Dr. David’s Indie Spotlight: Robit Studios talks Treasure Adventure World

Back in 2011, developer Robit Studios released a charming 2D action-adventure title called Treasure Adventure Game. We loved the game so much that it took the number four spot on our top 10 list of indie games that year. Now, though, Treasure Adventure Game creator Stephen Orlando is looking to expand his ambitious debut project into something even greater. Treasure Adventure World takes the formula set forth by its predecessor and evolves it in several ways. This isn't just an enhanced remake — it's a fresh new endeavor that's being developed from the ground up.

In addition to sharing his thoughts here on GameZone in this special interview, Stephen is also currently showing off Treasure Adventure World this weekend at MineCon, which is going on now. If you're at the show, be sure to check it out, as this is truly an indie game to be excited about.

Stephen Orlando - Robit Studios

GameZone: First off, this isn't just a remake of Treasure Adventure Game with a new coat of paint on it. A number of additions are being implemented to create a wholly fresh experience. Can you explain exactly what those changes are, both as far as presentation and content are concerned?

Stephen Orlando: My goal for the remake isn’t to just update the graphics and push out the same exact experience. But I also do not want to fundamentally change the atmosphere of the game, either. I’m trying to strike the right balance. I have some definite additions I want to include. A new island/dungeon is going to be the biggest change.

Most of the game’s changes and improvements are happening very organically. Since the engine I designed is much better this time, it allows for improved gameplay which, in turn, requires puzzles and platforming to be tweaked. For example: In the original engine the player couldn’t grab onto the edge of a moving platform or a destroyable block like sand. The new engine fixes that and now any puzzle that uses sand also needs to be tweaked. There’s also a boss in TAG that was basically made up of moving platforms, and this small change will fundamentally alter the way you can interact with and fight that boss.

The story is getting tweaked in a number of ways, too. I’m going to streamline the game’s intro sequence and make it more succinct to get players in the game faster. All the information presented in the intro will still be in the game, but some of the back-story stuff will be more optional. Part of my reasoning for that is because I want the main narrative of the game to be more focused.  In TAG you don’t really know anything about the game’s antagonist and his intentions until minutes before the end of the game. I want to introduce some of this stuff earlier to give the player more urgency and his actions more significance.

My hope is that anyone who has already played TAG will find themselves consistently surprised  and amused by the remake, and that they will find it to be a uniquely familiar experience.

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GZ: Treasure Adventure Game was one of GameZone's top 10 indie games of 2011. What was the reaction like across the rest of the Internet? In addition, what's the reception been to Treasure Adventure World thus far?

SO: The reaction to TAG was almost nothing but fantastic. The fact that it was available for free is probably partly to blame, but I received almost all positive feedback. I’ve seen hundreds of Let’s Plays pop up, and have had a lot of people tell me personally that TAG is one of their favorite games. I still don’t know how to respond to praise like that. It kind of blows my mind that something I created gave people so much happiness. I feel lucky that literally all the fans I’ve interacted with have been awesome people.

The reaction to TAW has been pretty similar — almost all positive. So far there is no publicly playable version of the game available so the reactions are based only on trailers and screenshots. Early on we heard some criticisms about animations being off and we’ve tried to remedy that.

GZ: You went from pixelated, retro-style graphics to a cleaner, more contemporary look for Treasure Adventure World. What led to this decision? Was it primarily to make this game stand out as its own thing? Or were there other reasons for the change?

SO: We have also heard a little criticism about leaving the pixel art behind. I wasn’t expecting that reaction, but I get it. I also love pixel art games, and I have no doubt that I will do another one in the future. But, like a lot of the remake, the art style we went with happened organically.

When we were first talking about the art direction, we didn’t limit ourselves. We sent interested artists a screenshot of TAG and let them do their own take on it. Once I saw Christine’s concept piece it just felt right. It was what I imagined the world looked like in my mind. Once she redesigned the main character I knew for sure she was the right choice. At the time, I really wasn’t thinking about making the game stand out from TAG or to appeal to a wider audience. I was really looking for a balance — between retaining the charm of the original art and adding new detail and style.

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GZ: Sailing is a big part of the game, as is Whydah the talking parrot. These two elements are somewhat reminiscent of the sailing aspect seen in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Navi in Ocarina of Time, respectively. Was Treasure Adventure World directly influenced by the Zelda series?

SO: Treasure Adventure Game (and by proxy, World) were influenced by just about all of my favorite games, which include both Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker. While brainstorming how I wanted TAG to play, I made a list of some of my favorite elements and/or moments from games I liked. One of the best parts of Wind Waker was seeing an island in the distance, knowing that somewhere hidden on it was a treasure or a trap. I wanted to recreate that feeling.

GZ: Speaking of influences, what other titles are some of your biggest inspirations for this 2D action-adventure?

SO: Besides the Zelda series, the game that probably influenced me the most is Super Mario Bros. 2. It’s always been one of my favorite games. I think it’s simply because there isn’t that ever-present timer ticking down until your death. I think it’s the only Mario game that doesn’t have a timer. The goal in Mario 2 isn’t to get to the far right side of the screen as quick as possible. Mario 2’s levels move in all directions and beg for you to explore their every nook and cranny.

I also drew inspiration from games like Blaster Master for NES. I love games where you have a vehicle or mount that gives you new abilities and changes the style of gameplay. I think that comes across with the boat which has its own weaponry (and in TAW is even more upgradable).

GZ: You've stated that you're working closely with Tiy of Terraria fame and head of Chucklefish Games, the studio that's producing Treasure Adventure World. How much input did he have in the development of your game?

SO: Working with Tiy has been fantastic. It’s nice having someone close who has a lot more experience in the industry. For the most part, Tiy stays out of the creative process, though. He does offer suggestions, on occasion, and I almost always agree with his assessment and tweak things accordingly. The benefit I get out of it is that I always have someone I can turn to who has experience and resources that I lack.

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GZ: You pretty much taught yourself how to program during the development of Treasure Adventure Game. After having learned how to make a full game, how difficult was it to build a new title, Treasure Adventure World, from the ground up?

SO: It hasn’t been too difficult, really. Having the full original game available as a “design document” has really allowed me to streamline the code which in turn improves the playability of the game. I’m still always learning new things and I’m trying to implement as many cool tricks as I can. The only issue has been time. As most developers know, it always takes two to three times longer than you expect to get something done. Overall, I’m very happy with how much progress we’ve made in a year and a half, but I also know that when I first started this project I was convinced it would be done by now.

GZ: Moving forward, do you hope to continue making old school-influenced action-adventure games? Or will your next project likely be a major directional shift? Do you have any ideas that you can maybe share? Or is all of your energy going into Treasure Adventure World?

SO: Yeah, you nailed it. Just about all of my energy is going towards Treasure Adventure World right now. But one of my biggest motivators for getting the game done is that I have a number of other game ideas I want to explore. I have ideas for both a sequel and prequel to TAW. Both would still be 2D action-adventure games but would have different styles and gameplay.

I also have plans for a tablet/smartphone multiplayer tower defense game involving dogs. I’m really interested in that simply because it would be very different from anything I’ve designed before, and its limited scope would hopefully keep it from becoming a multi-year project.

Before I began working on TAW I was developing a 2D space shooter, NovaraX. There’s still a chance I’ll pick that up again. Although lately I’ve played two amazing games that are a lot like what I was going for, and better than anything I could have done. If you get a chance check out RingRunners and Space – The Return Of The Pixxelfrazzer. They are two of my favorite games of the year.

I'd like to extend a huge thank you to Stephen Orlando for taking the time to answer these questions about Treasure Adventure World in great detail. For more on the game, be sure to follow Stephen on Twitter @robit_studios. And if you'd like to check out the original Treasure Adventure Game, you can download the full game for free. It's sure to tide you over until the release of Treasure Adventure World!

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.