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Interview with Marco Guardia, creator and developer of Octahedron.

Demimonde Games and Square Enix are releasing this week Octahedron – a neon drench platformer that originally came out last year – on the Nintendo Switch.

After falling in love with the game as I mentioned in my review and learning that the developer of this game, Marco Guardia, also known as Monomirror, did most of the work for his game including part of the soundtrack, I decided to reach out so I could have a chat and I could learn more about the game and him.


Not a Pigeon: Hi Marco, how are you doing?

Marco Guardia: Hi, I’m good.

NaP: Okay, I would like to begin by thanking you for the opportunity to interview you and I would like to start by asking you: Which were the inspirations for Octahedron? Anything inspirations outside of video-games?

MG: The inspirations were… I mean, it started by me wanting to make a video-game without really thinking what the inspirations would be and at first, I had several ideas and I made a prototype for this one, which was making a platformer about making platforms.

And then when I started developing the game, I realized about where my inspirations were coming from and that was the classic Mega Man series specially in terms of level design but also, there’s one clear inspiration that’s more of a nod to Mega Man and that’s the jump animation of the character.

NaP: Oh yeah! The jumping, I didn’t thought of that but it totally makes sense.

MG: Then after that, when everything came together in terms of aesthetics like music, art, audio, visuals and so on, the inspiration came from my own background in music. I have an extended background making electronic music like House, Trance and that sort of thing and once I realized what the style of the game would be and what music would fit the game, it just started to make sense that I would put all what I had done in the past into the game.

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NaP: What’s with your fascination that you have in geometry on the game? Why the character has an octahedron head?

MG: Did you had a chance to play the game?

NaP: Yeah, I’m more than half way though it, I’m currently writing my review and I’m totally loving it, by the way, but why you ask that?

MG: It’s funny because I have so many reasons for a lot of the things that are in the game, like you could ask me a lot of things about specific little details in the world, the story, the lore, whatever you wanna ask me and I could tell you but I can’t really explain that, cause I was just doodling main characters for the game and without any particular reason, I had this idea of the character having an octahedron head.

Well, the first idea, it was going to be a square, flat, 2D and it was going to be angle so it would look like a diamond but I didn’t even think of it in 3D and then eventually, this idea came, that if it looked like a diamond maybe it should have the shape of a diamond and it maybe should be an octahedron, and then the lore sorta came from that like the mystery of this character with this head like what is this? Why does he have an octahedron head?

Everything grew from that, like everything else about geometry, the little bit of story that is in the game, the enemies, the way they look it all came from that, but where that came from, I don’t know, something out of a dream, it’s kind of a mystery to me too.

NaP: Another question I had is the main mechanic of the game, the ability to create platforms and using them, everything in the game is based around that. How did you come to that? Did it come from other game you played?

MG: So I’m a big fan of platformers in general, for some people that is a bad word because there’s so many out there and there’s lots of bad ones, is like the market is pretty much flooded by games of this genre, but for me, I always had a big thing with them specially with older platformers,  I’m a big Mega Man fan and the 8 and 16 bit platformers and I knew that I wanted to make a 2D game, most likely a platformer, so when I started toying with the idea of making a game, I thought what could you bring to this genre, right?

I was just writing down ideas, just brainstorming and one idea I wrote down is, literally, a platformer about platforms and that was the first thing, and then I was, what does that mean? I didn’t know and then I thought about a platformer about making platforms, and of course I knew that platformers existed where you draw platforms and construct stuff but that’s a very passive thing or is a divorce thing, where you draw something on your iPhone or your DS and then you could use that but that’s not like an action kind of gameplay…

NaP: Something more puzzle-like, right? You wanted something more action paced.

MG: Yes exactly, I wanted something immediate like what if the character could create platforms immediately. And so where a lot of the industry is focused very much on backwards design where you have ideas for characters, themes and story or setting and you start designing gameplay around them, and that’s very much the opposite of what I do, I like to do forward design which is a lot of trial and error and a lot of iteration where you just have an idea and then you see if it will be fun, and then if it’s fun you start to build that idea and start to see what could complement it, what could contrast it.

That was the case for this game, it started very simple like, I didn’t know it was going to be a vertical game, I thought it was going to be horizontal or sort of an open game but once I started with this mechanic of making platforms I realized that what you wanna do is go up, because you make platforms, it’s like going upstairs, right? Then I realize, well, I have to make a vertical game because you wanna place platforms and you wanna go up.

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Max & the Magic Marker (2010), one of the games that could fit the description that Marco was making.

NaP: It’s funny that you mention that, because that’s exactly what I love from Octahedron, when you create your own platforms that’s something you want to do, it’s a natural reaction, like how high can you go? And the other thing you mentioned is another thing I appreciate deeply about Octahedron, how everything blend with the gameplay, the visuals and the music, it’s like a constant explosion and talking about music, how’s the process for creating music for Octahedron? How did you write music for the game?

MG: So I have to clarify and it’s very important for me that people get this right, I only made a third of the music of the game.

NaP: Yeah, Chipzel made a part of it, right?

MG: Chipzel made quite a bit and then most of the music is done by Andre Sobota, he’s a Brazilian DJ and producer and I came across him through Spotify, I been listening to his music for years and then I thought, I been listening to his music on the background while working in the game and realizing this is a perfect fit for what I’m playing, then I got in touch with him and then he made unbelievably so many tracks, way more than I had wanted from him, because I was looking for more artists and I was worried that I wasn’t going to get enough artists and he was like, “you know what? I can make you a lot more music” and he was so fast, it was just incredible and he is definitely a core part of how the game sounds.

I only made 3 level themes and then all the other stuff like the title screen, map screen, all the ambient stuff, originally I did had in mind to make the entire soundtrack myself but what happen is that I just ran out of time, to be completely honest, making the game itself took so much time that I eventually I was at a point where I realized that this is going to take way too much time if I make the entire soundtrack too, so I sorta hired people, which is great too because that way I got to collaborate with some people which I like, but for the rest of the game since it was all done by me, it was a lonely process and it was nice to have other people helping out for the soundtrack.

What you wanted to know is the process of making music, right?

NaT: Yeah.

MG: I answered a different question, I guess…

NaT: Oh, it’s fine.

MG: I can tell you one thing about that, I didn’t really have that many guidelines, the only thing I needed people to know that were making music is that they were it needed to be within a certain BPM (beats per minute) range and it couldn’t be too fast or too slow because a lot of the game is tied to the music and every song had to have a constant rhythm element throughout even if there is no, let’s say, drum n bass, it needed to have a sound in every beat because the player needed to follow that when there’s things moving with the beat, and that’s it, other than that they were free to do whatever they wanted.

NaP: Talking about the development and that involves that, I will like to ask Which was the hardest part of developing the game? Which was the moment you struggled the most while making it?

MG: That is such a difficult question to answer because, and I think a lot of indie developers can relate to that, when you develop a video-game all on your own, everything sorta melts together, there’s nothing that you can specifically say, it’s just one big thing.

It is my first game so if I had to pick something out I wanna say bringing the game to consoles was a struggle because there are so many things that you did not anticipate, like on PC you make a game and there’s really no rules, there’s no single entity that does certification for PC games that tells you that you can’t do that, you must do this, and in consoles you have this, in fact you have entire fricking books of certification rules and guidelines that you have to follow and that is very daunting at first, having to conform that because it adds so much extra time to development.

But then, when you do that and get the game tested, you know it’s going to run on every PlayStation, on every Xbox and on PC you don’t know that, you can put the game out there and you think “Oh, I gave it to 10 friends to try it and it worked out”, and then the moment you put it out there’s hundreds of thousands of people playing and it’s going to crash computers, it’s going to do things you didn’t expected, so I think on PC the problems start later than on consoles, where you need to implement the guidelines and all the bureaucracy behind is really daunting.

NaP: So I totally see that because not long ago, you released a patch for PC that added a performance mode and that makes a lot of sense, it must be really hard to try and test different machines.

While we are talking about consoles, I played the Nintendo Switch version that came later so was the port outsourced or you did it on your own? If so, was hard transitioning to this hardware?

MG: I did it myself, yes and I would had loved to bring it to the Switch right away back when when I launched the game a year ago, but some of the reason were pragmatic and one of them is that I’m developing on Game Maker and there was no export for the Switch a year ago, it’s something very recent and all the devs that recently released a game on the Switch, they did it with a beta export too, they had to deal with a lot of initial hurtles, this is not a slight against YoYo Games or anything, it just a very early product so you have to deal with unexpected things.

What took the most time was optimizing, at the beginning, the game was running at sub-30 FPS, working very poorly and I already struggled with adjusting it for Xbox One and PS4 which is hard to believe but if you’re working with a high level engine, you don’t have access to certain things for optimization, you don’t really go into the depths of drivers or exact graphic renderings, that is taking over for you by the engine; so in PS4 and Xbox it already took a while to optimize so it could run at 60FPS and when I first started on Switch I thought “this is never going to work”, I was convince it wasn’t possible and the fact that it now runs at 60FPS is still mind-blowing for me.

And the thing you mentioned before, the PC performance mode is actually a result of the optimizations for Switch, and so the Switch runs on what would be Performance Mode on Medium on PC, all it does is certain tricks about how it renders the background and 3D elements in the game, how it updates the logic so it’s very hard to tell, so basically the Switch port doesn’t look any different than any other port and 99% of the Switch port is the same than on PC, and all those optimizations I did, I bring them back to the PC.

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NaP: So you previously mentioned you did a lot of work figuring out how to make the game, so did you had any discarded ideas that didn’t make it to the final game, but that you think that they were interesting?

MG: Yeah, so many, I think if you ask any developer it will tell you that there are endless amounts of ideas… There’s one thing I work with, I work with mechanics with index cards so if I have an idea for a mechanic, I write it down on an index card and I make little notes, I tag it with certain letters and numbers so I can sort it in my head in terms of importance and where they belong on the game, these are obviously not tested out things this are ideas and I have a huge stack of index cards, I think only a third of them made it into the game.

There’s also things that are in the game, they work like enemies or obstacles but that didn’t make it into a level, they got cut because they ended up not being fun enough or they didn’t work like I thought they would so they were scrap, so there’s definitively an amount of cut content and I think that’s normal.

NaP: What are some of your favorite games? You mentioned Mega Man, right?

MG: Yeah, the Mega Man series, I really love the classic games that’s Mega Man 1 to 6 and then 9 and 10, 11 is really great too but maybe my favorite one is Mega Man 9, I think that’s the pinnacle of the 8 bit Mega Man design without some of the baggage from the NES, but in terms of philosophy behind the level design is very much the same it was already great level design way back then.

I’m also a huge fan of indie game, I wanna say 90% of what I play are indie developed and that’s mostly what I played, aside from Nintendo games they are still designed in a way that still appeal to me but I have a PS4 and I only have like 3 or 4 games for it, so I play mostly on PC and Switch. I can say last year my favorite games were Mega Man 11, Return of the Obra Dinn and Dandara. Also really difficult platformers like one of my favorite games of all times is 1001 Spikes.

NaP: So here’s a weird question, are you more of a Sonic fan or more of a Mario guy?

MG: You know what? That one is easy, Mario, I don’t wanna step on anyone’s toes but I just think on terms of game design Mario are just the better games and I never got into Sonic games, I don’t understand the level design in them I don’t understand the core mechanic of going fast but also kind of exploring and crashing with things you don’t see ahead, to me it’s a very conflicting design philosophy that there is on Sonic that never made sense.

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NaP: Do you have any video-game related plans for the future? Or do you plan to change back to music or something else?

MG: Right now I’m still doing stuff with Octahedron, dealing with the Switch release the PR and stuff, but I’m always doing music on the side, I’m always doing sound design and mixing, I work for Brave Wave I don’t know if you came across that label.

NaP: Yeah I have seen it, they released vinyls for soundtracks like Shovel Knight and others, right? 

MG: Exactly, and I do restorations, I did the one for the Street Fighter II soundtrack, i work with a lot of Japanese composers, I always work for mixing on their albums, that’s always something I do on the side and I will continue doing that, I just finished a collaboration track with Takahiro Izutani, he made the Bayonneta soundtrack.

And then I have started work on preliminary research for a new game that’s going to be quite different than Octahedron, what I’m thinking right now is that I will probably do a prototype and if that’s fun, I will probably look for funding because Octahedron was self-founded and I don’t wanna go though that again, so if that gets funding I will continue on the video-game realm, if not, who knows.

NaP: So before we go, is there anything else you wanna say to the readers?

MG: The only thing I wanna say if you’re on the fence if you might like a game like Octahedron because what I notice is that they see the game in motion and they are like “I don’t know, I don’t really get what’s going on” and usually the game the moment the people sit down and play it and then they like it, so that’s the reason we been pushing the demo so hard, so if you think it might not be your type of game please play the demo, because chances are if you like the demo, you will love the game even more.


Octahedron is out for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One and Steam for $12.99 / £9.99 / 12,99 € with a demo available on all platforms. You can follow Marco on the Demimonde’s Twitter page or his personal Twitter page.

 

 

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