We recently reviewed Solar Sail Games’ survival RPG Smoke and Sacrifice, so if you don’t want the next sentence in this article to ruin that for you then make sure you head over there first. To cut a long story short we thought it was pretty brilliant, with its memorable fantasy world and characters who felt as though they had been moulded by years of experience, it really is a must play if you’re looking for your next indie game. As a result of that, and the wonders of social media, we arranged to speak to one of the co-Founders of the studio, and Smoke and Sacrifice’s lead artist, Tancred Dyke-Wells.
Tancred has been involved in the industry in one way or another for over 19 years. Most notably he was the creator and director of Nintendo’s absolutely massive Art Academy series, before leaving the studio to start his own venture, Solar Sail, with his partner Neil Millstone when he realised he was not doing the very thing that he loved most, making art! If you are just starting out in any facet of game development, then this could very well be the interview for you…
How long was the game in development for, and how many people worked on it in total?
One artist, one coder and two designers… plus an awesome audio team working externally. It was almost exactly two years from the day we founded the company to the day we shipped, with about 18 months of that spent in full production. Initially it was just Neil on code and myself on art, building our self-funded demo and pitching it to publishers until we signed a deal.
What was the greatest challenge you faced in creating the game, and how did you overcome it?
Well, we made a 20-50hrs (depending on how completionist you are) action adventure with a tiny team on a tight schedule so really the whole project was a massive challenge. Actually, the biggest issue turned out to be the size of the game as we hadn’t originally intended to make such a massive epic. The way we overcame that was just brute force, playing the game as much as possible and refining everything we could. But we loved every minute and hopefully you can feel that when you play. Put love in, get love out…! 🙂
How did you come to the decision to make the game centre on the mother/son dynamic in particular, and what did this allow you to do differently when developing the game?
Mothers are very under-represented as protagonists in video games; three of us are parents and we just saw that bond between mother and child as a real force of nature, a very powerful motivator to drive our story. But the meaning behind the story of the game is really about how environmentalism isn’t just about plants and animals, it’s also about people – the human cost of pollution and fossil fuel based industrial societies.
Sachi’s journey is one where, as a parent, she ultimately realises that to save her son, she needs not just to look out for his interests and rescue him as her family – she needs to overturn the entire regime and reshape their society so that future generations of kids won’t suffer; she needs to save all kids not just her own.
Are there any other games that you drew particular inspiration from? Or indeed from elsewhere via movies or books.
We had an imaginary Zelda ‘swear jar’ in the office which would tinkle whenever anyone mentioned Breath of the Wild; that game really was our principle point of reference. It managed to marry non-linear open-world adventuring in a world that felt alive with possibility, with a strong, conclusive story. That’s what we wanted to do, in our own way.
Visually, Smoke and Sacrifice has a real mixture of influences, we wanted to create a really original fantasy universe that didn’t follow the obvious Tolkienesque tropes… Princess Mononoke was an influence but so was Coraline, Pan’s Labyrinth as well as older steampunk and fantasy movies like City of Lost Children and The Dark Crystal.
Can you briefly sum up what you hope players will experience when they play through the game?
The kinds of games we love most are those where we feel the world is alive and that surprising, unpredictable events will happen, that every player’s experience will be unique.
We have tried to tell a personal story with real-world meaning in a coherent, characterful world. We want you, the player, to feel it’s worth your time. You should experience a sense of fear, wonder, discovery and illumination as the story unfolds
How did you develop the painterly/gothic art style featured in the game?
In my former role as Creative Director, I’d got to a point where I wasn’t really ‘allowed’ to make art anymore as part of my regular job. So once we went Indie, it was just an opportunity to go wild and just open the floodgates -. I tried not to think too hard and just let the characters and the world come out, drawing on all my favourite influences and having as much fun as possible. Generally though, I like dark and fantastical but I also like games to have a certain charm and appeal as well.
What’s next for Solar Sail games? Further content updates for Smoke and Sacrifice, or something completely different?
Both! We are working on improvements to the game that will come in the form of updates; we’ve been studying reviews carefully and working to address ‘quality of life’ niggles that people have asked us to fix. So there’s an Inventory Sort button on the way, for example! And a few other little goodies and balance adjustments too; but we are also working on the other console versions, PlayStation4 and Xbox One as well as some additional quest content for PC and Switch… and after that, well.. something completely different! What should we make next?
Finally, what advice could you offer small developers and those just starting out in the industry about the process of creating a game?
I’ve been in the industry for twenty years and it’s a very different world now, so my advice might not be so useful! But I would say that finishing games is really hard – so start with something small (not like we did!), then cut it back even further and just chase and develop whatever turns out to be most playable, discard the elements that don’t seem to work, however much you might have loved the ideas originally – follow the fun!
So there you have it! Give the guys at Solar Sail a follow on their Twitter here, and don’t forget to give Smoke and Sacrifice a go at the earliest available opportunity. You can find the Steam link for that here.