Intrepid Izzy: Roel of Senile Team Explains All
At VGDb we have made absolutely no secret of the fact we love Senile Team and everything they get their hands on.
Back in 2003 we were making our own mods for Beats of Rage, irritating Roel with a sea of technical questions about his surprisingly powerful open source game engine which made it all possible.
In the nearly 15 years that have followed, hundreds such mods have been created. Many lost to time (including ours) but an equal number still available at the OpenBOR website. The engine now runs on seemingly every platform known to mankind, giving a virtually limitless array of options for getting your retro gaming fix.
Ten years ago, we broke the news about the start of development on their top-down racing game, Rush Rush Rally Racing. Taking influence from the likes of Micro Machines, this was their first commercially released title, and at the time a Dreamcast exclusive.
The success of RRRR was hard to deny, with copies of the game quickly selling out, much to the dismay of fans globally. Thankfully a newly enhanced version has recently become available, this time in an authentic PAL style case alongside the standard DVD version.
Back to the Platformer
Now after a brief period of quiet progress, Senile Team are back with their latest offering! This time a modern spin on the classic platformer games of the 90s.
Intrepid Izzy offers up 2D graphics, catchy tunes, and intriguing puzzles. There's precious little here to dislike! So what else can we learn about this retro inspired gem?
We were recently lucky enough to pin down Senile Team's founder, game designer, programmer, graphics artist, and art director. He's a man with many hats, so we feel a great sense of privilege to speak with him today.
Hi Roel. First of all, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule today. You are of course no stranger to attention within the indie gaming world; how have you found the response to Intrepid Izzy so far?
No problem Daniel! The response has been very positive, especially from prominent figures in the Dreamcast community, and from other developers. Intrepid Izzy has received especially flattering comments regarding the music, the animations and the game's responsiveness. However, pleasant as it is to receive praise from connoisseurs, it has proved difficult to reach a wider audience.
The project seemed to come out of nowhere. How long has Izzy been in development?
The game engine is a more advanced version of one we've already used as early as 2012, and experiments with HD sprites in this style started in 2015. But this specific project has been in development for about a year.
How has your workflow and general outlook on game development changed since the early days of Senile Team?
Tremendously! In the early days there was little structure. Features were often added ad hoc, and a lot of time was spent on experiments that didn't always lead anywhere. It worked fine for Beats of Rage because it was clear what the end result should look like, but this chaotic way of working later became problematic. But perhaps going through a phase like that is the only (or the best) way to learn the boundaries between chaos and discipline. Nowadays I find it much easier to focus on completing the first things first, without getting too distracted by all the other ideas that keep popping into my mind. And I think the same is probably true for the rest of the team.
Until now Senile Team have mostly worked on games featuring pixel art. What inspired you to make something with a more traditional art direction this time?
I'm not sure if "traditional" is the aptest term here, as for video games, pixel art is actually quite traditional. But in some ways the art for Intrepid Izzy does resemble pen and ink (even if it's done digitally), so in that sense suppose it is more traditional [Daniel: I did indeed mean traditional in this sense]. Anyway, it was largely a decision born from necessity. Drawing and especially animating pixel art - at least pixel art of the kind I personally find aesthetically pleasing - is an extremely labour-intensive process. I needed to find some means of increasing my productivity. I found that by drawing in a more comic-like style akin to what I'd been doing with pen and ink in the past, and by mixing traditional and bone-based animation techniques, I was able to create assets much faster than ever before.
Having seen footage of the Dreamcast version in action, visually speaking Izzy looks to rival even many commercially released games. What are your secrets?
Mixing old and new sensibilities. The art style is designed to work in HD, but the use of colour and shading is very much inspired by pixel art. This results in images that can be reduced in bit depth and compressed quite well, so that a relatively large number of them can be stored in the Dreamcast's tiny RAM.
My inner fanboy is thankful we're getting a new indie release that isn't another space shooter. Would you say the current market for "retro throwback" games has made Izzy more viable?
I'm not sure. From my point of view the current retro crowd seems to gravitate towards games that advertise their retro-ness in a very obvious way. Games with big pixels seem to be getting a lot of attention again (even from people who evidently can't tell the difference between 16-bit and 8-bit styles). Izzy mixes retro and modern influences in its art, gameplay and music. I think it works very well, but it may be something many people still have to get used to.
Following on from my last question, would you say the viability of Kickstarter has affected how developers think about building games?
I'm actually afraid the viability of crowdfunding (via Kickstarter or otherwise) is declining. In the early days, it seems that simply being on Kickstarter was enough to be considered newsworthy. That time is long gone now. I'm sure the advent of crowdfunding has changed developers' mindsets - and rightly so, as many projects would never have seen the light of day without it - but if things keep changing as they have, I fear that soon those small but promising indie projects will all be overrun by the marketing power of big business, which has been invading the crowdfunding scene for quite some time now. But maybe I'm just too pessimistic on account of the stress I'm currently under - managing a Kickstarter campaign is exhausting!
It feels that players are finally able to "vote with their dollars" and help make games like Izzy a reality. If all goes well, could this lead to more from Senile Team in the future? I know a certain Dreamcast fan who's been waiting an age for a game full of magic and beasts to make an appearance.
If all goes well, and let's hope it does, it could very well be the stepping stone we needed in order to bring you more games. Despite great reviews and a number of avid fans, Senile Team has never been profitable, and this obviously affects the rate at which we can develop. Age of the Beast, the project you're so subtly referring to, has spent a very long time in the fridge on account of this. I still believe it's a great concept, but a rough estimate says that it would require at least 4 times the budget of Intrepid Izzy to complete it.
Thank you Roel once again for allowing us to take a peak into your world. We can't wait to see where this journey takes you.
Thank you too, Daniel!
You can learn more about Intrepid Izzy at the official website, and if you like what you see consider backing the Kickstarter campaign. Senile Team are offering some very cool rewards including Izzy statues, a physical soundtrack, and even the opportunity to have your likeness included in the game itself.