From lawyer to game developer, Tom Maher of Metamorphosis Games tells us about the development of the upcoming Gestalt: Steam & Cinder.
Gestalt might not be a game you have heard about. It certainly wasn’t one I had heard much of anything about when I played the demo at PAX East 2020. The debut game from Metamorphosis Games blew my hair back. It’s very much inspired by games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but it looks like it’s being seen through a much more modern lens. More has been shown off about it since March and it's quickly become one of my most anticipated Switch games (seriously). We caught up with the game's Creative Director Tom Maher to talk about Gestalt's origins and style, as well as their inspirations that vary from your celebrated Metroidvanias to Squaresoft RPGs of the '90s.
Nintendo World Report (NWR): What are the origins of Metamorphosis Games?
Tom Maher (TM): Metamorphosis Games was originally founded back in 2017, after I left a career as a lawyer behind to dive into game development! The team slowly expanded as we started working on Gestalt, our first title.
NWR: Originally, your game was called Gestalt Vanguard. Why was the name changed to Gestalt: Steam & Cinder?
TM: We ended up changing the name to something we felt really evoked the Steampunk feel of Gestalt.
NWR: Gestalt seems to lean heavier on the "Vania" side of Metroidvania. What attracted you to make a game in that style?
TM: We’ve always been huge fans of Castlevania titles, especially Symphony of the Night, so that was absolutely a big inspiration. In crafting Gestalt, we also looked at some of the older Castlevania titles, like Rondo of Blood (and classic 2D action games like Mega Man X) to really craft an experience that straddles the line between the level-based ‘Classic-vania’ and the later Igavania titles.
NWR: Were there any specific games you looked to for inspiration?
TM: Yes! We were also extremely influenced by classic SNES and PSX JRPGS! In fact, when setting out to make Gestalt we asked ourselves “what if old school Squaresoft had made an action platformer?” So games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, Vagrant Story and Xenogears had a huge influence on the narrative and world of Gestalt. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was another big influence on the world and narrative design.
NWR: I'm struck by the art and animation in Gestalt. What is the process for making the sprites and backgrounds?
TM: We’re incredibly proud of the art in Gestalt, and the art team has done an amazing job! We looked at tons of influences outside of gaming in building the look of Gestalt, from books, to anime, to movies. In terms of production, we usually start with rough references, sketch out a feel and color scheme for each area, and then move on to actual pixel art itself. For animations, we start with simple wire-frames to pin down the style and feel of an enemy, and only then move on to the pixel process.
NWR: What goes into trying to balance the melee and ranged combat? It seems like there is a lot of flexibility in how you spec out your character. Can you commit to focusing on ranged or melee?
TM: Our goal is for players to really experiment with both melee and the gun in combat, and alternate between the two! That said, players are able to spend experience points to pick and choose which stats they’d like to increase, and players will unlock new abilities as the game progresses.
NWR: There's an element of character choice in marketing and demo. How will that affect the overall gameplay? e.g. are there multiple endings? Can you cut off quest lines before they're done?
TM: For the narrative, we’ve aimed to evoke the feeling of classic SNES and PSX JRPGs, where players can make certain choices based on how they might want Aletheia to respond, but still progress down a core narrative experience. There’s one main ending players are barreling toward, but that doesn’t mean some elements can’t change along the way!
NWR: How has the last few months of development been during COVID-19? Has the game been affected? How has the team adapted?
TM: COVID-19 has certainly had a huge impact on 2020 and has really changed how parts of the industry operate (no trade shows after PAX East this year!). This has definitely slowed some things down and has impacted on how we’ve worked and marketed the game, but since the team is mostly remote, it hasn’t been too hard to adapt.
NWR: If you got the chance to make a Metroid game with Nintendo, what would you want to do with the series?
TM: That would certainly be amazing! Personally, I’d love to revisit some of the ideas Nintendo played around with in Metroid Fusion (including that pixel style!) and expanding on the SA-X mechanic in the original game. I think there’s a ton of potential in leaning a bit into the horror elements with a bit of Resident Evil 3’s ‘Nemesis’-mechanic, and a dash of Alien: Isolation, in the 2D space.