Developer Interview Series by Silen Audio: Erik Rempen Discusses Kainga

Silen Audio’s first priority is helping storytellers and game developers. We hope to boost creative people who are doing great work. Our aim is to get behind the scenes of dedicated storytelling games that we really believe in. 

We are thankful for this opportunity to kick off our Developer Interview Series with Erik Rempen’s game, Kainga. We think you’ll find Erik’s story as a self-taught, passionate solo developer really inspiring. So dive in!

Get Kainga while it’s in early access! Play and share your ideas as it develops before the official release! 

Silen: This looks like your first official game release. How did you get into game development? Have you always been a game designer?

Erik: Yes! This is my first game release and actually the first video game I’ve created. I don’t have a development background, but as tools and engines became more accessible, I decided to teach myself how to create games following a dream I had for many years to play this particular game. 

I had dabbled with modding of older games like Morrowind, Half-Life and Jedi Knight, created pen-and-paper games as a kid and more recently I’d been a professional artist (watercolor) for a short period of time. Additionally I’ve taught myself multiple languages including Spanish and Thai fluently, and although none of these things directly led to the decision to become a game designer, they all helped significantly throughout the process of learning.

S: What is your role and responsibility in the company? How did you create the company amongst your travels?

E: I’m the designer, developer, artist and dreamer in the company and I do everything myself except for the audio and music, which is done by the fantastic duo at Somepoint Sound. I decided to do almost everything on my own because, more than anything, I wanted to learn how it was done! I’d always been fascinated by the scope and depth of video games compared to all other forms of media and when I had the chance to explore the process of game development, I took it.

Over the years I have worked a lot of different jobs, from English professor to marketing manager to divemaster, in a lot of different countries across the globe. Traveling on weekends and holidays to neighboring countries quickly became a hobby and ended up deeply influencing the design of the game. I was never a “digital nomad” like many developers out there in the world, but I had my home in Thailand and still managed to do quite a bit of traveling whenever I was able. Working a full time job and this project simultaneously proved strenuous so I decided to drop one or the other. I couldn’t be happier that I chose to take the risk with this game and focus on it full time, a crazy idea at the time!

S: What kind of game is Kainga and what makes it unique? 

E: I call Kainga a roguelite village-builder, which may leave people wondering what exactly that means, so I’m happy to explain my thoughts behind the game’s design.

Kainga is a game where every time you play, you create new and unique towns adapted to the environment and the challenges at hand. You do this by sending your town’s leader, the “Thinker”, to sources of inspiration scattered around the map and selecting from a choice of technologies, which can benefit your people in different ways. The choices are yours and may help protect your people from weather events, massive beasts or other tribes out in the world. To win a round, you have to complete a specific challenge and successfully host a specific festival. If, however, all your people die to these dangers, or the Thinker falls, the round is lost. Either way, you’ll be returned to the Skyloft where you can swap places with other Thinkers, purchase new technologies to add to the world and choose your next map and challenge to try again.

The game’s development started with the pillar of designing unique towns and I think I’ve succeeded in that regard. Each town has its own distinct visual look and feel, unusual aspects and benefits to keep the game fresh and interesting even after multiple sessions. With over 150 technologies, you’re bound to see windmills that push clouds away or balloons to pop them, structures that can be built on the backs of tamed beasts and more to train unusual units. Massive beasts wander the lands, protect their homes or emerge from the soil itself. On top of that, each map brings new challenges in what resources are abundant, how easy or difficult it is to traverse and what events can occur.

Kainga is an endlessly diverse and interesting world that I have great plans for as development continues, and I’m excited for what Kainga will become!

S: Kainga’s world has such a beautiful visual palette. What were the inspirations behind Kainga’s story and name? 

E: Kainga’s name came from a brainstorming session. I wanted a 2 syllable, powerful sounding name that hadn’t been used before. When I found out it’s very close to kāinga, te reo Māori word that means “village”, I thought it was perfect. “Seeds of Civilization” is a subtitle that calls into both the past and the future in a wonderful way.

The story of the Thinkers actually came from a desire to mix the roguelite and city-building genre. I needed someone to go back to the hub-world for upgrades and meta-progression and also a way that your game would end without the “spiral of death” that most city-builders end with. So I created the Thinkers who live above the world in the Skyloft and are not enemies but friends who will chat playfully about previous or next rounds before jumping into the world for some competition.

S: The graphic style is distinctive and lively. How are you developing and designing the game? What are some challenges you overcame? 

E: I’m glad the graphic style is appreciated by most because it was specifically designed with ease of development in mind. Kainga has a bright color palette because I play too many dark games and wanted to make something on the other side of the spectrum. Buildings and trees are low-poly, and characters are 2D with usually just 4 frames per animation. I made a decision early on that I wanted the characters and items to be 2D in a 3D world as a call-back to older, retro games. At the time, that was due to technical limitations, whereas I have to force modern engines to behave in a retro way at a performance cost, actually. But I really like the charm and it makes it feel light-hearted and enjoyable to look at.

There were a few things I wanted to do when I started, one of which was to create animals at a scale not seen in most other city-builders. There are no chickens or pigs here. The smallest creature is an acid-breathing giant snail the size of a car, and they get bigger from there. Occasionally, the soil will tremble and a massive crab will rise from the ground carrying away any buildings, trees or people that were unlucky enough to be there at that time! These creatures are exceedingly difficult to create and continue to be a challenge as the number of ways they can interact with the world’s systems is always expanding. But in this case, I think the juice is worth the squeeze as the creatures have been an iconic part of Kainga from the beginning.

S: You must be really proud of all the fun elements and interesting characters you created. What are your game play influences or similar games you love?

E: I am very proud of how Kainga turned out, and I took a lot of inspiration from a huge variety of games.

The biggest inspiration is from an old game called Populous: The Beginning. Players who have played this game will know immediately, but those who have not will find unit combat that is a bit hectic, units that come and go quickly and a world full of mystery and discovery. The major difference is in Populous your leader is an all powerful shaman, whereas in Kainga your leader is a slow, weak Thinker. Much like the king in Chess compared to the queen.

Other inspiration came in segments from a variety of games. I liked the map and mission selection in Deeprock Galactic, the unlock and hubworld of Enter the Gungeon and the hands-off combat of Kenshi. A surprisingly large amount of inspiration came from what I personally DIDN’T like about city-builder games. I don’t like that most games make you clear-cut forests and strip-mine mountains just to survive, that you always started on flat land with plenty of space, or that the actual game which is often just numbers management in a variety of UI menus. I designed Kainga to be as diegetic as possible, with as many things as possible being described to you by in-game events. If your neighbor is demanding resources, they’ll sit there with a table waiting for the delivery. Advancing your technology requires you to send your Thinker out into the world and find it. 

The result is something I truly think is unique and innovative for the genre.

S: What are your future goals for your playful, community-oriented game to bring to its players?

E: I have created, what I would call, the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) which dips its toes into all the aspects of gameplay I would like Kainga to have. Over the next year and beyond, I will be expanding on each one of the systems to bring more life into it and start filling out the game as a whole. Whether that is the creatures, the technologies, your neighbors or more. I’m currently working on an update which greatly expands both the capacity and interaction with your neighboring villages, allowing them to trade, give gifts and track relationships with the player and each other. This will really breathe some life into the currently 1-dimensional AI towns. Each major update I have planned in the roadmap is along the same lines, enhancing an already existing system to its fullest while adding additional creatures, maps, technology, Thinkers and festivals.

S: The soundtrack characteristically fits Kainga really well. Explain the vision you carried during your music and sound design choices for enhancing Kainga. 

E: I agree the soundtrack is perfect for Kainga and I couldn’t be happier with the result. I spoke at length with Somepoint Sound to create a great feeling of mystery and discovery during gameplay. We decided to use instruments and sounds from around the world (many of which are live musicians) but to try our best to be not immediately recognizable as a part of that culture. This mentality extends to the game’s visuals and other concepts as well. To create an interesting yet believable mix of all existing cultures on our planet to evoke a feeling of familiarity and the exotic.

S: What was it like working with a sound designer/composer? What was the process like with Somepoint Sound? 

E: Somepoint Sound is really great to work with. Personally, I know nothing about audio or music and I wanted to work with someone who could take the reins and run with it, and Somepoint Sound has exceeded expectations in this regard. As I said before, I’m more than happy with the result and I think it perfectly encapsulates the feelings that the game is trying to evoke.

S: There’s already lots of exciting, positive and helpful reviews on Steam. Do you have a release date planned? What platforms will you be releasing on? 

E: Yes, the community has been fantastic. Everyone is helpful and understanding and, more than anything, excited to be playing something new and unique. I’m thrilled with their response and the extent to which the community has grown. It’s incredible to see and I’m excited to see where we’ll go in the future!

I have a release date set in my calendar but I’d like to not share that specific date in-case something comes up between now and then! In the meantime, there are 4 major steps in the roadmap that will expand and improve the game each in their own way, so the journey is really just beginning!

Thanks and see you in the Skyloft of Kainga!