Irish folklore — full as it is with stories of ghosts, monsters and other supernatural phenomena — has always struck me as what could be the perfect source of inspiration for a really cool and unique game. Indie studio Joint Custody obviously agree, because they’re currently hard at work onScéal, a narrative-driven adventure game that’s steeped in Celtic mythology and magic. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Joint Custody’s Tomas Pelak in order to find out more about his company’shugely intriguing debut project. Here’s what he had to say…
First of all, thanks for taking the time out of your undoubtedly busy schedule to speak with me. Let’s begin by finding out a little more about you guys. Who exactly are Joint Custody and what would you say is your company’s “mission statement”?
We’re a really small game development studio working on our first game called Scéal. Our goal is to create high quality story-driven mobile and PC titles — a rarity in the mobile market.
How long has Scéal been in development and when are we likely to see it arrive on iOS and other platforms?
We’ve been developing Scéal for a year and a half now. We recently decided to push the game’s launch date back to later in 2016 for both iOS and Steam to allow us to really polish the game.
Without giving too much away, what can you say about Scéal‘s mystery-laden story (and how it shapes and impacts the gameplay)?
Scéal is a supernatural tragedy that deals with very real issues such as abandonment and loss. At the heart of the story is a little spirit girl who is destined to live the same day over and over again until she can unlock the mysteries of her past and remember how she died. If you were the girl, would you want to relive all that again? That’s what players will ask themselves. Without giving too much away, your ending reflects this and other choices you make throughout your journey.
Scéal looks incredible in the trailer and gifs that have been released so far — like a watercolor painting or a particularly gorgeous pop-up book come to life. Did you guys draw inspiration from any particular artists or art movements for the game’s visual aesthetic and feel?
Thanks! We’ve actually released a second trailer which you can watch here.
Much of the artistic inspiration was taken from the game Limbo, as well as a number of children’s books. Both have a sense of organic, natural beauty. We put a spin on these ideas by setting the game in Carlingford, a small town in Ireland where the game’s designer Sandro Magliocco grew up in. Sandro talks about much of his inspiration in the first of our featurettes we’re releasing, which you can watch here.
The soundtrack for Scéal (which can be sampled here) is being worked on by an impressive array of talent, including renowned Irish folk singers Lorcan Mac Mathuna and Aislinn Duffy. Does their music play a big part in the game?
Very much so — their music is the soul of Scéal. As with other games that have a strong musical emphasis, like Ōkami, the music here is as much a part of the storytelling as the words on screen. In Scéal the music reflects the emotional state of the main character at that time, which can be either positive, negative or neutral — so we’re telling numerous stories in a heartbeat with our music alone.
Scéal is beingplanned as a premium release. Sadly, given the current state of mobile gaming, this is a pretty ballsy move for an indie studio. Did you feel under any pressure at all to go the free-to-play route, or would that not have been feasible due to the sort of game that Scéal is?
Scéal is an entirely premium game. It’s no secret that the mobile gaming market’s most financially successful games are free to play, but how many of those will we remember in the coming years? We wanted to create something in Scéal that people would engage with emotionally and remember. This is why we have put so much thought into the story, the artwork style and the music.
On Steam we’re adopting the same premium model. As it stands, the Steam market is littered with sub-par mobile ports that do more harm than good because developers think they’re able to maximise their investment by porting to Steam. Guess what? — it’s a different environment, and unless you’re investing time into your new community and updating your game to ensure you’re giving users the best experience possible — a different experience to what your mobile version offers — your game will be another fledgling F2P that receives mediocre reviews.
Okay, let’s wrap up with a question we always like to ask successful (or soon-to-be successful) indie developers. What advice do you have for up-and-comers looking to break into the mobile games scene?
It all boils down to one thing — quality. You can have all the money in the world to spend on advertising (or no money) but quality ultimately shines through. Quality generates word of mouth and positive responses from Apple and the media. Remember, Apple sells hardware. They look to promote and support games that help them showcase their devices and sell more of them. Also, far too many developers make ‘me too’ games and don’t consider how their game is going to stand out against the millions out there. This isn’t to say that all quality games make a lot of money, but quality gives you the best chance of success. It may sound obvious but the amount of crap out there tells us otherwise.
Thanks a million for providing such well-thought out and interesting answers to all my questions, Tomas. You’ve succeeded in making me even more excited about Scéal… which I didn’t think was possible!