UPDATE: The Kickstarter has launched! Check it out right here and learn how to support the project.
Welcome to another edition of TiC’s Indie Spotlight! It’s time once again to highlight an indie game that we feel you should have your eyes on. This week is a special edition as we speak to Jeff Spoonhower of Resonator Games about their up and coming project Anew: The Distant Light. Anew promises to be a unique open world, action exploration game that will bring a very unique perspective to the genre.
Resonator Games is made up of a two-man team, a very talented team I might add. Jeff and his partner Steve Copeland have worked on some high profile games such as; Borderlands 2, Bioshock 2, Command and Conquer, Uncharted Golden Abyss, and many others. In the interview below we spoke to Jeff about his vision behind Anew, the pros and cons of going from AAA to indie, and much more!
Nick Edward: The world and gameplay of Anew looks absolutely incredible. Can you tell us a little bit about the premise behind the story as well as what we can expect from the gameplay?
Jeff Spoonhower: Thanks! I’m glad you’re interested in what we’ve shown so far, which is a tiny slice of what the final game will be. The backstory of the game is hinted at in the brief opening cinematic. You find out that you have been launched into space on a rocket ship as a new-born baby from a badly damaged Earth. Something catastrophic has happened (the lower half of the planet has been blown off) and for some as-yet unknown reason, you have been sent on a 20 light-year journey into the far reaches of space as a little baby. When you arrive on the alien moon you are a 20 year old adolescent. You wake up from cryo-sleep and exit your chamber to find another empty sleep chamber next to you with a hand-written sign attached to it – “FIND ME.” There is a mystery presented right in the opening moments of gameplay that you must unravel. The story will be told “cinematically” through playable spaces in game. We are more interested in revealing our narrative through visuals, sound and music rather than the traditional use of cutscenes, text and dialogue. We don’t want to give too much away as a large part of the game is all about discovery – why you are on the alien moon, who you are, and more.
Our game is a side-scrolling 2.5D action-platformer with a strong focus on exploration. We are building this really huge, beautiful and weird alien environment with lots of twists and turns, secret passages, wide open vistas and strange landscapes. We want the world to be fun and inspiring to explore at its base level. We also have a fully developed combat and weapon upgrade system. You will run into a wide variety of awesome creatures and enemies in Anew so we want to make sure the slate of weapons available to you will be fun to use and also upgrade. You will also find ability upgrades that allow you to “power-up” your player character – super high jumps, sliding, power gloves, jetpacks and much more. These sorts of tools are hidden in the game world for you to discover. Structurally, we are pretty squarely in the Metroidvania camp – new abilities, weapons and tools allow you to access new parts of the world that were previously inaccessible. When you find these new items, you feel really powerful and it becomes fun to explore the world even more deeply. We have a few other game systems and mechanics that are still in the works that we plan to reveal a bit later in development, so stay tuned!
NE: You and Steve Copeland have worked on some high profile AAA games such as Borderlands 2 and Bioshock 2. What made you want to go Independent?
JS: Yeah, Steve and I both had really great careers in AAA development. Steve worked at EA and Petroglyph on a lot of RTS-style games (Command & Conquer, Battle for Middle Earth, Star Wars: Empire at War) and I worked on lots of titles for EA, 2K, Sony, and Volition (Saints Row, Uncharted, NFL Street, Bioshock 2, Borderlands 2). Jumping ship from large studio development to a very small indie studio took a lot of consideration and planning. Speaking for both Steve and myself, I can tell you that we were both interested in pursuing our own creative ideas for a game. When you work on other peoples’ ideas for 15 years, it gets tiring and can drain you, creatively. You lose that spark, that fire in your belly, after a while. We had both worked on a ton of successful projects, and the time felt right to try our hands at making our own original game. We were also interested in working as quickly and efficiently as possible, with as little time as possible spent in meetings, reviewing work with middle management, and things of that nature. Since Steve and I are the only full time developers on the project, we can make decisions very quickly, create pipelines and processes efficiently, and make an awesome game in a smart way that draws on the many lessons (some tough) that we learned at our studio gigs. I am also a Professor at the University of Notre Dame, so when I was hired to teach film and animation production classes here, I left my full-time studio job. Anew is my academic research here at ND, which is pretty awesome!
When you work on other peoples’ ideas for 15 years, it gets tiring and can drain you, creatively. You lose that spark, that fire in your belly, after a while.
NE: Can you tell us some of the pros and cons of being independent?
JS: There are many pros and cons to going indie. Some of the pros are obvious – we are making an awesome game that is truly our own. It is the artistic and technical vision of two people. If we can pull it off it will be incredibly rewarding to tell people it was made by a team of two (well, three, including our amazing composer, Will Roget!). Another pro for me personally, as the artist, animator, sound designer, and narrative guy, is that I can create a world that speaks to me on an intensely personal level. What I mean by that is – everything in the world from the textures, to the landscapes and structures, to the creatures, lighting, sound, mood – all of that means something to me and is important in some way. We are making a game that we would want to play, as gamers, and we don’t have to continuously get the approvals from leads or management to keep moving forward. Another pro is maybe less obvious – the success or failure of our game falls squarely on our own shoulders. We are responsible for every facet of production, and everything has to be done extremely well in order to succeed. It’s a huge challenge to take on and we feel as though we can do it.
We are making a game that we would want to play, as gamers, and we don’t have to continuously get the approvals from leads or management to keep moving forward.
It sounds kind of corny but I guess I like to think of “cons” more as problems to be solved or managed. First off, we are working on this thing constantly for very long periods of time, and must sacrifice a great deal in our personal and professional lives to do so. I’m talking about family relationships, giving up opportunities to do fun
things, passing up lucrative freelance contracts, losing almost all of your free time – for many years. I’m sure this is very common among indie developers that are passionate about their projects. You think about it all the time and pour your body, mind, and soul into it! Another huge challenge which is inherent to a very small dev team, is that Steve and I have each taken on the workload of several departments at a larger studio. We have to be very organized, and agile, as we are rapidly “switching hats.” Week-to-week, and often times day-to-day, we have to work on a multitude of tasks that are sometimes completely unrelated. It takes a lot of focus and mental energy to rapidly switch between character animation, world building, lighting, tools development, creature AI, systems debugging, etc. I don’t want to sound like I am complaining, because I’m not! We really do love the process and we have faith that the end result will justify the crazy amount of time and effort we’ve put into developing this experience.
NE: Anew has a distinctly dramatic art style that seems to have a lot of emotion behind it. What is the inspiration behind it?
JS: I’m glad the look and feel of the game strikes you. Many things inspire me creatively. As hectic as life can get with work, teaching, and with family responsibilities, I get a lot out of the times when I just sit in a quiet space thinking about things. That sounds pretty vague and hippie-ish! It’s true though. Some of my best creative ideas come during quiet walks, bike rides, relaxing in the shower, praying at church – when all distractions have dissolved away. You need to turn off your PC, your phone, your TV and the many other gadgets that drain your mental energy and creativity if you want to come up with fun, original ideas. Those creative “lightning strikes” do happen sometimes, but a lot of the time I need to work hard to be creative. That means doing research online and at the library pouring over artwork and paintings, analyzing movies, playing games and taking notes and more.
More specifically to this project, there are a few orchestral composers whom I love and listen to a lot: Bela Bartok, John Adams and Samuel Barber. Their music has been particularly inspirational to me on this project. I spent (and still spend) a lot of time listening to their music as I dream up the world and creatures in Anew. I love the novels of Kurt Vonnegut and Arthur C. Clarke. I get a lot of crazy ideas by casually checking surrealist art and photo books at the library. I photograph or scan in my favorite images on my PC that I try to look at once a week, just to stay loose, creatively. For a very long time I have found a great deal of inspiration in Stanley Kubrick’s movies.
At the end of the day I want to create a game that looks and feels unique and beautiful. The style of everything you see in the game, and also the moods that I am creating through sound design, are what I find personally interesting and fulfilling. The high level challenge for me as the game’s artist is to create something that truly feels alien, and unknown. I try to draw on everything I have learned in school and on the job, as far as color, line, form, timing, cinematography, pacing – lots of the fundamentals of visual storytelling and sound design – to make the world of Anew feel real and alive.
NE: We know Anew is coming to PC, but what other Platforms will it make an appearance on for sure? PS4, Xbox One, PS Vita?
JS: Our current plan is to launch initially on PC and then follow up with releases on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It will also be interesting to see what Nintendo does with their next-gen console. It would be really cool to bring the game to a Nintendo system. We are licensed Xbox and PlayStation developers right now so the runway is clear for us to develop the game on those platforms which is really exciting.
NE: What is the expected release window?
JS: We can’t comment just yet on the timing of any of these releases as we still have a ways to go in development. As soon as we know, we will let you know!
I knew I wouldn’t get the answer I wanted on that last question, but it was worth a try. I must say, it was great to speak with Jeff and I admire his passion and vision that is driving Anew to be something truly special. I cannot wait to see what they produce when it’s all said in done. This interview also reminded me of the fact that most indie developers are willing to risk everything for the freedom to create their own unique experiences and see that freedom as the ultimate reward. Knowing the whole time that this freedom is quite possibly the only reward they will reap – Simply Incredible!
Thank you for reading the interview, we hope you enjoyed it. Stay tuned for more Indie Spotlights along with the latest gaming news, most reliable reviews, and all things entertainment right here at TICGN.