Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Ten questions with Christophe Galati, maker of Save me Mr Tako

I had a keen eye on Christophe Galati's Save me Mr Tako: Tatsukete Tako-San long before it hit Steam and the Nintendo Switch eShop this time last year.

To put it another way, I drooled over this adorable, octopus-starring platformer back when it was still a Wii U title. And when it was being considered for the New 3DS, too.

In the end, neither of those now-defunct systems were blessed with Save me Mr Tako. Why? Sadly, I don't know. I rather stupidly forgot to ask Christophe about those planned-but-canned releases when he agreed to answer a few questions about the game a couple of weeks ago.

I asked him a number of other intriguing questions, though. Or at least I hope they're intriguing. You be the judge.

The Gay Gamer: How long have you been making games and what prompted you to start making them? Also, what kinds of games did you make early on?

Christophe: I was really into JRPGs and retro games growing up, as my brother was a game collector. I started to create games when I was 12, after discovering RPG Maker with a friend. My first attempt was a Pokémon fan game. It had a Final Fantasy-like battle system and a very dark story with Mudkip sacrifices.

I learned a lot, then decided to make more personal projects, learn pixel art and write stories. I continued using RPG Maker, and showed my work in online forums. At 18, I went to a game school--Isart Digital--in Paris, where I learned more about game design and programming while also working in the industry.

Christophe Galati sporting a Zelda tee

The Gay Gamer: I'm guessing Save me Mr Tako was your first "big" game--or at least the first one that was picked up by a publisher, made you money, etc. How did you go from developing games for fun, or on the side, to this?

Christophe: Correct, Save me Mr Tako is my first game as an indie. I started to create it in 2014, at a time when I was very depressed by the game school I was attending and the internship I had (where I was making a game for a French cheese company). It was the GameBoy's 25th anniversary year, I ate takoyaki for the first time and got the vision of an octopus character. All of this merged in my mind, along with my JRPG inspiration, and led to Tako.

I started with a small prototype that I published in September of that year, and it got a lot of visibility, especially in Japan. It gave me the motivation to make a full game of it, even though I was 19 at the time. I worked on it in my free time for three years, with the help of the composer Marc-Antoine Archier. Then, the game was selected for the Tokyo Game Show in 2016. It was like a dream come true. That’s where I met Nicalis. After that, I decided to leave my job and go full-time indie. The game finally released last October, after four years of hard work.

The Gay Gamer: How was that experience for you overall, now that it's behind you? Are you happy with how Save me Mr Tako turned out and how players responded to it?

Christophe: It’s never behind you. There are still many things I want to do with the game. I’m glad I was able to follow my vision and make the story come to life, as my first goal when designing a game is to tell a story. I’m proud to have made such a large game, but I’m kind of sad it has some balancing issues, as it was never my intention to make a hard game. After four years on my own, I couldn’t feel the difficulty anymore. Hopefully it will be patched soon so more people can enjoy the story.

I also learned a lot by working with a publisher, and feel prepared for what will come next. I’m glad players liked the game and identified with the characters, that it got the "hidden gem" aura and is considered one of the best GameBoy tribute games.

A scene from Save me Mr Tako

The Gay Gamer: Kind of an aside here, but Save me Mr Tako features drag queens. What made you decide to include them in the game?

Christophe: You can thank my friend Mirage for that! She introduced me to drag culture around the time I started development, and brought me to a few drag shows in Paris. It was so much fun! I’m all for making games more inclusive, to help the representation of LGBT characters--that’s something I want to keep doing in my next creations.

The Gay Gamer: Do you think you'll ever return to that world, perhaps with a sequel to Save me Mr Tako? And if you did ever return to it, what do you think you'd add to or change about it? Would it even still be a platformer?

Christophe: I hope I can return to that world someday. Now that I have more distance with it, I realized there were a lot of elements and ideas that came from the projects I made when I was a teenager, with an octopus twist. I guess it’s my own universe, and I want to keep expanding it.

But I don’t want to do a platformer again soon. My goal is to lean toward the JRPG genre, which is more suited to the stories I want to tell. I love to write universe and lore documents, so I may also create new worlds. Who knows what projects I will have the chance to work on in the future?

The Gay Gamer: You recently completed a five-month artist residency program in Kyoto. How did that change how you think about and make games? What are some of the things you learned there that are impacting your next game?

Christophe: Earlier this year, I got the chance to become the first game developer to be selected in a French artist residency. It’s something I've had in mind since seeing a documentary about Villa Medicis a few years ago. That made me think it would be great to have these kind of places open for game creators. When I discovered Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto, I had to apply. It was perfect for my needs, as my games are very inspired by Japanese culture.

Another Save me Mr Tako scene

I really think I grew up during those five months. It gave me more confidence as an artist and in the messages I want to express in my games. Being able to work in such a cool environment, surrounded by artists from very different fields and experiencing life in Japan--all those things inspired me a lot. It also gave me time to take care of myself after crunching on Tako, to get in better shape, to do research and a real pre-production this time.

The Gay Gamer: Speaking of your next game, it seems to be something you're calling the Himitsu Project. It appears to be inspired by Famicom games rather than GameBoy ones this time around. Is that the case? If so, why are you going for a Famicom aesthetic with it?

Christophe: Himitsu Project is a code name. I always saw Tako as a first step in a journey of paying tribute to and mastering the aesthetic of games that inspired me growing up. I started with the GameBoy, and am now moving on to the GameBoy Advance. I agree the current palette of the prototype is very limited, making it look like a Famicom game, but this way people understand it’s a prototype and that nothing is final. (That’s also why the character is still naked.) I hope that in future projects I’ll be able to explore aesthetics like the PS1 and DS, too.

The Gay Gamer: What else can you share about the Himitsu Project at this time? Does it fit into any particular genre or genres? Have any existing games served as inspiration for it? How far along are you in its creation?

Christophe: The game is an action RPG that's inspired by many games, including Illusion of Gaia, Golden Sun and Secret of Mana. The main themes it will deal with are secrets, how our society and people are built on traumas and how that consumes the world from the inside. It will follow several characters, including a drag performer.

Christophe Galati's Himitsu Project

It’s still the beginning of the project, I think it will take at least three years to develop--if I manage to not only work on it in my free time as I did with Tako. That’s what I’ve been working on since I returned to France--applying for funding and creating opportunities for the project.

The Gay Gamer: You say on your Patreon page that you want to form your own company at some point. Why is that?

Christophe: That’s also why I opened a Patreon page recently. It’s part of creating the good working conditions I’d like to have. I was able to develop Tako mostly alone, but in the future, I’d like to work with a team. That will benefit the quality of the final game and allow me to make even more ambitious projects. Starting my own company will help with funding, too, and that will provide even more opportunities. I’m just at the beginning of my career, and I want to see how far I can go to make my dreams come true.

The Gay Gamer: You also say you eventually want that company be seen as a modern Quintet. How exactly do you hope to follow in the footsteps of that company?

Christophe: For me, Quintet will always be a company with an aura, which made meaningful games. That is kind of what I aspire to--I want to create masterpieces, games that will inspire people as those games inspired me growing up.

My goal is not to revolutionize the game industry, but to explore new subjects, use gameplay to tell stories that will reach the heart of players, create great adventures that will make them understand things and help them in their own lives. I see games as an artform, and I want to defend that view. I believe our generation is the game industry of tomorrow, and I want to help make it less abusive and more inclusive.

See also: 'Ten questions with the guys behind the best GameBoy game you've probably never played, Tobu Tobu Girl'

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