I'm very happy to have been given the opportunity to interview indie studio OhNoo, developer of Tormentum: Dark Sorrow. I reviewed Tormentum last month for JA, and to say I was impressed is an understatement.
The responder is Piotr Ruszkowski, an illustrator at OhNoo Studio.
JA: Thanks for taking time to speak with us! I simply must ask: what made you decide to name your studio OhNoo?
OH: We wanted to have a cool and simple name for our group. The key was to find a name that's easy to remember after hearing it just once. The brainstorm process took place during a long bus trip to a hotel. We knew we had a name right on the spot. Also, the Internet domain was free, so it was an additional plus for us. ;)
JA: You are a three-person team. Can you tell us something about yourselves? How and when did you get together?
OH: I met Lukasz [Rutkowski] in high school back in 1997, and we shared an interest in games. We mostly played them on different machines: C64/Amiga/PC/NES/SNES and so on. Many years later in 2007 we were hired by an educational company to do educational games for them. We were able to animate and paint but neither of us knew how to code. We asked the company to hire a programmer and met Grzegorz [Markowski]. After 5 years the company fired us due to funding cuts and we decided to start our own small game company.
JA: What made you decide to become game developers?
OH: Well, two things, I think. First is, of course, a love of videogames and second is ability to make them in our previous job. Of course, these games were smaller in scale and for educational purposes, but we were able to test our skills. Also, a big inspiration for us were other smaller indie groups doing their own little games without publishers. That was something completely new for us. Then I saw Machinarium, and I asked myself why we hadn't tried doing a similar game.
JA: Who does what (as in story, artwork, music, etc.)?
OH: I was responsible for inventing and making all backgrounds / zooms / characters in the game so I might call myself the game's art director. Lukasz Rutkowski was game director and designer. He thought out all moral choices, puzzles, and mini-games (and painted them). He also chose all of the music tracks to fit the tone of the game. Also, Lukasz and I wrote the game's text and story. Grzegorz Markowski was our main and only programmer. He did the parallax effect and all of the game's other programming. Don't forget that we had to test our own game many, many times searching for bugs.
JA: Has any of you formally studied game development, or have you just learned by doing?
OH: None of us studied game design. We are self-taught. We love games and we like to analyze other games to discover what works and what doesn't. Then we apply that knowledge to our games.
JA: I find the story in Tormentum quite intriguing. How did you come up with it? Were you inspired by anything in particular?
OH: Well, we worked kinda backwards because all backgrounds and characters came before the actual story. We had to build a story around an existing world, and this was difficult. We really don't recommend this kind of workflow (laughs).
JA: The game has a philosophical component in the form of moral choices that affect its ending. What made you include this element?
OH: Moral choices were the idea of Lukasz and were first implemented in the game's throne room as a experiment. It was cool to have a little freedom of choice in this moment of the game and so we decided to make it even cooler by expanding this idea to the whole game. We all agree today that this feature adds something extra to the game and make it special even if the choices have very subtle differences.
JA: I must say that Tormentum's fantastic artwork blows me away. The influence of Giger and Beksiński is apparent. (Note: sadly, neither artist is still with us; I find it rather bizarre that neither died of natural causes. Giger succumbed to injuries incurred falling down a flight of stairs, and Beksiński was murdered. What losses!) Has any of you had formal training in art? Have you been influenced by any other artists?
OH: None of us has an artistic background. I'm self-taught. Of course, during making of the game I was inspired by many things such as the imaginative worlds in games like Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. I find them very dreamlike and transcendental.
JA: How long did it take to perfect the style of art used in Tormentum?
OH: Well, I have all the albums of Giger and Beksiński and have viewed them thousands of times, so I guess some parts stayed with me. I was not trying to copy them but interpret them in my own way. Also, I think we all have something in common, which is appreciation of art with a dark tone which can be beautiful. In 2011, I did the first work in the vein of these two geniuses, and I've been exploring this style till now.
JA: The incredibly meticulous and detailed look of the game must have required a lot of effort. How time-intensive was it?
OH: Many of the illustrations were made as standalone images long before we started developing the game. I transformed these images into backgrounds, which was a kind of shortcut for me. I created other backgrounds exclusively for the game. Of course, the amount of work depended on the theme and imaginativeness of the image. The train took me more time than, for example, the sewers in the castle. All-in-all, I prepared 75 main screens plus all the zooms. This took about a year.
JA: How would you describe Tormentum's overall development process? Was it fairly straightforward, or did you hit some snags? How long did it take to complete?
OH: The best word to describe the developing process was literally "Tormentum," so you see it's not just a game title but also our state of mind (laughs). The whole process took three years to complete and it was a horror. It was a very stressful time because we all lost our jobs and we had to live from our savings. Also there were tons of problems with the game. It didn't work, was constantly crashing, and the progress of the work was super-slow and frustrating. I had a lot of doubts in myself and was constantly asking, "Is it worth it?" "Am I doing the right thing?" But in the end all turned out great and today we are proud of the result of our blood and tears. I think also that today we could do such a game much faster because we made a lot of mistakes at the beginning, but that's life. The lesson from this is, "There are no such things as small games," because the games grow big and you must be careful not to be swallowed by them.
JA: Are you able to work on game development full time, or is it necessary for you to have day jobs?
OH: It depends on the person, but all of us were working on the game full time. When I finished my graphic responsibilities I helped with sound effects, story and other things, so there were always tons of things to do. I can't imagine that I would also have a day job. If you want to do something good you must devote yourself fully.
Also, a big help for us was the crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. The project grew and the time of development stretched too much so we decided we needed an extra push to finish the project. It was a good opportunity for us to show the game to the world because we were unknown.
The crowdfunding money allowed us to add six additional languages, print the artbook and pay our bills for the rest of the development time. It was possible to finish the game without the crowdfunding, but it would have been a much harder task. If we had changed this project into an "after work" job as opposed a full-time job it would have stayed in development for a much longer time.
JA: Have you created any games besides Tormentum?
OH: Well maybe the word "game" is little bit over-exaggerated, but we created an app for kids which is a virtual storybook called Amelia and Terror of the Night. In our previous job we did several smaller educational games. Here's an example (Note: it's in Polish).
JA: Personally speaking, do you have any favorite games? How about books, movies, etc.?
OH: I play different games but probably my favourite is Dark Souls, and now I can't wait to try out the new From Software masterpiece Bloodborne. As for the movies, there are too many of them...Dzien Swira (a Polish movie), Taxi Driver and 2001: A Space Odyssey are films you can watch over and over and never get bored.
JA: Do you have any advice for aspiring game developers?
OH: Make the game that only you can make. Make it personal. Find people with the same passion as yours.
JA: Are you working on something new at the moment, or do you have plans to do so in the near future?
OH: Definitely! We already have a very rough prototype of the next adventure called TSIOQUE. It will be a point-and-click game in a much lighter tone with cartoony graphics. The whole concept was thought out by our friend Alek Wasilewski, who is the director of short movie called Lucky Day Forever.
JA: Is there anything you want to say that hasn't been covered?
OH: Be sure to check out the Kickstarter page for some time because we will show something interesting there soon.
JA: Is there anything you'd like to ask me? (Kidding!) Seriously, many thanks for the interview. I wish you much success with Tormentum and with any future projects!
OH: Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers!