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!

“Persona”: splitting myself into two on Twitter

“Are you writing those tweets?”

This was roughly a question someone asked me the other day about my @sean_htch twitter account (where you may have clicked through to this essay). And it’s a good question – if you have met me in person, you’ll know that the stuff I tweet on ‘main’ (@sean_htch) feels a bit distant from talking to me in person. The part of me represented there, perhaps, feels

  • Obsessed with Zelda, especially Link’s Awakening? Does Sean continuously play Link’s Awakening?
  • Wow, this person really loves the PSX, N64, etc
  • Can’t stop talking about their upcoming game Anodyne 2.
  • They are always positive!

Now, of course, that’s very much an exaggeration of some facets of my personality. I enjoy Zelda games as well as old 3D games, but they’re just one of many interests. They just happen to be the best way to immediately convey some of the appeal of Anodyne 2/Anodyne. I do care about Anodyne 2 a lot, as it’s my job, but I care about other things as well. I experience a wide range of emotions. (That was a weird sentence to write.)

If you’ve followed @sean_htch for over a year, you may have noticed that tweets are far less frequent, but when I do tweet, there’s a lot of engagement. That’s all intentional! Here’s why.

This is a graph of my follower count from Feb 2016 to March 2019. The graph continues to the left. In fact, if you follow it to Feb. 2014, followers are at 1700, meaning, more or less, follower count was flat or gently sloping for many years.

I worked on the game Even the Ocean for 3.5 years from 2013 to 2016, so you can see how that corresponds with a nearly flat line on the graph! In the middle of 2018, I decided “something needs to change” about how I approach Twitter. It’s a useful tool for promoting my work and I felt I wasn’t using it optimally. So I changed things and, happily, have had some positive results!

Splitting the Self

Ah… dramatic subheading…

Last year, I asked myself: do my followers, likely who know me through my games, need to hear every little opinion or life thing about me, like that the grocery store near me hasn’t restocked on cookie dough in a month, and that the price of a chicken rice plate at my favorite fast casual restaurant went up $0.50 and it’s ridiculous to charge more money for rice than for a pita wrap?

Well, the answer is no. It didn’t feel healthy to have thousands of people hearing my frivolous tweets. It’s good to have tweets less people see, it’s also good to have parts of you that only offline friends see.

Also, my follower count was more or less flatlined for years, and if I want to stay in this business, I need to stop letting my personal life weigh down my professional work. So as a compromise between locked accounts and mains, I made a ‘sub’. (I know a few other game developers who have done this.)

It’s at @han_tani, and it’s just me using Twitter as a non-professional, i.e. how I’d use twitter if I wasn’t working in games.

Splitting myself into two lets me be more focused.

On my main, I can make decisions that are good for my career as a game designer – I can hyperfocus on making tweets that I know fans of my work will enjoy seeing and sharing. I can tweet important news about my work like console ports. I can share posts like this with a larger audience.

And, I can still do this while having the pleasure of complaining about Tide Pods smelling too strongly on my sub account.

Be a Nintendo

Around August or September last year I started working with The Indie Bros. for assistance with promoting and outreach with Anodyne 2. One useful advice I got was on “being a Nintendo” on Twitter.

Essentially, a “Nintendo” will keep their tweets hyperfocused on getting fans interested in their current work. If there are ever memes or jokes, they always relate to the game. No threads, no arguments, etc. Hearing this sentence made it clear the idea of keeping my main’s presence “all signal, no noise”. Now, I don’t tweet anything unless it contributes to the goal of

  • Promoting Anodyne 2 or something I’m working on
  • Promoting something that helps my company’s stability (console ports, etc)

I will occasionally retweet friends’ work, but I do it less than I wish I could! (FWIW, I do retweet lots of stuff on my sub).

Another counterpoint I always was thinking was “what about using my platform for promoting good things (social justice, etc!)” and that is a fair point! But there are various people with accounts that do a great job at this, and it’s their account’s focus. I feel if I want to do concrete justice actions, I’m better off doing something local – donating to local orgs, or joining a political community, etc.

That is to say, I feel that using Twitter for a career means you need to have a single focus – something the account is known for. And it’s hard for that to be “being yourself,” as everyone is multifaceted.

Being Yourself

As an indie dev, you have a unique advantage, and that is, you can still keep your account as being ‘you’ (in the sense that my main Twitter is Sean, not my company Analgesic Productions). I still think that accounts that are a single person are more attractive than a company, which feels impersonal. (this is basically a fact, given how many fast food twitters now act like they’re a person).

Of course, running a main that’s ‘yourself’, there’s a temptation to tweet more ‘normal’ stuff about your life – but again, that’s what the sub account is for! If you’re a smaller indie, don’t fall into the temptation of trying to show your cool game *and* your cool lunch, no matter how delicious.

The 10-year question

Something I like to think about with curating my online self is – will this curated self successfully age? What should my strategy with Twitter be *now* so that I can still get engagement in 10 years? I asked myself this because near the end of Even the Ocean’s development, I was barely getting much interest in the game itself.

Other questions: how can I frame my tweets so that they’re both appealing but also there’s obviously enough of a weird/experimental edge so that when I make a less commercial game (think All Our Asias), I can still get people interested? Those are all things worth thinking about if you are going to use Twitter for the purposes of a career. I’d like for Marina Kittaka and I to be able to stay in games and work together!

Well, those questions are too complicated for me to fully finish by my 11 AM deadline, so I’ll stop here. I also want to talk about composing tweets that people like to interact with, visual hooks, various strategies with tweets, and how tweeting is essentially grinding out visibility and increasing the chances of ‘lucky tweets’ or journalists/video makers seeing your game, etc, but that’ll be another day.

“Sequel”

For the better part of a year I’ve been developing “Anodyne 2: Return to Dust” with Marina Kittaka.

5 or so years ago, I did an interview about Anodyne 1. I said there wouldn’t be a sequel. Well, now it’s 2018 and, last I checked, I’m sure making a game called “Anodyne 2”. Did something change?

Back then, I was against making a traditional sequel, where we would do mostly the same thing but with new levels. That’s why, instead of just being “Anodyne 1 but different levels,” Anodyne 2 is more the next installment in the “Anodyne Franchise”, like Final Fantasy or Zelda games. Kind of like Nier: Automata, Anodyne 2 is a standalone game, and differs in some ways from the original, but has its commonalities, some narrative continuity, and can be understood more deeply if you’re familiar with the original.

Why didn’t we do a traditional sequel, like Pokemon Gold, Banjo-Tooie, Spyro 2, Dark Souls 2, or most other corporate game sequels?

In this life, we only live so many years. There are certain skills – like making 3D games – that I want to hone and learn, and if a game is entirely just Anodyne 1 again but some additional content and new dungeons, I don’t think that’s the best way to spend my time.

Plus, an “Anodyne 1-2” would be weird. There’s not a great way to create a sequel that incorporates Young. For the most part, Anodyne 1’s story was one and done. Of course, maybe in 5 years I’ll be making Anodyne 1-2 and eating my words. Time changes odd things.

Eh, also, trying to replicate the experience of Anodyne would just lead to it being overshadowed. If you really want Anodyne again… I understand where you’re coming from, but your dream of having a new experience that makes you feel exactly what Anodyne did, is, sadly, impossible. Even if we made the best game ever that was really similar to Anodyne, it would be overshadowed. Anodyne 2 will be a good, memorable time, but it’ll be different.

Some things in life just happen once. In transience is beauty… something, something. Different flavors are good. Spice of life. Etc.

I can’t just keep making more of the same – this world can’t keep doing more of the same.

I think a ‘sequel’ or series installment succeeds when it reflects upon the components that made its predecessor good, and then responds to that material in an interesting way. Nier is a great response to Ocarina of Time. Anodyne is a great response to Link’s Awakening. Likewise, Anodyne 2 is a response to Anodyne. We learn from it, tweak some mechanics, add some new gameplay, remove some gameplay, and incorporate the current narrative ideas and themes and stories that we currently really care about.

As another similarity, the high-level game structure of Anodyne 2 has similarities to Anodyne, but 3D gameplay replaces some of the 2D areas.

The reason Anodyne 2 isn’t just a new IP is because well, the 2D levels play like Anodyne, NPCs are designed with Anodyne’s style in mind, you won’t be able to predict where you’ll go next, etc. The plot is overall clearer but it’s very much still a surreal, dreamy fantasy. Cards and Dust make a return but with different uses. There’s shared elements, just like in a Final Fantasy or Zelda installment. So, it’s called Anodyne 2.

Names

I should mention, we were considering calling it “Anodyne: Return to Dust” or “Anodynia” or something like that. Perhaps one of those choices would show more integrity as to what “Anodyne 2” really is?

But, you have to also look at it from the perspective of us not being Square Enix or Nintendo: it’s going to be far, far more confusing if we don’t put the 2 in there. As an indie, someone might perceive “Anodyne: Return to Dust” as a DLC package! If we use “Anodynia”, that won’t get eyes as fast as “Anodyne 2”. With the ‘2’, it’s obvious that it’s

  • Related to Anodyne
  • A separate game

The ability to call something “Series Name: New Subtitle” and become popular relies on being a series entrenched into culture. We don’t have that clout. So yes, to an extent it is a branding decision, but I hope that makes sense given our hope to continue past Analgesic Productions’ 7th birthday.

Even with this disclaimer, I can predict the exact wording of some negative reviews due to us ‘veering too much off course!’. Well, if that future reviewer is out there, well, I hope you like being screenshotted and used as a joke 3 years from now.

Anyways, I’ll end with this:

We’re the people who made Anodyne 1, Even the Ocean, All Our Asias. We’re dedicated to making excellent work.

Would you really expect us to just make the same damn thing a second time? I hope not!