Samuele Zolfanelli has published a variety of projects on itch.io under the name DAZEL. His game Dry Drowning, created in 2019, received many awards including a nomination for best debut game at the Italian Video Game Awards in 2020. Dry Drowning is notable for its strong focus on meaningful choices and world-building. The protagonist’s decisions can dramatically affect the unstable socio-political climate in the dystopian near-future.
We caught up with Samuele Zolfanelli to talk about their game development background, meaningful choices in Dry Drowning, and their future work.
Tell us a little about your creative background. Did you work in other mediums prior to gamedev/visual novels?
I started developing games professionally when I was in university, so prior to that I did little paid work. But I learned a lot of things on my own and had a lot of experiences in many fields, like programming, drawing, graphic design, pixel art, music, 3D modeling, marketing, game design. Recently I studied screenplay more deeply, web development, CI/CD and many other arguments. I’m constantly learning new things as time goes by.
How did you begin developing games?
I think I’ve always been making games, since my childhood, when I was having fun creating board games, drawing, and cutting pieces of paper. Then I started with videogames when I was 11. I had no guides or teachers, I learned all it was needed thanks to determination and passion that videogames brought me since I was 4.
Above all there were Nintendo games, The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario, Metroid, and many others. They’re all masterpieces that inspired that young little boy.
And that’s how now, project after project and numerous experiences later, I’m still here with this burning passion.
Can you tell us a little about the process of creating Dry Drowning?
Development started in 2016, there was a concept in our minds regarding a game completely shaped by player’s choices and that was inspired by the noir genre.
The idea was about a dystopian world set in the near future, in which the government constantly monitors the citizens and has complete control over them, so much that they are almost considered puppets or mere pawns in the system.
Several years have passed, and we found that many terrible things we imagined for the world of Dry Drowning have now become current issues in our own world.
How did you implement meaningful choices into Dry Drowning, and how did this affect your overall project?
This is one of the most important things we had to consider during the concept design phase. In the first place, we gave the player a very crucial role as a detective chased by past demons that during case investigations has the power to choose what to do with what he discovers and consequently decide the fate of several key figures inside Nova Polemos. This way, the player can upset the already delicate socio-political situation of the city, often with unpredictable results.
It has been a very complex process that involved every aspect of the project design.
What achievements or milestones in your VN development career are you most proud of?
We received several awards after and during the development of the game. We got selected at EGS 2019, won an honorable mention at GameRome and we got nominated for best debut game at the Italian Video Game Awards 2020. Besides that, we stayed for a few days on top of the Steam charts, we released the Nintendo Switch version which has an 80% on Metacritic, and we’ll soon publish in Japan too, all of that made us very happy and proud!
But that’s very little compared to the feeling of having completed a work of interactive entertainment that has something to convey to those who play it.
Can you tell us a little about your future projects? What are you working on now?
Sure! After Dry Drowning, I experimented a lot and I worked on many smaller projects like Omamori, Gumgem, and other little jam games. The other members of the Dry Drowning team are also working on new projects!
Currently I’m working on a launcher application that runs on Linux devices that makes them Nintendo-like gaming consoles!
Regarding more ambitious projects, I have a few in the works. One of those is a citypop-flavoured racing game, and another one is a much more complex concept and still in its design stage. I hope to be able to give more information soon!
I often post WIPs and insights of my projects on my Twitter account, so that’s the best place to stay updated!