Every now and then,I pester my creative colleagues with a few questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.
Domini Gee and I met recently at a mixer for video-game developers. There she told me about her upcoming project, which she has developed with Erin Onufrichuk after they met at Global Game Jam. After finishing her Master’s degree, Domini has worked as a writer, proofreader, and game tester. Erin is a co-founder of EXP-resso Mutt and works on many weird projects. Having joined forces since 2015, they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign for Camera Anima.
What are some of the games that inspired you to design your own games?
Erin Onufrichuk: I’ve been playing games since I was a little girl, so I want to say Spyro for Playstation One is what started it. Without that series, I don’t think I would have even thought of making a game. I could list a lot of games, but I want to say more of it is the indie world. Small teams create big things that make you happy, and that’s what I want to do.
Domini Gee: Final Fantasy was a formulative series for me. I’d played Sonic, Pokemon, Digimon World, and more than a few movie-to-game adaptations, but I don’t think I started thinking of games as a way to tell stories until I watched my sister play Final Fantasy IX—and subsequently stole it to play myself. While I did a lot of writing growing up, I didn’t start thinking of applying that to videogames until I took a course on videogame history. My professor mentioned that the university would be starting a videogame design certificate, and I thought, “Wait, that’s an option?”
What is Ren’Py, and how did it help you build your game?
DG: Ren’Py is a free visual novel engine geared toward helping you create interactive stories with an emphasis on text, images, and sound. A large part of why I started using the engine—love of visual novels aside—was because it’s friendly to non-programmers. The engine generates a save system, a basic set of menus, and start-quit functions off the bat, allowing you to focus on making your game. From there, you can make things as complex as you need.
With Camera Anima, point-and-click gameplay has been the core mechanic since the first demo but the gameplay’s become more refined as we’ve grown more familiar with the engine. In the first demo, it was a basic hover-click-feedback loop. In later demos, we added things like an inventory system, item equips, and an exploration wheel. There’s a lot of other backdoor stuff that happens to get it to work but, for someone not trained as a programmer, I feel pretty good about what we’ve been able to do thanks to the engine.
You each have your own areas of expertise, but in what ways do you join forces on the same tasks and directly influence each other’s creativity?
EO: I’d say we join forces in the sense Domini writes the vision and I just pull it out of the digital ink. We both see what something should look like in the end of things.
DG: Yeah, having someone else involved not only gives you a second set of eyes but it also makes you feel responsible for making sure the other person can do their work. There are concepts that seem straight-forward in my head, but then when I explain it to someone else and they aren’t clear to them, then that tells me it’s time to take a step back and make sure we’re on the same page.
What is the enduring appeal of Steampunk? And how did you decide what other fantastic elements to add to it in your game?
DG: A large part of Steampunk’s appeal, at least for me, is that it’s a romanticized twist on the past. While the Victorian aesthetic is a common base, you don’t haveto be historically accurate. You can pick and choose which aesthetics appeal to you.
With Camera Anima, we used steampunk’s fantastical elements to explain why concepts we had were possible in this world but not ours. The reason the main setting is floating islands? Because it’s filled with aether deposits. The reason technology can be more advanced in certain areas? Its reliant on alternative energy sources like phlogiston and aether crystals. The reason there’s a serial-killer automaton? Because I was drawn to the image of a Jack the Ripper style antagonist, but as a robot.
What are your earliest impressions of crowdfunding and the ways it helps (or hinders) you creatively?
EO: I’m currently waiting for an overdue reward from crowdfunding, which puts a sour taste in my mouth. That makes me understand that someone else might also feel that way. Other than that, I think crowdfunding is an excellent thing, it breaks down so many barriers for creatives. It teaches you the value of marketing yourself to the niche you want to fill.
DG: I agree that the idea of disappointing a bunch of people who’ve put faith in your vision is scary. However, crowdfunding has also pushed us to consider our audience sooner. We have an opportunity to get feedback and implement it.
How do you account for the enduring appeal of point-and-click games in a world of action shooters and RPGs?
DG: I think it helps that point-and-click’s a genre that has helped create a lot of many memorable games. While people think puzzle or adventure games, point-and-click is one of the first mechanics that comes to mind. It’s also a very flexible mechanic. If you can move the cursor and click on something, you can use it. The nature of point-and-click is relaxing and encourages creative thinking.
EO: Shooter games make me panic. I don’t ever think I have enough time, and sure enough I’m down for the count. Point-and-click has a nicer attitude, and the story is what I really care about when it comes to a game.