8-Bit Adventures 2, an exciting modernisation of classic JRPGs, is currently being developed by Critical Games. This indie team already has two titles under their belt – 8-Bit Adventures: The Forgotten Journey and Tales Across Time. We’ve been fortune enough to catch up with Joshua Hallaran, Critical Games Project Lead and Game Designer to chat about the next neo-retro instalment due out later this year.
BG4GHub: Hi Josh. Thank you so much for giving us some of your time. Let’s talk about your latest project, 8-Bit Adventures 2. What can fans expect from this second instalment?
Josh Hallaran: 8-Bit Adventures 2 is an attempt to make a brand new “classic” JRPG. While plenty of retro throwbacks exist, our game is less about nostalgia and more about telling a story. Our goal is to take everything players loved about NES, SNES, and PS1-era JRPGs, and recapture the heart, soul, and charm of that era – minus any frustration and inconvenience. This means an earnest, engaging storyline; relatable, easy-to-love characters; strategic turn-based battles; deep party customisation; bizarre monsters; an unforgettable NES-like soundtrack; and a large, fantastical world, traversed by Airship, and filled with people full of personality – all brought to life by vibrant 8-Bit inspired visuals.
I wanted to take everything that players liked about the first game and expand upon it. The battle system is completely different this time, with a larger cast of playable characters, a new turn order system, special team-up moves, and the ability to swap party members in and out of battle. It was particularly inspired by games like Final Fantasy X, Chrono Trigger, and Mother 3. The Augments system is also a new mechanic that allows the player to customise their characters’ stats and give them all kinds of unique special effects. There were also a lot of quality of life changes made; for example, the replacement of random battles with actual enemies that walk around the world, and the addition of a sprint button to quickly traverse the larger environments.
With that said, all of the characters from the first game return, and players can revisit almost every location from that original release (if a town or dungeon should still be in the world, it’s there). Additionally, while new ideas and mechanics are explored, this isn’t an experimental game – our aim has always been to make a quintessential Japanese-style RPG. So overall, I think the phrase “familiar, but fresh” best sums it up!
BG4GHub: The art in the game is fantastic (especially the party members and the enemies they face during fight scenes) – can you tell us a little about the design process?
JH: Thanks for the kind words! The first game’s art was extremely limited by my meagre budget, so when production began on the sequel it was one of the big things I wanted to address. I’ll let our wonderful artist Jerram Fahey explain:
“First of all, thank you. The enemy battle sprites were drawn on paper following Josh’s brief (or my own suggested ideas if he wasn’t quite sure himself), followed by being scanned, resized and “inked”/coloured in pixels. The party members kind of went the opposite way, since their sprites are much smaller: first I came up with pixel designs that were readable at such a small scale, and those designs were enlarged/fleshed out for cutscenes and promo art. Like most games of the “8-bit” era, the character designs are quite simple since there’s not a lot of room for detail in a 16×16 pixel sprite! The environments followed a similar approach, where they were designed at their “gameplay” scale and then adapted for cutscenes and battle backgrounds after the fact. Josh had everything planned out and gave me great detail and direction for the art. In most cases I was just trying to recreate the image in his head! But there was still plenty of freedom to explore my own ideas and share them with Josh.”
BG4GHub: What did you learn from making the first 8-Bit Adventures: The Forgotten Journey and Tales Across Time [both of which are available on Steam right now]?
JH: Honestly? Everything! Most people don’t know this, but the first 8-Bit Adventures was originally a very different game than what players saw on Steam in 2015; the original version released in 2013, and (with the exception of a great soundtrack) it was awful – and that’s putting it nicely! Not only was the game ugly and unbalanced, it was also frustrating to play because I’d incorporated some of the most tedious elements of 8-bit JRPGs. But the core ideas of the game were solid, and so in 2014 I set about making a Remastered Edition for Steam – which ended up being a completely different game in practice! I also studied a lot of JRPGs and picked out key elements from them – things like Chrono Trigger’s perfect pacing; the way Wild Arms 1 uses townspeople’s dialogue to tell short, personal stories; the Dragon Quest series’ approach to boss battle design with its straightforward battle system; and so on. The game still didn’t have much of a budget, so I tried to focus on aspects that didn’t cost anything – polish and personality became two of my key words during development, and I think this focus really paid off.
So essentially, creating the first game taught me how to build a Japanese-style RPG – and how to do it with very limited resources. I’ve taken those experiences and lessons learned directly into 8-Bit Adventures 2, along with all of the incredibly helpful player feedback I received after the launch. It’s been 5 years since then, and we’ve come a long way!
BG4GHub: I’m sure there will be people reading who are interested in getting into game development. Tell us about your journey – did you work at a studio? Are you self-taught or did you study at university/college to learn your craft?
JH: I’m a self-taught developer. I don’t recommend this path (stay in school everyone!), but I’m someone who learns best by doing – even if that means making mistakes along the way. At around 9/10 years old, I started tinkering with whatever programs I could find online – Game Maker, the early RPG Makers, etc. – and while I never produced anything good, I did learn a lot. As Game Design specifically was my passion (I’ve never been much of an artist or programmer), I’d practice writing down and fleshing out my game design ideas, as well as keeping notes on every game I played; jotting down mistakes to avoid, and good ideas to emulate. But while all of this was a good starting point, I ultimately had no idea what I was in for when I started making my own commercial games haha.
While I managed to release several titles in a short space of time (two on PC and four on Mobile), my first 4 years of development had a *lot* of failures – and I was very close to giving up. What I learned, however, is that there really aren’t any failures; just learning experiences. Every unsuccessful game – along with the feedback I received from players – taught me valuable lessons and honed my skills; for example, one game taught me about polish and how to keep gameplay varied by iterating upon a core mechanic. When I made the Remastered Edition of 8-Bit Adventures 1 for Steam, I took my passion for JRPGs and combined it with everything I’d learned from those years of “failure”. And it turned out that players really liked it! Between that and a short, experimental game I released in 2016 called Tales Across Time, I made enough money to fund a much larger scale production. So you could say that 8-Bit Adventures 2 is the culmination of a lifetime of learning. And that’s why I’ve spent so long developing it (4 years); I want to make it the best that it can be for all the players who have supported me, and hopefully the start of a new, exciting chapter filled with many future projects!
BG4GHub: And what’s the biggest challenge you face as an indie developer?
JH: For me, the biggest challenge is definitely visibility and reaching your target audience. Simply put, it’s hard to rise above the noise and get people’s attention – especially when it comes to media websites who are totally inundated with games. Word of mouth is still an indie developer’s greatest ally, and so the request I’d make to players is that if you enjoy a game and want to support the developers, please do tell others about it – whether that’s friends in real life, or just a post on social media. It really does make a difference and I can promise you it’ll mean the world to the devs. In fact, the reason this interview happened was because an amazing fan on Twitter (@Zepht) spread the word about my game to BG4G! And that’s one of my favourite things about the indie game community; everyone supports each other, and everyone’s voice really does matter.
BG4GHub: A little off topic but we’ve recently been chatting about our favourite games growing up in the BG4G virtual ‘office’. What games inspired you growing up?
JH: Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, and Pokémon Red were definitely some of my earliest inspirations when I was a child and first made me want to design games. In fact, I specifically remember wondering who painted the clouds on the walls of Peach’s Castle – it had never occurred to six-year-old me that there are actually people who make games! As I got a bit older, I fell in love with JRPGs – which are still my favourite genre. My cousin owned most of the Final Fantasy series, and I made new discoveries every week renting games at my local video shop. Final Fantasy’s VII through X in particular had a big impact on me, as well as the original Kingdom Hearts. Embarrassingly, the first fan game I ever tried to make was a Kingdom Hearts spin-off about Cloud haha.
BG4GHub: Nothing to be embarrassed about at all! Some absolute classics in that list and its great to hear a fan talk passionately about the games they love.
And with that I just want to thank you for your time Josh. It’s been a pleasure finding out about 8-Bit Adventures 2 and we want to wish you all the best for the games release – we’re very excited.
JH: Thank you so much for this opportunity Jamie and BG4G! You’re doing fantastic work spotlighting some great indie games and I’m incredibly proud to have been asked to be a part of that.
The 8-Bit Adventures 2 demo is available right now on Steam with a full release due later this year.
For more on indie games in development click here