In part a tribute to his own musical adventures game developer Greg Lobanov has recently announced his newest game project on Kickstarter titled Wandersong. Lobanov has created a number of other game titles all available through his personal website Dumb & Fat, and has managed to acquire more than half of his $18,000 funding goal within the first two weeks of the campaign. Inspired by games like Earthbound, and animations like Over the Garden Wall or My Neighbor Totoro. The title promises a whimsical journey, memorable characters, and a folksy soundtrack.
In Wandersong players control The Bard, who discovers that the goddess Eya who created the universe with her music is planning on singing a new song. This would be great except for the fact that her new song effectively resets existence. Warned of the impending doom by Eya’s harbinger The Angel, the young bard journeys across the world to visit the planet’s spirit guides in search of a powerful melody called The Earthsong. Along the way he’ll meet a cast of colorful characters, and use the power of his voice to overcome challenges, puzzles, and enemies. We sat down with Lobanov to learn a little more about the inspiration behind the project, and where his motivation as a game developer originates.
JT: Where did the idea for this project originate? What was the main inspiration for you?
GL: I think it’s the coalescence of a lot of ideas and themes that have been building in me for a long time. Last year I lived on my bicycle for a few months and rode from Philadelphia to San Francisco, and that whole experience was pretty life-changing. A lot about the power of optimism and sheer force of will to make even the craziest ambition become reality manifest. A feeling of deep connection to the web of unfolding causality, and to every human being. Fruity stuff like that which I genuinely believe, haha.
While I was biking I would blast music through headphones to keep myself motivated, and I would sing my ass off all the time. Sometimes to cars and other people. The cool thing is that I’d usually make people smile even with my shitty singing. I love doing it, really. I love singing along to music in the car, with friends or alone, as loud as I can. There’s something there, about the power of music to connect people, and to energize you and the people around you, that I’m really excited about. I want to make a game about that!
Jesse Tannous: Independent game development is often seen as a pretty stressful and difficult profession. Both your game and the general tone of your Kickstarter campaign paints a very positive outlook on the whole process. Where do you find your positive energy in this career?
Greg Lobanov: I make video games for a living! Of course the hard reality of the world is always creeping in and creating conflict. Time and money are limited. But at the heart of it I’m still here making video games for a living. Especially in the context of Kickstarter, where I’m getting a chance to work on the thing I’m most excited about while being funded by the collective will of many…that’s an incredibly positive experience. I’m very lucky to be where I am, doing what I’m doing. I don’t want to ever take that for granted.
JT: You mentioned that the first act of the game is already playable. If successfully funded is the plan to release the game over time in different segments?
GL: I hadn’t even considered this! I’m planning to put the game out all in one big piece when it’s all done. I’d rather have a long period where I focus on making the thing, and then a long period where I focus on how to get people to buy the thing, instead of zigzagging around. If funding fails, the latter could be an option, though…
JT: To help build confidence with backers you state that you wouldn’t consider Wandersong your first or even second biggest project in your game development career. Which of your previous game titles do you consider the larger projects?
GL: In 2012 I launched a massive role-playing game called Phantasmaburbia (6-8 hour quest + about 4 hours of new content for a second play through). It was about ghosts taking over this quiet suburban town, and you play as a bunch of teens fighting the ghosts. And in 2014 I launched a rogue like called Coin Crypt. The scale of that one is harder to measure because it’s built out of procedurally-generated content, but it had a dev time of a couple years and some players have played well over 100 hours into it. For both of those games I handled mostly everything, and had someone do music and someone else do the cleanup/polish art.
For comparison, I expect Wandersong to be a few hours to play through and to take about a year and a half to make. These 3 games here are all pretty vastly different, so it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but I think it’s fair to characterize myself as experienced at doing this sort of thing by now. It could still go terribly! I’d look like an idiot then. But I’m being as honest as I can about it. All I can do from here is try to make the money and then work my ass off.
JT: You state in your press packet that you’ve recently weaned off your focus on narrative to work more on pure game design. What has this really meant for you and your projects?
GL: I need to update that! My first few games were seeded by story ideas; what if there was a character like this, or that, and this happened, etc. And then I’d build a fairly by-the-numbers genre game around that story to deliver it. Around the time I was making Phantasmaburbia in 2012, things shifted for me. I’d made enough games that I had worked through all the easy low-hanging fruit I’d come into video games wanting to make (a platformer with swords! an RPG! etc). I was starting to get a lot more interested in what I could do with the underlying game design. So I started making stuff that was more abstract and systems-focused. I had a shape-cutting puzzle game called Perfection in 2013, and then Coin Crypt in 2014 which was a very systems-focused game about deck building and stacking numbers and meta-strategy.
Wandersong is intentionally a much more even marriage between game systems and narrative. Though honestly I’m not really thinking about it in terms of “systems” and “narrative” when I’m working on it. It’s all about building an experience out of many component parts. The best way to put it is just that I’m trying to make a game that’s actually about something, using what fluency I have in form and structure to achieve that. Sorry, this is super pretentious. REALLY, all I’m doing is all I’ve ever done, which is making a video game as best I can about the things I care most about!
The Wandersong Kickstarter campaign is still ongoing with additional information, screenshots, and trailers also available from Lobanov’s official website.