Interview with Anodyne developer Sean Han Tani

The critically acclaimed and award-winning Anodyne arrives on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this week.

It’s been a pleasure working with the developer, Analgesic Productions, to finally bring this gem of a game to consoles.

We were drawn to Anodyne due to its Legend of Zelda influence combined with a dark but also humorous narrative which results in a 16-bit action-adventure game with a twist.

We chatted with Sean Han Tani, the game’s creator, about the studio, the game, its positive reception and his collaboration with Marina Kittaka.

Nnooo: Tell us a little about Analgesic Productions.

Sean: Analgesic is a small, Midwestern USA studio of two, Marina Kittaka and I (Sean Han Tani). Analgesic was founded when we were in college, and specializes in adventure games that mix strong, character-driven narratives with experimental, expressive takes on traditional gameplay mechanics such as 2D Zelda-like dungeons and 2D platforming.

Nnooo: What inspired the studio’s name?

Sean: As a game studio we recognize that games are partially escapist, yet how that quality is not necessarily negative. An analgesic may subdue or soothe, but it can also help work through pain. Likewise we hope our games may offer some retreat from the world, without being too escapist, while also providing valuable material to consider and take with you back into the real world.

Nnooo: Why did you choose such a dark adventure game for your debut title?

Sean: I had wanted to make a 2D Zelda-like game for a while, and felt that a surreal setting would be interesting, thanks to influences such as the dreamlike Yume Nikki and some faint story elements of Link’s Awakening. The small screen size of Anodyne lends itself nicely to minimal, creepy or surreal feeling environments, and so I decided to utilize that kind of atmosphere.

Nnooo: How did you come up with the title of Anodyne for the game? 

Sean Headshot

Sean Han Tani

Sean: I believe Marina came up with the title after a few other ideas. Anodyne can mean something that heals or soothes but also numbs the senses. Likewise, the main character Young seeks a similar dual-purpose escape into their dream world.

Nnooo:  What, if any, of your own personal experiences influenced the development of the game? 

Sean: Much of the dialogue was influenced by Marina’s life experiences and strange, memorable conversations she heard. For me I took from ideas I was thinking about at the time such as friendships and meeting people on the internet, or various fears and anxieties I had at the time. This influenced some areas, the world concept and some dialogue.

Nnooo: How did you and Marina end up collaborating on the project?

Sean: We were introduced via a mutual friend. Marina had always been making small games and I was looking for an artist, and we ended up clicking really well since Marina was a great designer and also enjoyed doing writing, which complemented my skill set at the time.

Nnooo: What were your different roles in developing the game?

Sean: I handled most of the business and marketing stuff. Marina handled the art and the majority of the writing which fleshed out my initial concept, and some of the level design. I did the initial concept, coding, music, level design and a little writing, as well as the game’s general concept.

Nnooo: What programming language was used to develop Anodyne? What were the positives and negatives of developing in that language for the game? 

Sean: Actionscript 3 and the open-source Flixel 2D engine. It was an easy to learn engine, and open-source which allowed some tweaking. Actionscript 3 is also a simple language and the game compiles to Flash, which was easy to distribute. The game also uses blitting which makes low-res 2D games easy to make.

The negatives is that Flash games are tricky to distribute as standalone PC and mobile games, and even harder for console due to the nature of Flash. Flash games are also inherently slow. There is also no visual editor like Unity, so testing things can be slow.

Nnooo: What was the most difficult part of the project? Was it different for you and Marina?

Sean: Other than balancing the workload with college, designing the levels was hard. I had to make a lot of ideas on paper for room designs and then lay everything out. Releasing the game and finding an audience was also tough.

[Sean asked Marina to answer this question too.] Marina: Honestly, I think the most difficult part was that the summer I was working on Anodyne was very very hot and I didn’t have air conditioning. That, and I had a difficult time balancing my work on the game with healthy amounts of human interaction and other life activities. The work of the game itself, while not easy, went pretty smoothly overall. This was my first game project to really pick up steam, and it felt like a dam had burst in terms of ideas and excitement.

Marina Kittaka

Marina Kittaka

Nnooo: How did you feel when you received the Honorable Mention at the IGF Student Showcase?

Sean: It was a great feeling to have our game recognized a little. It definitely motivated us at the time to continue making games, and it was cool to go visit GDC to see the game mentioned in the IGF flyer.

Nnooo: How did the award change how the game was perceived?

Sean: It made some friends, followers and fans more interested! It also helped with contacting press, to lend weight that our game was worth playing, since as a studio, Analgesic was unknown at the time.

Nnooo: Anodyne was very well received when it released on PC, Mac & Linux. What was that like?

Sean: Great! It was good to know our hard work paid off and the game resonated with people in various ways – through nostalgia or dialogue or atmosphere. Having some people to validate your work is really helpful when building confidence with creating and releasing games.

Nnooo: What has the success of the game meant for you and Marina? What kind of opportunities has it led to?

Sean: Anodyne’s notability led to a Japanese version of the game, and eventually a few other languages. It also was placed in a Humble Bundle! Anodyne gave us funds and a small following for our 2nd game, Even the Ocean, and that fanbase continues to be extremely helpful as we continue making games. It also allowed us to start relationships for console publishing, such as the one Analgesic and Nnooo have! 

Nnooo: How does it feel to be releasing Anodyne on PS4 and Xbox One?

Sean: It’s exciting to see it happening! There’s something different about playing a game in an environment that’s almost exclusively for games, versus a computer which has other distractions and uses. There are also people who know what a PS4 is but not Steam so it’s easier to explain the game.

Nnooo: Is there anything else you think fans would like to know about Anodyne?

Sean: We hope you play through till the end and uncover all of Anodyne’s secrets! Be prepared for a challenge, but with enough effort you should be able to finish the game. Good luck!

We would like to thank Sean and Marina for answering our questions and giving us an insight into the making of Anodyne.

You can download Anodyne now on PlayStation 4 for only US$9.99 / €9.99 / £7.99 in regions covered by Sony Interactive Entertainment America and in regions covered by Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe. You can also pre-order the game on Xbox One in advance of its release on September 21.

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