Cinders Review - May 18, 2014
Indie developer MoaCube has been adding to its already sizable fanbase now that Cinders, a visual novel that puts a much more sophisticated spin on the Cinderella story, has been Greenlit on Steam.
Cinders is an extremely polished game with fantastic artwork and a lovely soundtrack. While playing the game, one is quickly drawn into a complex set of relationships that exists among various characters, particularly between Cinders and her two step-sisters, Gloria and Sophia.
Notably, the game emphasizes player choice. With over 120 decision points and multiple endings, Cinders tests one's own moral code, and gives the player significant control over how the story unfolds. This focus on choice also makes Cinders highly replayable.
MoaCube developer Tom Grochowiak was gracious enough to take some time to talk about Cinders, MoaCube’s future plans, and of course, himself!
Q. Hi Tom, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. You've been getting a flood of new positive reactions to Cinders, so first off congratulations, but I must ask, how did MoaCube ever come to the decision to make Cinders? Your prior games (Magi and Co-Op) give no hint that a visual novel was on the way, particularly one with the depth and sophistication of Cinders.
Magi was my first indie game, released way before MoaCube was a thing, and Co-Op is a small experimental title done in 48 hours. Cinders has always been our main project and the reason why MoaCube was conceived.
The idea came from playing other indie visual novels, actually. We loved them, but most were clearly hobbyist work inspired by their Japanese counterparts, operating on the same set of cliches and tropes. We casually started discussing making something like that, but with higher production values and a different kind of narrative, as we felt there's a tremendous potential in the genre. Gracjana came up with the idea to make it a Cinderella re-telling with choices aplenty. I came up with the angle.
The thing with fairytales is that they reflect our own reality in their simplified allegorical way, but their morals and characterization are often deeply troubled or simply naive from a modern cultural standpoint. We wanted to focus on those grey areas. Use Cinderella as canvas to tell a more mature story about growing up and facing the expectations culture puts on us (and young women especially).
It would probably go the way of most "dream projects" if our then-employer wouldn't close its office a few months later. Once we've found ourselves without a job, we knew we had to give it a try!
Q. You started MoaCube with another game industry vet, Gracjana Zielinska. Can you provide us with some background on other projects you’ve both worked on? BTW, Gracjana did a fantastic job on the artwork. If I understand correctly, she’s provided artwork for a number of Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures (HOPA) which must have fit right in with the making of Cinders.
Thanks! We met at Codeminion while working on Phantasmat, which was indeed a casual puzzle adventure. She was the newly hired artist, I was the lead designer. What's funny, we didn't get the best impressions of each other at first, but lived in the same neighborhood, so we often came back from office together. Stuck in a traffic, with way too much time to talk, we've had no choice but to become good friends :).
I dunno if working on HOPAs had any impact on Cinders, though. It's just that Gracjana's trademark illustrative style fits both adventure games and visual novels.
Q. Would it be fair to say that MoaCube is trying to build itself a space in the visual novel genre? Your upcoming release, Solstice, is clearly in the same vein.
I guess. It's cool to see Cinders make some ripples in the visual novel community, and it's definitely not the last such game from us. However, it's not like we planned to become known for narrative titles alone. We simply make games that we ourselves would like to play. Now It's visual novels, but who know what we're going to do in the future. The point of being is is to do whatever you want, after all :).
Even Solstice is different in that it's a crime mystery instead of a fairytale, and an original story from Hubert Sobecki and Agnieszka Mulak (our writers) rather than our own script.
Q. Cinders was released on June 20th 2012, but was just recently Greenlit on Steam. After nearly a two-year effort, can you talk about your experience, particularly for other indie devs who are looking to get on Steam? I understand that you had some concerns about the whole process back in 2012.
Cinders landed on Steam almost two years after the release, but the whole Greenlight process actually took just over a month thanks to tremendous fan support. Many more games are being accepted every month now, so niche titles with smaller audiences aren't screwed-on-arrival like they were back in 2012.
It's crazy when you consider that Greenlight didn't even exist when Cinders was out. Now there's all this talk about closing it altogether in lieu of some new system. I guess the lesson here is that trends and tools available to developers change so quickly that you simply gotta stay flexible and catch every opportunity while it lasts.
Q. From your Blog (http://moacube.com/blog/) it’s clear that you’re an active gamer. What games have you been playing lately, and do you ever play adventure games?
I do play a lot of games, especially after becoming indie developer and having a bit more time for my hobbies. I try to give every genre a try, as I think it's important for a game designer to know a lot of different things, but I'm more of a console gamer in general. Recently trying to catch up on a few obscure jRPGs while waiting for more The Wolf Among Us episodes to come out.
Gracjana loves adventure games, though. She's been playing Blackwell Epiphany and Broken Age recently. I actually just got a lecture on some frustrating aspects of the latter's design :).
Thanks for taking the time Tom, and we're certainly looking forward to the release of Solstice!
Solstice Pre-Order Teaser and Cinders Trailer
For more information on MoaCube and their products, visit http://moacube.com/.