I always find it interesting what will bring a person to end up working on a video game as an independent developer. In Jelle van Doorne’s case, being laid off from his previous position as a developer for mobile games led him to work on a passion project known as Viola. For those of you who are looking for a heart-wrenching story accompanied by platforming and RPG elements, this might be your thing. Jelle was nice enough to share some of his time with us and answer a few questions about his new project Viola.
Let’s start with a basic question. How exactly would you describe Viola to those who are learning about it for the first time?
Viola is the musically themed Platformer/RPG hybrid: a comedic and heartwarming story about bringing Viola home from a world filled with monsters, magic, and music. Viola mixes platforming and exploration together with RPG-style turn-based combat, and is driven by a story about a young girl learning to love herself.
Normally a platformer would not be paired with a turn-based combat system. What inspired you to take this approach and how do you plan on balancing the two modes?
I was inspired by the game LISA! Or rather, the opposite of inspired: I disliked the slow platforming and sidescrolling in LISA so much, I wanted to make a game with the same balance, but one that was more fun. In LISA, you move pretty slowly, you can only climb ledges, dropping off one means you take fall damage… I found that very frustrating.
I found the balance by deciding early on that platforming in Viola is essentially a means of exploration, replacing the top-down views seen in most JRPGs with a side-scrolling one. The platforming shouldn’t be the challenge: the challenge should be in the battles, growing your party, etc. That means no death drops, no spikes, no damage outside of combat. To facilitate exploration, I took inspiration from Metroidvanias: levels curve in all directions and there are multiple paths to get to the end.
It’s been a bit difficult to make sure the platforming isn’t too fun. It’s easy to want to add common abilities like dashes, double jumps, etc., but I didn’t want a majority of people to think the battles were boring compared to the platforming. So Viola’s speed and jumping ability is toned down a bit compared to other indie platformers.
On a similar note (forced musical pun?), are there games out there that you would say Viola is heavily influenced by?
There’s several. In a way, Viola is a game comprised of things I love from other games. The main inspiration, however, is Undertale. I wanted to make a game with lovable characters, a story that’s equal parts comedic and joyful as it is heartwarming and emotional. I truly hope Viola can be all those things to its players.
As for other games, the combat system was inspired by Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga: rhythmic attacks, and having to do button combinations to activate spells. Owlboy inspired a lot of the artstyle of Viola: open skies, puffy clouds, lots of greens as well as compressed character designs. Majora’s Mask inspired the violin’s mechanic, specifically how your ocarina changes with each mask. In Viola, every party member plays along with the player, and has their own instrument. Of course, playing the violin is similar in functionality to Zelda as well.
Viola is described as having the narrative elements of a classic JRPG. Can you expand on what exactly that will entail?
Viola highly focuses on the development of Viola herself: her growth from a frustrated, angry, seemingly incapable little girl to somewhat of a heroine: someone who sparks joy in other people’s lives. This is pretty common in JRPGs: just think about how Crono from Chrono Trigger turns from a boy who oversleeps for the festival into a hero who saves the world, and makes friends that would go through insane lengths to save him in return. On top of that, there’s the party members in Viola: all 10 of them have their own personality and backstory, and the player gets to interact with them as the game continues.
Whether or not Viola will save the world or not… You’ll have to play it to find out!
What about the team size working on this project. Based on the website, and twitter account, it seems like this is being done solely by yourself. Is this the case or are there others helping out on this?
It’s just me, save for one exception. I do all the artwork, programming, game and level design, writing, sound design and social media marketing. The only exception is the music, which I’ve commissioned from Nom Tunes (www.nomtunes.com).
If not, are there any plans to bring others in?
I need more help on marketing and publishing, since I have very little experience with it. Other than that, no plans to move Viola beyond just myself. Viola carries my own hopes and ideals, and there’s a lot of pride that keeps me from working with others.
How far along is the game in development and do you think this might be a title we can expect in the near future?
The current plan is to release Early Access in the near future, hopefully before the end of summer if everything falls into place. That way people can follow the story of Viola as it goes, and be involved with its development. The full release, however, wouldn’t be until next year: hopefully early 2020. The main reason for that is, I simply need to build more levels and content for people to play! In the ancient Nintendonian words: “Please understand”.
I also notice that it only shows a steam wishlist page but you have worked on previous games for mobile devices. Is this something that you anticipate to port to other platforms?
I hope to bring the game to Nintendo Switch. That would be a dream come true: growing up with SNES and Gameboy games to having my own game on a Nintendo console. However, I’m currently focused on the PC version. If there’s enough success, ports to other systems like the Playstation or Xbox (whichever version we’ll be at at the time) is totally possible.
Mobile devices however, will probably not happen unless there’s a very high demand. There are quite a number of mechanics in the game that don’t mesh well with touch controls: platforming, playing music, casting spells… They would all have to be reworked with the idea of touch only. My previous experience with mobile games is working as an employee for a mobile game company: being laid off there because there weren’t enough millions of downloads is what sparked me to start making my own game.
Have you considered crowd funding at all for this? How do you feel about the idea in general?
I think Kickstarter can do incredible things for people who are already quite popular. If you’re not already popular, it’s a lot harder to get the audience together to start donating. You have to lowball your budget by a large amount, and start marketing for months before running the Kickstarter. On top of that, Kickstarter has a high number of costs as well: I’m sure most gamers know a few horror stories regarding Kickstarter rewards.
Personally, I much prefer the idea of Early Access. Buy in now at a cheaper price, be involved with development, and either enjoy the parts of the game as they come out, or simply wait for a full release. Games like Slap City do Early Access perfectly in my opinion. They present a strict roadmap for their entire game up until release, showing exactly what content they will be making. Of course there are Early Access horror stories as well: games that barely improve, yet still suck away at your wallet like PUBG.
What advice would you give to those who are thinking about creating their own games based on this project and others in your past?
The main advice I give to people is to start slow, and to start small. Follow tutorials, recreate mechanics, do programming and drawing exercises. Do it all, and you’ll find out what you enjoy, and where your strengths lie. Don’t dive into large projects right away. Don’t even think about “projects” or “games”… Just create for the joy of creation. Find that joy and it’ll carry you your whole life.
I don’t know about you, but I sure am excited about what this game could become. Keep an eye out for this game to go into early access sometime this year. Be sure to follow the Viola twitter page for more news and check out the trailer below.