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Last Word Arrives on Steam: Developer Merlandese discusses the IGMC Winner

It’s been a big year for Twelve Tiles. The smart, innovative Last Word made a big splash during last summer’s Indie Game Maker Contest, winning second place in the RPG category and selected by celebrity judge Ed Greenwood as his favored game.  Since then, a new commercial version of the game has been in the works and as of today, is available on Steam. We decided to have a brief Q & A session with developer Merlandese. also the creator of Fleuret Blanc and Social Caterpillar. Read on to learn just how he came up with Last Word’s quirky premise and to get an idea of what’s been going on with the game leading up to this release.

What inspired Last Word?

The inspiration for LW is right in the opening. It echoes through the game to the very end. I was thinking of two stubborn aristocrats who are arguing about who should go into a door first: “After you!” It’s forced chivalry. The person who speaks last “wins” in that the opposite person is following their persuasion. Plenty of concessions are made when one person in the argument decides to stop talking. They get worn down, and the person who spoke last is the one who holds the power. The idea itself is big–that is, widely understood. Getting the “last word” is an easy-to-comprehend idea. So I made it into a game.

How would you describe Last Word’s relationship with the traditional RPG?

I feel like Last Word has all the concepts of battling, grinding, bosses, treasures, and plot-by-point that the genre usually has, but re-dressed in a manner that is barely recognize-able. For example, most JRPGs will have you grind low-level enemies if you want to beat the boss, and the low-level enemies will grow “with” you as you move from area to area. Since LW only has one area, the growing enemy had to be Seymour. He represents all the slimes and goblins the genre is familiar with.

How did you feel about Last Word’s reception during the IGMC?

I was excited to see Last Word make it among the finalists. Like, really excited! But it wasn’t the finalist position that awestruck me so much as Ed Greenwood’s approval. I mean, the dude’s the Great Grandwizard of Fantasy! He’s seen it all. So him implicating that I had something innovative, even if minor-ly so, meant more to me than the grand prize money, if that’s believable. It’s crazy how a few select words from that one guy could weigh so much!

The game was also noted for its difficulty. Did you make any changes to the learning curve in this version?

I did change the learning curve, albeit reluctantly. I’ve never been a fan of developing for “everyone,” which is what simplification does. But I tried to swallow my developer’s pride (no easy task) and find ways to make it easier to understand without actually making it too easy to play. I’ve added a “ghost” indicator that essentially does the movement arithmetic for the player, as one example. Some testers have found this useful, and others say it takes away the ability for the player to make their own mistakes. It’s hard to see what’s “right” in situations like these, but I think the overall flow of the game is easier to dive into without compromising the joy of figuring it all out firsthand.

KA…ME…HA…….RETORT!

What are some of the other differences between the Last Word submitted to the contest and this one? Were you able to improve the game in ways that the contest’s time limit didn’t allow for?

Oh, yeah. For starters, the graphics. Functionally it all looks the same, but I detailed more of the sprite-work, creating a better resolution for the backgrounds and adding interesting objects here and there. The biggest aesthetic change would be the characters, which were originally colored silhouettes. I loved those, but I felt like a commercial release would warrant art that is not only different, but better. Catherine Thomason, a wonderful woman and friend, drew all of the character profiles to great effect. I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out, and how well they fit the atmosphere of the Sommerhaus Estate.

Another big aspect of the new version is a sort of Clue/Cluedo inspired ending. I couldn’t fit alternate endings into the time limit. I also couldn’t fit Achievements or hidden BOWs or extra layers of dialogue depth. With the breathing time I’ve had, all of these have been fully implemented. I’ve even garnished it with extra love!

How do you feel now that the game is about to be released?

Exhausted! I’ve been moving around a lot, and working more than I ought to in the Real World. There’s always this point before I release a game where I dislike it, like it’s an annoyance that nips at my calves during the day and follows me into bed at night. As much as Last Word is a part of me, and as much as I truly and deeply love it… at this exact moment, I hate it! It needs to grow up, move out, and get a job! That said, I’m happy with how it has turned out. I can’t thank the testers enough. Getting so much feedback has helped me patch this beast to the point of confidence, and that’s a relieving feeling.

What’s next for Twelve Tiles? Any new games in the works?

Before the results of the IGMC 2014 were released, a friend and I started working on a project in the Construct 2 engine. I had to put it down for Last Word so that my focus wasn’t split. But I think this next project will be a great one. The plans are still bare bones, but I can tell you that it’s along the lines of Harvest Moon, but with a more cohesive plot and a re-defining twist on the gameplay mechanics.

Any advice for aspiring game-makers out there?

The marketers at Nike, Inc. said it best: Just do it. I should probably add more to that advice, though. And probably with more quotes that don’t belong to me!

Richard Lederer once wrote, “… a writer is someone who can’t not write…”, which I think holds true for any artist of any medium. Potential developers should really turn that sentence around in their skulls. Making a game won’t turn you into a game-maker; you’re a game-maker because you can’t be stopped.

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