PAX West 2023: Check Out Our Interview with Animal Well Developer Billy Basso

The following is an interview I conducted with Billy Basso. While they might not be direct quotes, I’ll do my best to capture the gist of his answers. We had a lot of PAX West day one jitters so I’ve slimmed down some of our responses to one another.

Also the floor we were on was extremely loud.

Tom: I’m sure the question on everyone’s mind is: what is it like to publish with Bigmode?

Billy: It is… honestly kind of a surreal experience that I still, even now, like, nine months later don’t fully, like — I haven’t fully digested it. Yeah, so, as far as the actual experience working with them, they’re both like very, very nice people.

In the beginning when we first reached out, I was skeptical like “oh, will they try to influence the design of the game too much or push it in a direction that wasn’t where I wanted to go?” But that proved to be, like, a totally unfounded thing.

Tom: Nice. So it sounds like you had a lot of creative freedom with Dunkey and Leah?

Billy: Yeah, so usually I send them a build every one or two months or something like that. When I have a new section of the game ready to play and they’re like — they play it, like, immediately, like, all the way through. And then we’ll talk about it and they tell us, you know, what parts were like confusing or hard or what they really liked. It’s always like really sensible stuff and they just clearly really love the game and it feels good and, like, I’ve heard stories of publishers where they almost never play the game.

So, yeah, it’s nice that they’re extremely committed to the project. I think because this was, like, their first game they’re like — they’re just excited about it. And it’s kind of like a learning experience together because they’re learning how to be a publisher and I’m learning how to make a game, so, there’s some camaraderie there.

Tom: A lot of firsts.

Billy: Yeah!

Tom: Alrighty, so, are you Animal Well‘s sole developer?

Billy: I am!

Tom: Awesome! How long did that take?

Billy: It started as, kind of just like, a thing I would do in my free time. And, actually, the game started out as a game engine project and I started with just an empty code base.

That was about six years ago at this point. For about three or four years I was just working on it in my free time after work, I had a day job, and then, since working with Dan, and now most recently Bigmode it’s been a full time thing for two years. It’s been a long road, but, yeah it’s been kind of I don’t know I just saw it as working on something in a way that was “light fun.”

It’s taken a while, but it’s a game that has, like, all the ideas I’ve ever wanted to put into a game in there, and I was just trying to do everything the right way and not cut any corners.

Tom: What is the one takeaway you hope players will leave with having played Animal Well?

Billy: I just want them to feel like like immersed in this space and not and kind of I want them to be able to have an experience where they forget about the outside world for for a second. I feel like some of the best games I’ve played can do that; where you don’t feel the need to check your phone anymore.

Tom: Total immersion.

Billy: I want it to be relaxing and kind of tense at the same time. I just want you to get lost, I guess.

Tom: Absolutely. Alrighty, so, your game utilizes the PS5’s hardware to light some sequences in the game. When do they appear and what does it help illustrate?

Billy: I wanted to to make this feel like a first party game. I wanted to make it feel like it actually feels like it was designed with that platform in mind.

So, for the PS5, a big a big thing I did is use the the haptics a lot and the on the controller. So, anything you touch there’s, like, custom vibrations for that, and then despite it being a pixel art game there are a lot of, like, advanced graphics and lighting effects.

Tom: Yeah! Lighting systems I was hearing that term get thrown around. Tell me more about that.

Billy: Yeah, so, all of the lighting in the game is actually dynamic. Rim lighting, the shadows, then there’s like —

He points to a player playing the demo behind him.

Billy: That lantern swaying back and forth, like, it’s casting dynamic shadows on to things, so there’s a lot of different layers and it all comes together. There’s probably four or five different ways that shadows are being cast in the game between, like, the foreground casting onto the background, or there’s like, in the crevices — it’s very ambient.

There’s just a ton of little things that I’ve added over the years that add up. And then there’s — in terms of things that are actually kind of graphically intensive, there’s a fluid simulation that’s that’s running that drives a lot of the smoke and water effects; and that’s all happening in real-time, and it’s dynamic. And when your character moves through it, it’s like affecting the velocity field and pushing things around.

There’s some scenes where there’s sine distance fields that are used to render the background, and that’s like — I’m always like marching through these mathematical functions to define the outlines of shapes which is kind of, like, an advanced technique that you would see in other games.

Tom: That’s very impressive.

Billy: Thank you.

Tom: What is one piece of advice you’d give to those looking to break in to the games industry?

Billy: I would say just be prepared to sink a lot of time into a project. You have to really just love it for the sake of working on it. And have no expectations of making making money on it for a while.

I think if you approach it from that angle, you will stand a chance of eventually like sinking enough time into something that you’ll make something special. There’s no quick trick to it. For me I felt like it was a very incremental process of building the game up into something special and getting people’s attention.

Other than that, I feel like there’s still a lot of opportunities for unique games. Just try to make something that hasn’t been done before. Whether that’s like, taking game mechanics from a different genre and taking an art style from a different genre — like, just mixing and matching existing things there’s already just like a ton of potential with that. Don’t feel like you need to follow the template of other games too closely.

Tom: Alright. My final question for you: when can players expect to get their hands on Animal Well?

Billy: Uh, the official statement is: when it’s done. Hopefully early next year, roughly. It’s getting close. I did reach a milestone a few months ago where you can get to the credits in the game, so, it’s at that point. Now it’s just filling out a few missing details, and polishing, and adding some end game secrets, and stuff. It’s closer to being done than not done.

Closing Thoughts

Reflecting back on my interview with Billy, I’m left awestruck that I even got to interview this really genuine guy. It felt like just a few days ago that I saw him in the Bigmode 2023 Memo, and then, boom, here I am interviewing him.

Billy just wants players to fall down a well and explore this glowing world he’s created. His heart is in the right place and I can’t wait to check out Animal Well when it releases.

Animal Well is set to release on Steam, PS5, and Nintendo Switch.

Video Credit: Shared Memory
Video Credit: Shared Memory

Are there any indies we missed that you would like us to cover? Let Tom know over on the Boss Rush discord before the event ends.

Featured Image: Shared Memory

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