Among the reviews I’d written, this was one for a newly released game on Steam entitled Ato; a beautifully crafted 8-BIT Metroidvania game with a lush open world to explore and a wonderfully varied combat system. But eager to learn more about the developmental cycle of this game, as well as the numerous challenges that came with it, I reached out to the game’s lead designer Brandon Song of Tiny Warrior Games to ask for his insight to what exactly went into Ato and where the developers may be going from this point concerning future games. Here’s what Brandon had to say:
Where does your passion for Japanese culture stem from that went into developing Ato?
What I appreciate about Japanese/Eastern art is the emphasis on nature and simplicity. I took inspiration from Korean, Chinese, and Southeast Asian designs as well.
What were the most challenging aspects of developing the game?
Developing it solo, there are a lot of tasks that I’m not good at and had to make up my own solutions to coding/technical problems. There’s also the aspect of just mental health and it can be hard to be motivated to work on a project for a long time, especially when there isn’t much reception to be had. Financially has also been a struggle because I’m basically giving up having a career and living off of savings just to make something I love.
How well has the game been received so far?
I think people like it.
What was your favorite boss fight from the game?
The Second Boss, Jin. He was the very first enemy to be created as a test. While he is one of the easier fights, I enjoy the fact that he’s a very honest opponent, covers his bases well, and gives you plenty of approach options.
What is your favorite location within Ato’s world?
Were there very many other ideas that were considered for inclusion in Ato but never made it into the final game?
Yes, a lot, but it’s hard for me to remember. The story was going to go in a bunch of different directions and there were a handful of enemy and upgrade ideas that never got made (or were just plain bad). The game was supposed to be a small game jam game but kept growing.
What Metroidvania titles are among the development team’s favorites that impacted the development of Ato?
Metroid Fusion, Super Metroid, Hollow Knight. I would also say Shadow of the Colossus.
How important has the game’s fan community been throughout its development?
While the community I have is very, very small compared to others with millions of users. They have been very helpful with finding issues, mostly because they have helped stream and record their gameplay vs just writing feedback essays saying something is bad and it’s unclear why.
If a sequel to Ato were ever developed, what new gameplay aspects would you think of introducing?
I don’t know
What’s next for Tiny Warrior Games?
Probably a medieval fantasy action platforming RPG? I feel a bit concerned because my next idea is kind of ambitious, and it probably won’t click with the people that like Ato. Also frankly I’m burnt out and keep having nightmares.
Are you looking to bring Ato to multiple platforms outside of Steam?
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
When it comes to interviews that I’ve seen online, a lot of the time they come off like they had it all figured out, life just worked out perfectly for them and success just fell on their lap. While I think some of these might be the case, usually what they neglect to talk about is emotional/mental struggle and motivation problems. At least for me, making this game was not smooth sailing and daily I had very little motivation to keep working on it. What I can say to you (the aspiring developer/artist) is that it’s normal to have bad days where you don’t like what you’re creating. But I want to tell you that you don’t need to work hard 12-16+ hours a day to make a game. The key to finishing a long term project is consistency, work daily but on those really crappy days, give yourself an extremely easy to surmount goal, and when you complete it, you can choose to keep going or not, but what matters is if you had to choose between progress vs no progress, I think this answers itself. At least…this has worked for me and often I end up continuing to work after accomplishing my really basic goal.
Do you have anything else to add?
I feel like there’s a lot of luck in this industry, both with reception, review scores, fandoms, awards, and so on. I don’t really think I can give advice when it comes to this sort of thing because I don’t have it figured out. I just want to say that there’s only so much you can do when it comes to success of this kind. Because I obviously am not as successful as _(name of famous/successful developer)_ and clearly am not making enough to live off of to keep making games. The only real advice I can leave here is that it’s very hard to tell if an idea is fun or not until it’s actually in front of you. Often, the idea has to be fully fleshed out and in a near-final state in order to get a proper opinion which can take a lot of work and energy. So I know that if there’s the stuff that isn’t quite as fun as some other stuff in Ato, an idea in your head doesn’t always turn out to be fun. I feel I should probably stop because I have plenty to say regarding advice but feel people just want the quick instant-gratification answers to their problems so I’ll just leave it here.
I’d like to thank Brandon for taking the time to discuss Ato and for sharing his unique insight into the developmental process of his exceptional Metroidvania title. You can follow Tiny Warrior Games via their Twitter page and their main website via the links below:
If anyone reading would also like to experience this game for themselves (Which I whole-heartedly recommend), it’s currently available on Steam:
I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish Brandon and Tiny Warrior Games the best of luck with Ato, as well as with future games. Though it’s unclear whether there may or may not be a sequel to Ato, it is, in my opinion, a game that is well-deserved of a sequel, but regardless it’ll be interesting to see what Brandon’s possible upcoming RPG has to offer and I wish him all the best of luck with it.
Scouse Gamer 88