An Interview With Syrenaica: Creators of Evilot
In October 2011, Oscar Contreras (ex-EA employee who has worked on various franchises for the company, most notably The Sims) moved back to his native Chile and along with Jose Luis Lavin, formed Syrenaica. Since then, the team have been working hard to develop their first game, Evilot. With development drawing to a close, a Kickstarter page has been created for Evilot and the game is out there for the world to see. Being billed as a puzzle defence game, Evilot is shaping up to be an engaging, thought provoking game and with the Kickstarter campaign drawing to an end, I had the opportunity to speak to Co-Founder Oscar Contreras to find out about Syrenaica and the first game in their portfolio and you can read it all below:
-First of all can you tell me about Syrenaica and what you intend to bring to the games industry?
Syrenaica is a Start-up videogame company founded as a C-Corp (SpA) in Chile, on October 2011.
I’ve dreamt about that name many years ago while on vacation. It came like a déjà vu. Its name relates to the ancient philosophical school of Cyrenaica. The Cyrenaics believed in the idea of intrinsic good coming from spiritual pleasure; happiness could be discovered through positively enjoyable sensations, but always keeping social responsibility as a higher value that encircles our search for it.
The “Sy” comes from Synergies.
“To create groundbreaking games through a culture of joy” is our mission statement.
If you want to make a solid video game company, you need to make sure it possesses the right people with the right values and standards. As a founder I’m responsible of creating the right life and work balance for my team (I’d never call them employees). Strategic Planning is a must. Syrenaica’s values have to “stream down” to everyone, thus creating a joyful work environment, and that definitely translates into a great product (instead of a pushed one) which could be enjoyed by our players. As I always say: “Better people make better products”.
– In the video on your Kickstarter page, you said you moved back to Chile to form Syrenaica. What was the motivation behind this move away from the mainstream development circuit?
I would say it’s a mixture of personal reasons and opportunities. On the personal side, after more than a decade making a living in California, I’ve decided it was time for me to go back to my roots, re-encounter with family and somehow “give back” to the country in terms of help creating human capital for tech projects.
I won’t hide the fact I was thinking about entrepreneurship right in the middle of my career in the US. I’ve been into so many projects, one after another, that you feel you want to do something different on your own. Besides, I kept noticing how many jobs and tasks were literally shipped overseas thanks to the increased outsourcing efforts from many publishers. Design, produce, ship, rinse, and start again… I began to feel the monotony. Many games people take a break from the industry and do something different, and I’m not the exception. But in this particular time of my life, I took the challenge to make a company in Chile. There is a huge appetite in my country to develop games, and if I can help make that a reality it’ll be a real joy. I’m taking my chances here in Chile, I want a sure bet, but there are no guarantees. At least I’m trying.
– Have you come across any challenges that have arisen from being away from the mainstream circuit?
Finding the right people to be part of your team has been an issue. In my point of view, talent by itself does not make a competent team. Your art, programming or animation skills may be phenomenal and they can certainly help put your foot inside the industry. But that doesn’t mean you have what’s necessary to stay. Team commitment does make a real difference while trying to make a product. I believe we are at that point in Syrenaica on when we have finally gathered the rightful leaders, and that shows in the effort put towards Evilot. To find the right technology to start up projects has been another subject, and we took enough time on R&D to disregard many risky options, and have our scopes nailed, with no pressure and on a consistent manner.
– Do you see yourself developing games for the consoles in the future (not including OUYA)?
It could be a possibility. But I rather take it with a lot of care. I was “raised professionally” under the rigorous production standards for consoles like the ones from Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft. Developing costs are exponential and competition is tremendous. We are not willing to take that risk until we feel we have the right funding or even partner for it. If we ever go for the mainstream console development cycle, it would be to compete on an unexplored market share. I’d prefer being realistic, before even trying to go hand-hand with AAA titles. I can see that train wreck miles away.
-Now, on to your first game, Evilot. How is development progressing?
We are very close to have a finished product on functional terms. We are going through the verification process on the levels, because we want to make sure that every single one of them works right, and most important, we want to ensure they are fun.
– What is the overall premise of Evilot?
We want to be realistic but ambitious with this game. We are bootstrapping this project. We want to show what we are capable of doing with minimal resources, and see how far our competences and skills can take us as team. Internally it is the most important factor for company success. At the same time (and that’s for our players and future consumers and partners) we want to make a game with a genuine fun factor, intuitive, with replay value and potential for future expansion sets.
– Why did you choose to enter the tower defence genre for your first game?
It’s a genre with lots of opportunities to innovate. Other genres like RPG’s and FPS have so many products already, that frankly there is no chance we can go and compete on that market share. We are currently prototyping other projects that could be considered uncharted territory and that’s exciting.
– Evilot shows influences from Plants v Zombies and Triple Towns ‘match three’ mechanic. What games did you draw inspiration from when developing Evilot?
The gaming market is so full of screenshots everywhere that it is virtually impossible not to compare one game with another. However, before a single line of code was ever written, we were playing Evilot on a crafted board, with customized tokens and dices. We wanted to check if the idea was fun as a proof of concept. We took inspiration from many books and paintings. I can say I’m a fan of the “Evil is Good” motto from Dungeon Keeper a personal favorite game I played when I was in college. We played other games for sure and did our homework on R&D. And we took our time to identify what things were missing on other games that we could bring to our players as a richer and refined experience. That’s how we came up with combo mechanics, implemented intuitively, but with a learning curve which can take any player from the very easy to the very complex.
– How does the level-up mechanic for your units work and what effect will it have on the gameplay?
To give you an example if you place 3 units on a row or column, those 3 units are removed and you get a higher level unit. This promotes the idea of a player who has to constantly evaluate his/her position, instead of the “place and forget” approach found on other known games. This mechanic is also tied with unit acquisition. Bigger combos mean that you’ll get to place more units onto the board, as it is not based on resource collection and “buying” your units. There is no unit or power up purchasing on Evilot.
– Finally, if someone was undecided as to whether or not they should donate to your Kickstarter, what would you say to convince them to back Syrenaica and Evilot?
I don’t like the typical lousy car salesman pitch. So I’d say Evilot is on Kickstarter, because I’m not selling the idea to the players, period.
Instead I want to see if the idea grows in them. There is a lot of effort from us into Evilot. We are a weird but consistent as a startup. Saying that we are from Chile is one thing, but to say that we are trying our best to grow a games industry in the country is another.
We are humble but ambitious at the same time, that’s why we have embarked on Evilot, by converging open technologies to make an awesome and fun adventure to be played by many on different platforms. We have a beautiful and empathic artwork that gives the right and consistent visuals to this game along with an outstanding soundtrack made by a very talented local music composer and it which deserves to be performed by one of the most prestigious symphonic orchestras.
Our pledges are very realistic, and our money goal also is. We want to make our game a little bit better if our future players want. As I always say, to have the gaming communities on our side is a blessing, because we’ve already felt the support from many people around the globe.
We need the support from people who truly believes in giving chances.
-Thank you for your time and I look forward to playing Evilot soon.
Thank you very much.