Three Hills, Alberta is home to one of the latest Indie Game studios to appear within Canada’s borders, Tri-Coastal Games. Made up of an ambitious team of two self-taught devs, Daryl Wilson (Programmer and Composer) and Craig Grierson (Game Design and Modeler), Tri-Coastal Games is focused on creating retro-inspired games with modern twists. They have a lot to prove with their first release, Dystoria, so we decided to chat about what to expect with their latest title Dystoria.
Dystoria is a retro inspired 3D arcade shooter set in the 80s that gives players the freedom to navigate their ship wherever they want to on the surface geometry of each level. Each map is a 360-degree Axis Shifting 3D space, creating challenging navigation puzzles to work out as players search for collectable orbs while fighting for survival against cerebral enemies. Dystoria is currently available for PC on Steam.
CGMagazine: Why did you two decide to come together as a team and start your own Indie game studio (Tri-Coastal Games)?
Daryl Wilson: We actually met while Craig was still working at his video store down here in Three Hills and we just started talking about video games and how making one was always his dream. Since I’m already a musician I told him, “Well if you need any music then give me a call.”
That’s basically where it all started before we actually got down to working on a project together and filling in the gaps where we could. This is the first time I’m diving into the development side of video games, where as Craig has been at the learning process a lot longer.
Craig Grierson: Yeah, I’ve been trying to develop and release a game for a long time, but this is my first release too so we’re excited what people have to say about it.
CGM: Where did the idea for Dystoria come from?
Wilson: I was on vacation visiting a friend of mine from high school when we got to talking about games and ideas. Both of us are passionate about games obviously, but he’s a great ideas guy and he said, “You know what, I think it would be cool if there was a game that you could travel along the surface and if you go over the edge the map will reorient itself and give the player even more space to navigate.”
Once I heard that we started prototyping a very rudimentary version of Dystoria right there. Then I came back and showed it to Craig, he really liked it, so we decided to just go ahead and develop it into a full release.
CGM: Was Dystoria ever shown off at a Game Jam?
Wilson: As far as I’m aware of we are the only game developers where we are located for 100 miles so we are extremely isolated. All of our game dev community interactivity is online, but we would love to do a Game Jam at some point when we have a smaller idea that could be done really quickly.
CGM: Everything about Dystoria screams retro 80s sci-fi and it’s clear that your game draws inspiration from classic games and movies, such as Descent and Tron. What made you want to set your game in this era?
Wilson: Because we’re old (laughing).
Grierson: We love everything about the 80s; the science fiction, the movies, the music. Of course we love other decades as well, but we wanted to return to the golden age of gaming where enemies may not have the best AI, but at the end of the day they are endless fun.
Not that games aren’t fun now, in fact they are pretty brilliant, but when you’re only a studio of two you can’t make something as expansive or large in scale as a AAA title.
Wilson: Exactly. Dystoria is a niche game that no large studio would pick up because they would consider it too big of a risk to publish, but because of our position, we get to experiment and deliver some unique experiences.
CGM: In a marketplace like Steam that’s flooded with shovelware it can be hard for promising Indies to stand out from the pack. What makes Dystoria unique and why should potential players look out for it?
Wilson: I believe the gameplay itself is what will get people hooked on our game. I’ve been hard pressed to find anything that does what Dystoria is doing with Six-Axis and the shifting map. A lot of people pick up the inspiration from Descent and Super Mario Galaxy, which are common comparisons, but the game is still very much different from those two in a lot of ways. Because the player is actually stuck to the surface for the most part, this makes navigation interesting and complex. You really have to use your head and think things out instead of blindly rushing through because you’ll only get lost and disoriented.
Another thing we worked hard to do was capture the essence of retro games, but without limiting ourselves to pixelated graphics and 8-bit sound.
Grierson: I would agree with Daryl that we are doing something different, that I for sure haven’t seen before as a gamer. Right away after I saw the concept I thought, “If we do this right, Dystoria could be something really special.” Hopefully we accomplished just that.
CGM: Since this is your first experience working on a video game as well as with each other, what were some of the difficulties you had to overcome while working on Dystoria?
Wilson : From the start, time is a key factor because we aren’t a paid studio coming off of the money we made from our last project. So a lot of Dystoria’s development was done in our spare time, hacking away at the evenings as well as learning all of the programs we had to work with, like the Unity Engine.
There’s also the fundamentals of how a game works from start to finish, building all the menus, tying it all together. You never think about those things while working with a concept about flying ships, in fact, that was relatively easy to come up with, but packaging it all together to make a game that plays and has progression and big boss fights is what makes it complicated, yet have depth.
CGM: On your website you guys talk about your initial project, titled Hillville, and how it was too ambitious for you to complete with such a small team. Is Dystoria a prototype or stripped down version of what Hillville was intended to be?
Wilson: I would say no. Hillville was more of an action/adventure story kind of game, which is a genre we also love. Because we are so young as developers we have all of these massive ideas in our heads, but not enough manpower to produce them. We got buried trying to create it by ourselves and let the scope get away on us. Soon enough we decided it would be best to put it on the backburner, rather than trying to hammer it out in another five plus years.
Our next course of action was to create Dystoria, something smaller that we would be able to prove ourselves with. We were actually able to use the assets from Hillville to act as the setting for the beginning cutscene of the game, which is modelled after the town where we live.
CGM: It might be a bit too early to ask this question, but what is the next step for Tri-Coastal Games?
Wilson: That’s a hard question to answer because we are literally only days out the door with the release of Dystoria, but we’re intent on supporting the game. We do have some ideas on what direction we’d like to take next, but because any number of things could change at this point with how Dystoria performs we might end up doing another game in our spare time. Dystoria’s performance will affect the scope of our next project and what we can do.
If Dystoria does really well, there could easily be a Dystoria 2 or included features like multiplayer or a bigger campaign. That would be pretty cool to see happen, but it would also be nice to change the pace a little bit.
Grierson: Right away when we saw Dystoria’s concept we definitely saw the potential of how fun it could be in multiplayer, like Mario Kart’s battle mode. So I would be excited to work on that. My dream is that we make enough to build our next game and to continue building games because it’s what we are passionate about.