Juha Keränen, Mats Kyyrö – Splittown interview
For many adventure fans, games like Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max Hit the Road immediately bring back fond memories. When we uncovered indie game developer All-Seeing Eye on Twitter and noticed its development of Splittown we couldn't help but get excited. With an art style that's immediately reminiscent of games like that, we wanted to learn more.
We sat down to talk with Juha Keränen from All-Seeing Eye, one of the co-authors of Splittown. They are a team of two, where Mats Kyyrö handles the development work, and Juha Keränen whom we're talking to today is in charge of all the art and audio. They are co-authors of the story and script.
What were your thoughts behind creating Splittown?
Having both grown up during the 90s, we hold that time in gaming very close to our hearts. The craft of game development was still in its infancy. Small teams were able to create experiences that made us laugh, cry, and tear our hair out in frustration. Many zany ideas got greenlit by publishers that likely wouldn't see the light of day any more if it weren't for indie developers.
Out of the two of us, Mats in particular grew up playing point-and-clicks from both LucasArts and Sierra, and that deep insight into what made those games fun (and at times not!) has informed a lot of our design.
While point-and-clicks have had a bit of a revival in the past few years, we feel like many new games have either copied the classics too closely or on the other extreme, strayed too far from the formula we fell in love with all those years ago. We want our game to be somewhere in the middle: to capture some of that bygone magic while also bringing in our own creative vision.
Does the name Splittown refer to anything in particular?
The name refers both to the city the game takes place in and the fact that Splittown is literally split in half. It's a Cold War scenario taken to its logical extreme – imagine the Berlin Wall, except it goes right around the globe. And Splittown sits right smack dab in the middle of things.
The name is also a wordplay on the idiom "to split town" or to get out of town fast. In the original script, players were supposed to travel beyond the city. We've since come to tighten up the scope of the adventure, but the name stuck around.
The art style as you mentioned takes inspiration from games such as DoTT (Day of The Tentacle) and Sam & Max. What more can you tell us about this?
Juha is a self-learned artist, and he has spent the better part of the last few years honing the art style – it took a surprisingly long time to nail the right look! We are huge fans of the work Peter Chan, Larry Ahern, Steve Purcell, and others did at LucasArts. Their work has obviously been a big inspiration for how our game looks.
We also looked at cartoonists and animators like Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, and Ralph Bakshi for inspiration on crooked angles, surreal landscapes, and visual comedy. In addition, the art contains a lot of nods to Cold War-era propaganda posters and 60s and 70s commercials, spiced with ideas lifted from spy movies of that time.
To match the look of games like DoTT we’ve tried to emulate the workflow of those games as closely as possible with modern technology. All the background artwork for Splittown is first hand-drawn and then downscaled and posterized to produce the final pixel art.
In the trailer we get a glimpse of the audio, what can you tell us about the soundtrack? Is there any ambition to add voice-overs?
We wanted to compose music that would fit the period and the canon of the point-and-click games that we celebrate through our work. We currently have around 50 tracks recorded, but we expect some to end up on the cutting room floor before the game is out.
The sound is inspired by ska, surf rock, classic spy movie soundtracks (particularly those of John Barry!), and jazz. You can hear nods to acts like Elvis Costello, The B-52s, and The Specials if you've got a good ear. You can listen to some jams on our website right now.
We would love to do a voice-over, but as we are currently self-funded, it likely won't be a part of the initial release. Without external funding, we could see ourselves issuing a ‘talkie pack’ after release as an update if we see enough sales to support that.
How long has the game been in development and when do you intend to release it?
Mats started writing initial ideas for Splittown as early as 2015, but development began in earnest around 2017 when Juha joined. We are both developing the game on our off-time, which means that things can take longer than with a full-time dedicated team.
We're not in any rush to release. We want to make a game that is true to our vision first and foremost. We intend to have at least a playable chunk of Splittown available to the public later this year. That could be an Early Access type of release, but we are still exploring options.
What can you tell us about the core story and its protagonist Leonard Nimby?
Nimby is a bit different from many point-and-click protagonists in that he isn't just a vessel for jokes or a cipher for the player to goof around. Instead, he comes with a fully formed background and is already established in the world of Splittown.
At the start of the game, Nimby is putting the finishing touches on a Shrink Ray at the laboratory of IM5, a clandestine police organization. He and his friends are taken by surprise when a figure from their past attacks their headquarters and steals the Shrink Ray. As a result, Nimby is pulled back into fieldwork, something he had left behind him years ago.
Together with his ex-partner and best friend Otis, Nimby goes on a mission across the city to get the Shrink Ray back and save the day. In the process, he rekindles his ambition to be a top agent but at a great personal cost. All of that happens against the backdrop of Splittown voting for a new mayor, which will decide the future direction of the city itself and the world around it.
It's a story of friendship, hubris, loss, redemption, and what it means to grow as a person. We are not writing a straight comedy. Instead, we want there to be real emotional stakes in our storytelling. After all, jokes are much funnier if they contrast with more serious moments.
You mentioned you're developing the game yourself without a publisher. Are there any plans for a Kickstarter or methods for readers to contribute?
We are still looking at options for funding some parts of the development work. Early Access and Patreon are both options we are evaluating. A crowdfunding campaign would not be out of the question either. Following our Twitter is the best way to stay updated on those plans.
We also continue talking to publishers, but we understand that point-and-click games have become a niche genre. Thus, funding is a bit harder to come by. It's important to us that we can keep true to our creative vision, which is why we haven't been much bothered by the lack of external funding.
Obviously, if there is a publisher who reads this and thinks we'd be a good match for their portfolio, we'd love to get in touch!
Anything you'd like to share that might not be known to readers yet or that you feel is important to call out?
We have a small Discord channel that Juha admins, where we share early peeks at WIP stuff. Joining the channel is a great way to provide feedback and keep in the loop of our development work.
Later this year, we are hoping to invite some folks from that channel to try out a demo version of the game and provide feedback on things like puzzle difficulty. So if you'd want to be amongst the first to try the game out, that's your ticket!
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