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Ashi: Lake of Light Steam Game Developer Interview With Nick Cellini

We recently came across a game titled ‘Ashi: Lake of Light’ that was launched on 6th July, 2018 on Steam platform and got in touch with the developer of this interesting game. Here is our interview with the developer of Ashi: Lake of Light game where they talk about this game along with some interesting aspects of game development:

1. Tell us a bit about your game Ashi: Lake of Light and what was it that inspired you to make this game?

Ashi is a minimalist puzzle game that is soothing to play and features some unique and interesting puzzle mechanics. The goal is to guide the firefly spirit of Lake Ashi towards the gate in each puzzle. The player directs the firefly’s path by igniting and extinguishing candles, the firefly will orbit around brighter candles for a longer period of time. By setting up the correct brightness for each candle in the puzzle, the player can influence the path of the firefly to lead it into the Torii gate.
Ashi: Lake of Light
Ashi: Lake of Light
Developer: Nick Cellini
Price: $ 3.99

Ashi was initially inspired by the way that some GPS navigation systems direct drivers through roundabouts. During turn-by-turn instructions, the driver is told to take the 1st, 2nd or 3rd exit. That instantly felt like an interesting concept to explore and suggested ideas and images similar to orbiting or slingshotting around planets. Many games that use a gravity or orbiting mechanic have a natural, organic aesthetic, but can be unwieldy and tricky to conceptualise. Representing the power, length or magnitude of a gravitational slingshot by a number seemed like a nice, clear way to approach orbiting in a controlled way.

2. Naming a game is almost always one of the most difficult tasks since that’s what people identify it with. Was this name the first choice for the name? If not then what were some other options you were looking at?

‘Ashi: Lake of Light’ was the third and final name I chose for the game, as I learnt throughout development, choosing the right name is not an easy task. Initially, I referred to the game as ‘Aros’, this was just a manipulation of the words ‘arcs’, which is relevant to curves and circles, a big part of the core puzzle mechanic.
The second name I used was ‘Tōrō’, inspired by the japanese lantern ceremony ‘Tōrō nagashi’, where paper lanterns are released to float down a river, honouring and guiding family ancestors to the afterlife. The name ‘Tōrō’ was ultimately a bit too confusing for players, connoting ideas about bull-fighting or, a similar word in Japanese referred to a specific part of a fish. After some useful advice and brainstorming, I settled on ‘Ashi: Lake of Light’, as it seemed simple, evocative and created an atmosphere.

3. What sort of thought process went behind the artwork of this game?

The setting and artwork manifested because of the puzzle design process. I actually designed a lot of the puzzles and mechanics before settling on the theme or aesthetics. The circular, orbiting movement I had designed reminded me of gravity and boats floating of a still body of water. In my opinion there is already a saturation of space-themed games, so I leant towards boats sailing around buoys on a lake.
I remember having a conversation with a friend, we were reminded of the Japanese festival of floating lanterns down a river. I found the sentiment and visual beauty of the ceremony intriguing, it seemed to me to be about reflecting and remembering loved ones; lessons they have taught and passed on. I wanted to create a puzzle game that allowed the player to feel calm and allow them the headspace to patiently learn, reflect and feel a personal sense of accomplishment, the artwork evolved from there.

4. What was the major challenge in developing this game?

Smoothing out the rate of puzzle difficulty was one of the most challenging goals during design. My first tool to overcome this challenge was the ability to judge a puzzle’s difficulty while editing it. I programmed and used a custom level editor for this job. The editor could tell me how many possible paths or permutations there were for the firefly to take. Using this number I could roughly grade how difficult a puzzle would be compared to others.
While this was a good starting point, it doesn’t compare to the valuable lessons I learnt by watching users during play testing. I spent many months showing the game at a local playtesting event, writing notes and tweaking puzzle designs. I repeated this cycle for as long as I needed, until I was satisfied at the average player’s competency and enjoyment.

5. Any in-game secrets that could be easter eggs for players to discover?

Pay careful attention to the music in the game, as you solve puzzles the music will evolve, grow and change. There are four music tracks in total across the whole game, easier puzzles will generally have an emptier sound-space musically. The music will get more exciting and dramatic as you unlock and discover the more challenging puzzles.
If you are playing on mobile and find yourself struggling, you can unlock a special hint system called ‘True Sight’ with an in-app purchase. This hint ability will show you the path of the firefly before you press play, making it easier to discern which path it will take. This purchase will also unlock all current and future ‘challenge’ levels in the game.

6. Why do you consider Steam as a platform for your game and is there any other platform you look forward to get your game onto?

I have personally had a lot of great experiences playing puzzle games that came out on Steam first, and I have always wanted to release a game on the platform. While Ashi is designed to be very minimal and simple for a mobile audience, the puzzles get much more challenging near the end of the game. My hope is that seasoned puzzle players on Steam who don’t play as many mobile games will give it a go and enjoy the unique and challenging puzzles.
I would love to release Ashi on TV platforms like Apple TV and Android TV, I think that the game might be relaxing, collaborative experience for families and friends relaxing on the lounge together. I’d also love to see Ashi on the Nintendo Switch, mainly because I love my Switch and think it is a wonderful platform, also because Ashi is better enjoyed on a larger screen. Ultimately though, I’ll wait and see how much players enjoying the game and think about porting the game after that.

7. How much time did it take to get this game developed and what can players expect in updates for this game?

Ashi was designed and developed solo over the course of 2 years, I spent at least a month exclusively designing abstract looking puzzles on paper before ever touching a computer. I spent most of my development time programming a level editor to help me quantify level solutions and their difficulty. Apart from the soundtrack, I mostly worked on the project on my own, apart from all the pestering I did to squeeze a few favours, advice and feedback from my peers.
I would love to roll out a few more updates with around 7 new challenging puzzles for players who have already managed to finish the game. I also have at least 2 other puzzle mechanic ideas I wanted to put into the game before release, but decided to sacrifice them to prioritise an earlier release date. That being said, I’ll wait to see how Ashi is received, but I would love to push out 3 updates which would include around 7 new puzzles each.

8. What are your future plans as a game developer?

I have a few ideas I’d love to prototype and test, as well as a few artist and programmer friends I would love to collaborate with. I am passionate about creating unique concepts that have the ability to subvert players’ expectations. I hope I can move on to create some quirky worlds to explore with interesting puzzles to decipher and overcome.

9. How long have you been developing games and what is the most enjoyable aspect of game development according to you?

I’ve been thinking about and prototyping games for about 5 years, and designing and programming since I was 12 years old. I am very interested in the concepts surrounding learning, experimentation and discovery. I think the reward systems we see in the majority of games could be explored further in more subtle ways. Ultimately, for me I will always consider how a game feels and what experiences it can create.
Ashi: Lake of Light
Ashi: Lake of Light
Developer: Nick Cellini
Price: $ 3.99
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot

If I can be involved in creating a game that is immersive, make me think or feel something new and exciting that would give me a lot of satisfaction.

10. Have you developed Ashi: Lake of Light solo or you have a team working with you?

The game has mostly been developed as a solo project, not including the multitude of feedback and advice I have received from friends and colleagues. The final logo was designed by my good friend Zozan Onay and I was lucky enough to receive a plethora of feedback from my friends Byron Hallett and Paul Kopetko.
Ashi: Lake of Light
Ashi: Lake of Light
Developer: Nick Cellini
Price: $ 3.99
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot

My composer, David Barber has created an incredible soundtrack that I feel so lucky to have in the game. It adds a completely new dimension to the game, it wouldn’t offer the same experience without it.

11. What are your personal favourite games?

Personally, some of my favourite games, unsurprisingly feature at least a small amount of puzzles or problem solving. I’m also drawn in by games that feature exploration gameplay that is relaxing, has great controls and visual intrigue. I love the whole Zelda series, my favourites being Windwaker and Breath of the Wild, I love how Nintendo created worlds that are compelling to explore without being overly complicated. I found the puzzles in Breath of the Wild to have so much variety and so rewarding to discover unique solutions. The games Journey by That Game Company and ABZU by Giant Squid Studios are also among my favourites, they appear so simple and yet I seem to me to have a lot of elegance and restraint in their design. Lastly, I have to mention The Witness and Talos Principle, games that present such unique puzzles in worlds allowing you to explore at your own pace and discover secrets and surprises around every corner.

12. Any message for our readers?

Designing an abstract puzzle game has been immensely rewarding, but it doesn’t compare to the feeling of hearing feedback that players have enjoyed a relaxing and rewarding experience while playing it.
Ashi: Lake of Light
Ashi: Lake of Light
Developer: Nick Cellini
Price: $ 3.99

 

 

Steam Download:

Ashi: Lake of Light
Ashi: Lake of Light
Developer: Nick Cellini
Price: $ 3.99
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
  • Ashi: Lake of Light Screenshot
 
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