I’ve interviewed Aleksandar Kuzmanovic, the indie developer behind Unworthy, an upcoming hack and slash 2D metroidvania.
You can find our entire interview below:
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic: My name is Aleksandar Kuzmanovic, I am an Indie Game Developer and Pixel Artist from Toronto, Canada. I am currently working on a Dark Souls-inspired Metroidvania game titled Unworthy.
Diogo Teixeira: You’ve become a game developer quite recently, can you tell us a bit about your background and your change of profession?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic: Sure! So I actually went to university for a total of 7 years for engineering. After receiving my masters degree in civil engineering I worked as a structural engineer for a short period of time. I never really had a passion for it the way I did for games though and I heard of all these indie guys making careers out of making games so I decided to give it a try. At that time I knew nothing, this was 2 years ago. So I kind of took the plunge, started making some games, and here I am today.
Diogo Teixeira: So you’re literally starting from zero? Which kind of difficulties have you faced?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic: Well I think the biggest difficulty is the emotional roller coaster ride. Admittedly when I went into doing this I was of the mindset “I’m an engineer… this should be cake walk.” This was likely since the engineering academia has a crazy way of over-inflating your ego. Anyways, at this time I was definitely at the left side of “Mt. Stupid” on the Dunning-Kruger chart.
Soon after there was a reality shock to follow which was basically “hey you’re not as good as you think you are… in fact you probably suck.” It’s really those moments where you realize how little you know and how much more there is to know that are emotionally destructive and often depressing and debilitating. Personally I find persevering and getting through days like this to be the most difficult. I guess it just boils down to always second guessing the quality of your creative works that makes the process difficult.
Diogo Teixeira: I also understand that you’re devoting to game development in a full-time schedule. How have you managed to support yourself?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic: Well engineering actually pays quite well, and I was paid throughout my masters degree to do research. I never really was a super big spender so I’ve managed to save up over the years. Right now I’m still living modestly off of my savings and hoping to turn the indie game dev thing into a permanent gig. I figure if it doesn’t work out I’ll at least have some strong portfolio pieces to try and land a gig at a game company somewhere in Toronto. Let’s hope it works out though!
Diogo Teixeira: Is Unworthy your first game project or do you have others?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic: Unworthy is technically my second game. I guess? My first game is Runic, and is still technically in development but put on temporary hold until I finish Unworthy. A lot of the design decisions behind Unworthy were governed by the fact that I realized that my first game was likely overly ambitious for a first project.
It’s not to say that I couldn’t have finished it… but it was far too complex for a first shot and I think I would’ve made a lot of bad design decisions throughout development if I had stuck with it. Unworthy is in a way the bridge between myself as a novice game developer to one capable of making Runic the way it deserves to be made. You may say that once I finish Unworthy I’ll be worthy of Runic… Bad pun.
Diogo Teixeira: So, what kind of game is Unworthy?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic: Well the website description says a hardcore combat-focused metroidvania without jumping. Prepare to die. A lot. So yeah it’s suppose to be a really tight-knit metroidvania that’s more focused on individual fights and combat scenarios than platforming elements.
Basically the idea is that you still get the world exploration and traversal that you would out of a classic metroidvania game, but the fights are intended to be a lot more meaningful than just single enemies that serve as damage absorbing barriers preventing you from getting from point A to B.
Diogo Teixeira: While playing the demo you just released, I’ve noticed that several gameplay elements are inspired from Dark Souls, like the flasks and sin/soul collecting. Can you talk a bit more about the inspiration behind Unworthy?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic: Well although the more fleshed out design was inspired by the Souls games, admittedly the initial concept was inspired by an LDJAM entry by Benjamin Anderson, a friend and mentor of mine. He had built a game where you played a little skeleton dude who would run back and forth killing enemies that were spawning. You could basically only roll and 3 hit combo in this game. It also had a very similar greyscale aesthetic.
I immediately saw the potential of expanding on such an idea and the greyscale aesthetic (likely coined by Limbo to start) was fantastic because it meant I could develop the game a lot more rapidly than Runic; which has considerably higher pixelart fidelity in my opinion. To go further, there have been other successful Souls inspired titles like Salt and Sanctuary, and although I really enjoyed the game I honestly found it really did not do a good job of living up to the combat experience you would get from a Souls game.
I really think the reason for this was the jumping. But the last factor that pushed me to designing the roll mechanics in Unworthy the way I did was a bad experience in Runic. I had made these badass knights that were suppose to serve as the more challenging enemies in the game, but I quickly found that the fact you could jump meant nobody wanted to fight them. This made me very sad.
Diogo Teixeira: Which other features are planned for Unworthy?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic: Well there’s a few in there already that you may not have noticed and they don’t do anything jut yet, but they’re visible. The day/night cycle is actually dependent on the internal clock of your PC. I’m planning on putting some additional lore quests that you’ll need to access at specific times of the day, i.e. you might need to crack your game at 1:00AM to get some vampires or something…
I am intending on making a few secret bosses and areas that players will need to access in order to unlock the full lore in the game. One of the biggest story telling elements is the Grimoire, it’s accessed from the in game menu. Basically the way it works is whenever you kill any enemy type for the first time it adds their page to the Grimoire. This sheds some light… albeit very cryptic light on the lore in the story.
This means players need to access all of the areas in the game in order to unlock the full Grimoire. It’s kind of like collecting Pokemon… except you’re slaughtering them. There’s also other weapons apart from the sword and shield (you get one more at the end of the demo). It’s kind of cool because you can actually swap weapons mid combo so you can do sword 1; secret weapon 2; sword 3 or whatever combination you want.
Diogo Teixeira: Is there any plans to resort to crowdfunding to finance the development of the game?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic: I’m actually very much considering it. Although to be perfectly honest it’s likely not for the same reasons most developers do it. A lot of developers look to crowdfunding because they need the finances to pay their bills or hire people to help them complete the game.
Unworthy will get done regardless of what happens since I’m doing everything except for the SFX and music. If I do go to crowdfunding it will simply be to get the additional exposure and offer the completed game at a discounted rate to backers. Basically like a pre-order system.
Diogo Teixeira: For conclusion, do you want to write our readers anything you wish to say?
Aleksandar Kuzmanovic: Follow your dreams! Don’t let your dreams just be dreams! Man, I have no idea… It’s because of fans like you that game devs do what they do. Keep on being awesome!
Full Disclosure: I am acquainted with Aleksandar and occasionally helped development with my personal opinion.
Niche Gamer regularly interviews developers on a variety of subjects—if you’re a developer and want to chat with us, please contact us!