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#IWOCon Dev Talk: Psycutlery

Grab things. Throw things. Devour things. Control a spork with your mind in this madcap platforming adventure featuring lots of mid-air jumps, a maniacally diverse variety of areas, gimmicks, power-ups and characters that begs the question: "what's next?" Take down an incomprehensible abomination… with a piece of silverware.

Luke Tarlowe (formerly “Thunder Dragon”) - A hobbyist who got WAY too carried away. Autistic, non-binary, heavily introverted yet openly eccentric, their lifelong obsession with scribbling, doodling, and all forms of casual creation somehow led to this... video game popping up out of nowhere and they have NO idea how that happened. Visit the Psycultery website to find out more!

Q: How hard is it for you to survive as an indie?

Independent game development is my survival. It’s a nutty world out there, and having the power to construct my own worlds to escape to – even ones so silly as this, is what keeps me going through it all.

Of course, the notion of “survival as an indie,” as a phrase, is open to numerous interpretations. A literal interpretation would be, “do you make enough money to live off of developing games,” but I must say that, while this will likely be sold at some point, money is not, and never has been my motivation with this. In fact, turning it into an actual business would prove counter-intuitive in that my hobby would no longer be my escape from the pressures of life!

I now feel the need to give a shout out to my friend Jon (DJ Yoshiman) who is not only contributing music here and there, but also further ensuring my indie survival by handling all of the game’s social media presence. This allows me to focus my efforts into making the actual game, as I am REALLY not a social media person. Talk about a life saver there!


Q: How many times have you reworked the art of the game?

Not nearly enough, depending on who you ask! Upon looking at my game, some may be prompted to wonder, “what is with all the frog stuff? What do frogs have to do with sporks?” And the answer is… absolutely nothing, it turns out. As I just mentioned, Psycutlery began as a Yoshi spoof, featuring a long-tongued character, hence the frog motifs. Those frog motifs… that I couldn’t be bothered to remove once I switched from tongue to spork. Oh well!

That said, the protagonist has seen a few minor design tweaks. She didn’t always wear glasses, for example – they were added because the original face sprite kind of creeped me out, all told! (Also, we need more nerds.) Even today, I’m still making minor tweaks to said character’s appearance, at least as far as the dialogue portraits go. I don’t want to spend too long on the graphics, however, as Psycutlery is not a “graphics” game – it’s all about the world and the gameplay, and the ever-changing experiences introduced wherein. It’s a BIG world, and if I spend too long making it look pretty, it would likely never get finished.

Because I am often too stubborn to redo most of the graphics, and due to the many years spent in development, my evolution as a pixel artist can be seen throughout the game. Earlier sprites and tiles, for example, are simpler, whereas more recent ones are more organic and detailed. Some might note the inconsistencies, but I want to be honest about what this game is. It is a simple passion project, the byproduct of a single person’s spare time – in essence, an indie game in its purest form. I’m not looking to sell big or “wow” anyone. It’s something I made to learn, and to amuse myself with. But I do hope others will join in the amusement nonetheless!

Q: Looking back, how has your project changed/evolved since the idea was first conceived?

I’m sitting here wondering, was this thing even conceived as an “idea,” per se, in the first place? One doesn’t just sit down and say, “I’m going to make a game about a mind controlled spork!” What this project is… kind of just happened, plain and simple. Yes, there were many changes and evolutions as a result of me finding my footing as a first-time indie developer, and each little tweak led to my project becoming whatever the heck it is now. I didn’t plan to make a spork game, it just ended up that way!

The project that would later become Psycutlery began strictly as an experiment with no sense of direction – no plans, no creative vision whatsoever. It was all but a mere exercise in the art of, “gee, I wonder if I can make my own one of those… VIDEO GAME things?” This is my first attempt at an indie game, after all, so I never thought to dwell on such trivialities as “conceptualization” – I just wanted to make a thing, and whatever that thing wound up becoming, who could say!

What I wound up with at the start was effectively a shameless spoof of Yoshi’s Island, in that it had this character with a long, extendable tongue, who used said tongue for the purpose of catching food. The more I looked at what the experiment had become, I thought, “…Eh. I can be more original than this.” So, my first thought would be to make the tongue invisible, and stick something over the tip of it (no one would notice! Right?!). Since the gameplay at that point effectively boiled down to “eat things,” a spork seemed as good as anything.

So… yeah. A Yoshi tongue masked by a psychic spork was one of the big changes. The other big change was the engine – it initially began in Clickteam Fusion, but once its limits, its inexplicable performance issues, and the difficulty in porting to consoles became apparent, I scrapped everything I had and decided to remake it all from the ground up in Unity. I chose Unity specifically because it seemed the most ideal for console ports, which made the most sense for me as I am in no way whatsoever a PC gamer. Having my game on Nintendo Switch as opposed to say, Steam or whatever holds much greater meaning to me personally. PC and Mac versions will happen, of course, but the change in engines also changed my whole approach in that what was originally designed for PC is now being designed with the mindset of being played on a console.


Q: What do you do when you run out of ideas or lose motivation?

For a solo dev such as myself, the game development process constitutes a vast variety of tasks and means of artistic expression – you have the level design, music, code, graphics, and writing on the creative side, with things like code, bug fixes and such on the logical side – every one of those things demands activity from different parts of the brain. And once one part of the brain has had enough… move onto the next part of the brain, I say! Varying up these tasks, as needed, is my little trick to stay engaged in the development process.

To put it another way: I’m sure many can relate when I say that whenever we’re faced with a chore that needs to get done, we often like to put it off in favor of something else we’d rather be doing. So there are those times when I’m like, “Meeeehhh, I don’t WANNA be working on this stinking level! I’d rather be doodling instead!” So, in putting off the level design, I “doodle” some graphics that will end up used in the game instead. And after I doodle myself out, I’m like, “Meeeeeehhh, I don’t WANNA be working on these stupid graphics! I’d rather be making actual levels instead!” Rinse and repeat for maximum progress.

This way, against all logic and reason… procrastination is suddenly the most productive thing imaginable!

Q: What is the best part about being indie? What is the worst?

Provided one is not too concerned about living off of it, indie development, as a hobby, offers an unprecedented amount of freedom that one would not have otherwise. Now, I am speaking from the point of view as a beginning, solo hobbyist, so my experience might be different than other, more experienced and/or professional devs in this regard.

As a simple hobbyist developer, one can be free from such burdens as, say... deadlines, market testing and focus groups... the need to cut content... having ideas shot down by a team member or director... worry that the game isn’t going to meet sales expectations...

Not having to concern myself about any of that is so liberating in the sense that it just allows me to go nuts and create whatever I feel like creating, at any given moment, without worrying what anyone else thinks of my ideas.

Of course, it’s all a double-edged sword in the sense that through a relaxed process such as mine, it might NOT sell, especially in such a saturated market. While I myself am not too concerned with profits, I’ve been surprised to learn that folks I show my work to actually seem to be more concerned about it selling than I am! This gets to my personal “worst part” – the general expectation among audiences that every work they intake needs to have that manufactured, “commercial product” feel, criticizing accordingly in ways that are not always meaningful or helpful in regards to what I’m trying to accomplish. They’re often not used to indie sensibilities, such as the fact that Psycutlery is, for me, a learning experience, and it shows (in my opinion). Who buys what is clearly a creator’s personal learning experience (that they happened to get WAY too carried away with), right?

But hey, what a learning experience it’s been so far! Another “best part” herein is discovering that I’m capable of things I originally thought impossible. This has been my first time really coding and composing music for a project, for example. When I began that weird frog thing that eventually became Psycutlery, I figured it would just be a quick practice thing to help me learn proper game development, and that I might not even get anywhere with it. But then I kept adding to it and changing things until all of a sudden, I have this stupidly ambitious experience several years in the making that, I think, is much better and more fun than it ever had any business being. It’s almost as if a video game really did materialize out of thin air… weird.

As a whole, this indie thing has been full of surprises, to say the least! To anyone who plays Psycutlery—you might be surprised, too.



Wishlist IWOCon 2020 here.

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