Interview: Pablo Coma on His New Indie Title Lost Spirits of Kael

May 3, 2013

If you read my news from a few days ago, you’ll know generally what Lost Spirits of Kael is about. It comes from composer-turned-game-developer Pablo Coma and his new studio Rablo Games. Touting a very distinct atmosphere and player immersion goal (that of digging yourself out of being completely lost and not knowing in which direction to go), as well as some action RPG leanings and ways you can develop the tools your character gets to use along the way, it promises to be quite the memorable experience.

I got the chance to ask Mr. Coma about the development process, what guided the game in the direction it is going, how  you develop your characters (RPG style) and the distinct visual style presented in this mysterious forest that you progress through.

Chad: It was mentioned in the press materials that Lost Spirits of Kael is a very atmospheric game with an emphasis on the themes of loneliness and finding one’s way into the unknown. What was the inspiration for these themes and the direction you’re taking with the game?

Pablo Coma : As funny as it may sound, Lost Spirits of Kael was born from music. The songs featured in the trailer were composed before I did even think about making a game. At that time I was considering myself just as a composer. As there were not so many games out there that really match what I like to compose, one day I decided to create the game myself, tailored to my music. I took my inspiration in a trip to Ireland that I made just one month before starting development. I really liked this country, its legends, its forests, the Celtic crosses in graveyards, the sound of the Celtic harp…

Now to talk more precisely about Lost Spirits of Kael‘s gameplay, I consider Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus as being my main inspiration sources in the video game area.

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Dark Souls is clearly my favourite game these last years. Its strict gameplay is a genius stroke. When I played it the first time, I killed the Pyromancer while trying to free him, and was unable to learn any pyromancy spell for the whole game! And you couldn’t even load your game to cancel this action. That’s awesome! This creates a real tension while playing, and I want this tension in my game. I’m also a big fan of the timing-based combat approach of Dark Souls, so I tried to implement it in Lost Spirits of Kael, while mixing it with 2D goodness, such as jumping attacks.

The second game that has been a great inspiration source for creating Lost Spirits of Kael is Shadow of the Colossus. The unique atmosphere of this game reaches something that I do not hesitate to call poetry, and it does it just with gameplay and very few words. In my opinion that’s what video games are about. Gameplay should be video games’s poetry, and these two games are doing it quite well. Lost Spirits of Kael is my humble attempt to follow these steps.

C: A game’s music adds a lot to its overall tone and atmosphere. How did you approach creating the soundtrack of the game to make sure it matched the themes you are trying to portray?

PC: As Lost Spirits of Kael‘s music predated the conception of the game, the mysterious tone was already set. When development started, I adjusted a few things to make it match the game. The harp had to play an important role for reasons that you know if you watched the trailer (it’s my favourite instrument). I decided to emphasize the feeling of loneliness through the game by using solo instruments. So there will be harp solos, piano solos, but also a few tunes with little ensembles. Nothing epic, of course.

To get back to Dark Souls, its composer, Motoi Sakuraba, did an awesome piano solo piece for the game’s final boss theme. That was gorgeous and how unpredictable! Harp is also featured in the “Firelink Shrine” theme, as well as in Shunsuke Kida’s “Maiden in Black” from the Demon’s Souls OST. I often hit the loop button while listening to these tracks as I work on my game. So this is another point on which this game has influence on me. But you may want to know that I’m planning to make music more present in Lost Spirits of Kael than it is in Dark Souls.

C: The game takes place entirely within the Forest of Kael. How did you approach the visual aspect of the game? Does the game provide a change in scenery even though it takes place entirely within this forest?

PC: Something I really like is to work on color ambiances. When you learn to colorize at school, people ask you to make the trees brown. But they could tend to be purple, blue, or green. I also tried to give a kind of surrealistic tone to the art by working without any stroke. I work directly with colors, in a style that could be described as “painted sketch”. This results in the border of every element being somewhat murky, which is done on purpose of course. Why should video games be realistic, anyway?

When playing Ico, I really enjoyed the fact that the whole game consisted of exiting in just one place, and I wanted to make something close to this idea. However, I also wanted to have variety in environments, so while “normal” forest backgrounds will predominate, you will have to wander in places such as undergrounds, swamps, graveyards and snowy forest [areas], to name just those who appears in the trailer. There are more, but I’d like to keep the surprise on this point.

C: I’m a huge fan of RPG, more so than any other genre, so I have to ask this question. I realize it is still relatively early in development, but can you tell us a bit about how character progression works in the game?

PC: In Lost Spirits of Kael, your character himself will not gain experience and levels, but when he defeats a boss, he acquires his soul. You can then choose to equip or unequip this soul. While equipped, you gain a new ability and the soul gains experience when beating monsters, thus becoming stronger. But be very careful, as they also have HP. This means that if you die a few times while a soul is equipped, it could be destroyed definitely. If you lose many souls this way, you’re going to have a hard time finishing the game… So players will need to be careful, that’s for sure.

You may also be able to put your hands on a few weapons, but you’ll need to find most of them in secret areas.

C: Crowdfunding has been gaining in popularity recently. You’re coming at this from an interesting angle by selling the game’s OST to raise funds and create awareness. This introduces an interesting dynamic that most other crowdfunded titles don’t provide – the person “donating” gets something tangible up front in the form of audio files that they can enjoy. Why did you decide to go this route and is there the possibility that you’ll aim for more traditional crowdfunding in the future (for example, via Kickstarter)?

PC: While Kickstarter is the main way to go, I wanted to try something new. I am not comfortable with people giving me money without getting something back immediately. Many things can happen to stop someone from finishing a game. Imagine, I get kickstarted, then I die… Thousands of people will have paid for something they will never receive, so I will be unable to rest in peace.

More seriously, the “OST-funding” system is less radical, but is not limited in time. It also allows people to enjoy the music and to give feedback. This last point alone justifies my approach. I received very positive feedback on the music and I think people want me to continue the soundtrack in the same style that I began it.

Nevertheless, I could aim for a more traditional crowdfunding approach if I really need the money, which could happen. I still don’t have a programmer working with me for now, and if I don’t find someone skilled enough to collaborate with, I may have to ask a programming company, which will be very expensive.

C: You’re aiming for a 2014 release on PC. Will you be exploring other platforms and distribution methods in the future, such as Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Network? Possibly even mobile iterations for iOS and Android devices?

PC: I’d love to release Lost Spirits of Kael on Mac, XBLA and PSN if I could. Ouya also seems interesting. But this will depend on the programmer, and the post is vacant for now, so I really can’t tell.

And as far as mobile platforms are concerned, it is a little bit more tricky. Lost Spirits of Kael needs many buttons to be played, which is not adapted at all to the touch devices. So I’m afraid the game will not be available on such platforms. At least not in its current form.

C: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about Lost Spirits of Kael?

PC: Sure! I’d like to talk a little bit about how labyrinthine the game will be. The entire game is designed to make the player feel completely lost. I wanted to do the opposite of games where locating oneself is made too easy with auto-maps and such things. If you ever wandered in the Lost Woods of Zelda III, you’ve got a basic idea of what is going to happen in the Forest of Kael.

But here I’ll give you a few tools to help you finding your way:You have the ability to mark your way in the forest. As you don’t have paint, you’ll have to use your blood, making you lose a few HP when using this ability. So use it carefully.

Secondly, as the view of the game is more horizontal than in most action-RPGs, you can see where you will go in the background before actually walking to it. Look carefully around you and try to remember the places you already went, because nobody will come to rescue you… You will be all alone.

So… How lost will you get ? Just “open your eyes” and everything could be fine.

C: I’d like to thank Mr. Coma for taking the time to answer our questions, and we wish him the best of luck with the development of Lost Spirits of Kael!

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Chad Awkerman

Chad joined the DualShockers staff in mid 2009 and since then has put much of his time into covering RPGs, with a focus on the Japanese side of the genre, from the obscure to the mainstream. He's a huge fan of iconic games like Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI and Persona 4 yet enjoys the smaller niche titles, as well. In his spare time he enjoys experiencing new beer, new foods and keeping up with just about every sci-fi show on television. He's married to an intelligent, beautiful Southern Belle who keeps his life interesting with witty banter and spicy Cajun cooking.

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