Matthew Vimislik, also known as Vimi, is a game designer and illustrator at Workinman Interactive, where he has helped multiple companies bring their games to life as a visual artist and animator. These companies include Disney, Universal, Nickelodeon, and Atari, just to name a few. He has also created his own games. He’s released games as such King of the Cul-De-Sac, Oh, Terry!, just dumb little dances, and most recently, Romancing Flesh. Romancing Flesh was his submission to Spooktober 2021 and it ended up placing third. We sat down with Vimi to talk a bit about himself and Romancing Flesh.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into game development?
I first got into game development in college – I was hunting for a summer internship, and the only place that responded to me was the Game Division at Cartoon Network, who was looking for an art intern to assist with the beta launch of their MMORPG, Fusionfall.
The lead designer who ended up selecting me told me that the reason they chose me out of all the other final applicants was because he loved my custom-built portfolio site (to get my e-mail, you had to shave a monster’s hairy arm so you could see my contact info tattooed on her skin). I was really happy when he told me he loved my website…for about 30 seconds, until he added, “I just love the look of ugly 90s websites!”
Anyway, since then, in addition to lots of freelance projects, I’ve been an artist at a local game studio for the past eight years, where I’ve worked on properties like SpongeBob, Sesame Street, Star Wars, and other things that don’t start with ‘S’.
Vimi, you participated in the 2020 Spooktober with Oh, Terry. What did you learn from that title and how did you put that into making Romancing Flesh?
I think I mentioned this in my last interview, but Oh, Terry was more of a victory lap after finishing my first VN, King of the Cul-de-Sac. Oh, Terry was a chance to distill a lot of the knowledge I gained, and experiment with a fun side project before I got back to some real work.
Romancing Flesh almost immediately pivoted to become real work.
It has been such a wild departure from anything I’ve done before, and it has stretched creative muscles I did not know I had. There were some real birthing pains from this project, and I’m gonna need some time to heal before I do anything like it again.
The artwork is incredibly realistic, which I thought was a bold but incredibly smart move. What made you go in this direction rather than a more cartoony approach?
The use of photo collage art was a shrewd production decision!
I knew the body horror art that I enjoyed, from Darick Robertson, Junji Ito, or Bernie Wrightson, really relied on the details. There’s a difference between drawing an ugly witch, and drawing a horrifying witch, and it truly comes down to the amount of extra time you can put into adding little touches that make the art more vivid, visceral, and most importantly, real.
Time that I did not have for a month-long game jam.
That’s where a very niche skill I’ve learned came in handy. Sometimes, clients will want their games to look “realistic”, without realizing the time and effort it takes to paint things like that. So, I’ve learned to make photo montages, and I’ve gotten good enough at it, that when we get these sorts of jobs at the office, I’ll usually tackle them.
So, I spent August in pre-production collecting creative commons photos, knowing that when September 1st came, I could quickly assemble and turnover the art assets.
Were you at all concerned about how people may react to the artwork?
Not until it was too late! I knew the art would look weird, but when I started putting stuff together and streaming it on Discord, the reactions were a little more squeamish than I was expecting!
Looking back on it, I think I made the right call, but there were definitely a few days I worried I went too far!
On the game page, it’s mentioned how Romancing Flesh is in the style of classic Universal monster films and the body horror you’ll see in direct-to-video horror movies. Do you mind telling us which films influenced your game?
If I really had to be selective about it, I’d say it’s a veneer of 1931’s Frankenstein over the body of John Carpenter’s The Thing, forged in the queer subtext of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, and a calming soak in the pathos of 1932’s Freaks.
Romancing Flesh packs a lot into its story: unethical experiment v. the betterment of the world and being in an oppressive society where people will look down on you for who you are, deeming you a deviant for simply being who you are because you don’t abide by societal norms. Do you mind telling us just how you manage to pull off such a wonderful story? Did you have any trouble writing this story?
It took a lot of work to transform it from a vague notion in my head into the tightly crafted narrative it ended up as! I spent a lot of pre-production work in August writing notes, trying to expand out the core ideas, but I didn’t get started on actual script work until September, and it is terrifying how much it changed over a couple weeks!
I cut out the POV character on September 13th, two weeks into the jam!
I was making script changes up until September 28th, and the current ending was a last minute rewrite because I didn’t have the time to finish the three pieces of new art the September 16th draft needed (which, for the record, the last minute rewrite was a vast improvement over that original draft).
Ultimately, it came down to recognizing the important parts of the story, removing everything superfluous, and making sure that absolutely everything that stayed had to both propel the story forward & reinforce the central themes.
It was a messy process!
Congratulations on winning third place! Do you mind telling us what went through your mind when you found out you won one of the top prizes?
Honestly? I thought VN Game Den was broken.
Like I said, Romancing Flesh was a real departure from anything I’d done before! On projects that are similar to my usual style, like Oh, Terry, or just dumb little dances, it’s easy for me to conceptualize the final vision, and end up producing something pretty close to it, even on a short deadline. But this time, the starting idea was so vague, and the path to completion was so winding and filled with compromises, that it barely resembled my original intent!
After finishing my entry, and reading many of the other, extremely high calibre entries that came out of Spooktober this year (I can’t stress enough how great some of the entries were), I put thoughts of winning out of my head, and chalked up Romancing Flesh as an interesting experiment, and a chance to go back to my current long-term project with fresh eyes.
Now that I won third place, I need to go back and figure out what exactly I did right.
Do you mind giving us a sneak peek at what we can expect from you all in the near future?
I’m still plugging away at my anti-capitalist mummy-themed visual novel, Tomb Gamer.
Romancing Flesh ended up being a really good move for this visual novel, because I came back to the script with a few new narrative tricks up my sleeve that streamlined the whole opening act.
I’m hoping to have a decent internal draft in engine before the end of the year!
Unless, of course, I get a really good idea for the VN Winter Jam…