This post is part of day two of itch.io week. We'll be interviewing developers all week. Learn more here: https://itch.io/week
Kyle is a junior designer at Boston-based developer, Zapdot. He released his first independent game, Emily is Away, last year.
I've been making games ever since I was really young. I have two younger brothers so as a kid I was always trying to keep them entertained. The first game I can remember making was this awful trivia game. Basically, I'd stay up late watching game shows and jot down any questions I liked in this little book. Then, I'd run around and try to get anyone to play it that would put up with me. Thinking back now, it was probably a bad idea to mix 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' questions with 'Family Feud'.
When I decided to make Emily is Away it was clear to me that it drew inspiration from a lot of games. One of the games that was really influential was Actual Sunlight by Will O'Neill. Emily's ending is actually taken from a specific moment that resonated with me in Actual Sunlight. When Emily was nearing release I submitted it to an interactive fiction competition. Will O'Neill found it, played it and sent me a nice email with feedback on it. That was really surreal to me. To have the developer of one my favorite games play my game and contact me totally out of the blue was amazing. And if you haven't played Actual Sunlight yet, you definitely should!
I honestly can't remember where I first heard about itch. But it was always clear to me that itch was a good fit for the games I wanted to make. The itch community is one that likes weird and interesting ideas. I think Emily is Away really fit that description. It just made sense to release on itch.
Pay what you want distribution is probably my favorite feature. It allows developers to make weird and unique games that challenge the norm. It also allows players to really support their favorite developers. And I think that PWYW has helped define the itch community as one that appreciates and supports new ideas. The fact a site like this exists is incredibly important to video games as a whole. We're such a young medium compared to film or literature. There's still whole genres of games waiting to be discovered. I think it's really important that we push the boundaries of game design outwards from what we know into the unknown. And the itch community seems to enjoy and support that boundary pushing, which is a great thing for everyone.
What I'd really love to do is a weird version of some AAA game. Like a version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare where you play a drone pilot in Nevada. Half the game would be stressfully piloting these drones and following orders no matter the amount of collateral damage. And the other half of the game would just be returning to your family every night for dinner, maybe picking up milk at the local grocery store. I think that contrast of gameplay could be really interesting to explore. And it's also a weird idea for a game that will probably never happen.
I'm playing through Dark Souls right now, which isn't really an indie game but it's very good. In terms of indie games, the last game I played was probably from Managore's bit jam. Bit Jam was a game jam recently hosted on itch which only allowed for one bit of feedback. I made the game Booper which is a one bit rhythm game inspired by Thumper. It actually turned out way more difficult than I was hoping for. There were some other really interesting games submitted as well and as always Managore's Codex has the nicest looking itch page.
It's insane to me how well Emily has been received. I really didn't expect anything like that at all. I was just hoping to kind of get my name out there as a game developer with Emily. But it just kind of took off in a crazy way that still blows my mind. The success was weird in that it made me put a lot of pressure on myself for future projects. I did kind of hit a slump where all my ideas just didn't sound as good in comparison Emily. But I think the only way to get out of that is just to make new things. Doing game jams and stuff like that has really helped. And I've just started a larger scale project that I'm pretty excited about.
When I set out to make Emily I knew I wanted to make something that was unique to me. I wanted to answer the question, What can I bring to games that is different than others? So I decided to use my personal nostalgia for AIM. Through that nostalgia the story just fell into place. I think the story is personal to a lot of people, high school romance mixed with growing up and apart from old friends. In that way players even feel vulnerable just playing through it. So it's this shared vulnerability of my game telling the story, and the players relating to it and picking their way through it. That might be just unique to my game, but I don't feel too vulnerable putting the story out there. The game is more of an invitation for others to feel vulnerable and think about their past with me.
Thanks for inviting me to be a part of itch week! I'm really excited to see what you guys have in store :)