Fordesoft Interview - Emerald Shores, Super Paper Mario Influences, & Vita Development - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 25 February 2018 / 1,913 Views
Sometimes, it's difficult to raise awareness of independent titles in an ever-growing market. I stumbled across a trailer for Fordesoft's Emerald Shores - an upcoming 2D platformer for Vita - many moons ago and thought it looked promising, but hadn't heard much from it since. However, a very interesting-looking Tweet reminded me about the game and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to interview the title's developer about his goals for Emerald Shores and Vita development in general.
What I wasn't expecting was to find out all about a hobbyist developer who started way back in 2000, who was finally getting the chance to release games commercially on Sony's platforms - a fantastic success story in itself - and who seemed to have lofty goals to ensure his newest game becomes far more than just another 2D platformer.
First off, tell me a little bit about yourself. I understand you are the sole developer at Fordesoft - how did you get into game development?
I started way back in 2000 as a 12-year-old hobbyist with a copy of RPG Maker on PlayStation, and then with one of the early versions of Game Maker. I taught myself to program shortly after that and slowly released freeware games throughout high school and college. Most of it is stuff nobody's ever heard of, but there was a web game I released in 2008 called Seeds of Time Online that gained a strong cult following (by the way, a few of the monsters from that game are making a comeback in Emerald Shores).
Do you produce every aspect of your titles or do you have any collaborators?
In the past, I usually did everything on my own, but I've since realized that my pixel art sucks and is detrimental to the games, hahaha. So now I leave the art to much more talented guys -- an amazing dude named Raou is doing the majority of the Emerald Shores art now. The rest of the stuff I do: programming, design, music, sound effects.
You developed for PlayStation Mobile and released the title Super Blackout - how did you find working on this platform?
Man, I loved working with PlayStation Mobile. It was a joy to work with on a technical level. The framework strongly reminded me of other game programming frameworks I'd worked with in the past, like Allegro and LibGDX, so it felt right at home. Sony also made the publishing process really smooth, and it was cool that they made it open to hobbyists.
How did you find Sony's handling of PSM? Were you sad to see it go? Do you think there should be space in the market for such a service on consoles?
It's a shame that the PSM service ended, but it was great while it lasted. When you lower the entry barrier like that, you get a lot of cool, short, quirky, experimental stuff, and I dig those types of games. I really hope Sony opens a similar hobbyist-friendly service in the future - it would be really cool to see what people could come up with on something like PSM for PS4. It bugs me that people were locked out of their PSM downloads of Super Blackout permanently, so I extended an offer on my website to allow Super Blackout PSM owners to upgrade for free to the native PS Vita version.
What made you decide to get into Vita-native development?
As soon as Sony announced the end of PSM, that's when I decided to try and get into native development. I had an early PSM game in the works at the time (that would later become Emerald Shores) and still wanted to make sure it was released on the platform.
Has Sony’s public withdrawal of support for the handheld discouraged you at all from future development?
Nope - I love the Vita and was a big fan of it even before I started developing for it, so I'll keep making sure all of my games are Vita-compatible (and run smoothly on Vita) as long as Sony allows games to be published on it.
How have Sony been as a partner? Have your contacts in the company been encouraging in bringing your titles to the console?
Just over three years now. They've been very supportive; I secretly hope that they're happy to still see people developing for it, and that this will encourage them to keep the Vita PSN store alive as long as possible.
How has developing for Vita been? Have you run into any specific difficulties?
It's been smooth for the most part, but sometimes I'll try and add something to the game that runs fine on PS4 but kills the framerate on PS Vita. Usually stuff with particle effects. I think that's more the fault of the engine I'm using (GameMaker) than of the Vita itself, though. But now I always make sure I'm testing on the Vita regularly to avoid that sort of thing, because I'm really committed to making sure the game runs at 60 FPS throughout. It always bugs me when games run at anything less than that, so I'll occasionally sacrifice some flashy effects here and there to make sure the gameplay stays smooth.
Has it been difficult raising awareness of your titles within the ever-growing indie market? What do you do to stand out?
I honestly don't spend as much time marketing as other developers do. I post screenshots and GIFs on social media and hope people who are interested will follow me there, but that's about it. Mostly I just develop games that I'd want to play that don't exist yet, and hope others will like them as well. I don't do this full-time yet, as much as I'd love to, so I'm not as sales-dependent and market-driven as a lot of other indie developers.
Your first title for the Vita was Super Blackout - how was the reaction to this? Are you pleased with how it turned out?
The Vita community was really supportive, which was amazing and ramped up my motivation level for Vita development even higher than it already was. I'm pretty happy with it; it's a simple game at its core, so it's not mindblowing in any way, but I tried to pack in a variety of features and content so that people would get their fill of value from it, and I think it was successful in that.
What made you decide to expand on the original PSM release?
It was a combination of a couple of things: Sony had just announced that they were shutting down PSM, and I wanted to start Vita native development/publishing with a simple, quick game to get my feet wet.
Onto Emerald Shores - what was your initial idea behind this game?
There was an old freeware game I released back in 2009 called Super Orbulite World (available here - https://josh1billion.itch.io/super-orbulite-world/). It was a pretty cool concept that was well-received at the time, so my goal with Emerald Shores was to revisit that idea and do it better in every way.
What titles acted as inspiration for the game?
Super Paper Mario was the inspiration for Super Orbulite World (and for Emerald Shores by proxy), but in kind of a roundabout way. I had seen previews of Super Paper Mario before it was released and was really hyped for it, but when the game was released, it played very differently than I'd expected. I'd envisioned a "platformer with RPG elements," but it turned out to be more of an "RPG with platformer elements." I was imagining a game where the player's platforming skill was tested first and foremost, with just some minor RPG mechanics thrown in for character progression like HP and jump damage, but Super Paper Mario is very much an RPG with only very simple platforming elements.
So my goal with Super Orbulite World was to build the gameplay of what I'd thought Super Paper Mario was going to be, and now that carries on with Emerald Shores. It's cool that some people have been commenting on how Emerald Shores looks like Super Paper Mario - the inspiration is shining through. But I think you'll notice when you play it that the vibe is very different, that it plays in a very different way.
You've described it as "Super Mario World with a level up system" on your website. What kind of RPG elements will be included?
Most of the RPG elements just boil down to "here's how much damage your jumps/fireballs/whatever deal" and "here's how much HP your character has." I wanted to keep the emphasis on the platforming and keep the action flowing, so there's no inventory system other than the powerups, and cut scenes are intentionally short. But I do keep toying with the idea of adding a small trading card game to it, with collectable cards scattered across the levels... but then I slap myself and say "finish everything else first!" So we'll see...
How difficult will the platforming be?
On a scale from 1 to 10, with Super Mario World being a 5 and Super Meat Boy being a 10, I'd put it at about a 7. My overriding design goal is to make it challenging, but not unfair, and not require any memorizing the level layouts. The sort of thing where an extremely skilled player could possibly run through it without losing any lives, but where most levels will require multiple attempts for most people. But there's also a "Remix Mode" that modifies all of the levels in slight ways to be much more challenging, for those who prefer the unforgiving nature of games like Super Meat Boy.
Is there a story to Emerald Shores? How will this be told?
It's a pretty simple story, told through a handful of cut scenes throughout the game. There's a floating island called Emerald Shores that's been taken over by some slimy monsters who got tired of living in a swamp, so your goal is to travel the world over to the swamp, use the monsters' cannon to launch yourself up to Emerald Shores, and save the island. So the game's levels take place over two world maps.
What’s the expected length of the game? Anything to encourage multiple playthroughs?
There will be somewhere around 30 levels, so I'd estimate somewhere around 2-5 hours depending on the player's skill level. There's some optional content as well: a handful of secret, unlockable levels, and a big castle that unlocks once you've completed all of the secret levels. Additionally, there's a Remix Mode that features extra-challenging redesigned versions of all of the levels, which will take most people longer to get through than the normal mode.
How long has the game been in development for? How are things progressing at the moment?
Way too long! It's been over three years now since I started prototyping a little PlayStation Mobile game that would eventually be reworked into Emerald Shores. I took a break from it to port Super Blackout from PlayStation Mobile to native PS Vita, so that took a few months. Then I ported the Emerald Shores code from PlayStation Mobile twice(!) - first to C++, and then to GameMaker, because I was running into some issues with the C++ engine. In addition to all of that, things have been a little rocky as a result of being able to only work on this in my free time, but it's getting closer and closer now. Just about all of the programming, music, and art is finished, so it's mainly a matter of designing more levels now.
How have the art and graphics changed since your initial reveal trailer?
Everything's changed, except for one sprite (the Beetlecopter boss from the trailer).
When do you expect the game will ship?
Hard to say, but I want to make sure it's out by the end of the year no matter what. This summer would be ideal.
Will the game be PlayStation TV compatible?
Definitely. I own a PSTV myself and often wonder why more developers don't enable PSTV support.
Will you attempt a physical release of Emerald Shores if the opportunity arises?
That would be amazing. I'd 100% go for it if I could.
Can we expect any future Vita titles from Fordesoft? You mentioned on your blog that you were working on a monster-raising RPG inspired by Shin Megami Tensei Nocture - is this still likely to happen?
Yup! I've already programmed a little bit of that one, which is probably not a good idea since I still need to finish Emerald Shores, but I'm really excited for it and have been wanting to develop a game like this for many years. The gameplay is going to be pretty similar to Nocturne in the sense that you're capturing monsters and fusing them to make more powerful, customized monsters. I'm targeting PS4 and PS Vita again with that game. Hopefully there will be more Vita games to come after that as well; as long as Sony allows Vita games to be published, I'll keep developing them.
Finally, two questions I’m asking everyone – what are some of your favourite games that you’ve played on Vita?
Disgaea 3 is my #1 Vita game by far. I was really hooked on Spelunky for a while, too. I've sunk a lot of time into PS1 games on it as well: Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy IX.
Which of the Vita models is your favourite (LCD or OLED)?
I'm an LCD convert. My first Vita is an OLED, but the Slim is so much more comfortable to hold, so I had to pick one of those up, too.
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