When you hear the name “Dr. Kucho!”, your mind will probably wander towards chart-topping hits like “Can’t Stop Playing” and “Lies To Yourself”, which lit up dancefloors about fifteen years ago. Dr. Kucho! has undergone a remarkable career change though, as for the past few years he’s been developing video games, returning to a long-lost passion of his. His latest game, Moons of Darsalon, was just released on Steam – we’ll have a full review soon, but we also caught up with the man himself to find out more. Here’s our interview with the dance music legend turned videogame developer.
What made you want to return to the world of game development and work on Moons of Darsalon for the past eight years?
The music scene was becoming so boring, corrupt and ugly, I discovered Unity and was so blown away by how “easy” it was to create a game compared with how things were when I started, in the 8-bit era. So I decided to start playing around with it more and more, so I forgot about making music and finally decided that game development is what I wanted to do.
You’re going back to the home computing/C64 era of gaming for the music and audio in Moons of Darsalon. What makes this era so special in this regard?
I had a C64 when I was young and I loved playing and programming on it. The music was what stood out the most, one ends up adoring this sound of the CHIP if you have heard it enough, it’s the best. I was sure that even people who were not accustomed to the sound of the SID would love it because, as I said, it is the best 8-bit sound that exists.
The 8-bit and 16-bit home computers had some fantastic soundtracks and composers. Which ones stand out to you personally?
In no particular order, they are all great in their respective styles: Ron Hubbard, Martin Galway, Jeroen Tel and Ben Daglish come to mind.
The game appears to draw inspiration from a number of classics – what are the games that influenced you?
Basically, Oddworld, Lemmings, and Worms. Many people see similarities with Earthworm Jim because of the animations or Donkey Kong Country and the pixelated 3D visuals, but the truth is that these similarities are similarities by coincidence, they were not inspirations.
For a “retro” title, Moons of Darsalon features a ton of impressive little visual details and animations – how did you approach the visual style for the game?
I didn’t set out to imitate a specific machine; what I did was create a rendering system inspired by the limitations and peculiarities of old machines, without targeting any specific one, but rather taking them all into account. This means considering:
- The limit of the simultaneous number of colors on the screen.
- The contrast / differentiation between the colors of the palette.
- How everything looked on CRT monitors.
The most important one is the number of colors on the screen, which is not considered nowadays because it requires much more effort than ignoring it when creating pixelated graphics. I did the opposite; the graphics that will be displayed in the game don’t have a color limitation, it’s the rendering that transforms those source colors to the colors you have defined in the palette you’re using. This way, I ensure that both sprites, backgrounds, 3D models, and even the dynamic lighting applied to all of them respect the color limitation on the screen, and this is what creates, to a large extent, the distinctive look of Moons of Darsalon.
Moons of Darsalon features quite a few gameplay mechanics that you wouldn’t typically find in a retro game – what are some good examples of this?
I would say the following:
- Voice commands: Oddworld Abe’s Oddysee was already doing this, but I’ve taken it to the next level.
- Terrain creation: Unlike other games, here the terrain has pixel resolution and isn’t tile-based, which is why the terrains look much more natural.
- Vehicle driving.
- Platformer NPC artificial intelligence: It has been specifically created for this game, taking into account the dynamic and completely irregular terrain. There is no other platformer game that can move on such terrain. Unfortunately, this aspect tends to be undervalued because people don’t understand the complexities involved, but I believe that more experienced gamers appreciate it.
- Liquids that interact with the terrain in a very natural way.
People will expect a Dr. Kucho game to have a great soundtrack – how do you approach music composition in relation to game design?
I normally don’t think much, I just start composing stuff and then I look for a place in the game to put what I have created. I divided the levels into 3 types of mood:
- Exploration / Puzzle.
Depending on the vibe of the music I have created, I assign it to one of the level types, which will choose one of the available songs in that category. Then I have the party/end of level music, for these I do focus on dancing energy when I start composing.
The game is in the final stages of production – what’s left to do and what can we expect post-release?
Now that the game has been released, I’m going to focus on bug fixing. Yes, expecting the game to not have bugs is stupid, especially in a game which has such uncommon and varied mechanics. I’m also going to improve the Unity-based level editor so the community can create awesome levels. Console plans are there indeed, but I can’t talk much about those yet, sorry.
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