Zephyr's Pass Developers Interview!

Posted by Incube8 Games on

As we announced the publishing of Zephyr’s Pass, we wanted to get to know the game a little better, from the perspective of the developer! So, we had a quick chat with Aaron to talk to him about his vision for the game, some of the inspiration behind it, and his experience in developing his first Game Boy Color game. If you’re as curious as we were, you can read the full interview below!

What’s the story behind your game?

I’ve always wanted to create my own game. And this led me to experiment with different engines and software, like Unreal and Unity, making demos here and there. But these projects always seemed too challenging for me to make alone, without a lot of help and expertise from others. So, I was very excited when I first stumbled upon GB Studio. Gameboy was my first console growing up. So, not only did I have an emotional connection with the platform, but the accessibility of GB Studio also caught my eye. It felt like a chance for me to dive in and figure things out game development on my own. I also realized that, with the exception of a few larger games like “Dragonborne” and “Infinity”, the GB Studio community was mostly small, made up of hobbyists, with a lot of potential. This got me thinking that maybe I could jump into this industry and help it grow. With that in mind, wanting to create something as ambitious as possible, I pitched “Zephyr’s Pass” to Providential Innovations, and we officially began development at the beginning of 2022.

How has the development process been?

“Zephyr’s Pass” was my first time making pixel art in a serious way. Despite my background as an artist, this was a new world for me and I learned as I went. I think you can see that when you compare my first demos to the game as it is now. It ended up looking very different! This was also true for learning the game engine, and implementing the narrative and the mechanics. The whole process was a whirlwind of learning as I went along. By the time the game was finished, I’d learned so much about maximizing the engine’s capabilities and really honed my skills in gameplay and graphics. All in all, I’m really happy with how it turned out.

What’s unique about your game that made you realize it needed to be made?

I aimed to create a game that was narratively focused, with a fast pace and increasing challenges, but that anyone could pick up and play to the end. I also dedicated a lot of time to squeezing the best graphics out of GB Studio. My aim was to elevate the visuals to resemble those of a Gameboy Advance game. But I opted to make the game exclusively for Gameboy Color to fully immerse players in that aesthetic and do it justice. Outside of game development, I also wanted to weave a story around the game. I wanted the whole player experience to be like collecting a game from the 1990s. I worked on this in every aspect, including packaging, cartridge design, and all the marketing images and videos. As a result, I believe the game has stood out and appeared larger in scale. I am really pleased that “Zephyr’s Pass” can offer this full-player experience, beyond the game itself.

What would you say are the influences behind your game?

The most obvious inspiration was "The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening", particularly in its traditional dungeon design. However, I worked on combining this with a more modern approach to progression and narrative, with a faster pace and more stories. The world of “Zephyr’s Pass” was inspired by the world in "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker", only I replaced the ocean and islands with desert and canyons. In doing this, I aimed to craft a world that felt both familiar and refreshingly unique. Additionally, the story and the spirit of adventure were influenced by the movie “Castle in the Sky”. I really wanted to capture that camaraderie with the crew and the feeling of adventure.

Are there any funny or unexpected things that occurred during the development of your game?

The most unexpected thing was how much “Zephyr’s Pass” grew in scope. It expanded significantly, more than doubling its initial gameplay duration from 2 hours to more like 4 or 5 hours. I was taken aback by the amount of time and effort required to build out each individual area. And, as development progressed, both the game and its world evolved into something far bigger than expected. I remember, halfway through development, designing the whole overworld experience from scratch. It was a lot of work and a real scramble to get it done!

How have your previous experiences helped in the development process?

Having spent six years as a graphic designer, I've learned how to build a distinct visual identity and brand around a project. In “Zephyr’s Pass”, I used this experience to craft recognizable characters, and also to give the game a specific feel and identity. I hope that, when you play “Zephyr’s Pass”, it will feel different from other projects.

What kinds of lessons did you learn in the development process?

The main lesson I learned when developing “Zephyr’s Pass” was how even a simple idea can balloon into a much larger project. I know that most developers say that, but it was still a surprise to me. Even a Gameboy game with a simple premise became far more challenging than expected! Therefore, I had to learn how to cut out features, how to streamline systems, and how to make the game as good as I wanted it to be while still being achievable.

What do you hope players take away and remember from your game?

My goal for “Zephyr’s Pass” is to evoke a sense of nostalgia for the game, even though it is brand new. I want the players to feel like kids again as they dive in. I want them to experience that familiar sense of wonder, adventure, and immersion, as if they've traveled back in time. We worked hard on the visuals, the music, and the story, to offer this experience.

Do you have any plans for what’s next?

I do have an idea for a new game! It’s currently in the initial planning and ideation phase. This project will have a different style from “Zephyr’s Pass” but will still be in line with my brand. Keep an eye on my @CRTOGRPHR social media for updates!

Do you have anything you’d like to end on?

As this project draws to a close, my aim for “Zephyr’s Pass” has evolved. Now, I am passionate about building credibility for the homebrew scene, by crafting a narrative around my game and investing time and resources into its marketing. My hope is to inspire other developers, encouraging them to dream bigger and aim higher, and making Gameboy games more and more legitimate. Already, I've seen other developers drawing inspiration from and adopting some of the techniques I've used. And that has been incredibly rewarding to see.

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