I wrote about LUNA: The Shadow Dust last week on Cliqist, rambling on about how beautiful it looked and how excited I was for the full game, yada yada yada. Lantern Studio’s director Beidi Guo caught wind of my article and reached out to me, and together we talked about ways to share more about the campaign, which has little over a week left to go. Since my last article, its funding is now at just under £10,000 of the £12,000 it’s asking for. In the end, I decided on putting together a feature that would take a look at the team of four behind LUNA; where they came from, why they’ve decided to put everything on the line for this game, and why you should consider helping bring their project to life.
[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]antern Studio was founded in 2015, and LUNA is their very first project together. Fox Zhuang, LUNA’s project manager, has worked on several indie games in the past, but for some reason or another they didn’t quite work out. At first, Fox thought that it may have been a lack of development and management that was holding him back, and he even went to work at a larger game company to learn some “professional skills”. However it wasn’t until he went to see his friends’ show—comprised entirely of amateur musicians—that changed his outlook on the games industry. The music his friends were making was just so “fresh, original” and “oozing with personality”, that Fox realized it wasn’t his lack of skill that was holding him back, it’s just that he wasn’t working with the right people.
Things began to change for the better when he turned to his designer friend Beidi (LUNA’s art director), who’s always got a great story, animation, or a dynamic idea on the go. Beidi was already working on the story for LUNA before Fox reached out to her. Together, they added Wang Guan (LUNA’s game designer) and contemporary classical musician Wang Qian to the team, and just like that, Lantern Studio was born.
Beidi Guo, like so many other game developers, was immersed in the world of animation from a very young age. After spending hours in front a television set soaking in cartoons, she developed a dream of becoming an animator. Before she started animating, she knew nothing about the process, and she always thought there was a special button you could press to magically fill in the gaps between frames—“the industry’s big secret”. As she later found out, this wasn’t the case.
There’s no shortcut to her animation style, as she explained to me, “If an animated cinematic last 30 [seconds], each [second] will require 12 frames, so there will be 360 frames (of picture) to paint. If one gameplay mechanic require 3 different sets of animation, I will need to do at least 50-80 frame of character animation, and then colour them.” It’s all very laborious, but so far, it has been tremendously rewarding for Beidi to see her characters move with such grace and fluidity. Her animation style also makes it easier for her to effectively incorporate techniques like squashing and stretching. All of this is evident from what little I’ve seen of LUNA’s smooth gameplay.
Wang Qian, the instrumentalist behind LUNA’s mesmerizing soundtrack, became interested in film and game music after taking on a music production course, while still in school for keyboard performance. After graduating with a master’s degree in contemporary academic composition, she was disappointed to learn that game music was not very popular in China, as people were only interested in “fast-food” music—popular music and the like. After playing the game Journey, she was in awe of the soundtrack, even bursting into tears upon hearing the final track, I Was Born For This. She wanted to recreate that feeling for other people through her music, and it just so happened that Lantern Studio was looking for someone to write the soundtrack for LUNA. She’s been hard at work on it ever since.
Wang Guan, LUNA’s programmer, has over ten years of programming experience and recently quit his job at Ubisoft after working at the game giant for four years. He didn’t really enjoy the big game company dynamic, and working on an indie project like LUNA has given him the freedom to express himself in ways he’s never been able to before.
Lantern Studio claims that there are a number of factors that set LUNA apart from your regular point-and-click puzzle adventures. For one, they’ve decided to omit the inventory system, presenting all the clues directly on the environment. The player will be forced to use their eyes and their ears to explore everything around them, making LUNA challenging yet extremely intuitive. Also, you’ll be able to distort and expand the space in LUNA (although it’s unclear as to how exactly this will be executed), making for unique level design and an innovative game experience. Lantern Studio also promises interactive “easter eggs” that will be itching to be uncovered, and if you look closely, you’ll notice they’ve already snuck one into the third level of the playable demo—the clock is always synced with your local time!
LUNA: The Shadow Dust means everything to this ambitious team of four. For Wang Guan, it’s the “perfect challenge”, and has given him the opportunity to create something new and exciting. For Wang Qian, she’ll be able to immerse herself in the project of her dreams, a game with “deep thoughts” and a very “touching story”. Fox Zhuang recognizes that LUNA wouldn’t be possible without the help of his talented team members, and that at the end of the day, “this will be OUR game… and it’s gonna be a very special one.” Beidi Guo admits that LUNA is the hardest piece she’s ever worked on, but that it will be well worth it in the end. She adds that sometimes “you have to give in something great to be rewarded something greater. And I also know the feeling of seeing your own creation comes to life. It’s almost god like.”