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Interview #006: Catalin Marcu - GrimTalin

Are you ready for a blast to the past?! I had the absolute honor and pleasure to speak with Catalin Marcu, developer and founder of GrimTalin. Catalin's debut title The Adventures of Elena Temple are available on Steam, Itch, and the SWITCH! Believe me when I say that this is quickly going to be a game on your homepage!

Download The Adventures of Elena Temple from the eShop here for only $4.99!

Thank you Catalin for allowing me to speak with you today. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thank you for this opportunity! My name is Catalin Marcu and I've been making games for 11 years now. 10 of those years I spent making mostly mobile games for clients. Then a year ago I went #indie and I created The Adventures of Elena Temple, a monochrome old school platformer you can play on seven virtual old machines inspired by classic consoles.

What was the first console/game you remember playing?

When I was 8 or 9 years old, my brother brought home a ZX Spectrum clone called Sintez. As far as I can remember, that's my first interaction with video games. I remember playing Pitfall, or maybe it was a clone of Pitfall; I don't know for sure. It was such a simple game, but it fascinated me so much. In a very simplistic way, I got to be Indiana Jones, to swing over crocodiles and collect treasures. That opened my appetite for games. What is your favorite childhood video game memory?

I have to say playing Heroes of Might and Magic 3. That game had something so magical about it: the visuals, the music, the hidden complexity that for a kid like me meant there were mysteries upon mysteries to discover. Encountering a new type of creature or a new building on the map was so fascinating, it felt like there were so many new things to find at every step. That memory always stayed with me, even if now, as an adult, I can see behind the curtain and understand how that feeling was created. GrimTalin is the name of your studio. Are you a solo act or do you have a team?I'm a solo indie developer. GrimTalin is actually my gamer handle on PlayStation and I've subsequently used it in other places, to the point that it sort of became part of my identity. So when I had to choose a name for the company, something I didn't even consider before actually filling out the paperwork, I defaulted to GrimTalin. I guess it was either a manifestation of my ego, as I knew I was mostly going to be solo in this indie adventure, or just a lack of imagination. Whatever the reason, I'm very glad I chose that name for the studio, because ultimately all the games I release will be made by GrimTalin, both the person and the studio, because they're kind of the same thing. Was developing a video game a passion you always had?

I hoped I'd get to make games from quite a young age. I think I was 10 when I was designing levels on paper for Supaplex, if you know the game. There was no reason to it, just for the fun of creating levels I could play in my head for a game I loved. Later, when I was playing Heroes 3, I remember I had this desire to at least understand how something like that can be made. I learned as much as I could on my own.

I loved programming and slowly I began making simple games in high school and kept on perfecting my skills. While I knew how to code - that was mostly a means to an end - I didn't want to be just the programmer, I wanted to be the one that makes the game. I didn't know what a designer was back then, let alone imagined that one person can learn everything needed to make a whole game.

Let's talk about The Adventures of Elena Temple, a monochomatic puzzle platformer that will make you feel like you're stepping into a blast from the past. While I could go on about how awesome it is to play the game on seven retro-inspired machines, why don't we go back to the beginning? What inspired you to come up with this concept?

After 10 years of making mobile games, I wanted to go back to the roots. My roots as a gamer and the roots of the game industry as a whole. I wanted to remember how games were back then; in a simpler time, a more innocent time maybe, when with so many limitations people could create these magical things that made our childhoods so great. Plus, I wanted to make a game like back in the day; with simple graphics, simple mechanics, but with fun gameplay. I had to keep it up to standards in terms of usability, but I didn't want to also replicate the frustrating parts.

That's why, for example, I added dynamic checkpoints to each room in the dungeon. But I took it as a challenge to myself too to see if I could actually make something that people would enjoy, but with the looks and gameplay from back then? There are a lot of indies with retro visuals, but the gameplay usually isn't the one I enjoyed when I was a kid. So I wanted to make that, a game that felt like it traveled from the past to only be discovered today.

What is it about The Adventures of Elena Temple that makes it a must play for gamers?

I know that in terms of marketing I'm shooting myself in the foot right now, but I could never say that Elena Temple is a must play game for anyone. The game was never intended to be something groundbreaking. It's a fun game, it's a surprising game and it's an awesome throwback to the games and consoles from back in the day. The nostalgia it evokes is through the roof! It's very classic in terms of looks and gameplay, it's got challenging yet not frustrating platforming, and clever level design. So if that feels up your alley, then definitely give it a try. I think you'll like it, maybe even love it.

With this being your first title, what challenges, if any, did you experience in developing and publishing? The biggest challenge was just how much time it takes to make a simple game when you're doing everything yourself. Except the music, that was the only thing I accepted I couldn't do without extending the development time to something unreasonable, so I got help with that. I invested the most time in level design. The visuals and mechanics might be simple, but I wanted to make sure the game is fun, challenging and surprising. So, I spent a lot of time making each room of the dungeon as unique as possible, through a combination of layout, player movement flow and puzzles. Publishing didn't pose any significant challenges, I just followed the process, stressed until I got the approvals to move to the next steps and so on until I saw my game on the stores I targeted. There were a lot of lovely and helpful people along the way, but when it's the first game you publish, you always worry that maybe you messed something up. Thankfully, it wasn't the case and you can get the game on Nintendo eShop and Steam, my main publishing targets.

On March 15, 2018, The Adventures of Elena Temple was released on Steam and Itch. Exactly two months later on May 15, 2018, the game debuted on the Nintendo Switch. Was it an easy port onto all the different platforms or were any adjustments needed? I was very worried about porting on the Nintendo Switch. You hear a lot of horror stories regarding console porting, but I found it to be a very decent process if you're willing to put in the work and read the documentation and the guidelines. I got certified on the first try, having spent a couple of weeks to make the necessary changes from the PC version. The process can of course be very different for each game, but for my single player platformer with no online functionality, made in Unity, the process was very smooth. What are your thoughts on the Switch and do you play docked or handheld? My Nintendo Switch is my go to gaming device. The large majority of games I've played this past year were on the Switch, which is something, considering I'm a huge PlayStation fan and for the past decade I've breathed only PSP, PS3, PS Vita and PS4. But with my family dynamics shifting drastically after having kids, two wonderful boys, I'm so grateful I can take my Switch with me to a dark corner of the house and button mash a level away before my oldest yells after me that he wants me to draw him a car or something. Not only does the console fit my lifestyle better, the games I play on it are more appealing to me; the combination of small indie games and Nintendo titles is a huge winner for me. I never play docked, that black box is only there to charge my portable console. I love the feeling of holding the game in my hands and putting it on the TV screen dents the magic a bit for me. The TV is for my PS4 Pro, if I ever get the chance to play on it.

As a physical game collector, let me ask you a hypothetical. If you could create a special edition physical copy of your game, what would be included? Spoilers, spoilers, let's not get into this yet. Who knows, maybe a PC physical edition is on the way and we accidentally reveal it... Your website hints at a second title in the works. Can you tease us with any updates? More spoilers. I'm really bad with keeping secrets. I am working on my second indie game and it's again something that appeals to the child in me. I guess I can tease you with colors and the need to think before you act? Oh, and a maybe surprising combination with a tale.

Besides your own, what game(s) are you currently playing and looking forward to? The game I most look forward to is Valkyria Chronicles 4, I spent about 6 hours in the demo alone. I'm very excited to get the Collector's Edition in my hands, for Switch, of course! Further along, I'm looking forward to The Last of Us Part 2 and Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Right now I'm playing a bunch of #indies on my Switch, like #Minit and I've just finished #Owlboy. Finally, is there anything else you'd like to share today? I want to thank you again for this interview and I want to thank whoever is reading for, well, reading it! Most of all, I want to thank everyone who took a chance with The Adventures of Elena Temple! You people are awesome and you've made an indie developer very happy! And please keep an eye on or, better yet, follow me on twitter @GrimTalin, for some exciting announcements any time now!

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