When I stumbled across Flamberge on Steam I immediately fell in love with it.
Something about its presentation and sense of reality was so singular that I really wanted to dig deeper. I hit up Mike Savage-Benoit, developer of Flamberge, on Twitter and he agreed to an interview. Turns out he’s an awesome person. Both unfiltered audio and text available below.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
So you’ve been in game development for a while, 9 years?
In the hobby sense of the word. When I was about 12, my dad noticed that I really liked making board games, but getting materials for that is sort of hard. So he showed me gamemaker, I think it was gamemaker 5 or 6 at the time? My dad helped me scan in drawings I’d made to use as sprites. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was probably the most inspirational period of my life. He took drawings I’d made of our dog Chauncy, I put them in the game and made Super Chauncy who would shoot cats.
That is so, so good. So what games did you play growing up? Did you play many strategy or tactics games?
I was a Nintendo kid growing up, so I played Fire Emblem. Also RTS games – I think Lego: Rock Raiders was a turning point for me, then Battle for Middle Earth. In high school I got really into Wargame. I loved the realism of Wargame – it had no influence over Flamberge, though. Like ARMA, I’m really bad at it, but love it. I have a VIVE, and would love to make a game for that, where you really feel like the character you’re playing.
You’re teaching game development to kids right now, yeah?
Yeah, three times a week in the morning. I work for a company called STEM exCEL. Last semester they were teaching kids in Alice 2, a teaching software. It has no physics whatsoever, which for the smarter kids is really frustrating because they just want to make a Rocket League clone, and you can’t even start doing that because the most basic function of Rocket League, physics, isn’t there. We’re now trying to get fourth graders in on Unity, which is hard, but totally fun.
So tell me about how Flamberge got off the ground?
It was a weird feeling when I did the Kickstarter for Flamberge – I think there were 700 people who got in on it – that actually believed I could be a game developer. It was very validating considering I had no schooling for it. I mean, I’m not an amazing coder and I’m not an amazing artist, but the fact that I could do both even passably is what made it work out.
What seeded the idea for Flamberge’s simultaneous tactics?
It’s funny, I’ve been figuring that out over time. It’s not something I could have just written down. Over the past month I’ve been thinking that it borrows from Frozen Synapse. Recently at MAGfest, a guy told me that Flamberge reminds him of a StarFox game for the DS. Starfox command, I think? I didn’t know it at the time – I’d played the game a lot of years back, but it’s almost 100% where I got Flamberge’s troop movement. You literally draw lines for your ships, up to three, then hit execute and combat happens.
Also American Football, that was a huge thing. I’m not really into football, but something I never liked about Fire Emblem is that it really took me out of the game due to its grid based nature. There was no immersion. People don’t move that way, people don’t fight one after the other. I don’t think you can be immersed in Flamberge in a real way, but you can say “these are the rules of the world.” It makes the game very hard to tutorialize – when people see pixel art, they don’t expect physics.
Some of the areas in Flamberge, like “The Hilt” remind me of the mystery you feel in some of the spaces Dark Souls presents.
Yeah I love that sense of mystery, and try to bring it into Flamberge. That’s the scariest thing, is that neither [my co-producer] Ben or I are writers. Some of my housemates are writers, and do some editing for us, though. I want it to be a minimalist story, but I want it to be extremely compelling. My goal for the story in Flamberge is for a player to look at one of those tiny sprites, and to feel something very visceral, just because of the context around them. Part of the reason we added a skit system is to tell the “story”, which we wanted to be optional. I’ve always found that things are more rewarding when things are sparse, rather than feeding it to you constantly. That’s my beef with JRPG’s, even though this game is sort of a JRPG, is all of the needless waiting. I just added sprinting through story segments and group-move to reduce that waiting.
How did you meet your composer Ben?
He’s actually an old friend of mine from high school. He was getting into composing music – I remember the day that I decided to check out his Soundcloud because I needed music for my projects. You know when you decide to check out an old friend’s creative work, you kind of cross your fingers, you kinda got to prepare for it being really bad. But his work is incredible – he’s made like 40 tracks for Flamberge. He has so much influence over the game. It wasn’t like that at first, but I realized how much easier it is to make the game if he makes a track that “wasn’t quite right” then I fit the game to it. I never have to do much to make it fit, it might be some small tweaks in response to the music in the background.
Some of the music gives me heavy Earthbound vibes.
Yeah! We’re just getting weirder and weirder right now. Like right now it’s all about sheep. There is a sheep queen. We were originally going to have your team acquire a sheep as a party member that can’t level up, but eventually we said fuck it and decided that they should be a proper part of the team.
So in terms of systems I didn’t expect, there is an archer that you finally meet, what’s his name?
Roland, but Roland is a she. It doesn’t really matter as I try not to gender them very hard. Some people think Deliah is a girl, but it doesn’t really matter. I hate the trope of the damsel in distress – I’m in the most subtle way trying to push my feminist agenda. I’m a big fan of Zarya from Overwatch. It’s funny, because you walk around the game as Logan, people assume he is the main character, but it’s really not about him. You’ll notice that Logan isn’t actually around the cutscenes that often, but Arberine (the female archer) is.