Even when dealing exclusively with indies and small studios, it’s still a rare enough thing to find a truly one man operation, that it makes you take notice when you do. Enckling – an independent game development company based in north-east Ohio – is just such an operation. Trevor Frantz does the programming, artwork, game and level designing, music; quite an impressive list.
We sat down with the multi-talented Trevor to find out a bit more about himself, Enckling and his latest game ‘Pilgrimage Of Embers’ – a dark high-fantasy, 2D action role-playing game (with hints of Nordic and Celtic cultures) being developed using C# and MonoGame and taking inspiration from ‘Dark Souls‘, ‘Skyrim‘ and minor influences from other games like ‘Starbound”.
Trevor thanks so much for making time to speak with us! To start, tell us a bit about yourself – you’re obviously a programmer, how did you end up working on Pilgrimage Of Embers? Do you have a “day job” or is Enckling it?
Alright! I’m a nineteen year-old independent game developer from the north-eastern part of Ohio. I started learning to program when I was about eleven years old, but I didn’t completely grasp object-oriented programming until about five years later. I’ve always wanted to make an RPG, so I usually developed ideas when I wasn’t failing at programming. I still have some ideas from a few years ago, though most of them I can’t use because they didn’t fit the theme of my game (and some are just plain bad). Close to two and a half years ago, I started working on a tile engine. Somewhat unaware of the size this project would eventually take, I coded features in almost every day, one week at a time. Now here I am, with a game engine that is over 25,000 lines of code and growing quickly!
I used to be a cook at a resort restaurant, but I left that job late last year to pursue game development full-time.
You’ve cited games like Dark Souls, Skyrim and, to a lesser extent, Starbound as influences; tell us how those games (and any others) have influenced you and informed the game’s development.
Admittedly, the Souls games are definitely the largest influencer to my game. I love the level design, the subtle storyline, the lore in item descriptions, monster design, combat, mostly everything. Starting off, my game development documentation had a lot in common with Dark Souls. Though seeing how quite a lot of other games are trying to be like Dark Souls, I decided to take a big step back. I want my game to be different. To be unique! I haven’t yet decided what I want the key experience of my game to be, but I’m leaning towards exploration, discovery, and detailed characters and lore to be immersed in.
I admire Skyrim’s open world and decorations, and I feel that I (subconsciously) got the idea of plants and flora harvesting from the game. Starbound has some nice combat elements, though I’d say the biggest idea from that game was “Tech”. For those unfamiliar, techs in Starbound are enhancements that can be equipped by characters to improve movement and provide new abilities. Likewise, Pilgrimage of Embers has “Souls” that the player can equip (up to four at one time). These are retrieved from slain foes, and are either passive or special. Special souls must be activated (with a keypress), whereas passive souls continually apply the specified effect. I’m still tinkering around with this idea, so it may change a little bit!
I noticed an exciting announcement on your Facebook page recently indicating that you were about a month away from being able to work on the alpha demo and levels culminating with the “game engine code” being released to closed alpha testers; are you nervous about how it will be received or do you see this as a vital step in creating a better game?
I’m more excited than nervous! I’m confident in the game engine I’ve spent so long on! I definitely agree that it’s an important step, since it’s always good to get outside opinions. It’s better to do it this way than to release it and find you have some design flaws or bugs that need to be worked out. After all, you only get to launch your game once.
External feedback is something you clearly welcome and have encouraged the public to submit ideas – following your guidelines – for monsters, characters, items and game mechanics; have you found this a useful process? Any great ideas you can tell us about?
So far, not many people have suggested anything major using these guidelines, though that’s my fault for not actively tweeting about game suggestions. I have received a bit of feedback on Twitter and Facebook for other topics, but none of those have used the suggestion guidelines to my knowledge. Occasionally, I’ll put up a poll on my website to get different opinions, and that has worked well!
You have stated that you want ‘Pilgrimage’ to become as synonymous with the “2D Action RPG” category as Call of Duty is with first person shooters and Minecraft is with sandbox (an ambitious goal!). To that end do you see the game as the beginning of a bigger franchise or do you not want to think that far ahead?
I usually try to aim really high. Even though this is unlikely, I believe that every major goal is possible (and a lot easier) when you take it one step at a time, and constantly re-evaluate your daily tasks to achieve that. I’m not thinking too far down that road yet, but I do have quite a number of large islands and other provinces that later games can take place on. As much as I’d love to include all of those places in Pilgrimage of Embers, the storyline might get messed up a little. I’m definitely open to more games in this game world, but after I finish this game, I’m probably going to want to take a lengthy break from RPGs. I’ve quite a few other ideas that have great potential!
You’re following in the footsteps of some big, successful games like Fez, Bastion and, more recently, Transitor and Axiom Verge in using MonoGame (an Open Source implementation of the Microsoft XNA 4 Framework that allows XNA developers on Xbox 360, Windows & Windows Phone to port their games to the iOS, Android, Mac OS X, Linux and Windows 8/10. As well as PlayStation Vita, Xbox One and PlayStation 4,) I assume that means you intend on bringing the game to a good variety of platforms?
Yes! Linux and Macintosh are extremely likely, but the other platforms I’m not 100% certain of yet. The biggest issue is getting the controls worked out. My game uses the expected WASD style, and I’m running out of reachable keys that can be used! So it all depends on how popular my game is.
You wrote a piece of generalized planning software for level design called Map Object Marker -originally for personal use – and have since, generously, released it for free for other developers to use; can you tell us more about it? Clearly no such software was available to you when you wrote it, do you think it can become a valuable and widely used development tool?
If you’re like me, you design all of your map layouts in an image editing program, or maybe you sketch on paper and scan them in. In my mind, step two is object placement. In my game, items, chests, creatures, sound effects, and others are all game objects. The Map Object Marker is essentially planning software for this stage. Now, I developed this software quite a while ago, so it could use some updating. I recently added in an object editor to Pilgrimage of Embers for live editing and positioning of objects in the game world, so I might not even make use of this software anymore. It should still function appropriately, though if anyone expresses interest in it, I’ll see about updating it!
I know at one point you set up a Patreon page; is crowdfunding something you still want to explore? If you don’t mind me asking how are you funding the game? Is there any local government support in Ohio for independent developers?
I may be interested in crowdfunding at a later time, though I’m going to wait until my game engine is to the point I want it to be. If I do go with crowdfunding, it’ll be able to hire artists and animators since this will take the longest with designing new maps and characters. I saved up quite a bit from when I was a cook, so it’s all self-funded. Since I’m on a budget, rather than contract out work, I instead bought the tools necessary. This includes a portable audio recorder, music creation software, a MIDI keyboard, and a monster SFX program. I do all of my artwork (primarily pixel art) in PaintDotNET, which is a free program. Originally I thought I could hire an animator, though I really underestimated the cost of this. After learning that, I’m really trying to work on my animating skills. Lucky, I know David Stanley, an excellent artist and animator, who is helping me by critiquing my animations and giving valuable suggestions.
As for government support for developers, none that I’ve personally looked into.
Do you have any advice or sage words of wisdom for upcoming developers?
– Take it one step at a time is my best advice, especially when working on big projects.
– Staying motivated enough to code each day every day is important, so find a to-do list program and keep it updated! Think about what you are going to do tomorrow before going to bed.
– If you code most days and you feel yourself losing interest in your project, do some game development, level design, work on skill descriptions, think about game characters, etc. This helps me a bit!
Additionally, be supportive of other developers, and be innovative. Make unique games that are fun and stand out!
Finally if you do have any free time, what other games do you enjoy playing? Any other interesting pastimes?
I just recently beat the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker on the computer (gamecube emulator). Though I own the game disc, I enjoy it more on computer due to the graphical enhancements.
I also bought Besiege when it was on sale! It has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s crazy fun once you learn how different parts function. Also TRI: Of Friendship and Madness is pretty fun so far. I feel that it’s influencing me to add more geometrical shapes in my game, ha ha. I really enjoy games like Sorcery! and Monster Loves You!. A selection-based story game like these might be next on my list of games to make.
Of course, Dark Souls III is on my mental “to-play” list, but I suppose that’s good I don’t own it yet. I shouldn’t be distracted by that game right now.
I’m generally pretty busy, as my weekly schedule is about fifty hours a week. However, when I’m not working on Pilgrimage of Embers, I really enjoy cooking, watching anime, and reading books. I should add one more detail: If you’re an aspiring game developer, read The Art of Game Design: A Book Of Lenses. In my opinion, it’s the best game development book I’ve read, and I should go back and read it thoroughly again.
Pilgrimage of Embers will release in Alpha on PC, Linux and Mac later this year with the full version aiming to come to all computer based platforms at an undetermined date. It will be available on Itch.io, Humble Bundle, GOG and, possibly, Steam. It is shaping up to be an extremely ambitious title. With over fifty major locations planned – including six dungeons and more than fifteen forsaken cities and villages – 12 useful skills, choice of ‘Birthplace‘, ‘Class‘, and ‘Pathway‘, immersive lore and characters, unique combat and magic system and the ability to buy, sell, or barter with merchants as well as a planned online co-op and modding; it is an impressive set of features for any game – let alone one created by one (highly motivated) individual.
Trevor has advised us that, to this point, code has been his primary focus and he has so far been using some relatively basic programmer art, subsequently any screenshots attached here should be regarded as early versions and are likely to change considerably. If you’re interested in signing up for the alpha, you can do so at enckling.com/signup and a demo is available here.