New name!

I mentioned this in a previous post, but I decided to change my first name for art purposes. I’ve been thinking about this on and off for a year or so, and I felt like “Sean” wasn’t doing a great job representing my work, and decided to choose the name “Melos”, based on Melody/music, thinking about my lifetime of being around music-making, analysis, or creation, and its influence on my work/approach to making stuff.

(That and it has great SEO… heh heh heh. “When naming something, do it for the art, then for the SEO” – that’s a Melos Motto (“MM” for short.))

Pronouns are still he/him/his. Last name still Han-Tani (I added the hyphen though, on this round of Name Revisions). Ugh, I need to update so much stuff and my Twitter handle. I’ll do it eventually…

It’s pronounced with two syllables, the ‘me’ from ‘men’ and ‘los’, where ‘os’ is from the ‘oas’ of ‘roast’.  It sounds like Meh-Loas.

 

Coincidentally it’s the name of a protagonist from an Osamu Dazai short story (“Run, Melos”, which I’ve never read), which gave its name to the Wednesday Campanella song “Melos” (which I don’t really like – though it’s a good band generally). But any first name is bound to be used elsewhere, and if there are any problems I can always use “Melos2”.Coincidentally I decided to do this BEFORE we got that IGF nom for Anodyne 2! But then we got nominated and they make you pick what name you want announced at the ceremony which kind of pushed me.This is more nervewracking than changing a last name, because like, you have to hear it in person a lot. I remember when changing my last name to Han-Tani and introducing myself in front of classes in 2016 when I started teaching… but then it stuck. But I’ll probably get used to that quickly. Also I was inspired by friends/writers/activists who have changed their names for various reasons, as well as some Japanese artists I’ve met who don’t use their birth names and just go by a single name.

Anyways that’s it! Happy new decade. We’re also changing Analgesic Productions to “M&M Productions” and pivoting into candy (just kidding (the joke is that Melos and Marina statr with M))

Wow Anodyne 2 Got Nominated For IGF 2020’s Grand Prize!!

OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE FROM ANALGESIC PRODUCTIONS PRESS DIVISION

-FOR IMMEDIATE PUBLICATION-

 

Hello. I am pleased to announce we were nominated for the Grand Prize at the 2020 IGF!

Wow, that’s amazing! Seriously Marina and I weren’t expecting that at all. We usually submit to the IGF for fun, not expecting much. Anodyne 2 was pretty good, so I thought we’d maybe get an HM in one of the categories but this blew our expectations out of the water. Thanks for all the judges and jury who played our game, and, based on some blog posts I’ve been seeing – fought for it as well. When it comes to our unconventional ways of game design, we really need our players, fans, community – to help us out in getting others to check out our work.

It’s somewhat fitting that we only got a nominee in the Grand Prize category – as Anodyne 2 really is the sum of its parts, something you have to experience in full. For all the 99% of players who played through the game and have been saying so much nice stuff about it: thank you! We’re really glad you played and seriously it’s great to be seeing all these comments every day.

To the 1% who quit before Dustbound Village and decided to review the game anyways for some reason: you’re probably at least halfway through, so please finish the game!

Anodyne 2 can’t be coherently judged without finishing it. Sorry but it’s true. Despite what some formalists might say, you can’t have a well-formed opinion of Anodyne 2 without finishing it. We’ve taken surreal spaces, multiple storytelling tones, classic gameplay textures, contemporary themes, a bunch of subversions, and mashed it together into our new genre: The Analgesic Productions Game. You have to play all of an Analgesic Productions game to understand it! If you can play 50 hours of Death Stranding or 100 hours of Skyrim or 100 hours of whatever, you can get through 8 hours of (the very streamlined) Anodyne 2.

If you didn’t know, we do have a history of submission to the IGF. Anodyne 1 received an HM in the student category back in 2013. Even the Ocean… did not receive anything! Oh well! According to our download stats from then, a lot of judges played it though, so perhaps it was divisive. Divisiveness is interesting…

All Our Asias got a HM in Nuovo in 2019’s IGF. That was really nice to see.

But we play to win and now it’s our time to win!! Hahahahahahaha! Just kidding. Or…?

More seriously, we do really believe in the quality and uniqueness of Anodyne 2 and it’s exciting to see it recognized in this way. It’s not just Marina and I who are thrilled, but also the community of players, supporters, who enjoyed playing the game.

It would be cool to win, but it would also be cool to see it go to a game like Eliza, which was one of my favorite games in 2019. Or A Short Hike or Mutazione, neither of which I have been able to play yet (though I’ve had my eye on Mutazione for a while!)

Also, like, just putting it out there, but… nothing personal to the dev teams! but! it would be pretty cool to see Anodyne 2 beat a game like Goose Game (1m+ copies sold!) or Slay the Spire (1.5m+ copies sold, lol!). Anodyne 2 hasn’t even sold 1% as much as either of those games. Lol! Imagine what we would do with that money! We’d scale, IPO, and make a battle royale early access randomly generated roguelike zelda-like dating sim! (I lied: we would give it away to other developers, small independent games writing outlets, and grassroots organizations. I would also keep some of it to fund my Caloriemate, peanut butter, and Magic: The Gathering habits)

But it’s cool to see our game alongside those other names nonetheless. We’re honored to have our name up there and I hope I can judge the IGF in future years to try to get the next generation’s amazing games up there as well.

See you all at the IGF!!!!

 

(And if you noticed the new name – I’m considering a new online/artist name – Melos (based on Melody, music-related) – from now on, but don’t worry about what you call me in person just yet! Sean or Melos is fine.)

Sean's Some Games of the Decade 2010s

Here’s some games of the decade! I probably should mention some more console and flash games from early in the decade, but… this will do, I guess. It’s not exhaustive, just some highlights I can remember.

Detention – Investigates the White Terror period of Taiwanese history through horror, thinking about Taiwan’s struggles of modernization and the ways its citizens might reflect on its history. I’ve seen a few other games dealing with similar topics, and I hope in the 2020s we see more games that can act as historical texts or reflections in some way. Also shout out to Devotion, which I haven’t played yet, but on watching a playthrough seems well-written with an interesting mechanic of recontextualizing a single space. Also I need to bring up Devotion’s relation to China, and how that game was taken down for criticizing China’s president. (The specifics are unknown, but China’s political situation is obviously one of the underlying causes, regardless of the specific machinations of how the game takedown occurred.) I can only hope Red Candle Games (the creators of these two games, based in Taiwan) are okay after. Also, the One China myth perpetuated by China and its desire to re-absorb the independent Taiwan, has resonances with that entire situation. But, moving on…

Oikospiel – A formally memorable 3D game that inspired me to think about all the strange spatial possibilities of games intertwined with novel storytelling formats. And, is a pro-unionizing story, too, on top of all the interesting sound and art design! This was inspiring for me in a lot of ways, pushing me to really try out 3D for the first time. I think a year after playing I released All Our Asias, then more recently, Anodyne 2. I also loved the camera angles and various types of 3rd person control there were.

Facets – Other than mind-diving being a favorite trope, Facets illustrates the expressive possibilities of JRPGs made with prefab assets, depicting the unraveling reaches of a mind. And its battle design is tight, showing the expressive potential of systems that often get ahistorically written off as grindy or “old”. There’s so much depth to a small kit of tools, which inspires me to really push a simple-feeling system to its limits (right now we’re designing a intimidating (for us) game with jrpg-esque mechanics.) There’s even a cool post about how these battles were made in Facets!

Subway Adventure – A grab bag of 3D spaces connected via subways, the motions of waiting, boarding, and getting off trains and wandering stations (with their evocative names), the ways they disturbingly parallel real life and the circulation of people. While playing, this game really takes me to a weird place with my relation to transit and just moving around to different zones. Bodies moving in large numbers. Makes me think about tourism and wandering – what can you actually do as a tourist other than just stare and gawk? Why travel? Why does tourism exist, what’s the history… etc. Well, other than that, formally this is just a cool 3D game, too. Each station has some unique theme to it and a mini-treasure hunt.

Mouse Corp https://thecatamites.itch.io/mouse-corp– I like a lot of thecatamites’s games but picked this because its saturated 3D environment and abstract political story and mechanical play on open world grindy games have stuck with me despite me only playing it once years ago. The way the atmosphere changes as stuff passes to night, or the strange 3D creatures lurking the overworld – there’s a lot to love here on top of the narrative aspects.

Knytt Underground – Dark, lush, calm, mysterious, memorable. In some ways, a 2D ‘open world’ platformer. Some goals, but they feel like tactile texture so you can enjoy the collaborative soundtrack and art style. A very unified feeling game, left an impression on me when I played it in 2012.

LUCAH – Extremely unified ambience to everything and I love seeing that level of control from a development team. Also the action is good. The narrative/atmosphere is just loose enough where you can still make out its themes, but also lets you involve yourself in the process of unpacking the ideas around religion, gender, etc…

Lacuna III – rook (acclaimed musical artist!) also makes videogames! Framed as an emulation of a gifted ROM from one person to another, Lacuna III has a really strong, oppressive atmosphere and intimate-feeling narrative that form a cool pairing. It’s like if Link to the Past’s Dark World was good hahahahah

Fishing Minigame 2 – Takes the twist of NieR Automata’s multiple endings, but uses a single screen and a clever re-use of JRPG name entries to let you gain layers of understanding to the game’s characters, granting depth to what’s usually a random distraction in JRPGs (the “fishing minigame”). The creator’s other works are all great ideas expressed via RPG Maker.

Corporate Games

NieR (2010) – A multifaceted interpretation of the Ocarina of Time archetype. Its graphical/gameplay ‘shortcomings’ make it much stronger and argue against the excesses of the decade’s AAA games (despite being a bit excessive itself.) I can’t pick one great thing – the dream-like, over-exposed bloom saturating the grassy hills and shores? Song of the Ancients? Sense of hope/desolation in its overworld? “Weiss, you dumbass?” The factory and seashore town song? The Forest VN section? One thing’s for sure… if your game doesn’t have prose text on black fades, it should.

Attack of the Friday Monsters – I’m less into the slathered layers of nostalgia here, more into the light elements of fantasy imbued into a childhood community. Using a simple card game as texture, the small (and beautiful) Japanese town’s fixed locations gain a lot of life/meaning (following in footsteps of games like My Summer Vacation, love-de-lic games, etc). I always think about this game a little as a designer, but haven’t found quite the right idea to borrow from its structure yet.

Dark Souls – I did a photography project on these games! Learned a lot about 3D space and how you begin to remember it by walking across the same paths over and over. While I haven’t made any games that involve the idea of repeatedly visiting a space and seeing it change, there are still a lot of great spatial ideas you can learn from playing the slow-paced Souls series. I like Dark Souls 2 the most visually, but they’re all pretty good. (Demon’s too.)

Anodyne 2 Musical Influences: an incomplete list

I’m indebted to countless musical artists for Anodyne 2’s OST, but in particular I have to primarily highlight Susumu Hirasawa and Rei Harakami, and then all the Videogame OSTs on here. Then comes all the other songs. This is most of the songs I remember actively listening to during the game’s development, it doesn’t include things that are more ‘permanent’ influences (like romantic-era piano composers, shostakovich string quartets, etc…). If I dig through my Youtube playlists I can probably find more, but 70-80 or so artists and their albums/songs seems like enough for now!

As a side note, I don’t use streaming services. How I’ll find music is either searching for references for a given song, random browsing through my Soundcloud feed or peoples’ likes, Bandcamp articles/browsing, or by chance from friends on Discord or Twitter. Then if it’s useful I’ll have it on rotation with a few other songs until I think I’ve understood it well enough, then I might buy it and put it in my mp3s folder.

(Spoilers for Anodyne 2): Some of these songs I referenced heavily (Kelly Chen’s song for the groove in “Fashion Storm”, Pleasure System’s song for “Thousand Thousand Layer…”, 33EMYBW’s song for the Nanobot fight, Antimonesia for the Attic level, Tempura Kidz for “sparkle sparkle..”, Perfect Blue song for the Gargoyle Chase, Rei Harakami’s “Pone” for the chords in Dustbound Village, probably more).

Anyways, enjoy, please research these artists and give them your money!! (And give me money too, via bandcamp, maybe.. https://htch.bandcamp.com/album/anodyne-2-return-to-dust )

Also… a note on music influences – sometimes one of these might sound like a song in a game but actually I listened to the song after writing the Anodyne 2 song. Music is odd…

Susumu Hirasawa – pretty much everything, esp: Tamashii no Furusato (i borrowed the idea of blending pentatonic melodies with regular scales), Garden where the Solutions are Found (listened to this one a LOT), Gemini 2, Solar Ray 2, Millenium Actress OST, Parade, Technique of Relief, Philosopher’s Propeller, Hansen 108,Siren,  Holy Delay (one of the best loops, before the vocals kick in), Paranoia Agent OST, “Indra”, work as “Shun”, Landscapes #1

Kaku P Model, esp antimonesia, kai = kai

Rei Harakami – Lust (one of my favorite albums), “Pone”

Mondo Grosso – “Hello Do You Copy”, “Labyrinth”, “Solitary”, “Late night blue”

33EMYBW – Golem“Ship of Theseus” (I recommend this artist and the label this was published on, lots of interesting club music)

Kelly Chen – Hua Hua Yu Zou

Sega Bodega – 3310

Wednesday Campanella – “Aladdin”, “Gala” (KOM-I? Kenmochi Hidefumi reading this? Want to have a song in a video game? Contact me hello@analgesic.productions )

Utada Hikaru – Fantome track 1 4 9 10

Kirby Super Star, Dream Land 3 OST

Joe Hisaishi – Kaiju no kodomo OST

Pleasure Systems – “heirloom

Teruo Nakano – “現象界パレット”, “eardrum”

Kaiba OST

Perfect Blue OST , esp “Uchida’s Theme”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1Dy0Zfw6Qs

999 OST – “Digital Root”, “senary game

magicalmushie – “musica universalis”

Nicolo Telesca – Lucah OST

Toe – “two moons”

Phantasy Star III Main Theme (LIVE, 1990)

包美聖 – 小茉莉Little Jasmine (by Mei-Sheng Bao)

Sean Han Tani (…that’s me!)

no. 9 – “left the wind’, “tomorrow land”, “Will”, most of their work etc

Forever Kingdom OST – “forgotten valley”

yukari – “marginal man”

P-model: “colors”, “eisei alone”, big body, “Chevron”, much more.. (Eisei alone I listened to a LOT)

“every other beat missing” music meme

Opoona OST – at tokione

Travis Bickle  – “Get a Job”

SMT Soul Hackers OST – Tenkai Airport (Reality)

Travis Strikes Again OST – Seeming Sad

Jun Miyake – “Para Media”

Kikuo – “red moon”, “Blue cave’, “Yume miru kikai ningyo’ (i recommend all of kikuo’s work)

sparite – “exoticism

SMT IV OST, esp: Kagome Tower, Naraku Dungeon, Tokyo Overworld, Blasted Tokyo

Breath of Fire V OST, esp “Power Supply Building” and “Lifeline”

Hiroshi Yoshimura – Flora 1987

Maple Story OST (First few years)

Daoko – “Iya”, some other songs off that album

Rimi Natsukawa – 島唄 (shima uta)

Kinesthetiac – “Rat Park”, “Tomb”

Meytel – “Kireinakisetsu”, “わたしのみらいに関係ない

Lamp – “Symphony

kuchiroro – 00-00-00

neotenomie – ‘other‘, prism stalker OST , other songs..

ilkae/zebra – “Clocks”

Tempura kidz/pc music – I like it

serpentwithfeet – “bless ur heart”

Kohl – “The inquisition”

Family Basik – “music for absentees”

Parks Burton – Pare (highly recommended, I also did a remix for htis)

dj girl – “Fast Track

Sword of Mana OST (GBA)

Contact OST (NDS)

A.G. Cook in general

Threads of Fate OST

Saga Frontier II OST (Masashi Hamauzu more generally)

Tatsuyuki Maeda, Tatsuya Kousaki – Astal OST – “Crystal Palace”

Fryd: “hellbeast” (I can’t find this one anymore)

Gazelle Twin 

Rook 

Sayohimebou – “RGB”

Dragon Quest II Symphonic Suite – “Endless World”, various other songs from Dragon Quest, like 8’s overworld

SMT Nocturne OST – Shinjuku Medical Center (Post Conception)

Ulrich Schnauss – A Strangely Isolated Placeblumenthal and other songs

ThommazK – Dandara OST

June Chikuma – Les Archives (Bomberman Hero composer!)

Sonsofu – “Overlapping Particles”

OH HEEJUNG – Yop

FFX OST (The remastered is good too)

FFXIII, FFXIII-2 OST

Mitsuto Suzuki – Neurovision

Fumie Kumatani – PSO 2 OST – Jungle

Interview – The Body and Spirit in Anodyne 2

This interview of me originally appeared on Ludica mag. I answered in English and the interview was translated to Italian. https://www.ludicamag.com/il-corpo-e-lo-spirito-in-anodyne-2-return-to-dust/

I’ve reproduced my original English answers below.

Ludica Mag: The first Anodyne was a Zelda-like RPG (being it based on puzzle-solving) a bit extrovert (like Undertale) and a bit weird (like Lisa). (Do you agree with this description?) Anodyne 2 is a very different game: how did you work to expand the original concept in this direction?

Sean: I think Anodyne 1 is a game that, despite its flaws, has a very unique atmosphere that very few games have come close to replicating. What we borrowed from Anodyne 1 was symbolism through the dust, a generally fantastical and at times tense atmosphere, and the general surreal juxtaposition of the game’s levels. In Anodyne 2, we combined this surrealism with a story conceit: the areas are so vastly different, because they are the interiors of characters. We aimed to keep that surreal, whimsical feel, but make the game far more communicative with the player on a narrative level.

L: Playing Anodyne 2, I find it a very original gaming experience. How did you ‘give birth’ to this story about the dust, the vacuum cleaner, a 3D world that contains 2D worlds that sometimes contains other 2D lower-res worlds? It’s something at the same time viscerally bodily (since Nova physically enters the 3D bodies to access the 2D worlds), powerfully metaphorical (everybody has its interior life) and very speculative, as imagining other dimensions can be (from the 2D world of Flatland to the 26 dimensions of the Bosonic String Theory!).

S: Marina had a prototype of a platformer where you shifted between 3 sizes. Dust came from Anodyne 1, Vacuum Cleaner came from an ‘evolution’ of Anodyne 1’s broom. We generally like to find some sort of ‘traditional’ game mechanic that makes the game interesting enough in a tactile way to pull the player through the game’s story, and vacuuming/sucking worked (a bit inspired by Kirby.)

From there we brainstormed certain ideas we wanted to explore with the Anodyne series’ surreal landscapes – eventually we came to the idea of putting the ‘action’ into 2D and the exploration into 3D – thus taking advantages of the efficiencies of both visual formats. 3D is easier to quickly make a vast feeling world, 2D is easier to create little one-off action sequences or dungeons.

At the same time, we came up with the story themes we were interested in – the trappings of religious or familial structure, the power of communities, and used that to build the core story of The Center and Nova, exploring the island, etc. The ‘shrinking’ idea ended up being a great way not only to tie the process of ‘cleaning’ into the main story, but a fun way to create self-contained substories that were also interesting on their own.

LM: There’s lot of existential /metaphysical /religious (C Psalmist!) references in this game. Many NPCs wonder about their place in the world, their past lives, and their destiny. I’d like to hear more on this topic.

S: For the NPCs you clean we generally started with the thematic framework of: early NPCs would have very ‘straightforward’ cleanings, though they wouldn’t quite be fixed of their problems. Blue Vale NPCs would be more complicated… cleaning wouldn’t change much of anything. As the game goes on we wanted to draw more complications with the idea that ‘fixing’ someone can be something that’s straightforward.

The general existential tone and quirky NPCs is a tonal choice we use for the Anodyne series – it fits into the vastly diverse landscapes and levels.

The religious ideas mainly come from Marina, partly from her background of being raised Christian, the various literature she read growing up, and extensive experience with the Bible. Generally Anodyne 2 deals a lot with considering how to deal with your life under certain social structures, and ‘religion’ is a common one to think about. There’s also the general notion of control with The Center, or corporate working life with C Visionary.

L: The 3D world has a graphic that reminds me of the first PlayStation games. This is interesting (on Ludica there’s an old article that invites the developers to keep exploring the aesthetic of polygons in the first 3D games, comparing them to the brutalist architecture and its exposure of structural elements), so I’d like to ask a) the reason of this choice and b) how you designed the world (also with which development tools) and c) if you were inspired by any particular game.

S: a) We think it looks good, and it’s also faster to make. It also works well with the surreal setting we have – it’s easier to convince people they’re in a fantastical place, as their brain has to do the job of filling in some details. It’s like how a visual novel screen can be really, really tense and immersive… just with words and a single image! Other reasons: art and level design workflows with HD art quickly become too hard for small teams, and also, it’s a lot easier to make a visually unique game with ‘lo-fi’ art.

b) The world was designed based on the story’s needs – as Nova becomes more complicated of a character, the world and levels almost seem to fall apart and break logic in the Outer Sands. Cleaning becomes a much more morally dubious affair. Earlier in the story, when Nova has a simple mission and thought process, the levels are almost too straightforward (Cenote).

For making them, Unity and Blender. 3D worlds I’d sometimes block out in Unity, or sketch on paper, then Marina would create the final 3D area using tools or whatever, adding decoration. Same with 2D areas, but using tilemap systems. We’d always have visual moodboards/discussion of the area before Marina created final art or I created music.

c) We were inspired by many games for small aspects (e.g. some visual ideas borrowed from Panzer Dragoon Saga, Shadow of the Colossus. Some game ideas from 2D zeldas, Kirby. Story tone ideas from Nier, LUCAH), but of course for the more innovative ideas (streamlining a game across a 3D world, designing how exactly 2D/3D works) we had to innovate and figure that out ourselves. Our inspirations list is quite large and spans not just film, literature or games, but also experiences in real life communities or friend groups, etc. So, I would say there isn’t one influence that takes precedence over the other. We tend to use influences more like moodboards, vs. worshipping/paying homage to one platonic ideal game.

L: What about the choice to insert some meta content in the form of commentaries and prototypes?

S: It’s good for developers to be transparent about how games are made, so I always look for nice ways to fit unused content into a game. The way some developers want to create this perfect, 1 hour condensed experience with no flaws is a little odd to me – games are imperfect and a sort of taped-together medium… I think it’s important to reveal how humans are behind each game.

In our case, Metaclean framework also gave an opportunity to enhance the story ideas of C Visionary and motivation. I also want to explore the idea of ‘canon’ existing in works like games… to suggest the idea of there being a ‘grey canon’ where certain parts of the game are both true and not true. A bit of the extra areas like no such scene goes into this – the idea that you can choose to read some of the extra areas as ‘canon’, or not. While obviously I want to include a ‘canon’ story, I do think there are interesting thematic things you can do by including story elements that don’t cleanly fit in, leaving some room for interpretation. I don’t always like doing that with games, but it does work in some cases like Anodyne 2. A game is a bizarre, bizarre thing. There are so many aspects that are never explained or make sense in games. Why can Nova double jump? Where do those coins go? So it feels natural to extend those questions to the written story itself.

L: The meta game content also refers to the need to contain the budget, and now I’m dreaming of what this game – which is really great as it is – would have been if you had unlimited funds. There’s something important that you could not develop?

S: Something I think about a lot is my philosophy of releasing games. Is it better to release two games in a decade, or 10? I believe it’s 10. Or 20. I think art that takes forever to come out is inherently flawed, it presupposes that there are fixed truths to the world that can be spoken at any point in time and hold power, if the developer only spends enough time and money on it. A game that takes 5 years to come out – certainly it might be ‘good’, but there will be an inherent mismatch between the social situation of its release period, and its development. That is, if the developer is even thinking about these things, which often they are not.

Er, that is to say: If we hire a person, they can 1. help us make the game bigger in the same amount of time. Or, they can 2. help us make the same-sized game faster. I don’t think #1 makes sense. Anodyne 2 would overstay its welcome. If the game had a structure/pacing which was longer, maybe #1 would make sense. But I like 8-10 hour games.

#2 is a valid use. If we had unlimited funds, surely we could make Anodyne 2 sized games faster. Yet… they would be fundamentally different, shifted by the bigger team of 3 or 4. Of course, Marina and I could completely direct this new team member, but it feels better to let them contribute equally. There’s also a danger with more labor, and it’s that you won’t be making as many interesting design compromises or simplifications. A lot of our game’s unique identities come from us working as two and needing to simplify and strip things down, vs. just ‘okay’-ing everything because you have the labor to do it.

So, I think that potentially I might one day entertain working with 3 or 4 people, but not soon. We don’t have the money, and seeking funding makes life just a bit more complicated than I’d like. It creates higher sales goals, too, which compromise the decisions we can make with the game. I’m happy if people can make interesting games with teams of 3 or 4 or more, but it doesn’t seem the right path for us now.

L: The soundtrack is beautiful and is perfect for the scenarios it accompanies: how did you work on the music of Anodyne 2?

S: I made it with Ableton Live. I usually use Ableton’s built-in synthesizers to create my own instruments, or sample manipulation, which is how I achieve a unique sound. There’s a lot of factors I consider when making a song, but generally I think about what aspects of the visuals, the story, the gameplay – of a certain level – that I can enhance with the music. Then I draw upon my knowledge of music to try and find reference songs that have aspects of them that would fit my goals, and I borrow from those references and mix them and come up with a new idea. Sometimes this is as little as a 4-second percussion sound in a song, or sometimes it’s as big as a chord progression… what can be useful is often unexpected, so it’s important to listen to a lot more music than just Chrono Trigger, haha. I try to draw in a lot of influences. I think fans understand that, but my music rarely gets praised via awards or blog posts or whatever, even though it’s better than a lot of music that does win awards! Oh well, that’s okay – I’ll just keep making good music… hahaha!

Some reviews (Yu-No, Yooka-Laylee, Control)

It’s time for “Han Tani Reviews!” Today I’m reviewing three games I played recently. Maybe I’ll post more later… maybe not…

Here’s my rating scale:

Kinda Weird – The highest praise. Something that left an impression, gave something to think about at length.

Pretty Interesting – Had a few memorable qualities that were mostly worth the time investment.

Nice – Had one or two things that were neat, but either overstayed its welcome or was generally conservative/noninnovative in its design

No Impression – A game that failed to leave much of an impression, either through design/story/etc that has been treaded by other games many times, its overall design not resonating much with me, or being plain bad. While in a bad mood I might rename this category “bad” or “forgettable” or “big nani”.

YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World (1996)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YU-NO:_A_Girl_Who_Chants_Love_at_the_Bound_of_this_World

A 1990s erovisual novel, one of the biggest first successes of the ‘multiple route mystery’ subgenre of visual novel adventures. I saw the remaster was coming out, noticed that it unfortunately updated all the graphics and music, and got myself a copy of the original to play.

The character designs are suuuper 90s moe, but to my eye in 2019 they’re refreshing and nostalgic. Such is fashion.

The gimmick of the game is you can find 8 gems that act as save state slots. The game is split into distinct time ‘coordinates’, these coordinates represent a state of the entire game. So coordinate “10” might be evening on Day 1, but “20” could be evening on Day 1 where you decided to not talk to a teacher or something. It’s a neat way of representing how these games work under the hood, though I’ve yet to think of an elegant way of representing it in data (it’s easy to think of nightmare hacky ways.)

You can use a stone to set a save state, then you can return to that time coordinate at any time. Your character’s memory doesn’t carry over, but key items do, which are what you use to unlock certain branches or endings.

The goal is to find all 8 stones, which are hidden in certain time coordinates. You get a map that fills itself out as you explore time coordinates. The way the game is meant to play is, you progress the story. The UI will sparkle when you’re approaching a ‘fork’ in the story, at which point you can leave a gem and progress down one branch. But… the problem is… as you start with so few stones which makes it hard to explore freely, and if you use all your stones the map disappears and you have to find another stone to see the map again. Playing blind, you don’t know when the important branches are (some branches will rejoin). So it’s possible to screw yourself by running out of gems at the wrong point, requiring a 20-30 minute replay of content you’ve seen, just to return to a branch.

However, getting stuck without the map is a unique kind of lost – you do get the sense of being trapped within a 2 day nightmare cycle. The game has maybe 20 main screens you frequent, over two days of time. Not having that map must have been awful if you played on the game’s release, without a handy translated visual guide to save you!

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“E” represents an ending. There are sometimes gem markers on screen showing various time coordinates. The portal icons represent story events that throw you back to a past point.

Er, so that’s the general exploration mechanic. How it ends up feeling is tedious – you have to click around a lot on the screen to find the next progression flag. The remaster has streamlined this, showing all interactable objects, and probably adding other QoL things like a true skip function and text log.

As for the story itself, it’s split into a prologue, Main Game, and epilogue. The prologue is a standard fixed-choice-based text adventure. Some characters are introduced, and it’s all played according to VN stereotypes of the time, but very knowingly. A boy in school tells you to talk to him when the ‘real game starts’. Eventually things slip into the supernatural.

The core mystery of the game is fun, and each main route (associated with one of the women) will reveal a key aspect of the mystery. I didn’t really find the SF/time travel ideas particularly fascinating, but they were enjoyable, even though the epilogue’s explanation was remarkably complicated and finicky to understand.

So, the characters… I didn’t find any of them particularly interesting, but they weren’t flat, either. The main characters are primarily women, and each had their own personal challenges to deal with. The general moe stereotypical surfaces revealed a nice layer of depth that you would learn over the game’s two days, but I can’t say anything was particularly mindblowing or memorable. Well-done, I guess.

This is an erogame so you do have sex with most of the characters, but I think the sex scenes are mooostly earned, with exception of the epilogue. I do think that not much thought was given to the implications of woman teacher-male student sexual relations, though. This happens twice in Yu-No and it seems to be played off as sort of a ‘hot’ thing where in reality often times there’s coercion and assault.

Removed from the teacher context, I guess it’s okay. The way sex plays out follows these cases:

  • Overlapping moments of emotional turmoil leading to temporary mutual need
  • Hidden feelings surfacing after two people acknowledging mutual interests and building a relationship
  • A woman encountering her first emotionally intimate relationship
  • Sexual coercion in order to get a man to do something
  • Using someone as a surrogate for a passed away partner to recreate certain feelings

I will say some of these are very sketchy circumstances – a stepmom and stepson, for example. Some play into bad stereotypes about women, but sex is used in different ways each time, and nothing seems totally out of left field for the characters involved. The writing during the scenes is… OK but I don’t think it’s the main attraction here. And yet here I am having written 100 words about it… sorry….

The epilogue of the game is cool, but a nightmare in many ways. I don’t feel like writing about it, watch it if you want. It’s isekai, cool at times, drags on a bit, and has bad wish fulfillment sex and a handful of content-warning contexts for sex and stuff… incest, cannibalism… ugh.

Er… other than that, the game’s world is very convincing despite being a few scenes. It is full of horror, happiness, mystery… the music is sooo good, using these FM synths of the era for spooky effect! I had trouble sleeping one night. I don’t see that as a good quality but the music was used effectively.

The main writer and composer passed away this decade, which is sad.

I’d say this is worth checking out for historical value, if anything, if you can look past the problematic parts. I didn’t find the story too thought provoking but it was a fun ride for anime mystery/sci-fi/slice of life. I’m not a ‘time loop sommelier’ so the sci-fi stuff was fun, but maybe if you played Stein’s Gate or Clannad (two games which owe a lot to Yu-No), the concepts in Yu-No will be dated.

The remaster is probably the way to go if you don’t care about the worse “HD” music/art/character art, due to QoL, though the game really could use more save states and hints, less trial and error.

Rating: Pretty Interesting / Nice

Yooka-Laylee (2017?)

For a spiritual sequel, I didn’t see much learning from Banjo-Kazooie 1 or 2 in the first Tropics level. While I give Banjo games shit for various things, I have to commend many of Banjo 1’s stages (and some of Banjo 2, from what I remember) for being quite navigable and easy to parse. N64 had an advantage in the limit of what you could put on the screen, as that also required levels to be more carefully designed, I think.

I only played about 30 minutes but the first main level felt sprawling, visually uniform and confusing so I quit. The tutorial NPC is a dick joke and the voices seemed really annoying this time around or the text slower. The game controlled absolutely fine, but you couldn’t change the button prompts from Xbox to PS4? I programmed Anodyne 2 to automatically do that, and you could even switch at will. And Ano2’s UI doesn’t scream an irritating vocal utterance every time you moved the cursor. AND I added Switch buttons. Yooka-Laylee was funded on Kickstarter for about 40x Anodyne 2’s budget, too…

From the limited amount I played, I felt some similar problems to Hat in Time – overall too much object and visual noise, difficulty of orientation in 3D space. Collectathons aren’t just about tons of stuff to find… I think they’re about spaces with personality, and legibility of goals…

Rating: NO IMPRESSION

Control (2019)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_(video_game)

The first game by Remedy I’ve played, the narrative premise was fun – a spatial construction of bureaucracy, of how some people in the public view governmental agencies, or of how some workers there viewing themselves as superhuman, the ways in which a workplace can get shift how you feel over time and control your behavior .

My favorite idea was the ‘altered objects / objects of power’, the idea of a physical object becoming more than it is merely by people’s impressions. Celebrity-ification and parasocial relationships had been known to me for a while for how people can treat other people who have some semblance of power/notoriety, but I haven’t thought about it in the context of regular objects or myths, of how object can take new meaning when rumored about or spoken of in certain ways.

I really enjoyed the few moments where you could have a small branching chat with the other characters, and I totally would be fine with just having it appear as text with no acting. For some more obviously symbolic characters like the janitor, the vagueness was fine and worked well. I feel like there’s a trade-off though – the main characters (Emily, that security dude, etc), work really well BECAUSE they don’t say much, because they seem overly formal and non-freaked-out, because they randomly disappear. But at the same time I kind of wanted to talk to some people more? But I see that as an impossibility as in a way, all of the NPCs in Control act as a sort of “MetaNPC” for the bureau, for bureaucracy, for individual blindness to the absurdity of a system. And if we were to get emotionally attached to some characters, that might contradict the value of that MetaNPC feeling.

At its best, the gunplay was fun, at its worst, it was frustrating, too easy to die, not easy enough to grind to adjust difficulty, or too common. Minmaxing my equipment so I could reduce the number of “bonfire runs”  for a boss was menial. In certain areas like the Black Rock Excavation site or the Mold Area, I could feel a similar texture to the best Dark Souls or Metroid Prime areas.  I think the game really shined there. But all too often, especially from a ‘lore litter’ standpoint of picking up random scraps or 2-minute audio logs, it felt similar to the “Spaceship Janitor” type of game where I was going from sector to sector to fight so and so enemies before maybe maybe advancing the plot (like System Shock 2 or New Prey or Bioshock).

I feel as if Control is around the upper limit of AAA, a demonstration of how the need for marketability  and conservative mechanics in order to meet sales figures, as well as the general difficulty of steering the overall design at AAA scale, lead to obvious compromises where we get way too much traditional shooty-shoot. Control could have been far, far weirder. Stuff like the hotel, the alternate dimension, that ending door sequence, the big black void leading to the deeper areas of the game, etc… that could have all gone harder. I guess the DLC probably will do that, but who knows.

When you see a game being praised for its architecture, it’s hard not to think of a game like Manifold Garden which pursues those premises deeply in an interesting direction. For a game about ‘shifting spaces’ and the mazelike nature of its levels, Control doesn’t have many of them? With an AAA technology budget, rooms could loop nonsensically, have infinite looping architecture, and generally do a lot more. But Control’s atriums are very pretty.

Rating: (Pretty Interesting + Kinda Weird) / 2.0

Why Anodyne 2 Is Not A Niche Game

At last, I can breathe! Anodyne 2’s been out for almost 3 weeks. The excitement and stress has died down, and I’ve returned to more of a ‘research’ and  ‘planning’ phase for my next project.

First, I’m happy that Anodyne 2 has had universal praise. Countless videos, podcasts, streams, tweets, comments, etc – confirm that Marina and I succeeded in creating something valuable, unique, inspiring, humanistic. Something that communicates at the surface as a fantastical tale, but directly draws upon our experience with family, love, and our lives’ overlaps with the worlds of academia, the art industry, local activism, service industry, and even things from analyses of wrestling to Taiwanese cultural practices.

Soo….that post title. “Anodyne 2 Is Not A Niche Game.” What do I mean? Let’s put the focus on something that people who like the game have also said:

“Anodyne 2 is niche / Anodyne 2 is not for everyone”

We see this sometimes when reading reviews. Occasionally it’s at the end of a review that gave us like a 73 or something and then said the music was pretty bad, or like at the end of a highly praising review that then somehow turns out to be an 82 even though on the same site an AAA game with ‘a few flaws’ gets a 96, but sometimes we hear it from people who otherwise like the game!

Our running theory is that this is a way of expressing that you liked the game but inherently understand that the game is odd relative to today’s popular games.

To that line of thought, I’d like to also ask: what kind of game is “for everyone?” For what it’s worth, I’d like to assume for that something “not being niche” means it’s “for everyone”. I can see how that assumption falls apart but let’s just assume it doesn’t, because I’m tired.

Usually the type of game being contrasted here is something made by Nintendo – something that’s so well-known, so common, that we don’t really question the nature of it, we accept it as is, accept it as being the norm. Okay. Let’s do a quick comparison experiment, of Anodyne 2, Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Animal Crossing. In my experience I’ve never or rarely seen someone (being reasonable) say the last three “Are not for everyone” or “are niche”.

 

CONTROLS

Ano2: Move, jump, spark, talk, turn into a car. Also has 2D controls: move, suck, shoot, talk.

BOTW: Move, jump, attack, pick up, talk, glide, super jump, bow and arrow, throwing, swimming, etc, often under combat pressure.

Odyssey: Move, jump, long jump, high jump, triple jump, hat throw, hat jump, spin, not to mention 10 other movesets from things you possess. Often under pressure to perform with platforming.

AC: Move, jump, talk, pickup, arrange furniture.

 

GAME DESIGN

Ano2: Talk to characters, find character to enter, walk around a 2D dungeon with light puzzles and combat. Explore 3D to find cards. Turn into a car and ride around. Follow a single main questline. Read a lot of words.

BOTW: Manage health, temperature, armor, durability resources. Scavenge and craft for items. Manage multiple overlapping side quests and questlines. Fight in real-time combat. Search for shrines with physics or combat puzzles. Survive. Ride a horse. Explore dungeons that move and rotate in 3D. Talk to townsfolk. Complex, multi-detail-layered map. Read a moderate number of words.

Odyssey: Explore complex 3D environments in search of Moons. Use many moves to find them. Avoid dying by falling into pits or being hurt. Fight bosses in real time combat. Read map markers and follow side quests. Read a few words.

AC: Manage your time and money resources to accumulate the correct furniture and items to decorate one’s house with. Meet and manage relationships with multiple townspeople while also paying off a loan. Search for items to complete museum galleries with. Engage in t-shirt making and maybe the stalk market.

Note: AC is less demanding dexterity wise than A2, but I’d say AC has more complex things to remember.

 

PLAYTIME

A2: 8-12 hours.

BOTW: 50-60+ hours.

Odyssey: 20+ hours.

AC: Eternity, if you’d like.

An interesting thing to notice is that rarely someone might say Anodyne 2 had poor pacing… because we changed the texture of the gameplay for 45 minutes. But inherent in here is that for some reason, indie games don’t get free passes to be spend time in certain ways. Sure, an AAA game can blow 2 hours on like making you talk to every single minor character in the game before progressing, but if we don’t get our pacing perfectly right for a little bit it’s a tragic misstep or something!

Story Complexity

A2: Straightforward storyline, themes complex enough for adults.

BOTW: Multiple characters and historical storyline, though still simple.

Odyssey: There is no story, until you read into The Cap

AC: None since it’s a life sim, other than the story you craft yourself about the town

While A2 is more inaccessible reading-wise than the other games I chose here, and I have read various valid and interesting critiques of the plot, it’s not like this is a unique problem – there are plenty of popular JRPGS with complex writing/reading (Nier Automata, Final Fantasy 10, etc).

Someone said the story in Anodyne 2 is confusing, and, besides the fact that it is remarkably straightforward, have you played Dark Souls (which I love) and see what *that* game’s vague story gets away with being praised for?


To me, it seems like those other games generally have more complex requirements and expectations. Anodyne 2 on the other hand is much more relatively beginner friendly, other than having a lot of words to read.

In conclusion, it may be better to say is that “Anodyne 2 feels unfamiliar, and may be uncomfortable *if* you’re looking for an experience similar to the more popular console games.”

If you’re reading this and did write a review saying niche or ‘not for everyone’… I’m not mad at you personally, please don’t worry! I just wanted to bring up this issue I’ve seen in a few places.

Okay, Sean’s lecture time over! Let’s end with a quick chart to summarize my points. Basically, I do think that what is “for everyone” and what is “not niche” is generally defined by what is selling the most and the most heavily ingrained in our culture, but I find it more valuable to redefine or interrogate what those terms mean.

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Well, let’s end this with some reviews I quite liked reading.

And some reviews of the OST, a first for me!


Other than that, I did prepare a bunch of data on sales… but nowadays I feel uncomfortable with that level of transparency. So I haven’t decided what/how much data to share, but I will say (giving vague ranges)

  • We’ve sold between 1k-10k copies across all platforms
  • Our Steam wishlist to first week sales conversion rate was about 0.2 (in case you’ve read Jake Birkett’s blog posts)
  • We did a coupon campaign for owners of Anodyne 1 getting discounts on Anodyne 2, where possible. In particular on Steam it drove a lot of sales so I’d recommend it.
  • We paid off our development costs already (a number in-between $40-90k)
  • We’re not, and are nowhere near being indie millionaires
  • We do have middle/upper class backgrounds and should be held accountable for that, should we ever accumulate a ridiculous amount of money or power. I’ve recently amassed a sizeable twitter following so I’m still learning the best way to handle using that outlet since I’m not in the promotional phase for one of my games anymore. My current intuition is it would be better to put our money towards existing game organizing efforts (rebind.io, other criticism sites, perhaps localization funds for non-English games), versus building up Analgesic Productions (our company.)