Interview with “Stillwater” Developer Studio Clump

Interview with “Stillwater” Developer Studio Clump

Studio Clump is the developer of Stillwater, the Spooktober 2021 game that ended up winning the competition’s first place prize. We were able to sit down with the team and discuss a bit about their project as well as themselves.

Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and how you got into game development?

Anri: Hello! I’m Anri, the creator and writer of Stillwater! Honestly, it was all spontaneous. My friends were already taking up roles and they knew I was working on a horror story. They asked me to write it and from there, I just jumped on the wagon and joined the band!

Ota: Hi, I’m Ota, and I was responsible for the character sprites, CGs, and GUI design for the game. Funnily enough, it was just a bunch of coincidences that seemed to have lined up: Anri had a horror story concept, z04 mentioned Spooktober, and we all were hungry to do a project together so here we are!

Sasa: Hi, I’m Sasa! I worked on the BG assets and color design for the game. My talented and very cool game dev friends roped me in so now I’m here!

z04: I’m z04, the programmer. I’ve dabbled in Ren’Py years ago but didn’t take the chance to fully learn it until now. While I’m mostly a solo dev, I suggested my friends participate in Spooktober with me.

What inspired the creation of Stillwater?

Anri: I was heavily influenced by a myriad of things. You could say I mixed and matched Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! meets xxxHOLiC meets Mononoke. I know it sounds absurd, but I’m pretty absurd myself. I wanted to emulate that childhood creepiness I grew up with. I’m not sure if I figured it out but hopefully, I’ll get to show you more!

Stillwater is an incredibly beautiful game with incredible artwork and music. However, those beautiful aspects of it are able to become eerie once Hugo arrives at the mansion for his newest case. Can you tell us a bit about the art and music creation process with this in mind?

Anri: I made a general mood board for everyone as a start. It consisted of a lot of muted colors and a whole bunch of green! It was mainly Ota, Sasa, and z04 who weaved together the visuals you see in the game! As for the music, I wanted to approach it more as atmospheric and quiet. I’m a sucker for this unsettling eeriness!

Ota: Anri had this incredibly useful mood board that had pictures ranging from references of a Northeast American town, moody paintings with striking greens, and Tadahiro Uesugi’s paintings. She really liked the specific visual language of Tadahiro Uesugi’s art and had asked us to recreate it for the game. It was a lot of fun to study up and emulate his style for the game.

As for backgrounds, there’s a house in my Sims 4 that harbors a bunch of the mock-up rooms. I usually don’t play the game as is and more as a tool for set design so I thought “why not” as well for this game’s backgrounds. Victorian houses are pretty daunting to draw from scratch but with enough research and my years of Sims building the mock-ups only took a few days for me.

Surprisingly enough picking songs for the game was the first thing done on our list! I liked Ib’s soundtrack a lot and thought of scavenging through the same site, “Presence of Music”; and soon enough the main theme or Hugo’s theme was found. We all collectively looked through the site for other tracks to use and got music out of the way that same night.

Sasa: During pre-production, I painted a color script to visualize how all the BGs and CGs would transition naturally to the next. From there, Ota and z04 would provide rough Sims 4/3D mock-ups for the backgrounds where I would come in and paint over them with the color script and general vibe of that particular scene in mind. It was a very fast and efficient method with the limited time we had.

z04: I helped paint the item illustrations under the style/theme that Ota and Anri had chosen. This also helped me design custom transitions, animations, and directions for each scene.

Did the team face any problems during the development? If so, how did you manage to overcome those obstacles?

Anri: I definitely underestimated the time of the jam! So much preparation needed to be done beforehand. I can’t remember the number of times I kept revising parts of the script. It was truly an experience for me. Now that I know better, hopefully, I won’t make the same mistakes!

Ota: I believe the time limit was the biggest hurdle because that essentially made us all wary of the time we had and what responsibilities we had to do. And since this was our first project together it was all scary at first. But tackling and giving each other small tasks per week definitely helped out a lot. Also, know your limitations, your health comes first, don’t push yourself to sickness as I did.

Sasa: I think most problems stemmed from the time limit and how to effectively use our time. We really emphasized following a schedule to keep track of what assets were being done and if they were ready to be implemented in the game. I was away on a trip during the first week of the jam, so I had a lot of catching up to do. Also consistently keeping a line of communication with your team is key!

z04: I was essentially learning Ren’Py from scratch since I haven’t touched it since 2015, but I had a lot of time prepping while the team was creating assets at the beginning of the month. Having placeholders early was so important to how much extra stuff I could add to the final build. I was able to practice and build up a library of animations and transitions before the final assets were made.

I absolutely adored the chemistry between Hugo, his dog Colby, and Noah! What was it like to write for these characters? Who is each person’s favorite out of the three?

Anri: It was exciting and yet terrifying all in one. I enjoyed brainstorming their interactions, but I also wondered how others would perceive them. I’ve never written for a game jam before so that initial fear/doubt was always present. But in all of its imperfections, I love them. They bring comfort to me and hopefully in their next adventure, I’ll get to show more sides to them! I love them all, but Hugo holds a special place in my heart.

Ota: Ahh don’t make me choose, I love them all!

Sasa: I like all of them!

z04: Same!

What was the team’s reaction to winning first place? How has your success in Spooktober impacted each of you so far, whether on a personal level or on a game development level?

Anri: I never saw it coming! When I read that Stillwater won, I started crying. Before all of this, I was really insecure about my writing. I still think that I am today, but I never wrote anything on this scale before! All of this is still surreal, but knowing that we won makes me feel like I’m capable. I have worth in the stories I write.

Ota: There’s a saying in Tagalog that I took to heart before starting the project, “Suntok sa Buwan,” which literally translates to “a punch to the moon,” but the deeper meaning is to hit as far as you can and even if you don’t hit the moon you’ll hit somewhere. We had put so much of ourselves in the game, I couldn’t help but feel extremely proud of this team. I had my doubts throughout the month, but all I did was just remember that saying and thought we’ll be content wherever Stillwater landed. What I least expected, and am still shell-shocked of, was that we hit the moon.

Sasa: It was very unexpected since the competition was especially fierce this year. Despite our lack of experience, we poured our souls into this and put it out to the world. I hope our win could inspire others to do their best and put out their work there too!

z04: Same, it felt like an unexpected outcome. We weren’t really gunning for first place, we just wanted to release the game that we all went the extra mile for. For me, releasing Stillwater gave me the hope that if I can release this, I can also work to release other games as well.

Can we expect to see more from Studio Clump in the future? Will we see more of Hugo and the crew?

Anri: You’ll definitely be seeing us around! This won’t be the last you see Hugo and his two lovely assistants!

z04: Hopefully! While we enjoy game jams, we have plans for longer development times for other projects to come soon. Please support us in the future!

Be sure to follow Studio Clump on Twitter to keep up with development news on future titles. If you haven’t played Stillwater yet, you can download it now on itch.io.

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