A brief interview with PentagonBuddy and emmych, creators of Free Spirits

An interview with PentagonBuddy and emmych, creators of Free Spirits

The latest victims of my notoriously sporadic interview series are PentagonBuddy and emmych, creators of Free Spirits and winners of the 2015 IGMC RPG Maker Engine Award.

Start off by telling us a little about yourself!

PentagonBuddy: I’m just some nerd who loves history and rpgs. And a lot of other things, I guess. I’ve been a member of RMN for about 4 years now, holy cow! That’s no time at all in the grand scheme of things, but still.

emmych: Basically the same over on this end, only the Canadian version. Also I have a cat! His name is Binx. He is super old and he hung out with me a lot while I was inputting text commands.

Free Spirits was the winner of the RPG Maker Engine Award for IGMC 2015! How does it feel?

PentagonBuddy: MAKES ME WANT TO PUKE. Sometimes in a good way! Free Spirits went a lot farther than either of us expected, so the sudden attention has been a surprise. I’ve been very thankful, but also a little melty under some of the spotlight, ah-hahaha

emmych: SAME THO although I’ve had the distractions of college and work to keep my mind off Sudden Spotlight and what not! The fact that people have seemed so sincerely touched by our game has been really humbling, so I continue to say thanks for that.

What made you want to put together Free Spirits? Were there any inspirations or influences?

emmych: Funny you should ask that! Free Spirits is actually based on a tabletop gaming campaign that Penta runs for me and a couple of other pals. Most of the characters were pulled from there, albeit slightly altered for the purposes of this game.

PentagonBuddy: Which means we took a cannon to the canon, honestly.

It’s hard to quantify what inspired the game! Much of the thematic content, like the value in chosen families/relationships, and some of the perspectives on gender, all come from our personal lives.

As far as fictional inspiration goes, we often make jokes to each other about ripping Phoenix Wright off. It’s at least a little accurate, let’s be real… It was my goal to have each character be memorable and lively! The way many of the character conflicts and ghost encounters progress from some surface-level idea to something a bit more personal or existential was inspired by several court cases.

Special shout out to Craze’s Wine & Roses on RMN, too. Em and I both love AP-style systems in games, where there’s a lot of flexibility in turn order and the actions each character can take in battle. It’s one of the games that inspired us!

My involvement in Free Spirits was also kind of sudden and unexpected. Em had made some notes for a potential RPG based on some things from our gaming campaign, and when the IGMC started I was throwing around ideas for games to work on with a couple friends. Em and I got to talking about that idea for an RPG based on gaming stuff, and then we got the ball rolling.

emmych: And I’m really glad we did partner up, since while the idea I had was cute, it didn’t really have anything that stood out apart from the aesthetic. It was about Lana and Kozmin teaming up to go de-haunt a spooky house that Jason Delaney -- Beautiful Piano Man -- wanted to buy. Although it did feature Lana carrying around a portable oven that magically made cupcakes in a matter of seconds, so that was pretty cute.

The mechanics and non-violent, conversation-based 'combat' in Free Spirits is unique among most RPGs. How did you come up with it? Were there any challenges?

emmych: Penta and I often holler about those dang kids and their violent vidya games, so we knew pretty quickly we wanted to go for something that focused on non-violence. We set to brainstorming to figure out how exactly to do that, which was… a process? I remember the moment we determined we only needed one stat for the game -- some form of hit points -- and were simultaneously hit with a “WOAH” since woah, single stat RPG.

At the end of it all, we got something closer to a visual novel than an RPG in ways, but I am really excited for how we play with that for future releases.

PentagonBuddy: It’s true, I’ve become the most stereotypical Concerned Parent type about the vidya games. The biggest challenge for me has always been figuring out which details about characters to include. Because Free Spirits was based on existing characters/settings, it’s hard not to totally overload people with information. We both get so excited about every little detail! But you can’t actually put all of them in OTL

emmych: *rustles papers full of Kozmin’s military history*

PentagonBuddy: Another note is that, at the end of the day, a lot of the “combat” is some basic ideas behind RPG combat under different names. “Attack” becomes “Talk”, Lana and Kozmin have distinct party roles (white mage and damage-reduction), and things like “sad” or “nostalgia” are poison and regen in practice, to name a few examples.

The OTHER biggest challenge was (and still is) managing the game’s tone. We both want to make silly jokes 24/7, but there’s a time and place, y’know? And with the “serious” side of things, we tried to avoid coming across as melodramatic… It’s a tough balancing act!

emmych: Thank goodness for game pages and tumblrs where we can meme until the pigeons come home to roost, I say.

What inspired the setting and art style?

PentagoBuddy: For setting, 1920s New York! Prohibition-era speakeasies, cats, vaudeville, buddy-cop films, Ghostbusters… I’ll let Em talk about the setting side. I did most of the art, and the black and white decision was a result of wanting something that looked “old timey” to match the historical theme. Of course, silent films were a big visual inspiration. The monochrome style and use of line for shading in portraits comes from Hotel Dusk.

The selective use of color has gameplay/thematic purposes, but it’s also inspired by pathécolor, an old film-tinting process used in the early 20th century. Sin City was another inspiration on that front, too.

I can’t leave out art deco! It shows up here and there in miscellaneous graphics, like the title screen and images for each chapter. I’ve always loved the style and it’s a super fun approach to drawing. The in-game menu is a family tree inspired by Alphonse Mucha! It’s such a small thing, but I spent so much time looking at his trees to get the look right…


Style and setting wise, a lot of the same influences came into play, particularly old movies! I love that old movie aesthetic, and the way folks talk and act is certainly influenced by that. Although Kozmin’s idiom muck ups are a direct result of Penta saying goofy things and me writing them down.

PentagonBuddy: yeah...some Kozmin dialogue is a direct copy/paste from me… Words are hard OTL

Did you learn anything while making Free Spirits?

emmych: The input text command is the worst thing on this earth, and also you will never have planned things out enough before you get to actually making a thing. But in good things: I learned I’m really into sound design! I will probably do some cooler stuff for future releases of Free Spirits now that I have the time to explore that further.

PentagonBuddy: Don’t have the tutorial be the first thing you work on. The first impression counts for a lot, and there will be massive differences in your workflow and approach to development at the end of a project vs. the start.

What inspired you to want to get into game design?

PentagonBuddy: I hate video games! No, really. In many of the games I play, I find myself thinking “I almost like this, but there’s some things I don’t like”, so I took to figuring out what I did like vs. what I didn’t, and what a game made to my personal tastes might look like. Making video games is one of the many formats I can use to ~express myself~, and there’s a lot of neato things about player choice and interactivity that attract me to game design, specifically.

emmych: For the third time I will say, “same.” Personally I am super attracted to mediums that involve both visuals and a narrative, since I like telling stories, but am a very visual thinker! You’d think this would lead me to get into comics, but YEAH the interactivity piece is neat and I dig it.

Are there any other projects you're working on?

emmych: I have this other RPG (DATING/FRIENDSHIP SIM? lmao), Origin, that I’ve been plonking away at for 5ish years and that will probably remain in development hell while I figure out how to make THAT mess happen, since wow have my tastes ever changed since that was first conceived. And theeeen I’m poking at another game that will also feature talking mechanics with a little punching, since it’s supposed to feel like a 90s shonen anime. Both are very colourful and goofy, which is my fav style.

PentagonBuddy: I’m working on a game with TDS, the amazing ruby codeman who provided the Battle UI + some miscellaneous code for Free Spirits. He’s a great pal and hopefully soon we’ll get a game page for it up on RMN! My precious baby is Demon Slayer, a game all about punching demons and flexing muscles, coming from a developer who advocates more non-violent games. It keeps getting sidelined while I work on other projects, but I’m still working on it in bits and pieces when I have the time.

Are there any games on RMN you like or recommend?

emmych: Aw, jeez, I’m blanking. Um, um, I do love a good Crazegame, and basically anything Ronove releases makes me smile. Star Stealing Prince is probably the only RM game that I’ve gone back and played more than once!

PentagonBuddy: I’ve been looking forward to the full release of Luxaren Allure! There’s a lot of unexpected games I think about sometimes. One of my favorite things about RMN (and most indie development really) is finding things like Baby Jesus Christ RPG and Hypnotherapy Trainer. I never cease to be amazed about how creative people are.

emmych: Yes…..

Any advice for other game developers out there?

PentagonBuddy: Think about your design choices! All of them. Every last one. No, really. You don’t even have to OVERanalyze them, but there’s a lot that makes it into something simply “just because”. Some people have probably seen me say this in the context of discussing matters like race or sexuality, and while I do think it’s worth asking why a character is a particular race, or gender, or sexual orientation, etc…. I actually apply this kind of thinking to everything! It’s an exercise in trying to think outside the box and maybe come up with something that feels fresh.

Besides that, taking a moment to ask “why is this in my game?” helps cut down unnecessary mechanics that can bog things down. I’m from a very minimalist school of thought for game design, so I advocate for using only a few mechanics but making them work together! It helps create a nice harmony when everything feels like it fits.

emmych: No guesses as to my answer here: SAME~ I also urge folks not to worry too much about if their game will be popular or not when making decisions about it! This was something I worried about when Penta and I were discussing how trans characters’ genders would be presented. At the end of the day, we decided we were gonna make this game about trans folk with an audience of trans folks in mind, and that if people outside that audience liked it, that was icing on the cake. I was prepared for this game to get very little attention because of this, but sure enough, people seemed to like it. So that is definitely a point in favour of “make a thing you would like to see, other people probably want to see it, too.”

Any other comments?

emmych: One time I heard animals fighting outside my window, so I took a broom and went outside and made a lot of noise and saved a raccoon’s life.

PentagonBuddy: I eat an egg sandwich almost every day.


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Egg sandwiches are what I tell people when they ask how I lost weight.

This was a very fun interview to read, really liked the dual interviewee aspect.
You're magical to me.
This was a really interesting read, and made me think about some of my priorities as a developer ^_^

And a huge thanks for mentioning my game as well, Penta :DDDDDDDDDDDD
It's only acceptable to put egg on a sandwich if there is also bacon on the sandwich.
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