Interview #002: Stefan Kohl - Dyadic Games (Sikanda)
Welcome back to the latest JP Switchmania interview! Today, I have the absolute pleasure of speaking with Stefan Kohl, founder of Dyadic Games. With their first title, Sikanda, now live on #kickstarter, I thought it would be a great opportunity to spotlight this studio.
Stefan, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity for this interview! I'm a game developer located in Graz, Austria, and founder of Dyadic Games. Making my own games has been my dream since I was a child and to get there I decided to attend a technical school focusing on software engineering and later studying Computer Science at University. During that time, I kind of lost track of my original goal and got into a lot of other things related to programming. However, in 2012 I decided to take course again and soon got a job as Mobile Games Developer. At the same time, I started messing around in Unity and trying some things on my own. Two years ago, I quit my job and became a freelancer in order to have more time for my own project. What started as a hobby has now become the full focus of my career.
What was the first game/console you ever played?
The first console I've ever played on was the Game Boy as back in the mid '90s everyone in my neighborhood (including adults) happened to have one at home. I can't clearly remember the first time I played on a Game Boy at my friend's house, but the first game that stuck with me was F-1 Race, a port of the 1984 NES game published by Nintendo. I eventually bought a Game Boy with F-1 Race and a link cable to play against my friends. It's a strange beginning of my life as a gamer because later I completely lost interest in racing/sports/simulation games as well as in multiplayer campaigns.
Growing up, did you have any fond childhood memories around gaming?
There are several moments that had a great impact on me. The earliest was when I played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the first time. Until then, I was mostly playing platformers and arcade games and it took me many days until figuring out how to play this game in order to progress further. The freedom and possibilities felt overwhelming if you've never played any adventure game before. It was the first time I experienced such a dense feeling of adventure and exploration in any kind of media. Another moment was when playing Final Fantasy VII. Before that, I had no idea what was possible in terms of storytelling in games. Being someone who has always loved creating stories, I came to the conclusion that I will have to make video games for telling my stories since I was not very talented in writing books or drawing comics.
Prior to forming Dyadic Games, were you already working in the video game industry? Yeah, I was working as Mobile Games Developer & Software Architect for three and a half years at a local game studio.
Dyadic Games was formed in 2016. What motivated you to start your own studio?
Having my own game studio has been a dream of mine since childhood days. The reason it took me so long probably was because I wanted to play safe and following a more conservative path like most other people did. This was convinient and it's easier getting accepted by others. However, I never got rid of the feeling that this wasn't me and that I was living the dream of someone else. After some years of employment, I also felt that there is nothing truly challenging where I could grow as a person. As some freelancing opportunities arose that time, I took my chance and started my own company without being afraid of the risks.
Let's talk about Sikanda, your studio's first title. This 3D top-down, action/adventure RPG harkens back to the glorious gaming days of the '90s. With a strong emphasis on story, what inspirations did you personally draw from?
When talking about the overall design of Sikanda, it is obvious that it follows the spirit of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana and others. The story itself is a very personal one and has a lot to do with loss, growing up, the fear of being abandoned, and heading towards an uncertain future. I drew a lot of inspiration from the novels Peter Pan and The Neverending Story as well as from Neon Genesis Evangelion and several interpretations of the concept of the biblical Garden of Eden. There is a common theme among these things and my own life which will be the foundation of the story behind Sikanda and its characters.
For those unfamiliar, can you share a few words about Sikanda and its origin?
Sikanda tells the story of a young hero who finds the eponymous pendant after a series of events. This pendant can be transformed into a variety of powerful weapons and tools and is the key to counter the threat that was imposed on the island where the story takes place. The transformations play an important role in solving puzzles, overcoming obstacles and defeating enemies. The game uses well-known 2D mechanics and adds an extra layer of possibilities by not limiting the interactions between Sikanda and a gameplay element to a single mechanic, but by using them in different ways according to the various transformations.
Although your studio was formed in 2016, Sikanda has really been in development since 2014. Four years later and as of this interview, you've launched a Kickstarter to help overcome some of the financial constraints and you've already passed the 20% mark with 23 days to go. Why make Kickstarter a viable path for you to pursue?
Things have changed a lot as in 2014 I just wanted to create a little adventure game with stock assets. Later, the concept of Sikanda evolved and I wanted to make it look unique and move away from Unity's Asset Store stuff. However, until now, I funded everything by myself which puts a huge limitation on the process as I can only request a few assets at a time. Getting funded by Kickstarter means that we could move right into full production and focus completely on Sikanda. Also, Kickstarter is an opportunity for developers to test their product or concept against the market. If it fails, you better take actions to prevent that failure again for the final product.
Sikanda has a tentative release year for 2020. What aspect(s) of the game still have to be worked on?
Mostly the content of the game, which includes characters, environments (towns, dungeons, ...), music, SFX, dialogues, levels, puzzles, etc. There are still many 2D and 3D assets missing. The current version is more like a technical feature demonstration. The majority of work until now went into programming.
As a Switch physical game collector, one question that always gets asked for a digital title is, "will we see a physical"? You've mentioned that it would depend on finding a publisher. Currently, have you already started reaching out and if so, is there any feedback to share?
I've reached out to a publisher just recently. At the moment, I'm preparing a demo upon their request, so let's see how they will react.
What game(s) are you currently playing?
Currently I'm playing Octopath Traveler. I also started Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Super Mario Odyssey a while ago, but I didn't have any time to finish them. Maybe I will try catching up after I've finished Octopath Traveler.
What upcoming games, besides your own, are you most looking forward to?
The next one I'm going to play is Life is Strange 2. I'm also excited for Kingdom Hearts III, although I've never played any Kingdom Hearts games before, but this one looks so amazing! Another one I'm looking forward to is Death Stranding, but I don't really know what to expect from this title.
Finally, is there anything else you'd like to share today?
Just want to say thank you to all people who already backed Sikanda and those who consider doing it. It's not about money. What matters most to us is that there are people out there who really stand behind this project and believe in what we are doing. We will make this game happen because of you!
Follow Dyadic Games and Support Sikanda on Kickstarter today!