The first thing you notice about Siebenstreich’s Nerdventure is the quality of the hand drawn characters. It is because Katie and Sonja have handcrafted this funny little nerdy adventure that you cannot help but fall in love with the characters and the narrative. Playing the demo will have players’ nostalgia senses tingling, harking back to the days when they lost full days to point & click games like The Secret of Monkey Island. What’s impressive is that Nintendo Switch players will get to play the game too – not just PC owners. This is somewhat of a rarity in the indie sphere, but a fantastic string to Siebensstreich’s bow.
A hand-drawn, nerd-friendly indie adventure about sustainability in times of magic.
Our nerdventure starts, as so many good stories do, in a basement. After a bold descent along the infamous Stairs of a Thousand Creaks you have finally arrived at the meeting point: The gloomy tavern “Ye Laundromat-3000”, where your friends await you. Eager to set out on an adventure, they invite you to an epic round of “Dice & Doom” – an offer you simply can’t resist.– Golden Orb
Golden Orb’s Kickstarter is well under way, with less than two weeks (at the time of writing) to go.
Thank you for doing the interview! Firstly, tell us who Golden Orb is, and how you came together…
Sonja: Golden Orb is an award-winning indie games studio located in the beautiful Ruhr area of Germany. We, Katie and I, founded it in spring 2018. The two of us met about ten years earlier, in 2008, working as employees for a game development company in Cologne. So by the time we started our own studio we’ve had plenty of training in working well as a team.
With Golden Orb our focus is in creating narrative games. Our first game won the “Ubisoft Blue Byte Newcomer Award” in 2018. Currently, we’re working on our 2nd game, the 21st century pop culture fairy tale “Siebenstreich”. It’s an adventure game about sustainability in times of magic, featuring an awesomely hip tailor and Trudie, a vegan carnivorous plant.
What made you get into programming (Sonja) and digital art (Katie) in the beginning?
Sonja: Technology has fascinated me from a very early age, especially if it was entertainment or art related like cameras, VCRs, computers etc. And I’d always had a passion for movies and games. So I used my university years and internships to get hands-on experience in as many media related fields as I could manage to find out what niche would best suit me. Eventually I got drawn into the mystic field of programming. By chance, an opportunity arose for me to enter into professional game development. I tried it, fell in love with and stayed. It’s just wonderful to see your code come to life by enabling people to experience and interact with virtual worlds.
Katie: I’ve always been the one who during math lessons happily filled her notebook with decorative sketches rather than following the subject matter. Graphical representations of my logarithmic functions were also rather vague, obviously experimental and often sporting some floral patterns. It therefore occurred to me early on that I would generously leave the natural sciences to other people and let myself be drawn into the colorful maelstrom of artistic activities.
Somehow, I accidentally ended up in the gaming industry and have kept myself busy there since then, creating and designing characters, environments and such, animating them and bringing them into the final game. I love it when an idea becomes something tangible and brings joy to other people.
You have poured your heart, soul and savings into Siebenstreich; is this a daunting prospect (or were you always confident the game would have an audience)?
Sonja: If you put a lot of yourself and your resources into one thing, it’s always risky. So, yes, at times sleep doesn’t come easy, as you never know if you’ll earn enough compensate what you put into development and to keep your studio alive long enough to make the next game.
From an early project stage, we’ve showcased first the prototype, later the game at conventions, trade fairs and local game dev meet-ups to get feedback from potential players, which has really helped us shape the project. Based on the response we received, we are confident that there are people who’ll enjoy playing “Siebentreich”, it certainly has an audience. What’s daunting is that we don’t know if we can reach enough people after release before the game gets drowned in the flood of the e-stores.
How has the time balance been between contract work and Siebenstreich? Has there been any frustrations at critical points in the game’s development, when you wished you’d had more time on a problem, for example?
Sonja: Developing “Siebenstreich” has always been our main focus. Even during months of contract work we tried to squeeze in some development time so it wouldn’t rest completely for such a long period. Of course, it’s nicer if you can just dive into a project and put all your thoughts and energy into it the whole way through but then a game in development only costs money, it doesn’t make any, so we had to compensate that otherwise. I don’t think that contract work has harmed our development in any way. At times, it might have even been beneficial that we had to look at our game from a distance and then get back into the project with fresh ideas.
Winning the Ubisoft newcomer award must have been incredible?
Katie: Yes, indeed. We were quite surprised and overwhelmed. Since our first game “Cinderella – An Interactive Fairytale” was a mobile game for children, we would have never thought that it was outstanding enough to win such a prize. We know now that it wasn’t just the game but also all of our achievements during our first year after founding Golden Orb that made the jury choose our project for the award.
What made you choose Nintendo Switch, Android and iOS for your first game, Cinderella – An interactive fairytale?
Katie: At first “Cinderella – An Interactive Fairytale” was mobile only. We wanted to create a safe game for children without in-game purchases or ads. Sadly, we realized quickly, that the market for premium children games on mobile platforms is rather thin. We thought about shifting our focus to the Nintendo Switch with our next project, so we ported Cinderella mainly as a test case. Surprisingly, the game sells way better than on mobile.
On what platforms do you plan to release Siebenstreich?
Katie: Right now, we are planning to release Siebenstreich on Switch and PC (Steam). We developed a game pad interaction design so the controls fit the Nintendo Switch naturally. We both love this platform and believe there is still a small chance to be seen there – even as a small indie project. The PC, of course, is still the classic platform for point & click (alike) games. We additionally provide an original point & click control via mouse on PC for those players, who love it the conventional way. We do not see a wide audience on other consoles for this kind of game or even genre. But you never know, maybe there will be more platforms in the future. But for release in spring 2021 it will only be Switch and PC.
Had Siebenstreich required you to learn any new skills?
Katie: Besides some usual program or platform relevant updates it was mainly the Kickstarter campaign which led us out of our comfort and knowledge zone.
What was the inspiration for the game itself?
Sonja: Our basic approach with Golden Orb games is to tell a traditional story from a modern outlook. At its core, “Siebenstreich” is the story of “The Valiant Little Tailor”. Layered on top – in addition to shifting the narrative perspective from a few centuries ago to our current day – are classic adventure games like Monkey Island, humorous fantasy literature like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and many other aspects of (nerdy) pop culture that inspired us to tell the game’s story the way we do.
In terms of dedicating so passionately to supporting gamepad controls in a traditionally point-and-click-driven genre, the inspiration simply was that we like playing with gamepads and we like playing adventures so we’d really like to see both combined. As we do value the genre’s tradition and roots, in the PC version the game also supports the classic point-and-click style. So it’s up to the players to decide, they don’t have to agree with our gamepad preference.
Are any of the characters based on real people?
Katie Well, we have “Sylvester Stallione” which might lead to a conclusion, but he is rather inspired by a role of the famous actor, who accidently sounds almost like him. All our characters may provide some similarities to famous people, yet they are not fully based on them nor are they meant to be.
Most developers say Kickstarter takes a lot of courage to launch; not least because you are market testing your game -but also seeking funding from a future fan base. What has your experience with Kickstarter been so far?
Katie: Like I mentioned before, Kickstarter is a new experience for us. Yes, it took a lot of courage to launch, but releasing a game does, too. It’s just the thing we do: Try, learn, improve. We did it with Cinderella on mobile, with the porting on Switch and not to forget with founding Golden Orb in the first place. It is an experience and we are glad we can make it. No matter if it works out or not. Since we knew that we will publish on our own, we had the choice to do more contract work and had to push the release further back, or we would try a campaign and maybe could finance the rest of the development without contract work. Either way, Siebenstreich will be released sooner or later.
Now Siebenstreich is in the wild, what sort of feedback has helped you develop the game?
Sonja: Well, we started showing the game to people early on, having them play development versions and taking their feedback for the next development cycle. This player feedback really helped us in finding our narrative style and finetuning features. It was also great to hear that many people liked our art style so we continued in that direction with more confidence.
If you could give one valuable piece of advice to new indie developers, what would it be?
Katie: Be strong. Don’t let yourself down.
The infamous TechLater apocalypse question: It’s the apocalypse, and you are running for your bunker; you can only grab ONE game (not your own!) to play as the world crumbles around you, for a long, long time… what’s the game?
Katie: Factorio…. It just never gets boring – ever.
Sonja: Might be the nostalgia speaking, but I’d go for “Commander Keen – Marooned on Mars”.
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