Interview with Julia Minamata

We did an interview with Julia Minamata, the creator of the upcoming game The Crimson Diamond (you can find the demo here), about her game, game development and games in general. Here's what she said:

1. Hi, tell us a bit about you:

Hi! I’m Julia Minamata! I was born, raised, and am still based in Toronto, Ontario Canada. I was a freelance illustrator for about ten years before I started making The Crimson Diamond. I went to college for art and I have a Bachelor of Applied Arts: Illustration. I created illustrations for magazines and newspapers, then started getting interested in pixel art and indie game development in my own time. The Crimson Diamond started from there!

2. What were your favorite game or games when growing up?

My favourite genre has always been adventure games (the King’s Quest series, the Quest for Glory series, Secret of Monkey Island, The Colonel’s Bequest, Day of the Tentacle), followed by roleplaying games (Wizardry 7, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, Fallout). Though I have a lot of love for PC-ports of console games and DOS-based arcade games like Rampage, Gauntlet, Double Dragon, Golden Axe, Xenon 2, Loderunner, stuff like that.

3. When did you start making games?

The very first game I made was in high school, but it wasn’t much of a game. It was called “Boxar” and I programmed it in Turing (a computer language designed for students to learn basic programming). It was barely anything, all the player did was move a square around on a screen.

I started a rudimentary adventure game using an engine with a flow-chart organization system too, but I don’t remember much about that, or even the name of the engine. That was also while at high school.

I didn’t try making games until many years later, after college, and after I’d been freelancing for illustration gigs. I started watching Let’s Plays on Youtube of Francisco González’s “Ben Jordan” series, and Yahtzee Croshaw’s “Chzo Mythos”. That’s when I first learned about Adventure Game Studio.

4. What made you start developing games?

Seeing Francisco’s and Yathzee’s games was a huge inspiration for me! I saw that it was now possible to make adventure games as a solo developer, thanks to Adventure Game Studio. And thanks to digital distribution, sharing one’s games with others was also easier.

I didn’t set out to make a game when I started The Crimson Diamond. I was only interested in recreating the pixel art look of Sierra’s SCI0 adventure games. The pixel art rooms I made eventually became Crimson Lodge, the setting for a story that then became my game.

5. Why did you decide to make this particular game (The Crimson Diamond), what was your inspiration? How did you come up with the idea and story?

The Crimson Diamond started as a collection of rooms that I’d stitched together in Adventure Game studio. That setting was my jumping off point when I started thinking about who lived there, who would visit, why they would visit, and the types of conflicts that could arise. I drew from my existing interests of mineralogy and local history. I was happy to learn more about those topics to flesh out the setting and story for The Crimson Diamond, as well as the characters. I’m also a huge fan of mystery books, tv shows, and movies!  I knew I wanted a “cozy mystery” type of tone, much the same as The Colonel’s Bequest and Agatha Christie mysteries.

Ontario has lots of mineral and ore deposits that drove the development of towns. Nickel mines, silver, amethyst, and even diamonds, though diamonds were a relatively recent discovery. Diamonds have truly been found in northern Ontario, and mines were opened there, which makes it quite feasible for this to occur in the world of The Crimson Diamond.

6. Who/what are your characters based on?

The characters started as roles that needed to be fulfilled to drive the story. There had to be conflict, alliances, and history between the characters, those were the foremost considerations. Though the character of Kimi Kishiro is loosely based on my own family! My father’s side of the family has a long history in Canada, having emigrated here from Japan in the early 1900s. A fair number of Japanese people did the same at that time, and I wanted my setting to reflect the reality of history, not what is commonly depicted. Kimi is an avid birder (someone who likes birdwatching), the same as my Mom! If I was in my game, I’d most likely behave like Kimi. She just wants to do her own thing and avoid all the drama!

7. How would you describe the style of your game?

The style of The Crimson Diamond is very much “cozy mystery”. It’s a genre of mystery story that doesn’t depict grisly scenes or involve extreme violence. It’s meant to be a relaxing experience, similar to curling up by a fire with a mug of tea and a good book. There is conflict and bad things can happen, but it’s not overly shocking or disturbing.

The style of the art is bright, colourful, and detailed. Even the gameplay has been designed so that the player doesn’t feel rushed or stressed by the way the game progresses. The in-game notebook explicitly states what needs to be done to progress the story; the player is welcome to explore and converse with characters, without worrying about accidentally moving forward in the game.

There is some beautiful music in the game (composed by Dan Policar), but it’s not a constant presence. It accentuates certain events and sets the tone, but most of the game is quiet. It’s a style of game music that back in the late 80s and early 90s was more a result of technical limitations than a choice (disk space was at a premium and music needed to be sparse to limit file sizes), but I enjoyed the meditative nature of playing adventure games of that era. I’m striving to create a similar atmosphere in The Crimson Diamond!

8. What has been hardest so far in the development process?

The hardest aspect of development has been simply how long it takes to make a game! Everything seems to take longer than I think it will. And there’s just so much to do. Which leads to another difficulty; when making a game for commercial release, it’s not just about game development!

I’m hoping my game will sell well, and in order to give it the best chance at that as possible, I need to promote it and market it to spread the word. That includes being fairly active on social media, livestreaming game development, writing a monthly newsletter, being a guest on podcasts, and interviews like this! I’m passionate about my game so it’s a pleasure for me to talk about it, but these things do take time away from development. However, these things are just as important as making the game if I want to realize my dream of making a living as a game developer. I’m always grateful for these opportunities! Thanks, Fireflower!

9. When do you expect the game to be finished?

I’m still hoping to release the game in 2023, but please refer to my above response about how things always take longer than I think they will! Heh!

A big thank you to Julia, for taking the time to answer these questions. It will be interesting to see how her game turns out.

You can try the demo of the game here.