For the most part, RPGs are set either in some alternate version of modern reality or some kind of completely fictional world. But what if an indie RPG was set just two decades ago and revolved around that fact , and was combined with a certain technological based apocalyptic fear of the time? This is where YIIK: A Postmodern RPG comes in. I talked to creator Andrew Allanson about game inspirations, gameplay elements, and more to further understand what makes Ackk Studios‘ surreal adventure so special.
IndieHangover: What inspired you to set this game in 1999 around the Y2K phenomenon, and what made you decide to use the roman numeral in your title?
Andrew Allanson: The late 90s was an interesting era for technology. Everything was new and felt mysterious. Especially to me as a child. I had an understanding of computers because my father worked with computers for his art, and I learned how to build them from watching him. But there was something so compelling about all the quick advances happening then. Especially the internet. Now, we’re all so connected to the internet it’s as part of our culture as the post office – honestly even more so. Back then it took some knowledge to create a web page. So, we tended to believe what we saw online. Back then there were a lot of stories that were obviously bull looking back, but back then it was easy to believe… especially if you wanted. Houses that ate people, ghost stories, etc. So, I wanted to set a game in a world where the internet was a mysterious force. Something you had to take the time out to use. Unplug your phone, plug in your router, and wait for pages to load.
The Y2K panic was interesting because as a child it was something I feared. My grandmother believed it and she was convinced we’d all die. I thought this made for an interesting back drop. Everyone is worried about the world ending, and the hero of the story is worried about finding a girl he barely knows.
As for the roman numerals we wanted to maintain that RPG feel of things being epic, and we felt that the roman numeral 2 had more of an impact.
IH: At first the story seems relatively typical, but continues to get more interesting as it goes on. What other stories, whether from games or other media, did you use as examples to make the story more engaging?
AA: The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Marukami was a big influence. So was Inherent Vice. They are both stories that are in some ways dream like and at first glance could be mistaken as stream of consciousness, but as you get into them you realize that’s really part of the setup. With YIIK, I wanted the game really feel like it was moving along. At places I felt I would stop and save for the day I would try and put new plot points so the player would have a reason to return.
IH: YIIK has several notable voice actors such as Chris Niosi (Haruo in the Godzilla anime trilogy) and Clifford Chapin (Bakugo in My Hero Academia), was there a specific process for choosing the voice of each voiced character and what was it like?
AA: Brittany Lauda was the games casting director and voice over director. She helped us find an amazing cast, and presented Chris and Cliff to us early on for Alex and Michael. Basically we put out a casting call and she sent it to great actors who all read a few lines. The team picked their favorites, Brittany picked hers, and where the overlap was most apparent we narrowed it down there.
IH: YIIK’s heavily stylized art style helps it stand out, and for some it seems it’s what got them interested in learning more about it in the first place. What were some of the main inspirations for the art style?
AA: Mega Man Legends, David Oreilys early work in 3D animation, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and early PS2 games. We wanted something that felt a bit like how you would remember an Nintendo 64 game looking without the technical limitations. We also needed a style we could create quickly because the games artist was also the programmer, and he’d be switching between roles frequently. So he created a style he could work in quickly that had charm. He also models in photo realistic styles, so it’s funny to see him do this type of outsider art.
IH: Most character attacks involve some kind of minigame, with some inspired by specific retro games. Are there some that you can tell us about that didn’t make it into the final game, and which of the ones that did is your favorite?
AA: Yeah, I had a few ideas that didn’t make it in, but I won’t say them because I’ll probably use them in the future for something else. My favorite is Claudio’s Bushido!
AA: When designing the mini games for combat we tried to find a way to emulate what its like performing this action in real life. With Vella’s Bass Drop move we wanted her to pick up the bass amp and throw it. Super Mario 2 always had the best picking up animations so it felt satisfying to toss objects. So we emulated this to get that feeling across.With Feedback its the idea of a circuit looping back in on itself which made me think of Pong.The biggest issue was trying to keep each mini game short but having at least a bit of depth…. its hard with this sort of maximalist style of game design where you have so many systems! I hope we struck an okay balance.
AA: It mainly came from games I really liked. Wild Arms and Lufia 2 had these really cool Zelda style dungeons and I wondered why more RPGs didn’t do that instead of the traditional maze Final Fantasy style dungeon. And as I was thinking of ways to make battles more engaging, I remembered Shadow Hearts so I looked at that game and started building on those systems.
IH: The level up system is relatively unique, with characters always only needing 100 XP to level up, what made you choose to do this rather than a more traditional system?
AA: When you learn something it’s through repetition, but also through a better understanding of it in your mind. Especially music, or art, or programming. So, we wanted the leveling system to reflect that growth. Plus it was a way to tie leveling up into the narrative.
IH: What games were you inspired by for the music?
AA: Paper Mario, Katamari, Lufia 2, Wild Arms, (and musical artists) Django Reinaert, Ciba Mato, Cib Ribon, and Maurice Ravel.
IH: You’ve mentioned before that you’d like to add accessibility options, what would these include?
AA: We’ve included an option so that the player can always slow down mini games regardless of how much time energy they have. This goes for every ability. This is so players with slower reaction times due to disability or age can still enjoy the game without the difficulty. You can even do it with Bushido and easily nail high combos!
IH: Can we expect to see YIIK on Xbox One in the future and is a Vita release still planned?
AA: I’d like to see it on Xbox One! Hopefully we can get that sorted out. And yes, Vita is still being developed!
Our thanks to Andrew for taking the time to answer our questions. Check out our Review of YIIK if you’d like to know what we thought of the game!