The creators of Pillar, Michael Hicks and Goncalo Antunes, have developed a game that has a pretty amazing concept that deals with different kinds of personality traits. We recently spoke to both of them about their inspirations for the game and how they met.
Where did the idea for Pillar come from?
Michael: It’s hard to answer this because it came from a bunch of different ideas and life experiences. The first Christmas break I had in college I was really homesick and went back home, that week back was one of the most amazing times of my life… everything in my life made sense and there was a moment of clarity where I saw what my role in life was and so on. It sounds dramatic, but it had something to do with a girlfriend I had and how we got along… we had this weird chemistry where she sees things in an opposite way from me, but we were both open to each other’s way of thinking, so it was like this beautiful contrast I had never experienced before… I could never verbalize how it felt, so I started to think I could express it more effectively through a video game. That was the core seed of the idea.
Then later in college I watched this movie called Magnolia and how it interweaved all of these characters together to make one big statement… this really clicked with me and I was like “whoa, what if a video game did something like this?” And that’s where I started to get the idea for a collection of minigames that make up a bigger game… sooner or later I started thinking about how I could pull elements of the Myers-Briggs personality test into it…. and eventually it morphed into this thing beyond me and my own experiences. It was pretty magical!
Goncalo: For the art, when Michael told me about his idea of the game and the environment that he had in his mind, things started to click. The idea of this village in the midst of mountains surrounded with snow was very appealing visually. From then on I started working and thinking on what type of place I wanted to portray. Keeping it simple and rustic was my goal. Having such elements like snow and wood textures to help characterize this feeling.
How did you two meet and what sparked the partnership we see today?
M: My friend Adrian and I were making a game called Sententia together back in 2012, he did the art and I did the design/programming. He hadn’t drawn in a long time though and said he couldn’t color the art very well…. so I went to Newgrounds to try and find someone who would color his sketches and I found Goncalo’s portfolio. I knew right away I wanted to work with him; I was immediately a fan of his stuff, he has a very unique style I think. I messaged him at that point and we started working together!
G: At the time I was looking for something to occupy myself, and so I posted the link to my portfolio on some posts at Newgrounds asking for help on their game. To my surprise I received no response from the posters, but it was Michael who contacted me. He had messaged me through DeviantArt, so it took me a few days to see his message since I only looked through the mailbox once every few days. I was really surprised, and after seeing his website and the games that he worked on I felt honored because he was the real deal, asking for my help.
What was your earliest gaming experience you could remember?
M: My cousins had a Nintendo 64 at their place, they turned me on to Star Fox 64 and we would always play Goldeneye 007 at the family get-togethers. My cousins are responsible for shaping my interests… I’m an only child so they were like my siblings growing up, they got me into all kinds of games, music and movies. Definitely some good times! Eventually I got my own Nintendo 64 and got a lot of cool games like Jet Force Gemini and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron… those were a couple of my favorites.
G: I have the faint recollection of playing a Nes, of course I played super Mario Bros for it, but what I best remember was Batman for it; such an awesome game with the different gadgets and wall jumping.
What made you want to make the jump from playing to making games?
M: Honestly, I just loved playing video games so I wanted to figure out how to make one… it started off as a basic “I want to mimic things I like” type of thing. My dream game was to make a 3D space shooter like Rogue Squadron, since that was one of my favorite games growing up. Eventually that dream turned into the Honor in Vengeance games for Xbox 360.
G: I turned to working on games as a way to force myself to keep drawing. I can’t say I am a very motivated person; I tend to lose faith in myself too often… And I knew if I had people depending on me, I would do my best for them. In the end it was a natural thing that happened. I loved to play video games and was curious on how my ideas and design would look inside them.
Do you guys have any ideas for future games once Pillar launches?
M: Yeah, I’ve actually started working on three other games in terms of getting rough design ideas down… I think the next thing I do will be a really fast game, something I can do in a few months. I don’t want to repeat another long development cycle like Pillar right away.
G: Having worked on Pillar and having the possibility to make all the visual aspects on my own, I was able to improve myself in great lengths. Doing animations, scenery, assets, characters… After this I can say that I feel a lot more comfortable working on new projects, I will take what I learned here and won’t repeat the same mistakes again – I have a better methodology, or process of working.
What made you go indie instead of working for a big developer or finding a publisher?
M: I’ve made stuff since I was 5, and I always dreamed of being “indie”, even though that wasn’t a thing back then…. but later on I accepted there was no way to make a living doing that. I had plans of working at a big studio and was going to school to prepare for it.
But then a number of things happened that changed my view. The first was when I released Honor in Vengeance on Xbox 360; I didn’t know what was going to happen when I did that, I was just kinda like “whatever I’ll put it up, that’s cool”, but within the first few days I was getting thousands of people playing it and people wanting to interview me and all this. I didn’t know how to handle it, if you find audio interviews from me at that time I was a nervous wreck haha because I’m just some guy in my bedroom, you know? Then out of nowhere there’s this audience… so that kind of opened my eyes that maybe I could do what I really wanted to do full time.
Then in college I started getting really frustrated at video games… because I was surrounding myself with films and music that were widening my view of life and helping me grow, and the video games I was playing were pretty much the same types of games I had been playing since I was 5. I was like “man, is anyone making anything meaningful in this industry?” Then I stumbled across a bunch of lectures by Jonathan Blow where he talks about the potential for video games to be more, and I found Jason Rohrer’s games, and the Dragon Speech by Chris Crawford… by the end of that I was like “yeah, this is what I want to pursue with my life.” I think video games are the most powerful medium ever and can change the world for the better, but we’re falling way short of that. So if I want to change that, there’s no way to do that from a big studio because their main concern is money – they can’t take creative risk which is exactly what I want to do.
G: In my country (Portugal) there really aren’t any big companies where one could apply to. What you have at best is small studios working on mobile games, with the exception of a few that have released one or two games on Steam. At the time, the best I could do was to find a project on sites like Newgrounds. I can’t really say that I know how it is to work in a big AAA studio, but as an indie there are no restrictions in what you are making and you have the possibility to try and fail. That experience is what will define how you make a true and new innovative game. But in the end as long as I can keep drawing, I don´t mind if I end up at a small studio or big company. I will still do my best.
What is your favorite game that you have played?
M: Braid is definitely my favorite, and I also really enjoyed Fez!
G: The Legend of Zelda, Majora´s Mask, the way the game portraits the five stages of grief and loss. But if we are referring to an indie game, I would say Cave Story. It was the first game that showed me the potential of what one person can accomplish.
What made you name the game Pillar?
M: I can’t really explain this without spoiling the game, but there is a reason and I hope people will be able to figure that out themselves if I did my job!
G: Pillar is the concept behind the game, like Michael said speaking too much about it will spoil the game, but I´m sure that when the player gets there he/she will get the meaning.
Where will gamers be able to pick up Pillar when it launches?
M: The game will be available on PS4 (via PSN), Xbox 360 (via XBLIG) and PC.
G: The game will be available on PS4 (via PSN), Xbox 360 (via XBLIG) and PC. Everybody will get a piece of the pie.