; stop sleeping. No, seriously. Don’t count hours, never give up, and find the last bit of energy to keep going, every day. Don’t drink the coffee, be the coffee.
Secondly; your game’s marketing is at least as important as your game’s development itself. People that want to make games are usually introverts with a good capacity for code and imagination, and more than often suck at communication. Many make this mistake. Build your community from day one. Learn to talk to people. I’ve never gone out of my comfort zone as much as I have with Island.
Thirdly; don’t forget to contact the press when it’s time. Remember that an invisible game doesn’t exist.
And finally; you probably have a great idea in mind. Many do. A great idea is worth only as much as you’re willing to work for it. Don’t underestimate how much work it’s going to take, and build a strong-willed team.
And a little topical question for you now; you’re looking to develop Island for Switch which Nintendo recently released its Labo kits for. Sale figures although positive were not quite what Nintendo was hoping for. Why do you think that is maybe?
There’s a reason why Nintendo is still thriving when many companies fell after all these years. Their marketing strategy is on one side to keep traditional genres & licenses going while testing regularly new concepts, always researching for the fun idea that will keep gamers hooked. For the Labo kits, in particular, I think that gamers don’t share as much with the maker’s community as they though.
About another of Nintendo’s marketing strategies, they also understood very soon the importance of the indie gaming community. I have to say that, as an indie developer, there is a strong and welcoming support from Nintendo.
And finally, for a bit of fun; I recently visited Blackpool Pleasure Beach to take on their new £16.25m roller coaster, ICON. Are you a fan of roller coasters and if so what is your favourite one?
Actually, I’m more of an outdoor guy. I love the majesty of large and desolate places. I love the calm and peacefulness of forgotten areas in the backcountry, nature and abandoned urban areas alike. I also have a thing for crazier stuff. Next year we have planned a trip for an active volcano.
That just about wraps it all up. We’d like to thank Nicolas for taking the time to chat with us and wish him all the best with his game. As usual, if you continue below, you’ll find all the relevant links to ensure you can keep up-to-date with Island’s most recent developments as well as how you can help fund the game by backing Wanderers on Kickstarter. Until next time folks!
I took a step back from my career in dev (A.I., machine vision & learning) to pursue a lifelong dream of making a video game. Behind the game, I also want to offer a good immersive moment to roleplayers. I do hope you will enjoy Island!