Exploring Wimba Island! Storytelling in the New Era of Gaming

Viridian Software is a game development startup founded by Thomas Cashman. Focusing on narrative-driven video games and industry-grade tools, Viridian delivers new experiences to players around the world and new tools for developer innovation!

We sat down with Thomas Cashman to learn more about his journey from game developer to entrepreneur and his creative process towards the launch of their first ever jelly farming game, Alchemic Cutie!

 

How did Viridian all begin? Is your initial goal for your company similar to how it is now?

Well, if I was to start again I would do it completely differently! I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way. From the beginning, the goal was to make narrative-driven games because I saw a shortage of them in the industry even though the few that existed were consistently winning Game of the Year awards, Best Director, Best Music awards. But there was such a shortage of companies really pushing those kinds of games. 

In the last 4 years, Sony pushed the boundaries in this area, focusing on single player, narrative driven games that are similar to movies. Now Xbox are investing heavily in the same area. I figured I’m on the right track, you know?

 

Your first game Alchemic Cutie is due for release on Xbox in July. Can you tell us more about the game?

In Alchemic Cutie you play as a young alchemist returning from alchemy school to her home; Wimba Island. The main character is a pink haired girl named Yvette. She’s returned home to help out on the farm, where they raise little Jellies. The main story starts when a suspicious visitor arrives at the island.

The game is what’s considered an open world game where the player is dropped into the world and they can follow whatever story they want. So you can follow the main story about that suspicious character or you can follow side stories. Every villager on the island has their own storyline. 

My favourite character is Nina, a little shark girl who lives in the library. She’s a bookworm who’s also quite mischievous in that she never does what she’s told. There’s also Yvette’s brother who is secretly a romance novel writer but he doesn’t want anyone to know. When you come across him in the game he asks you to do things like find some ink and makes excuses that it’s to write shopping lists, but as the story progresses, people start reading his stories and he becomes more confident in his passion of being a romance novel writer. For this game, I wanted to kind of work on something a bit more positive although it’s not my nature whatsoever! I think the world needs that right now.

 

The world definitely needs some positivity! Do you think this was why games such as Animal Crossing became so popular during lockdown?

Absolutely, it sold 20 million copies last year! A comparable game is Stardew Valley, a game released four years ago, created by one guy alone that sold 1 million copies in its first month. There is a demand for this type of game. It’s also friendly to all ages, so even when there’s a negative situation, we put a positive spin on it. For example, one of the police officers in the village, Dibble, is not very good at police work. But whenever there’s a situation, he does run around and make sure everyone in the village is okay. So while he’s not really good at his job, he does have good intentions. 

 

What’s your process of generating ideas for Alchemic Cutie?

Well, Alchemic Cutie is created in partnership with an art company in the United States. Myself and the artist had some conversations about the type of games we like, to find a middle ground and started from there! Funnily enough, a lot of my game ideas come from very vivid dreams. I have a notebook by my bed so when I wake up from one of those dreams, I write it down. Over time I flesh out those ideas into a story that I can build upon. For me, the story always comes first and the mechanics after. I try to find the emotional core of the game and then from there decide what type of gameplay could be related to this story and how they can be tied together.

 

What has been the most challenging, but also rewarding aspect of your journey as an entrepreneur?

I’m not a business person. I am very much a technical and creative person. So I have had to learn a lot throughout this experience. I’m quite lucky in recent times that I’ve found some advisors.

Game development is a very stressful, tedious process. The fun is at the beginning, when you’re creative and designing the ideas but then you have to go and actually build them. You do have these little snippets of rewards throughout the process though. For example, we used to travel to game conferences and seeing people enjoying the game makes us feel like we’re doing something right. I’ll never forget at one conference, there was a 8 year old kid who was super into the game. She visited us about 3 or 4 times throughout the conference to play it so we gave her a t-shirt. She came back to us 5 minutes later with the t-shirt on and wore it every day after! Thanks to her, a lot of people approached our booth saying “I saw this kid with the T-shirt on and wanted to see what this game is all about!”

 

Did your vision of the game change when the artist came back with the first draft?

Yes, definitely. When I compare the prototype to what we have now it’s completely different visually. The artist did an overhaul of the graphics to improve them. A lot of gameplay also changed based on feedback we got at conferences. 

Once you start seeing the island coming together, the waterfalls flowing into rivers and the leaves falling during Autumn, the game comes to life. We also added widgets like the little butterflies flying around and birds pecking the ground that react to your movements. Little additions like that makes the world feel like it’s alive and we loop those into gameplay as well. 

How has started and running a company affected your day to day life?

It’s not easy whatsoever. I generally work 7 days a week for 10 or 11 hours. As director of the company, I’m the CEO, the CFO, the COO and the CTO. I’m doing four jobs at once, basically. So it’s been quite challenging and quite exhausting. But I have a feeling it’ll all pay off in the long run.

 

Was it intense at the first stages of making Alchemic Cutie or now that you’re closer to launch? 

When I left my job to go full time, I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be. I took some things lightly without anticipating the challenges that were coming and as those challenges came my hours increased. Now that we’re approaching launch we’re doing a lot of overtime to get this over the line. 

If you watch any video game documentaries, like Indie Game the Movie or Raising Kratos you’ll see that it is a miracle that video games get released. What started out as just two of us working on this game that now has turned into a team of 10, you know? There’s just so many aspects to build even though ours is just a simple 2D game.

 

In that case is it common for developers to create games in small teams? 

Well, in the games industry there’s a separation between independent games which are generally created by small teams of 5 to 20 people. And then you have what’s called Triple-A games, which are the big companies that have hundreds of employees. Weirdly enough, you rarely see a middle ground. At the moment in Ireland there are quite a lot of these small independent companies popping up, with a handful of Triple-A companies here. In 2022 there’s going to be new tax incentives for game companies. So in the next 10 years, we’ll see quite a boom in the industry.

 

How would you describe being part of the Talent Garden community?

Talent Garden has helped us a lot in terms of networking so we could connect with consultants and help build some cash flow. I have had to supplement this business quite a lot with consultancy and contract work. As I said, I’d do a lot of things a lot differently in the beginning of this  journey! In terms of kind of day to day stuff, the flexibility and being able to scale up and down as quickly as you need is great, especially as our team has grown and shrunk over the years. There’s a great energy in the building and although everyone’s doing things completely differently, everyone’s working in different industries, there’s just a creative, innovative kind of buzz around here that energises myself and a lot of the team. You just feel like you’re coming in and you’re doing something exciting. On top of that, I’ve found a lot of advisors for myself through Talent Garden so the community aspect is definitely one of the strong points compared to other coworking spaces.

 

You’ve joined Talent Garden shortly after we opened our campus! What are some of your favourite moments on campus?

Well, I do like the parties. I can’t wait for the parties to come back after Covid, even the monthly Pizza and Beers were a great way to connect with the Talent Garden team and the wider community. There’s always something to look forward to when you’re here and as an entrepreneur when you’re putting in a lot of hours and hard work, it’s nice to have wind down and socialise and have fun. The other thing I would say as well is I do miss a lot of the big events we used to have, they were always great for networking and meeting new people, so I’m definitely looking forward to the return of all those events.

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