IGM Interviews – Tanya X. Short (Moon Hunters)
The moon is one of those strange and other-worldly things that has continued to fascinate us for centuries. From Georges Méliès’ 1902 silent film Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), to NASA’s Apollo program, to the moon that haunted us in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. So when IGM first heard the tale of Kitfox Games’ Moon Hunters back in August last year, a game in which the moon has mysteriously vanished, it resulted in that familiar fascination. It was on a lunar-free afternoon when I sat down to have a chat about Moon Hunters with Tanya Short, the creative director of Kitfox Games, regarding the hand-painted art style, the music, the mythology that inspired it, and everything in between.
IGM: What was your role in the development of Moon Hunters?
Tanya Short: I am the designer, producer, and marketing person. So I’m essentially the creative director. Xin is our artist, Mike and Jongwoo are our programmers, but I kind of make the final decisions and make sure that the game comes together.
IGM: One of the main inspirations for Moon Hunters came from your artist. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Tanya: Xin is trained as a concept artist and illustrator, and I was looking through his portfolio while thinking what I was passionate about. And a lot of his stuff seemed very…how to put this, uniquely fantastical? Like a little bit low fantasy, or a little bit like weird fantasy or dark fantasy. And that really appealed to me. You know, I have a fascination with the occult and old religions, and that kind of sparked me to talk to the team about making a game about procedurally generated mythology. That’s kind of where the whole thing started.
IGM: How would you describe the art style of Moon Hunters?
Tanya: Mm. I would describe it as modern pixel-art. I don’t think it’s a retro look. A lot of people would call their pixel-art retro, and I understand the impulse, and it’s definitely reminiscent of older games. But we’re not trying to emulate a certain look. We’re more about taking pixel-art and seeing what else we can do with it with modern technology like dynamic lighting, particle effects, frames of animation-things that were not possible back then. And I think it’s interesting seeing more and more games doing that. I mean I’m not pretending we’re the only ones exploring that, but there’s so much that I’m sure they would have loved to do back in the eighties and nineties that they couldn’t. And so having that freedom now, to use that art form and really make the most of it, is really, really fun.
IGM: The art has also been described as ‘hand-painted’. Does that mean that actual paint is used for the art within the game, or the concept art is transformed to digital art?
Tanya: So the pixel-art that everybody associates with the game is the dominant art style. There’s a secondary art style which is a watercolor interpretation of those characters, which comes in during dialogue and story scenes. Basically how I think of it is the ‘real life’ art style, and the ‘remembered’ art style. Like when you remember something, it’s prettier, and it has more colors to it sometimes than maybe it did in the moment. Maybe that’s getting a bit abstract. The opening cutscene, or when you talk to someone- you get to see it in a higher resolution, like a very watercolory feel. Whereas running around with your character, and beating up monsters, and in the moment gameplay is all pixel-art. So when I’m saying hand-painted, I’m usually referring to the watercolor, which is still digital most of the time, although Xin sometimes will make a real life watercolor one. In fact, we have one for each of the characters that we’ll probably do something with eventually.
IGM: We’re curious about the music in the trailer. Who sings it?
Tanya: Yeah, I was so happy with it. It was really completely the idea of Halina Heron who is the vocalist, and Ryan Roth, who goes by Dualryan online. So Halina and Ryan worked together on The Yawhg, the only other game I know that they’ve collaborated on. And she just has this beautiful, haunting voice. And when we came up with this idea-you know we had this missing goddess, and it’s this kind of sad transition time between religions and things like that, and the fact that we could have Ryan and Halina was a dream.
And that song was almost entirely Halina just working off of the idea of this kind of missing goddess and the sadness there. And she just made this amazing song. I was like we have to use that as our main trailer song! So I’m really excited to see how the rest of the soundtrack works out. They (Ryan and Halina) are currently making the basic tracks of the music for the different biomes-the forest songs and the desert songs, and the mountain songs and things like that, but the demo won’t have vocals in it. You’ll have to wait a little bit longer for that.
IGM: Is Halina singing in a fictional language, or is it an ancient language?
Tanya: Um, it is definitely not a real language…but there is meaning, actually. And somebody online has figured it out, but I don’t want to spoil anything. It’s more moody-it won’t give you any spoilers about the game or anything like that. Like I said, she kind of just wrote it on this feeling of spiritual sense; it’s more atmospheric than anything. But you can figure out what the lyrics are.
IGM: Maybe some of our readers will be able to guess that.
IGM: You’ve previously worked on a game called Dungeons of Fayte, which was also an inspiration for Moon Hunters. What was it like working on that?
Tanya: (laughs) Well um, so that was a project between me and my partner, who’s now my husband. We were entering the-there was a TIGSource competition back in 2009 I think it was, and we made the core of that game together in a month for that competition. And we were using the art from someone else, so we were able to just kind of use that to make whatever we wanted, and mostly Brent Ellison and I-we came up with the idea of Princess Maker 2 meets Zelda. And we kind of went with that. It was great, it was really fun- I was the content designer, so I built the levels and wrote most of the dialog and story and things like that, and it was super, super fun. And then five years later, as I was working on the idea of Moon Hunters, the more I worked on it, the more I realized that what I wanted to do was revisit some of the ideas of Dungeons of Fayte.
IGM: Both Dungeons of Fayte and Moon Hunters emphasize a multiplayer style of gameplay. As a game designer, you’ve discussed your interest in cooperative gameplay before in terms of its unexplored potential. How will you tap into that in Moon Hunters?
Tanya: So the way I see it, is that it’s important for Moon Hunters to-when there’s multiple people playing, to have both a collective story that describes what the players as a whole are doing, but it’s also important that each individual player feels like they also have their own private story that they’re exploring. And so although there’s this element of cooperation, and “Oh what are we doing?” it’s also really important to the game, and this is where the camping segments especially come in. Where you decide what you’re doing, and how you make some choices, and what your personality is.
For Dungeons of Fayte, it was mostly your statistics that you were building, or relationships you were making with NPCs (Non-playable characters) or things like that. In Moon Hunters we’re taking that and adding these personality traits. So although the party as a whole might choose to I don’t know, take vengeance on somebody who’s wronged-I don’t know, somebody nice, you personally might still get a reputation for being compassionate because out of all the party-the four players-you were the one who voted not to take revenge, or not to deal harshly with this person. So, we’re trying to balance the idea of the collective versus the individual.
IGM: Is that how the reputation system works in the game? Every action that you do will ultimately influence how you are seen by everyone else? That’s ‘how you will be remembered’?
Tanya: It could. Right now, in the demo that we’re going to show soon, we’ve simplified it a little bit because it’s such a short playtime that you get to experience it in. So it is one for one; if you do something compassionate, you immediately get a compassionate reputation. In the final game, it’s much more likely that you’ll have to show a pattern of behaviors. So at least, do a few compassionate things and then you earn this reputation of being compassionate. The mythology is much more of this collective thing, like “Oh you were compassionate but then you did a few things that were clearly not compassionate and lost it again.” That’s kind of a story of a hardening heart, you know what I mean? So that’s the direction that the game is going.
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