Creator Spotlight Interview: Daniel Coady: indie game developer, creator, artist, dstnce runner

[INTERVIEW] With game developer, creative mind, storyteller Daniel Coady on their craft and recent game release dstnce!

Meet Daniel Coady, a creative design artist and storyteller from Melbourne, Australia, also a pro full stack developer into computing, graphics and games programming, and more. They are continuously working on multiple side projects while seeking new challenges.

Recently, Daniel Coady released their first game dstnce, a indie game for PC’s via Steam and Itch. At a glance, dstnce can easily be judged for something very simple and goggly cute. But throughout, is a deeper surreal experience, and a test of resilience in a seemingly lighthearted world that centers around isolated, limited small environment that is quite familiar to situations many face in our ongoing Covid global pandemic. Here, is a bit more..

Here is a trailer…

After getting to know them through a series of fun game streams, we had asked Daniel Coady about creating and releasing dstnce, the process of game development, and the fine art of creativity. The answers were insightful, as we learned more in our interview below…

Hello Daniel, tell us a little bit about yourself and your game development inspirations…

I’ve always been a bit of a nerd, be it in my early years when I tried to make a crappy little laptop I picked up for $20 run faster, by installing Ubuntu (this was back when it was still using Unity DE, so my fellow Linux users probably understand how well that went down (haha) or right now where in my spare time I like to learn about cool new tech and play around with emulation dev. So, it’s fair to say that I’ve got come inclination towards technology, specifically programming. As well as this though I always found it to be incredibly important to be able to broaden my horizons so that I’m not just always working on computers. This lead to me to pursue hobbies such as photography, 3D modelling/animation, skateboarding, and music.

So, rewind back to high school for me, back when I used to play way more games than I do now. I had a hand-me-down Xbox 360 which was pretty run down but still functioning, and I also had a shared family PC that while pretty not great by even the standards back then did function… mostly. Around this time I also got my first job so I had all this money, and in turn freedom, to explore what games had to offer. This is when I discovered the likes of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Thomas Was Alone, and Bastion. These games really made me feel things in a way that nothing else did, like it was all genuinely powerful and excellent media. Up until this point I had dabbled in game dev before (started making tiny dungeon crawlers in GameMaker way back when I was like… 8-9 or something) but never thought much of doing it “for real”. This changed everything for me though and I set my sights pretty hardcore on becoming a professional game developer.

So, it was settled, and near the end of high school, I decided to drop out to study game dev. Quite frankly, it didn’t go too well. I didn’t learn much in the way of game dev outside of how to use Blender (which has actually come in handy a fair few times), so most of my time was spent trying to find resources online to teach myself. I soon found a Discord server which at the time was called TairaGames Dev Squad (a server for a YouTuber called TairaGames, also on Discord) and is now called Game Dev 101, and I used it extensively to learn about game dev from others as well as share my knowledge of game dev. Fast forward to now, I’ve spent roughly 3 years in computer science and am about to enter my fourth and final year. I’ve been teaching myself game dev while learning as much as I can from others who are far smarter than me.

That brings us to dstnce, a very different game than what many would expect, which feels abstract in its execution. What were your inspirations in the creation process?

It’s kinda hard to nail down all the inspirations that make up dstnce since it truly is inspired by the various bits of art and experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. There’s a few things of note however which have fairly large, and sometimes glaringly obvious, inspirations upon my game:

Make Yourself At Home – This was a jam game a couple mates of mine, Cat Flynn and Cinder Foster-Smith, made many moons ago now. The entire aesthetic of the game was constructed using vector graphics drawn in Inkscape which I found to be fairly distinct and friendly in tone, matching a part of the vibe I was looking for. Using MYAH! as a reference point, I started off by replicating the art and then tweaking it to get the more clean, almost clinical aesthetic you see in dstnce.

The Rhapsody Tapes – One of my all time favourite albums by my favourite band: Ocean Grove. In general, OG really push a message of being yourself and make it explicit that their music has no right or wrong interpretation. I love this so much, the idea of “the death of the author”, because to me art ceases to be the artist’s meaning and instead is now open to how one perceives it. Everyone comes from different walks of life, experiencing different things which shapes their perspective. Because of this, we as creators should respect that. This is why there is no explicit meaning to dstnce — the game is what you make of it.

The COVID-19 Lockdown – I mean, it’s pretty obvious given the current context. dstnce is heavily inspired by my own experiences during the lockdown and just general feelings I have which have been exacerbated by the whole situation at hand. This said, and only time will tell if this is true, I wanted to create something that is more timeless than just a game based on lockdown. There’s loads of art coming out currently that relates directly to lockdown which is great, but I question how much of it will stand the test of time. Sure it may become an interesting time capsule, some insight for future generations to look upon and understand how lockdown shaped us, but to me dstnce is something more. For me, it also touches upon various topics of abandonment, isolation, and hopelessness that may be found in day-to-day life outside of COVID, and I hope that with the power of retrospect this will continue to be the case for myself and others.

What were the biggest challenges in developing and releasing dstnce for release on Steam?

Oh man, so much. I knew getting a game onto a storefront would be a big ordeal, but it turns out it was even more complicated than I thought. I won’t go into great detail on the process cause it’s pretty boring, but the one thing I will say I wish I did was offer myself more time to sort it out. I had the foresight to fix up the legal stuff at the start when signing up to be a Steamworks Developer, but then I put off actually sorting out the store page and such for dstnce until it was completed. So come the end of development, I found out quickly that setting up the store page and build shenanigans would take a long time. So the game was actually completed roughly 3 weeks before it dropped, with one week spent going back and forth with Valve to get approval for my store page and two weeks being the mandatory waiting period between the storefront going up as “coming soon” and the game actually going live. So yeah, anyone reading this who plans to get their game onto Steam: sort out your store page and do it early. It can be a lot more pain than you may initially think.

Dstnce has parallels with the current lockdowns and quarantines that many of us are feeling. Has developing dstnce affected your dealings with the ongoing pandemic?

Kinda, yeah. It’s actually a recurring theme for me to create things when I am feeling my worst. I find art in general to be a great outlet for me, both to get my feelings “down on paper”, but also so that I can explore where I’m at and get a bit of a better sense of how I’m feeling, and in turn act upon those feelings. In regards to dstnce I think the thing it’s helped me come to terms with most is that these feelings I have aren’t exclusive to me. A lot of folks who have played dstnce and sent me their experiences with it have expressed how they’ve connected with it, and a lot of them relate to the same things that I do. It’s helped me feel less alone in what otherwise might feel like isolating feelings that others don’t understand. Also, it was really nice to see that lots of people decided to interpret things in a positive light 🙂 I hope that positivity spreads.

Are there any plans in new game development beyond dstnce?

Yeah, actually! Almost immediately after completing dstnce I started design work on a new game. I don’t like talking too much on what’s next cause, well, I don’t actually know if this is what truly will be next. What does and doesn’t get completed is totally up in the air so I don’t talk about my projects heaps until they’re well past the pre-prod stage. What I will say though is no matter what I do next, I have zero intention to stagnate. I want to branch out and explore my capabilities to design and create truly wonderful experiences for people to play. This does mean there will not be a dstnce 2, and in fact that I doubt many future games will mirror dstnce all that much. I don’t wanna become a one trick pony, so I’m gonna continue exploring and expanding my horizons.

Thank you for your time, as we encourage all to check out dstnce currently available directly on Steam and Itch.. Also follow Daniel Coady on Twitter @fakemuso, on Itch and their own site at pondo.dev.

About Orion T (250 Articles)
Writer, photographer, editor, local traveler. Also, very engaged with the production and interactivity of creative work, especially in the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Follow my personal adventures at travelingorion.com, and reports of sci-fi/fantasy at strangerworlds.com.

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