Game development is hard. Game development is even harder when it’s done by a single person. Cyber Shadow, a new action-platformer published by Yacht Club Games, is already getting speedrun attention and we even gave it a 9.5 in our review. To commemorate the game’s release, we were granted the opportunity to ask the game’s developer, Aarne Hunziker, some questions. Mr. Hunziker has had a lot of experience with gaming over the years, as he expended a considerable amount of effort on ROM hacks prior to pursuing development on his own. As such, he’s got a lot to say about the game and what went into making it.
PCI: What were the biggest challenges making Cyber Shadow by yourself? And what advice would you like to pass on to other solo developers?
Hunziker: Every task needs very careful deliberation to make sure it’s an effective use of your time, yet you cannot waste a minute. Sometimes simply doing a task is faster than endlessly wondering if it is indeed worth doing. This lack of resources can be paralyzing, sometimes resulting in not doing anything at all. Having the ability to lord over any aspect of the game is very empowering though. My advice to any soloist is to release something very small first.
PCI. You’ve said you were most inspired by the game Shadow of the Ninja. What about that game specifically inspired you to this degree? What aspects of that game do you feel you’ve been able to improve upon?
Hunziker: Shadow of the Ninja has a variety of weapons you often use for a short time, which inspired the special items in Cyber Shadow. They’re temporary, but careful play can net you extended use. That game also features gameplay that scales based on how fast you move forward. Going slow you can take on each challenge at a steady pace and enjoy the view or smash through everything for a more twitchy ordeal.
PCI: When settling on an art style, were you always set on 8-bit, or was that something that you went back and forth on?
Hunziker: Cyber Shadow was 8-bit from the very beginning and other options were never considered. Modifying 8-bit games was something I had done a long time ago and felt like a fun puzzle rather than work. This focus on enjoying development spread to other aspects too. Some enemies exist since their movement pattern was interesting to code or maybe I stumbled upon a fun SFX that needed a visual design to go with it.
PCI: In terms of design philosophy, what was your ultimate goal in regards to incorporating aspects of games that inspired you?
Hunziker: I was often chasing a feeling rather than the exact design of the inspiring piece of media. Like a game might’ve had a particular atmosphere. I tried to shy away from using the exact same design, but rather searched for what other things may bring about a similar atmosphere.
PCI: What do you think will make Cyber Shadow stand the test in time for years to come?
Hunziker: The way you transform into a ninja over the course of the game.
PCI: I read that you’ve received advice from Yacht Club Games? What sorts of alterations or additions were made due to this advice?
Hunziker: Ranging from nudging single pixels to retooling a level, the feedback was all-encompassing. Some levels were made shorter and some longer. The gradual introduction of enemies and combining them with level hazards and other enemies, in particular, got a lot of attention. Trying to sneakily teach the player was definitely a focus of a lot of the advice I got.
PCI: What are your top three favorite 2D action games and why?
Hunziker: Mega Man X2, Super Metroid, Contra: Hard Corps. These are all ultra-polished and have excellent variety in levels and skills. What sets them apart is how much fun they are to replay over and over.
PCI: If you could send advice back in time to yourself at the beginning of Cyber Shadow‘s development, what would you say?
Hunziker: Remember to take it easy from time to time and have a break.
PCI: What was the most challenging aspect of Cyber Shadow‘s creation?
Hunziker: : Keeping sane over such a long development period. Thinking you’re close to the finish line only to realize that’s not the case at all is extremely hard on you, but you just gotta keep pushing. Honestly felt like giving up numerous times, but since I was too deep into it already, that was not an option.
PCI: After the game is out, are you the type that will boot it up to play it for fun, or are you more likely to put it in the rearview mirror?
Hunziker: I start playing the game for a while even when I’m supposed to test just a small tweak. Especially now that players have found new ways to play faster I find myself trying out those new techniques. Honestly, it’s pretty insane how soon there were speedruns way faster than my best. I’ll definitely keep coming back to it.
PCI: What part or facet of the game are you most excited for players to experience?
Hunziker: The way it evolves from something very simple, just jumping and slashing, to something more advanced where you can clear rooms in a matter of seconds. The more I learned the more advanced the game systems became, which is reflected in the game progress.
PCI: For you, what do you feel is the game’s most challenging section from a gameplay standpoint?
Hunziker: Definitely the very last stretch of the final level, but it seems speedrunners are making short work of that already… in fact, they’re making short work of the whole game. I never imagined people would pull off times so low and it seems they’re improving yet.