The original Game Boy is a staple of how many video game fans and developers started to grow their appreciation for video games. Video games have come a long way since then, but many more recent games are still heavily inspired by this nostalgia filled handheld platform of yesteryear. The recently released indie platformer, Save me Mr Tako: Tasukete Tako-San, is no exception. I talked to Save me Mr Tako creator Christrophe Galati to learn about his inspirations, design choices, and development difficulties.
IndieHangover: So we know that Mr Tako was inspired by old Game Boy games, but are there any specific games it was inspired by and if so, what are they?
Christope Galati: When designing the game, I tried to take elements from the Game Boy games that I loved to play growing up, but mix them up to put my own spin on things. My main inspirations were Kirby Dream Land II, Zelda Link’s Awakening, Metroid II, Castlevania, Final Fantasy Legends (Mystic Quest), Survival Kids, Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru and others. Wow, listing all of the inspirations and references takes a long time, ahah! I was also inspired by JRPGs like Final Fantasy VI.
IH: So I noticed there was no true palette which emulates what Mr Tako would have looked like if released on Game Boy Color. Is this a stylistic choice or was it difficult to decide on different colors for everything?
CG: It was definitely a stylistic choice. When I started the development of the game, it was the year of Game Boy’s 25th anniversary, so I wanted to make a tribute to the first Game Boy (even though I grew up playing the Game Boy Color). We implemented the color palette option very early on to allow players to change the colors on the go, and also added the background options to make it feel like the Super Game Boy
IH: What made you decide to have a hat wearing octopus with ink that temporarily freezes enemies, as your main character?
CG: I’m not a long time octopus fan, but when I ate takoyaki (fried octopus) for the first time, I had a vision of an octopus character with a sword, fighting for peace and tolerance. The idea stuck with me, and with Game Boy’s 25th anniversary going on, it felt like the right time for me to begin designing Mr Tako. I started with a small prototype as I was still a student at the time, a side scrolling runner. I had just finished playing Metroid II again, which is what inspired the ink attack. In the prototype, the levels were semi-randomly generated and you also get a random power at the beginning. I prototyped many different powers, but in the main story mode I started later, it didn’t make sense for the powers to be random anymore… but I kept the large number of hats!
IH: So without using hats which increase the amount of hits Mr. Tako can take, he loses a life after getting hit once. What made you decide to have a health system like this rather than hearts or some kind of bar?
CG: The life/hit system was inspired by Super Mario Land II, where a hit makes you lose your power, and a second hit kills you. But, you can collect coins (gems in Tako) to earn more lives. I wanted to have the kind of feeling where every life counts. There is a save system, so getting a game over isn’t a huge punishment. I didn’t intend for the game to be overly hardcore, which is why I’m working on a patch to remove some of the more frustrating deaths that players are experiencing. I’m also planning to make other bug fixes and add other features like a true Easy Mode that gives more hearts to players who want to focus on the story.
IH: Most platformers don’t have much of a story, is this one of the reasons why you decided that Mr Tako should and what else helped influence this decision?
CG: I’m a JRPG player and a big fan of that genre. I started to make games using RPG Maker when I was 12 years old and I would always try to create worlds and universes where I can tell stories and share messages that are important to me. From the very beginning, I wanted Mr Tako to be themed around tolerance. And if it wasn’t for the story and the desire to share these viewpoints, I don’t think I would have had the motivation to work on the game for the four years that I did. It was also a challenge to tell a deep story using such drastic graphic limitations, but it was a good exercise and a great experience for me as a designer.
IH: What inspired your decision to have levels with another playable character ?
CG: That element also came from the JRPG inspiration. I was inspired a lot by Final Fantasy VI, where sometimes the cast splits into several groups and you get to play as all the characters. I wanted every character in the game to have a background and play a big role in the plot. So, getting a chance to play as them helps to get the player invested and learn more about each of the character’s motivations in the game.
IH: What was the most difficult part of development?
CG: The most difficult part for me was probably how to stay motivated for such a long time. I worked on the project during my free time for three years before leaving my day job to focus on the game full time. It started as a way for me to relax, express myself and work on a game I liked (unlike my job where I was making ad-games), but it started to take over all of my nights and weekends. The end of the development cycle was difficult too, when you think everything is done and then you go through play testing, debugging and the porting process… it can take almost as much time as it took to make the game! After working on a game for years, you get too used to it and there are many details you might not see anymore. So, it’s good to have others play it and find things you may have overlooked or things that could be added to improve the overall experience.
IH: What is some advice that you have for aspiring indie developers that you wish someone had told you while you were developing the game
CG: While working on Mr. Tako, I got involved with the indie community and I received many valuable pieces of advice from them. The development went fine for me and I was able to do everything I planned, but I had to make a lot of sacrifices along the way. The best advice I could give to new developers is to do lots of planning, and don’t forget to schedule time for themselves to take breaks and relax a bit! Knowing the scale of the project is extremely important and making “to do” lists and setting milestones are also very helpful.
Attending game events is really useful for that too, and worked well for me when it came to setting deadlines and hitting my milestones. Going to Stunfest, PAX, BitSummit, Tokyo Game Show or even the smallest events allow you to meet other developers who may give you help or offer good advice. Events also allow you to talk to attendees and receive direct feedback from players. Also, don’t be afraid of promoting your game! Think about what makes your game special and start communicating as soon as possible to begin building your community. Be you, express yourself and make games you love… it’s the freedom and privilege we have as indie developers.