Author Topic: Exilian Interviews: Aure!  (Read 1036 times)

Jubal

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Exilian Interviews: Aure!
« on: February 28, 2019, 03:35:24 PM »
A Conversation With: Aure!
Your Interviewer: Jubal


Aure, or Aureus, has been a familiar face (OK, avatar) on Exilian for a while now, and his own Moral Anxiety Studio recently managed the successful release of a great slice of life visual novel, Tales from Windy Meadow. We sent Jubal to go and track Aure down to find out more about the game, its setting and development, and what future plans there are for the game world...

Jubal: Hello there! Before we get on to talking about Tales From Windy Meadow, tell us a bit about yourself – how did you get into game development?

Aure: I honestly can’t be happy if I don’t create things and find new ways to express myself. As a teenager I was writing crappy short stories, while during early college years I was focused on poetry. Finally I spent a couple of years designing and writing tabletop RPGs, though they were all published in Polish, my native language.

I moved into video games to combine a couple of passions at once. I love building my own fantasy world, writing stories, experimenting with dialogues, RPG-ish aesthetics. There are stories that can be told only through video games. I honestly believe that Tales From Windy Meadow couldn’t keep its power if it would be a book.



A view into Tales from Windy Meadow
Jubal: Now, Tales From Windy Meadow – firstly, congratulations on its release! How have you found people’s reactions to the game so far? Is it something you pay a lot of attention to?

Aure: Thank you! And yeah, I’m unhealthily interested in how people perceive my works. I want to grow, get better, deal with my creative shortcomings, especially since I don’t allow myself to stay in my comfort zone.

Nevertheless, Tales From Windy Meadow is extremely niche. A pixel art, fantasy, slice-of-life Visual Novel... I honestly think that there are no people who would buy such a game just because it’s on a store shelf and looks kind of nice. People who play it are interested in what it has to offer. All the reviews are either positive or quite enthusiastic, and I think people can sense that the game was made with love and passion.


Jubal: Yes, it's unusual in several ways, bringing together a game genre (slice of life/choose your own adventure), and a setting (medieval fantasy) which are rarely seen side by side. Did you see the game as experimental when you were making it, and did you have any dead ends when working on that format?

Aure: I never give myself a task to write something unique or different, though I’m usually most interested in ideas that challenge me, and catch my interest by showing me something that I can’t think of on my own. The original idea for the story wasn’t that fascinating. I had to invent a completely new structure for it, but ultimately I was able to invent something that made me feel excited about sharing it with other people.

And as you say, it turned out a bit unusual. I was aware of that. Trying to find an audience for such a game was extremely difficult. I hope that in the future more people will try to merge slice-of-life topics with fantasy settings. The potential of new metaphors and timeless surroundings that can travel across various cultures is great. I’d dare to say that many creators try to add some slice-of-life elements to their books, but there’s a lot of pressure to turn all the stories into empowering adventures. I just find repeating the same ideas boring.

As far as the dead ends go, I encountered some, but I mostly blame my own inexperience and wrong decisions that I made. I had to fix my mistakes and learn how to give up on some ideas that I loved, but weren’t really that good. Thankfully, everything turned out pretty well. Or so I hope. When I was translating the game from English to Polish, I was actually amazed that I somehow pulled such a weird story off.


Jubal: Iudicia has in more than one review been noted as an example of a character who’s heavily implied to be autistic, and Fabel is physically disabled – what research went into creating those characters?

Aure: Fabel’s condition was a bit easier for me to grasp, though I would also point out that both of these characters suffered from painful childhood traumas as well. Ever since I was a boy I had contact with people who faced even more advanced physical limitations than Fabel, such as my mother’s friend who was born without legs and with only one arm.

I’d say that Fabel is somewhat lucky - he lives in a community that is ready to support him, and offer him help and directions. He wasn’t left alone. Even in modern societies there is a lot of people with disadvantages, who are completely capable of achieving great things, but face a lot of rejection from their society. Very often these limitations are rather social, than physical. There are, however, works of fiction that did justice to these topics much better than I ever could, so I decided to not sink into them.

Writing Iudicia with an autism spectrum in mind was extremely difficult for me. I mostly spent time learning about the diagnostic procedures (which are much easier for children than adults) and what people with Asperger syndrome have to say about their adulthood. It’s not difficult to write a stereotypical person with Asperger’s, but I wanted to avoid silly stereotypes. My plan was to design a character that yes, has an unusual brain, but also much more than that - it’s a person, not just a development disorder put inside flesh. I think her relationship with Evolo serves here pretty well.

An additional difficulty was putting this topic into a pre-scientific fantasy realm which doesn’t know what “autism” or “developmental disorders” are. Iudicia only knows that other people see her as a weirdo. And she thinks that they are weird as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if some players didn’t even notice her condition. There was just so many ways to screw this up that I can now only hope that I chose the right approach.


Jubal: The setting design is one of the most iconic features of Tales From Windy Meadow, especially the giant, aggressive nature of the animals and wilderness. What inspired that aspect of the game’s world?

Aure: As I mentioned before, designing tabletop RPGs was one of my strongest passions. The setting of Tales from Windy Meadow is called Viaticum, and it’s something that I’ve been working on for about ten years now. Even Windy Meadow doesn’t perfectly reflect the current state of this setting - I made some major changes to it since the beginning of the game’s development, and some of these changes couldn’t be portrayed without delaying the game for another half a year or so.

The core concept of Viaticum is to portray a fantasy world in which nature is more powerful than mankind. So here are some ideas that were meant to complement this concept: the complex social structures known to us from history are not be fully developed, and the human settlements are constantly threatened by the monsters hidden in the wilderness. The monsters are not some intelligent creatures that you can make a pact with. They are a force of nature - heavily inspired by the Earth’s prehistoric animals. Dragons are dinosaurs, unicorns - elasmotherium. The goblins, which you can see in the game, are pretty much a hybrid of Australopithecus afarensis and Homo erectus.

There is a ton of material that just didn’t make it into the game, but having a complex lore helps me a lot with keeping the mood and the game’s world cohesive. I could talk about it for hours, because I absolutely love this setting. I hope to share it one day online.



A conversation in Stabulus' tavern
Jubal: A more fun question; if you could take the place of one of the Windy Meadow villagers (any of them, not just the protagonists) – who would you be and why?

Aure: For me, all of these questions are fun! But it’s a tough one. I identify with the majority of characters presented in the game. All three protagonists are in some minor parts a bit like myself. Many side characters are based on people I know or some old dreams of who I wanted to become.

Nalia, for example, is a character that was the protagonist of my previous, much humbler video game, The Tavern. In Tales from Windy Meadow she’s 40 years older and is struggling with the demons of her past, mistakes (or terrible things) that she made. I would like to be like her younger self... But I wouldn’t like to take her place in Windy Meadow. She’s sort of a sad, troubled person.

If I would have to choose one character, I would take the place of Stabulus. Having a tavern in a fantasy village is like ten times more fun than working in a bar, and who wouldn’t like to have their own bar?


Jubal: A few questions on the development side – how big a team contributed to Tales From Windy Meadow in the end, and in what roles?

Aure: It’s difficult to give you a specific number. Every person added something special, but for some people it was hundreds of hours of work, while for others it was less than a day of effort.

The most important part of the crew are people from Indonesian artist guild Oray Studios and two other pixel artists - Roberto Luquero and Andrea Zevallos. Oray Studios drew the majority of character animations and almost all of the backgrounds, which I love beyond reason. Andrea stands behind character portraits and core visual designs of their sprites, while Roberto provided general graphics support - he’s also the person who drew the map of Windy Meadow.

I also feel that the whole game would be very different without music from Doctor Turtle. His guitar-folk experiments were inspiring me long before the first draft of the story was written. Joanna Falkowska worked on the game’s website and helped me pretty much on every level of development, and of course the game was made in Ren’Py engine, which is designed to support Visual Novels and is a priceless (yet free) tool.


Jubal: You mentioned on the development thread that about half a year into the project you had a team member leave, and you yourself had to move from intending to do a lot of pixel art and design work yourself to taking on a lot more of the programming and outsourcing more design. How difficult was that change, and what would you say to any reader who found themselves in a similar position?

Aure: Don’t find yourself in this position. Instead, do your best working a day job and saving money on reliable professionals, or have another backup plan.

The game was initially developed on a shared revenue model, which means that other team members were working in their free time, in hope that after the game’s release it would return their investment. It also meant that the people who worked on the game were passionate about the general idea and were interested in seeing what can we create together.

There would have been nothing wrong with someone quitting the project, since time and effort are valuable and many things can change in a couple of months, but our programmer kept participating in game jams, spending her time on travels, and working on her own projects, and after a couple of months there were pretty much no results to show. As a result, I had to take this responsibility on myself. I changed the game engine to a simpler one, learned how to use it, and limited my drawing work to the simplest edits.

It was absolutely exhausting and extremely stressful. It did allow me to modify the game many times through the project, though, adapting many scenes to what I felt was feeling the best at any given moment. I learned quite a lot.



Concept art for the next venture into Viaticum!
Jubal: The pixel art graphics are a really important part of Tales From Windy Meadow. What made you choose that art style in particular, and how pleased are you with what it eventually contributed to the game?

Aure: I’m very happy with the final results. Pixel art has an amazing strength to it - it doesn’t try to portray every little detail and leaves a lot to the player’s imagination. Your brain fills the canvas on its own.

In many low-budget Visual Novels backgrounds are not very important for the story - a bedroom is a bedroom, a street is a street. In Tales From Windy Meadow, however, they are essential to follow the plot, especially since character sprites literally walk around and interact with their surroundings. So the game has a couple of points to pay attention to at once: the text, the character portraits and the backgrounds with their animations. It’s easy to miss some details. Pixel art allowed us to provide a lot of contrasting colours and make sure that the backgrounds are easy to comprehend and follow, without providing too much distraction - just like in an old-school adventure game.

It was also important for me to instantly make it clear that the game is not your “regular” Visual Novel with cute manga girls nor nudity, just to make sure that no one would feel cheated! I was strongly inspired by my favorite Visual Novel, VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action. Va-11 Hall-A is using pixel art to draw manga-like portraits. I decided to go a step further.


Jubal: Finally, can we look forward to seeing more of the Viaticum world? What are your next plans?

Aure: My goal for the next couple of months is to work on the prototype of my next game - a non-linear RPG with Visual Novel elements to it. It’s going to be set in Viaticum, about 20-25 years before the events from Windy Meadow. Here on the right you can see the first concept art that I drew for this project.

I'll also be working on the next edition of the Viaticum tabletop RPG. The game is pretty much complete, but needs some more testing; it is also spread among various, chaotic files and needs to be re-written from the ground, so I’m not going to work on it right away. It’s just a side project.

I have many ideas what to do next, but I assume that even these plans will take all of my creative power for the next two years, so let’s stop at that...


Jubal: We're certainly looking forward to seeing it. Thank you very much for talking to us!

Aure: Thanks for having me!
 
 
You can get Aure's game, Tales from Windy Meadow, here, and of course also visit the Moral Anxiety Studio website here.
 

Got further questions for Aure? Please drop them in the comments below! And let us know which of Exilian's many creative folk we should be interviewing next!

If you have an idea for an article yourself, meanwhile, please do check the guidelines and send it in, we'd love to hear from you!
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