Interview with ZhiWei Tan from DreamTree GamesMay 27, 2017 | 2 Votes
While we were at Casual Connect Asia 2017 in Singapore, we are honored to be able to have a chat with the co-founder and director of DreamTree Games, ZhiWei Tan, about his game, Uri: The Sprout of Lotus Creek as well as his opinions by being part of an indie games company.
Hi ZhiWei! It’s really nice to have this opportunity to talk with you about your game Uri: The Sprout of Lotus Creek. Can you start by introducing your game?
Uri: The Sprout of Lotus Creek is a puzzle adventure game. The unique point of this game is that the player will be using the game’s UI – the user interface – to play the game. So, the 4 UIs in the game are not just normal buttons. You can use it to help the character to progress through the levels.
For example, the mute button can be used to mute the music in the game, but it is also important in the gameplay because you can use it to help Uri jump (to a higher platform) in his adventures. The UI bar can instead be used as “bridges” for him to get through certain obstacles. Sometimes, the UIs can also be used as keys to unlock doors.
As you advance in the game, you’ll unlock more UIs and you’ll have more functions that you can use. Likewise, the puzzles will also become more difficult (to match the increased functionality that you get).
Can you combine the UI buttons?
Yes, but it depends on the level design. For example, in level 6 or 7, Uri will be joined by a friend – a golem. You can put in the UIs into its body to give it different powers. In these advanced levels, players will usually have a lot of factors to think about as they try to solve the puzzle and proceed to the next level.
But as you can see, the beginning of the game is really simple. The idea is to get the player familiar with the unique gameplay – the idea of using the UI as tools to help you solve puzzles – mainly because the mechanic is very new and we’ll need to guide the player through the learning process step-by-step.
So, this is the unique part of the game. I don’t see any game using this type of mechanics yet, but in the future maybe.
Yes, I agree. I was blown away by your game when I first watched the trailer video.
I’m glad you like it! We also feature a story behind Uri, and we have some really good cutscenes and music to bring out the whole feel of the game. Well, that’s about it for our game.
I have to admit - the concept this game is based on... the whole manipulate the UI stuff is completely new and unique. So, how did you get the idea for using the UI as a part of the game mechanic?
When I play games, there are always these UI buttons on the screen, blocking parts of the game. I really dislike these buttons since we hardly use them. I always thought, “why should the game have these buttons there? Why not make these buttons usable so that they will have another usage in the game?”
So, I pitched the idea to my team – “Can we make a game that lets the player play around with the UI? Is that possible?”
During that time, we had no idea how we’re going to make the game, but everyone in the team said that it was a cool idea and that no one else is doing something like this yet. It is actually kind of crazy.
We dived into the project and we slowly came up with all the functions and so on, which we then used to build up the whole game. But it is really challenging because the mechanic is very new and we have no reference at all. So, we have no idea what the game is going to look like. We had to start from scratch.
It’s not at all like one of those match-3 puzzle games where you can just refer to any of the games available.
And use it like a template, right?
Yes, like Candy Crush (Saga) right? We can simply add in some new functions and come out with a new game. All I’m saying is that at least we’d have something to refer to; we can imagine that the game would look something like that (Candy Crush Saga).
But I’m sure there are other puzzle/adventure games you can refer to? Not for the game mechanic, of course, but for the other aspects of the game?
Yes, we do refer to other games for the story, but the most challenging part is still the game mechanic. The idea is good but there are plenty of conflicts and problems that we have to work out ...and we did. After a year of developing and polishing the game by receiving a lot of feedback from showcases in Malaysia and in Taiwan, I think the game turned out to be really, really good. Each part of the game makes sense.
So I can see that your game is slated to be published on Android and iOS, is that right?
Yes, the game will be published in 2 to 3 months.
Any chance of porting the game to PC/Steam?
We don’t have any plans of porting the game to PC yet, not at least for this version of the game. This version started off as a mobile game and if it’s ported, there may be a lot of problems. We might still consider this after we’ve published the game on mobile.
Ahh I see. The reason I asked this is because Uri looks like a game that Steam users would enjoy.
Ah, well, we are still (a) very new (company) and we don’t have a lot of knowledge regarding Steam games and community control... we’ll do it slowly, maybe after a few months. We do only have 3 members (aside from ZhiWei himself).
That’s good to know!
But our next game might be on PC.
Oh, so are you currently working on your next game?
Yes, the game is another puzzle game, but this time, we are using a totally different mechanic.
Maybe you can talk about this game as well?
Yes, the game is completely new so there is a lot of stuff that we’ve not confirmed yet, but this time, we’ll be playing around with the puzzle aspect of the game (rather than the UI).
So, the game is mainly about a blind person and his guide dog on a journey. These 2 characters have to help each other to solve the puzzles in the game. The view will be isometric and you can switch between the human’s view (which isn’t much considering that he’s blind) and the dog’s view.
The dog will be able to see more stuff in the game than the human so it will need to guide the blind person through the level. The blind person can instead “see” the world through sound. So, if something is emitting sound in the game, the human will be able to “see” the object flashing in the darkness.
In some scenarios, the dog will need to open up new paths so the human can advance. The blind person will then need to activate something in return to help the dog to move forward.
That’s the very initial game idea we have right now. We may change some parts of the game as we go along. Basically, we are not focusing so much on the mechanic now, but rather the storytelling... and we are going to add in multiple endings. We want the players to really care about the characters and be immersed in the story of the game.
That’s the direction we’ll be aiming for in this next game.
So, you’ve been in the games industry for how many years now?
We started DreamTree Games about a year and a half ago, and before that we worked at a rather big games studio for around 3 years. One day, we decided to quit, start our own company and work on our own projects.
What prompted you to leave though?
Well, working at a big company is comfortable and all, but it’s very rigid. Every day you are just required to do your job... that’s it. Whatever decision is made by the higher ups.
You can’t pitch your own game ideas there?
Well, you can’t really do much at the company since they already have their own direction and their own game. So, being comfortable there... that’s good, but we have our dreams to pursue – we want to have our own game and a studio in Malaysia - and this caused us to step out of our comfort zone.
We feel like we can do more than what the bigger companies can do if we start doing it on our own.
But of course, if you compare the work a (salaried) worker does and the things we need to do as an indie company, you will realize that you’ll need to actually take on multiple roles. I’m not only the programmer at DreamTree Games; I am also in charge of marketing and relation-building.
From the experience you have gained as an indie developer, what advice would you like to give to the other up-and-coming indie developers out there?
My advice for new indie developers is that before you start your indie project, you’ll need to understand the indie “ecosystem” of your country.
As an indie developer, you should understand that you are not just developing a game. Anyone can develop a game and anyone can come up with a good idea, so the technical part of developing a game isn’t exactly an issue.
You should remember that an indie company is essentially a business. You’ll need to market your game and build your brand. Even if you’ve got a good (mobile) game, without marketing or branding, your game may not see the light of day. People will not search for your game and download it.
I think this is one of the most important points that indie developers often miss out. They just think that as long as they have a good game/ idea, they can go indie.
The indie company also has to be sustainable. So, let’s say you spend a year developing a game that costs 80 to 100 thousand Ringgit (Malaysian currency) ... you’ll have to get back the money you’ve spent. It’s just business concept. Anything below that isn’t sustainable and your company will eventually fail.
Outsourcing is another part of the budget that indies often forget to consider. It can be quite costly and you’ll really need to decide whether getting a professional studio to create the music for your game, for example, is worth the cost or not. As an indie developer, you really have to think about these issues and make some form of a plan before setting off on a project.
Okay, well, that’s it from us. Do you have anything to add?
Hmm, no, not really.
Okay then, thanks again for agreeing to the interview. It was really nice chatting with you.