Making a vast 3D video game is hard, and takes a lot of work. Making one all by yourself takes an enormous amount of time and dedication. Despite toiling away for hours each day developing his current game, Gnomes vs. Fairies, Dano Kablamo was able to take a moment to chat with us about the process.
During our conversation, Kablamo revealed his many creative talents, passion for games and fantasy settings, his obsession with gnomes, how he became a self-taught indie developer, and even how a long bus ride was key to Gnomes vs Fairies’ development.
Hey Dano, thanks for taking the time to talk with us! I know the life of an indie gamedev is a busy one, so we’ll get right into it. Being new to the Nintendo indie game development scene, many readers are hearing about you and your game, Gnomes vs. Fairies, for the first time. Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi, I’m Dano. I’m a musician, artist, filmmaker and, for the last few years, a gamedev. All of what I do boils down to storytelling and trying to take people on journeys … and maybe let them see what I see for a little bit. Also, you really said it! I haven’t enjoyed my backyard in over a year since every waking free moment I have is spent developing, teaching, or helping my wife with chores or taking care of my kids!
Clearly you are a man of many talents. What other creative passions do you have?
I play tons of musical instruments and I even have a YouTube channel where I cover video game songs and film myself playing all the different instruments live, but I use special effects so I’m playing all the parts in a band of [just me]. I’m also a documentary filmmaker, painter, sculptor, and writer.
“It was the perfect way to combine all of my disciplines with minimum contact with other human beings.”
Earlier, you indicated game development became one of your most recent hobbies. How did you get started?
I drew video game characters and maps as a kid and came up with lots of imaginary worlds including Ventocia, which is the location for Gnomes vs. Fairies. But I didn’t get started in game development until probably 2014 some time. I started with music when I was young and got a feel for how things should feel. I’ve always been making art and paintings, and I had just finished film school and spent four years making a documentary called “Pitch Bright,” about light pollution. I’ve always been the mad scientist up late in the laboratory alone and insane with new ideas, and the first time I made a cube shoot spheres at other cubes until they blew up I was hooked for life. It was the perfect way to combine all of my disciplines with minimum contact with other human beings.
Sweet. Gnomes vs. Fairies is a pretty big feat for someone who has only been playing around with gamedev for less than two years! What was the learning process like for you? Did you take programming classes or are you self-taught?
It’s interesting. Once I started programming, I realized that I had already been thinking in code my entire life and it really helped to shake my belief that there existed insoluble problems. I just took to it like a duck to water because I didn’t learn to code by learning to code — I learned to code because I just had to make my characters do a certain thing or make my scene behave in a certain way and I wouldn’t rest until it worked correctly.
Gnomes vs. Fairies is your new game in development for Wii U, and it looks like a lot of fun. How would you describe it?
Gnomes vs. Fairies is a sword-slashing, acrobatic 3D platformer set in a fantasy world with RPG style magic and equipment. Play as a customizable little male or female gnome to capture fairies, rescue gnomes, kill bosses, and piece together the shattered crystals to banish the evil fairies from the Gnomeland forever!
Boots, tunics, auxiliary items, etc. all change your little gnome’s movements in unique ways. For example, no-slip boots allow you to scale previously too-slippery surfaces, grappling hooks allow you to swing through the air — high over the danger below! You can also pilot airships and ride mice!
Yeah, from what it sounds like and from what I’ve seen already, there is a lot of content packed into this game!
Yes. All in all, there are over 40 scenes, five elements, 20+ items, over 40 different enemy types, boss battles, a music creator level, surfing, mouse mounts to ride, and more!
The gameplay style is reminiscent of old-school N64 games. What are your main influences for Gnomes vs. Fairies?
Mario 64 is absolutely up there in the top games of all time, and the gnome’s movement is made to feel somewhat similar. Equipment progression and the structure of the puzzles is similar to the Zelda series — more like A Link to the Past than anything — but the attacking and motion is still very, very acrobatic. The Final Fantasy series is another huge influence, and is apparent in the magic system in the game, as well as a lot of the styling.
One big influence I haven’t mentioned often is the Tony Hawk series — specifically one through three. A sense of flow is one of the most important aspects of a great game experience to me, and the way you could just get in there and flow around is something I absolutely knew that my game must have. Although it doesn’t have skateboards, the combat and character movement is all about flow.
“I didn’t set out to make a game lots of people would dig; I set out to make my dream game.”
I’d expect a game that combines elements from Mario 64, Zelda, Final Fantasy, and old-school Tony Hawk is a game that most gamers could get behind!
I hope so! I didn’t set out to make a game lots of people would dig; I set out to make my dream game. A game that I could get lost in. It’s all of my favorite parts of all my favorite games congealed into one perfect experience. If it turns out that people love it and enough people buy it that I get to make a second game, my wildest dreams will have come true.
The nostalgia factor the gameplay exudes is great — it definitely feels like a game from the late ‘90s with a modern coat of paint. How would you say Gnomes vs. Fairies is different from other games in the 3D action/platformer genre?
Haha, I haven’t played many other 3D action/platformers except for the original Spyro and every title in the Mario series. There is a very strong NES influence in Gnomes vs. Fairies, too. I am trying to make the gameplay and tone feel as much like playing an NES or Super NES game as possible.
What made you decide on the fantasy setting and characters for the game?
I’m obsessed with fantasy. I reread “The Hobbit” every year. I collect garden gnomes and I really wish they were real. I’m kind of a weirdo that way, I guess.
(Laughs) It only becomes weird if you actually start believing they’re real! How many garden gnomes do you have?
But what if believing is what makes them real? No … unfortunately for me and for the gnomes, I’m an eternal skeptic. I have tried to consider as many strange things as possible, but I’ve never quite had the ability to muster anything resembling a true belief in any of them. At this point I have only five or six, but that’s because I put them outside in the garden to protect against trolls and the sun. Plus, errant weed-whackers have been known to take their toll.
Which is your favorite gnome?
The one on my desk at the studio who’s playing a little flute and who I looked at while I was drawing my first gnome character and modeling it in 3ds Max. I play this weird Japanese flute called the Shakuhachi. I have loved its sound my whole life and when I heard it was the most difficult instrument in the world [to play] I was like, “I gotta get in on that.” You know, cause I’m always looking for a dragon to slay. Some of the music I’ve written following this technique would blow your mind, man! (laughs)
With Gnomes vs. Fairies for PC currently in early access on Steam, and future plans for Android and iOS releases, what made you decide to bring the game to Wii U?
The game has honestly been meant for Wii U all along. Unity, the game engine I’m using, can easily port between the different formats, and in the beginning of Gnomes vs. Fairies’ development, I was simultaneously developing for PC and Android. I also recently successfully tested the game on the Oculus Rift so we’ll be seeing a VR version soon as well!
Are there any plans for Wii U-specific features?
Well, the GamePad will allow for the fastest equipment swapping of any platform. It will also have off-TV play and, depending how it goes, a sweet multiplayer battle arena!
You describe Gnomes vs. Fairies as a one-man passion project, which is impressive. So, how much work have you put into the game and what content have you had to personally conjure up?
I wrote 100 percent of the code, created all the music and sound effects, as well as a good deal of the game’s art. I designed the levels and everything. But in the last stages I’m implementing the help of a great friend and talented artist to help me with the 3D art. I started this project in March of 2015 on a bus trip and have spent probably nine hours a day on it ever since then. I’m now a week past my original deadline with probably 85-90 percent of the game completed and probably 95 percent of the total work done.
Very cool, and that’s an interesting way to start a game!
I had just finished my first two mobile games and I knew I’d be stuck there for twenty hours with little to do so I had planned on making a game on that trip for weeks.
Your musical background really shines through in the game’s score. What are your inspirations for the music of Gnomes vs. Fairies?
Thank you! Honestly, I get a lot of my musical vocabulary from Igor Stravinsky, The Beatles, David Bowie, Judy and Mary, jazz, blues, Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy, and many other obscure musical talents. For this game, I’ve decided that I’m going to unify the score through instrumentation. In the first scene of the game — where the gnomes are at the theater telling you the backstory of how the evil fairies came to imprison the gnomes of Ventocia — you can see their gnome band: accordion, guitar, bass, and drum set. I’m going to use that instrumentation throughout the game and record every instrument live. At this point it’s all temporary music that I’ve written over the years but it will be really special when it’s done.
Gnomes vs. Fairies is a pretty impressive Wii U debut for you! Do you have any advice for aspiring game developers?
Get in and make the game. And show off what you create to the Internet! If you can’t figure it out, ask around on Reddit or Google it. It’s really easy these days.
Do you have a Wii U release date locked down yet?
My goal is to release the game April 15th of this year. Whether I’ll make that or not remains to be seen, but I’m here working on it eleven hours a day now, minimum! And when I’m done, I’m gonna take two weeks off and take my kids on a road trip.
As of now, what are your future game development plans?
My next game is already in development and will be entitled Nudists vs. Prudists.
(Laughs) I’m seeing a trend in your game titles already!
I’m actually a nudist myself as well as an amateur pixel artist, so one day, on my cell phone, I made this naked pixel lady with sunglasses and her bald naked husband who looks like Patrick Stewart in 8-bit resolution and I knew I had a game (laughs). I’m also a Taoist and I love the yin yang relationships, such as nudists and prudists, and how they seem to be at odds but in reality they create and sustain each other. The same is there in Gnomes vs. Fairies. They are polar energies. A coincidence of opposites.
I think it’s safe to assume you grew up playing Nintendo games. What is your favorite Nintendo game of all time?
That would probably be half Final Fantasy II (IV) and half Mario 64.
(Laughs) That’s cheating!
OK, fine then. My favorite Nintendo game of all time is Illusion of Gaia. It’s so awesome. Just so perfect. I hadn’t even realized, but that was a huge influence on me as well, now that I think about it.
Where can our readers find out more about you and Gnomes vs. Fairies?
Well, you can find Gnomes vs. Fairies info at gnomesvsfairies.com. My Facebook is facebook.com/GnomesVsFairies. Of course, I like to post GIF updates and links to my one-man-band videos on my Twitter at @Dano_Kablamo. Also, don’t forget to take a peek at my YouTube channel for a lot of gnarly clips from the game and other stuff I’ve created.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell everyone?
If you wanna help me out, come pick it up on Steam Early Access and let me know how it’s working for you!
Awesome Dano, and thanks for chatting with me! Good luck with Gnomes vs. Fairies, and we look forward to seeing more from you!
I’ll do my best! Thanks for checking out my game! Exclamations!