Alhvi Balcarcel > Programmer / Game Developer > Nanuleu
Who are you and what are you working on?
Hello, I'm Alhvi, I'm a 32 year old woman. I'm a programmer and I also make 2D art. I work with my boyfriend Carlos, we're currently working on an update for our game Nanuleu.
What triggered you to start making this video game and what was the very first practical step you took to start it?
We wanted to make games since we were kids. We had been working for a company making a Facebook game, but we wanted to create something of our own. Carlos had this idea for this game inspired by Rymdkapsel. A couple of days after he told me about his idea we heard about the IGMC 2015 (Indie Game Maker Contest) and we decided to join. The contest was about making a game in one month. We decided to make what later became Nanuleu and we won second place in that contest. After that we decided to release a commercial version of the game.
Who is in your team and how did you get together?
Our team is Selva Interactive and it’s formed by two people: my boyfriend Carlos and I. We met in college. In 2009, Carlos wanted to make an educational game for his graduation project and invited me to work with him. We've been trying to work on games ever since.
Which programming language and game engine do you use and why?
We use Unity and C#. We decided to use Unity because it was accessible to indie developers, it has a lot of documentation and exports to various platforms. We feel comfortable working on it and it has worked really well for the projects we've developed.
You seem to focus on gameplay and game mechanics. Do you have a specific player’s mind in mind while working on this game or are you led by how you would respond yourself in gameplay? Could you give an example of one of these thoughts?
We want our games to feel different, and as we are both programmers, we may have difficulties making art or stories that stand out, so we decided to use our programming skills to experiment with different rules, mechanics and gameplay in code. Our games are primarily games that we want to play, often we're inspired by other games and decide to change something or imagine how these games will be if some mechanics were different.
If my copy of the game had a bug and I could only play your levels backwards, so from end to beginning, what could be a reason for me to play it anyways?
I think you would be playing as the bad guys, trying to get rid of the good ones. As our game is about building and making a network of trees grow and reach different places, you would be playing to destroy the trees and make them retreat. I think it would be an interesting take on our game.
What role will music play in your game? Could you please give an example of that? If you’re not that far into the game dev process yet, have you already had some thoughts about the music or specific sounds and could you please give an example of that?
I believe that music in Nanuleu helps the player to concentrate. Sound effects help them to know what is happening in the game. I think that music gives certain atmosphere to the game and makes it feel alive.
What did the very first sketch look like? (e.g. Was it on paper, digital, what style, was it a character or a background or an item?) Can I recognize this first draft in your current game design?
The first thing we made was a board game. It was in a rectangular grid, with little pieces of paper to represent the different elements of the game. The game still has the same structure, so I guess you can still recognize it.
What surprised you in the game development process so far?
How many games are released each day. If you want to compete with other indie game studios, you should really do a great job with your game and marketing. The competition is really tough.
How do you place yourself in the wider game community? Do you compare yourself to other game developers and their projects and if so, what elements do you compare?
We're indie developers from a developing country. We usually do not have access to events or opportunities like people from other countries. Also in our country, we do not have any big company that could hire people to make games. We're still struggling to make this for a living. We compare to other developers from Latin America or other developing regions.
We aspire, as a long term goal, to create something similar to what Paradox Interactive or That Game Company have created.
Did you eat well yesterday and how do people from the ‘outside’ still recognize you?
I did eat well yesterday. I think I should balance my diet better but that's related to personal habits. Nice thing about living in Guatemala is that we have access to fresh fruits and vegetables all year long.
People from the outside recognize me because my name is kind of weird :)
If you could choose to be given one thing to help you make this game, what would it be?
Money, to make this and more games. If people could buy it, it will help us a lot.
Is money a worry for you and why?
Yes it is, as we want to make games for a living and it is really difficult. I currently have a part time job as an adjunct professor in a local university, but I would like to have enough money to make games full time. The money problem could be solved by working full time as a programmer in another local industry, but we prefer to have a part time job and have time to keep making games as Selva Interactive.
Despite this we know we're privileged enough to be able to try to make games. We're grateful because we have our basic needs covered, we live in a nice place, we've had access to higher education, we're not sick or taking care of a sick family member, we both come from hardworking families that love and support us. Those are things that we sometimes take for granted, but a lot of people in our country don't have these basic needs covered and unfortunately, they're not able to pursue a dream such as making art or games. We're aware of that and grateful because we do have this opportunity.
I wake up in the morning and it’s the day of your game release. How will I know that?
If you're on our mailing list we'll send you an email. It will be published on our twitter accounts. Also, if we're lucky, some digital magazine or blog will publish something about our game.
Is there anything I haven’t asked that I should have asked? Now is a good time to let me know :)
Yes. What kind of games I like. As most of the people I know like action games, FPS, RPGs and adventure games. I like strategy and management games, as Civilization, Cities: Skylines, Stardew Valley. I like games that touch your feelings such as Journey and Brothers: A tale of two sons. I like games that make you think and reflect on things you haven't thought of before or games that give you a different view on life such as Papers Please, This War of Mine or Beholder. I like games that have different mechanics such as Portal or Her Story. I also like games that look beautiful and have awesome music, like Journey, Cuphead and Abzu.
Thank you for this interview :)
Alhvi Balcarcel, Guatemala City, Guatemala, 1 May 2018
Co-founder of Selva Interactive