Elementallis, the forthcoming “2D Zelda-like” from Ivan Ruiz Lozano, is yet another example of Kickstarter making indie game development dreams come true overnight. The campaign met its funding goal in only 24 hours, and overall met its funding requirements six times over. But Lozano has not let the Kickstarter’s success cloud his judgment. He realizes his team’s goal of capturing the magic from classic 2D Zelda titles is ambitious enough without succumbing to scope creep or outlandish stretch goals.
Game Rant spoke with Lozano about the title’s unexpectedly strong backer response, puzzle design techniques, the nature of nostalgia in game design, and more. Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q:The Legend of Zelda series is obviously a huge influence on Elementallis. Can you introduce yourself and share your favorite Zelda game?
A: I’m Ivan Ruiz Lozano, developer of Elementallis. I do the design, code and all the business, managing, and marketing tasks.
I’m a big fan of the Zelda series and even though I love Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild, I’d say that my favorites are the 2D ones. A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening (the remake was great!) are awesome, but I think I would choose A Link Between Worlds—it’s not 2D technically, but it’s based on the top-down perspective. I believe it’s the “best feeling” 2D Zelda: smooth movement and combat, great soundtrack, and lots of freedom.
Q: Can you give us a brief overview of Elementallis?
A: Elementallis explains itself very easily: It’s a 2D Zelda-like where you use the elements (fire, water, wind…) to solve puzzles and fight.
It’s much more than that, though: a deep story exploring the theme of guilt, an aesthetic and music that mixes retro and modern techniques, systemic elements, and a nostalgia trip to the GB and SNES era.
Q: You met your Kickstarter funding goal in 24 hours. Are you surprised by the response to the campaign?
A: I’ve always been very cautious about my expectations. I thought the campaign would’ve been funded, probably with a bit more than we asked for (based on the community we had before we started the campaign), but I was also worried in case we didn’t get there, which was definitely a possibility. What we were not expecting is to get funded in just 24 hours! Not only that, we got six times what we asked for!
It was very exciting and we were very surprised. I can’t possibly express how grateful we are to everyone who helped us and believed in us and in Elementallis.
Q: Given the backers’ response compared to the low initial asking price, how will the Kickstarter’s success affect the overall development of Elementallis?
A: This is a bit tricky, since we are a very small team and we can’t over scope too much, we don’t want to delay the release. A couple things have been possible thanks to the Kickstarter success: More focus on the story and additional languages.
We have been able to incorporate a writer to the team (Diego Freire – Summer in Mara). A dedicated writer not only helps me focus on my other tasks, but grants that the story and narrative will be much better and detailed than we originally planned.
Also, having that amount of backers lets us have a lot of feedback. We have had a lot of feedback for the demo already, and we’ve been able to improve thanks to it. Having the option to do the beta testing with them will also help us find bugs and balance stuff much better.
Backers made Elementallis possible. Not only that, Elementallis will be a better game thanks to them.
Q: Can you describe a few of the different elements in the magic system, and what their powers are?
A: Our main goal is to have every element with uses inside and outside of combat. They also aid you with traversal and puzzle solving. We want each one to be as versatile as possible, allowing the player to use it in different situations.
For example, water creates a bubble around you. With this bubble, you can traverse water surfaces like rivers and lakes. This bubble also protects from enemy attacks. When the bubble bursts, it wets the enemies (slowing them down) and extinguishes fires.
Elements also combine themselves. In the example above, wet enemies are more susceptible to lightning attacks. You can also shatter enemies using earth if they have been frozen, for example.
Q: Tell us a bit about the combat system in Elementallis. What features distinguish it from other titles that use top-down pixel combat?
A: Combat has the basic foundations of sword and shield. Comparing it to the Game Boy Zeldas, I’d say it’s smoother and enemies have more complex AI, you need to take into consideration your position a bit more, and it’s less focused on just smashing the sword button. Also, being able to change elements on the fly and combine them allows for deeper combat.
Q: Puzzles and dungeon design can be even harder to balance than battles. How do you know when you’ve hit the sweet spot between complexity/challenge, and discovery/fun?
A: With a lot of iteration. It’s hard to balance puzzles because when you design them you already know how to solve them. We try to teach the fundamentals as organically as possible to the player first so they can have all the tools to solve them.
It’s very useful to watch players solve them and note where they struggle or where they find it too easy. Something that has helped has been to make the puzzles myself and let the rest of the team play it without me explaining about the puzzles.
Q: How large is the overworld in Elementallis, and what challenges do the unique regions present players with?
A: The overworld is still being developed, so we don’t know exactly how big it would be. We are planning the eight biomes and in each one of them there’s a temple, a town, secrets to discover, optional places. I’d say it will be pretty big, but we prefer the approach of “small and dense” as opposed to “big and empty.”
Each region will have its own environmental challenges. In the volcano you’ll have to cross rivers of lava, the mountains will have wind, the desert will have dust. Each biome feels very different to traverse and have their own identity.
Q: Without giving away any spoilers, will players receive any equipment or tools apart from their elemental powers?
A: At the moment, our intention is that the elements fill the role of tools in this genre. Beyond that, the player will have a sword, shield, armor and consumables.
Q: Tell us a little more about the lore and world of Elementallis. Is story an important part of the game?
A: It is. We were planning to have a deeper story than we use to have in this genre and now we have the means to do it.
The story will revolve around guilt. You took part in an event with catastrophic consequences that is putting the world in danger. In Elregir, each area is sustained by one of the eight elements and you broke that, dooming the world. There’s nuance in doing the “right thing” because of altruism or guilt, and we will be exploring that theme.
Q: What else can you tell us about the main character?
A: I’d prefer to keep story stuff a bit secret for now, but I can tell you they will be a silent protagonist, and I think players will have an easy time empathizing and identifying with them.
Q: On Kickstarter, you cite “the games we grew up with” as a major influence on the look and sound of Elementallis. How do you tap into that fond nostalgia while keeping things fresh and unique?
A: Nostalgia is very tricky. When you play games you have a lot of nostalgia for, most of the time they don’t feel as good as you thought when you play them again. Every game plays, looks, and sounds better in our head.
In my opinion, trying to evoke nostalgia isn’t only to bring back things that we loved, we need to adapt them, so they can get closer to what we have on our mind. In our case, we have tuned the combat so it feels similar but smoother. We have added modern techniques such as post-processing, particles, and shaders to make it look more modern. We did the same with the music. We love chiptunes and 8-bit sounds, but mixing it with orchestrated music improves the experience, in my opinion, and gives personality.
Q: Do you think there are elements of game design that have been lost or neglected in modern titles, compared to the games we grew up with?
A: The tendency to guide the player too much, perhaps. I don’t think it’s a bad thing per se, but sometimes it’s too much. If we give the player a key and we have a closed door with a keyhole, we won’t explain to the player that the key has to be used there. We are using design as much as we can to avoid this redundancy.
In relation to that, I think sometimes what suffers in modern games is pacing. Retro games were much more immediate to the action. Traversing space was quicker. I believe that’s why I like 2D games more.
Q: Tell us a little more about your team. How do you collaborate, and what other games are you playing for inspiration and relaxation?
A: We don’t have a name at the moment. I’m using my own (Ivan Ruiz Lozano) since at first I was working alone. Now we have three more members (Luan, Raul, and Diego)
As for the games that I play, I tend to play a lot. I especially like 2D indies. Last one I played was Ender Lilies (great game!) and now I’m playing Skyward Sword (and struggling with the control schemes). Among my favorites are Hollow Knight, The Messenger, and Hyper Light Drifter to name a few.
Q: On Kickstarter, the game has a dedicated Discord channel for backers. How else are you interacting with fans and supporters during development?
A: We try to engage a lot with the community and we are very transparent about what we do. We like to show frequent updates, feedback helps us stay on track. We have also participated in several festivals: Indie Dev Day, Virtual Soul, IWOCon. We have also done a few interviews and when someone streams the demo I usually hop in. We have direct communication with fans on Twitter and Reddit, as well.
Q: How long has Elementallis been in development? What are the greatest challenges your team has faced so far?
A: It’s a bit difficult to know, I’m not exactly sure where to start counting. I started alone, learning how to use the engine (Unity) and studying game design on my own. As I was learning, I was already thinking about Elementallis and I put to use everything I learned. I quit my job about two years ago to focus completely on Elementallis.
Luan (art) came on board a few months after, then Raul (music) and finally Diego (writer).
I think there are a lot of challenges when developing a game with a small team and a very small budget. We struggled at first when showing Elementallis around, it was hard to reach a lot of people and I personally felt very exposed. It was hard to cope with negative comments or rude criticism. This negative feedback is extremely low compared to the positive, but it took some time to get used to it and not be affected by it. We welcome all types of feedback, but that which is disrespectful used to affect me a lot. I’m getting better at it though.
The biggest challenge so far has been the Kickstarter. Preparing everything, engaging with such a big community, keeping up with updates for an entire month and being connected at all times was difficult and exhausting. Fortunately, everything went extremely well and we are very happy we took that route.
Q: Do you have any plans for post launch support for the title (such as DLC and other expansions), or will Elementallis be completely self-contained?
A: Our initial idea is that Elementallis will be self-contained. There will already be a lot of content (we even hit stretch goals that added new modes during the Kickstarter). Depending on the reception on launch, we might consider additional content, but we have no plans for it at the moment.
Q: Do you have any advice for other indie developers working on passion projects?
A: I would advise them to start very small, building small games as they learn. I would also advise them not to quit their jobs, or at least give it a lot of thought. It seemed to work for me, but I could have returned to my previous job in case I needed it and I also had been saving money for a long time in order to do it. I was in a privileged situation to do it.
I would advise that they show what they build very frequently on social media. When you have no marketing budget, you need to start building community as soon as you can. They will help you with feedback and sharing your work. Also, everything we achieved (publisher deal, physical copies, participations in festivals) came from Twitter, so it’s been extremely important to us.
Q: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
A: I’d like to point out to readers that they can join our Discord or follow us on Twitter in case they want to keep in touch or want to be updated about Elementallis. They would also help us a ton if they wishlist it on Steam.
Elementallis is projected to release in June 2022 on PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
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