Developing a video game isn’t easy. When I heard that a Finnish husband and wife development team were about to release an adventure RPG that they had developed together, I began wondering if working with one’s significant other would benefit, or hinder, the development process.
On the one side, the argument is that it would be easier, because your significant other more than likely understands you better than all but the closest of friends, and that sort of I-know-what-you-meant-just-by-that-look perk has to come in handy when working on a game. Working together as a team would also serve to strengthen the bond between partners, and a shared hobby is always lovely, in a relationship.
But on the other hand, developing a game with your significant other could just be a nightmare. A disagreement on something here, a disagreement on something there…it could all build up. Not to mention the other differences the two of you share outside of the game’s development. Suddenly you find your creative outlet ruined by your partner, and your relationship with your partner ruined by your creative outlet.
Fortunately for the couple I heard about, Ville and Anne Mönkkönen, their experience developing Driftmoon together, was more of the former scenario…and much less of the latter.
After seven years of development time, Driftmoon released earlier in the month, and IGM just recently published our review of it. In short, we really enjoyed it. Just before the game was released, I was able to chat with Ville and Anne, about what it was like to develop a video game with their wife/husband.
IGM: So you guys have been working on Driftmoon for seven years? What’s taken the development so long?
Ville: It takes a long time to make a game engine, especially when there are fairly complex RPG mechanics involved. At first the engine was even intended for a completely different game called Cormoon, but when that project was canceled, Driftmoon picked up the engine.
But working on Driftmoon wasn’t smooth sailing either, at least at first —we didn’t know what the story in Driftmoon would be, and it took us nearly two years of painstaking work to come up with the kind of story that we were both happy with.
Anne: Well, we didn’t actually spend two years just sitting and thinking about a story, we made several different prototypes of the beginning of the story. But it did take us two years to find the story we wanted. A story that would be interesting, exciting, surprising, and eventful enough, and would still suit the lighthearted mood we wanted in the game.
IGM: How has Driftmoon evolved over those seven years?
Ville: It’s a whole different game! Not counting the game engine, the actual content of the game has been started from scratch twice, once when Cormoon was canceled in 2009, and once when we finally came up with what became the current Driftmoon in 2011.
IGM: What was your development plan, back in 2006?
Ville: The original plan was to make a side-scrolling multiplayer fantasy world where each player could create their own houses, fortresses, even towns. There was to be a lot of digging, scavenging, and combining resources to make objects, similar to what I had in my previous game Notrium. Unfortunately the goal was set a bit too high back then, and it couldn’t be completed with the resources we had. But with a few changes, the engine lived on to become a powerful engine for single-player RPGs.
Anne: Back in 2006 I wasn’t involved with any of the plans, because I only jumped in the picture later on – in fact Ville’s “known” the Driftmoon engine longer than he’s known me. [laughs] When Ville and I met, almost 7 years ago, Driftmoon wasn’t Driftmoon yet, nowhere near it.
IGM: Had either of you two worked on games before?
Anne: Ville’s a pro, but I’m just a newbie. I’ve played all sorts of games, but Driftmoon is my first project as a game developer. Well… now that I think about it, it’s not quite my first ever game project, because when I met Ville, I was involved in designing an educational game for kids called GraphoGame at the university of Jyväskylä.
Ville: I started making games in 1998. Some of my old games have survived to this day, feel free to have a look (they’re all available for free). I started working as a full time game developer in 2006 with Graphogame, and that’s still my day job. Driftmoon has been a good outlet for some of the cool ideas that I can’t use in my day job.
IGM: Ville, how has it been working on a game with your wife?
Ville: It’s been lovely, Anne is very intelligent and a pleasure to work with. She’s such a committed game developer that it’s sometimes difficult to get her to stop working. We get to sit side by side, at least when the kids have gone to sleep, and it’s great fun!
Anne: Thanks, honey! Seriously though, it’s been at the same time wonderful and a bit stressful to share a project as demanding as Driftmoon. We have both enjoyed it, but at the same time it’s been a tremendous amount of work, especially with our two little kids…who obviously always need to be the priority.
I can also imagine that the alternative would have been quite awful: if making Driftmoon would have been Ville’s own project, I might have thought of it as a waste of time, or time away from the family, it could have become a complete nightmare for us all.
IGM: Anne, would you say it was easier, or more challenging, working with your husband, rather than a regular co-worker?
Anne: It’s definitely very informal working together with Ville, and our work on Driftmoon is really quite intertwined in the daily life of our family. When Ville and I get going, tossing around ideas, we usually end up with a zillion of them. I also know for a fact that Driftmoon never would have become the game it is now, with either of us working on it alone. In fact, if I was working on it alone, there never would have been any sort of a game at all! [laughs]
IGM: How did you two meet? And when was it decided that you would develop a game together?
Ville: We met in 2006 at work, at the university. The prettiest girl I had ever seen. It soon turned out that she was also the nicest person I had ever met as well. And I had the perfect excuse to meet her daily: I was tasked to start designing a new version of a learning game with her. A few months later, I asked her to marry me!
Anne: Obviously, I said yes. And from the moment we started dating, I gradually started taking part in Ville’s game development hobby. At first it was mostly just talking things through with Ville, taking photos and such, but pretty quickly I also started writing for the game, and working on sound effects as well. During the past two years, I’ve also started using Driftmoon‘s editor for all sorts of things, and I’ve noticed that you can make just about anything happen with it, especially when you get into scripting. But all the actual coding I’ll happily leave to Ville, he’s just a wizard at that!
IGM: Going back seven years ago, is there anything you would have done differently with Driftmoon?
Ville: I would start by planning first. You have to have a realistic plan, something that you can completely see in your mind, and preferably in writing. It’s great to prototype and test ideas, but considering a content-heavy game like Driftmoon, you need to know exactly what content is needed, or you’ll end up redoing everything because of something important you forgot to take into account.
IGM: Besides working on Driftmoon, what do you guys do for a living?
Ville: I’m the project manager and lead programmer for Graphogame. It’s an evidence-based method that teaches children the alphabet, and basic reading skills. That’s an incredibly difficult task, but I think we’ve done fairly well. The game is already used by nearly all children in Finland when they start school, and we’re planning on extending it to practically all languages.
Anne: I’m a psychologist, so my work is basically to listen to people, and try to support them in whatever they’re going through. I like it. I care about people, so it’s a job that’s well suited for me. For these past two years I’ve been at home, taking care of our two little kids, and working on Driftmoon on the side.
IGM: Now that Driftmoon is released, what are your plans for development?
Ville: I’ve been hoping to port Driftmoon to other platforms…that could be next if we find the resources to do that. And after that, who knows… Maybe Driftmoon 2, maybe Notrium 2, maybe something completely new. I can at least guarantee that you don’t have to wait seven years for it. [laughs]
Anne: We’ll see… I know I probably won’t be able to keep my fingers completely out of it.
IGM: What should players know about Driftmoon, before getting into the game?
Ville: Driftmoon was made for people who like roleplaying games that have deep stories and plenty of dialogues. It’s best enjoyed when you’re not in a hurry. While Driftmoon is definitely not a combat-heavy game, we have also put a lot of thought into how we’ve implemented the battles. The combat in Driftmoon starts out deceptively simple, and is designed to give you more challenges as you get deeper into the game.
Anne: We’ve also aimed at making Driftmoon a goodhearted adventure in the spirit of some of the great older RPGs, like Ultima VII or Baldur’s Gate, while at the same time adopting some elements from adventure games. And last but not least, my most important goal (which is not an easy one to achieve): We’re really hoping that Driftmoon could be a game which will brighten up your day and leave you smiling!
Driftmoon is now available for puchase, on Instant Kingdom’s official website. Ville and Anne are pledging 15% of all profits made on Driftmoon, to the Red Cross.