Creating Water Womb World
Even amongst the great diversity of games found on Itch.io, the work of the creator known as Yames stands out as some of the more idiosyncratic. Yames produces unsettling, atmospheric experiences, often underpinned by philosophical themes. We spoke with Yames about one of their recent works, Water Womb World...
Pixel Primers: You’ve given the game the intriguing title of ‘aqua Catholicism’. What was it that drew you to the game’s undersea setting?
Yames: The setting of the game comes from my very literal interpretation of the concept of the “oceanic feeling” which was originally coined by Romain Rolland in a letter to his contemporary, Sigmund Freud. Basically the feeling is a mystical one, a feeling of religiousness not particular to one creed, but of a sensation that is without limits, a feeling of connectedness that encompasses everything.
Originally, the protagonist was going to be a secular scientist who had a knowledge of the undersea world that over the course of the game is erased and replaced by an understanding and a feeling of the undersea world. Eventually I came to think the game might be more interesting if the character was still a scientist of a sort but also had a religious angle. The original tension is still there however, the idea of having knowledge, or a differentiated set of facts (whether it be based in science or faith) that is replaced by an understanding or experience that dissolves every distinction, as to truly know it is to be unable to express it.
The game gives you a great sense of inhabiting the thoughts of a very specific character. How did you develop the game’s protagonist?
The original main character was a scientist seeking out the truth. I am uncertain when exactly that character morphed into the character appearing in the game, but maybe I just thought the idea of a person with a very strange interpretation of their religion was more interesting, and maybe even reflected real life in a more specific way, because on the internet, where conspiracy theories and beliefs similar to conspiracy theories can flourish, there are a lot of people who have creative understandings of what happened in the Bible. So, the main character is a religious crank, someone who wants to prove something to the world, but not without good cause, because he knows that the Catholic church definitely is covering up something, or has some knowledge he is after that he only partially knows when he first sets out on his expedition.
A few of your projects have explored religious themes, but often in unconventional ways. What is it about these themes that you’ve wanted to explore?
I think I am very interested in religions and religious experiences for a variety of reasons, partially because I personally have experienced, over the course of my life, something like transcendent or ineffable feelings, partially because a lot of my favorite art is inspired by or alluding to some sense of the ineffable, partially because I have a longing for escape, and I love reading about or getting lost in what is unexplained, or what is strange.
Your work uses really distinct art and sound design. What have been the most important artistic inspirations for your work?
Before I started regularly making games, I wrote and self-produced music. However I was often much better at, and probably more interested in, the sound design aspect of the music production than I was writing a good song or melody. I don’t think you need a background in sound design to do what I do in most of my games though, a lot of the sounds in my games are not technically complicated or hard to reproduce, but I do think a lot about how the sound reflects the visuals, or the current tone of the game.
I think the main inspiration for the visuals came out of necessity. I’m not great at visual art, I’m trying to get better at drawing, but it’s a slow process. When I started making games, I experimented a lot, and am still experimenting, at how to make art assets that were relatively fast to produce but also distinctive and evocative. Also, a lot of indie horror games make use of older styles of art, whether it be sprite/pixel art or PS1-style low-poly modeling, and I definitely take a lot from games and developers that redeploy these styles in their own ways.
What advice would you offer for anyone who’s interested in making their own independent games like yourself?
My general advice, especially to any solo developer, but also anyone just starting out, is to figure out what kind of games you want to make and then focus on the skills you need to make them. That sounds a little obvious, but what I mean by this is that there is so much to learn and do, especially when first starting, that it can be very overwhelming. Focusing on what will be relevant to you and your game will keep you from feeling panic over having to learn everything, which can make you burn out quickly.
I definitely felt this panic, and burnt out a couple times, when I was first starting, but when I eventually focused more on what I wanted to do, I began to have more fun, because I could see my ideas for games being realized in what I was learning. I knew I wanted to make games where there was a great emphasis on story and atmosphere, and knowing this prompted a whole bunch of questions: How do I draw text to the screen in a way that looks nice? How do I store lines of dialogue in a way that makes them easy to edit? How do I make a branching story? How do I make menus? How do I make cutscenes? How do I start and stop music to set the mood of a level or scene?
I think this a really good way to get started. Now, this is not to say you shouldn’t be curious about learning other things or branching out a little beyond your primary interests, but I think even just learning about what you want will oftentimes be connected to many other useful skills. I didn’t know I would be so interested in learning about data structures until I learned that I needed to store and retrieve my strings of dialogue and text in an efficient way, just like I didn’t know I would be so interested in shader programming until I learned that shaders can really make a game’s visual assets shine.
Water Womb World, along with other work by Yames, is available to play here