In my ongoing bid to cover and expose as many different independently developed games and indie studios as possible, I discovered a game currently up on Kickstarter entitled Anew: The Distant Light. An action-adventure Metroidvania title, there is a heavy emphasis on combat and exploration, as well as a vibrant science fiction setting that contrasts the beauty and devastation of an endangered futuristic world. Creating the game are two veteran AAA developers; game director and programmer Steve Copeland and art director and sound designer Jeff Spoonhower, collectively known as Resonator. Between then, Steve and Jeff and worked on a multitude of major gaming releases over the course of fifteen years, including BioShock 2, Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth, Borderlands 2, Command & Conquer, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss to name but a few. After reaching out to Resonator, both Steve and Jeff agreed to answer some questions I had about their upcoming game, their Kickstarter program, and their past and present developmental experiences. Here’s what they had to say:
What were the influences behind your game?
SC: For me, the classic Metroid games were a big inspiration. After all, there is a reason our game’s genre is named after it. You can probably also spot influences from Ori and the Blind Forest, Dark Souls, and Mario Galaxy. We’re constantly looking for ways to fit fun game mechanics from other genres into Anew: The Distant Light.
JS: I am a big fan of platformers as well. I grew up playing the Mega Man, Mario, and Contra games, so in addition to the non-linear Metroid-style exploration elements, I am excited about including lots of fun platforming elements in Anew.
What has the developmental process been like?
JS: Steve and I have been working on the game, full-time, for several years now. It’s been hugely challenging and rewarding. We spent a lot of time upfront working on gameplay systems, player mechanics, development tools, and pipelines, and we’ve also built a pretty big section of the game world itself. A lot of the struggles up front we the unknowns – “things we didn’t know we didn’t know about” situations. These were mainly technical in nature, so it was tough to anticipate how long it would take to solve them. We’re happy to say we’ve largely moved through that phase of production and are concentrating on creating content and filling out the game world.
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
SC: A lot of that will depend on how funding goes. We’re expecting to complete the PC version in about a year, but if we have to stop work to look for investors or a publisher, it will tend to slow things down quite a bit.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
JS: For me, several things. For one, overcoming difficult technical and artistic challenges, learning a lot, and growing as an artist and designer have been tremendously rewarding. I am also very proud of the world we are creating. We hope that players will find it not only fun to play in, but also visually interesting and enticing to explore and discover. It’s been awesome to be able to tell people that just two people have built the game from the ground up.
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
SC: With just two people making the game, it can be exhausting to cover all of the needed roles in development and business. If we could afford to, we’d hire some help.
JS: The number of “hats” Steve and I wear, as far as the roles we are playing in production, is pretty overwhelming. We are each doing the work of 5-10 employees in a traditional studio production! It’s been tiring, and often times stressful to have to rapidly switch between these roles on a daily or weekly basis.
How well has the game been received so far?
SC: Feedback has been very positive on all fronts and in all contexts, especially so when demoing in person at trade shows where players can feel the agility and depth built into Anew. We’re proud to have received the Audience Choice Award at Comicon Phoenix and I think Jeff sleeps with the golden controller under his pillow.]
JS: Haha, yeah the golden sheen is starting to wear off. In all seriousness, we are thrilled with the response Anew has received so far. On a personal level, I am so happy that people have responded positively to the look and feel of the game. It’s been my goal to design a world that looks and sounds truly alien and unfamiliar. Those two words have come up repeatedly in press articles we’ve received, so I feel like I’m doing something right.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
SC: We’re leading with PC, including Steam and at least one non-DRM platform for PC. If our Kickstarter succeeds, we’re also committing to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. We also have a stretch goal that will fund research for porting to Nintendo Switch.
How have your past developmental experiences influenced Anew: The Distant Light?
JS: Our prior AAA studio experience has directly impacted the development of Anew. Steve and I learned a tremendous amount working on games over the past 15 plus years. That includes not only the nitty-gritty of the crafts we practice on a day-to-day basis (modeling, texturing, animating, lighting, programming, designing, tools development, marketing, etc) but how to set realistic goals and achieve them. We were both senior/lead developers on projects, so we know how important it is to properly schedule a project, and avoid common development pitfalls like feature creep and over-scoping. We try to bring everything we’ve learned on these big studio projects to the production of our indie game.
Outside of indie development, what would you say yours and Steve’s favorite projects to have worked on throughout the years?
SC: It was cool to get to work on games related to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. I’m proud of having had a small influence on Command & Conquer: Generals Zero Hour, which RTS fans still talk about nostalgically. Many of those projects required crushing amounts of hours worked in a week, so it’s hard to call one a favorite in light of that.
JS: I’m really proud of all the games I’ve worked on. Making games is a huge struggle, so I feel like shipping each one has been quite an accomplishment. As a personal fan of the BioShock and Uncharted series, I really got a kick out of working on BioShock 2 and Uncharted: Golden: Abyss.
Has having creative freedom made working on Anew: The Distant Light feel like a better experience than any other?
SC: On the creative freedom front, yes it’s been the best game development experience I’ve had.
JS: Yes, the creative freedom of making our own game has been very liberating. That freedom comes at a high cost though. We have taken on a great deal of financial risk, and are pretty much working on the game all the time! It’s a big commitment and we have sacrificed a great deal in our personal and professional lives to make it a reality.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
SC: I’d advise them to make and complete things with a very small scope before getting super ambitious.
JS: Agreed. Try and find the one or two things you really enjoy doing (be it art or programming), and then really dive head-first into practicing those crafts. It requires a lot of patience and persistence to get good at this stuff. At the end of the day, if you want to get a job in games, you’ll need to show a potential employer that your work is of extremely high quality and would fit into the type of games they are making.
Where about on the Internet can people find you?
JS: We are currently on Kickstarter through March 19th, 11:59 pm
SC: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1799572177/anew-the-distant-light. Our official website is:www.anewthegame.com. We are also on Facebook and Twitter at @anewthegame.
Do you have anything else to add?
SC: Please check out our Kickstarter! If you like games with action and exploration, mystery, and a high skill cap, you’ll find a lot to like about Anew: The Distant Light. We’re making a game that will scratch the itch for Metroidvania fans, while also bringing some fresh gameplay to the genre with giant mechs and other vehicles that you can pilot, an upgradable home ship, and exotic environments that play quite differently from each other.
Lastly, I would like to thank both Steve and Jeff for agreeing to answer my questions and to wish them the best of luck with Anew: The Distant Light. I would highly recommend that any gamer who may be looking for an upcoming Metroidvania title check out their Kickstarter page, and back the project. Looking at the early footage of it, I myself am extremely excited for the game’s release, and cannot wait to play the finished game.