Trek to Yomi, interviewed by game designer Leonard Menchiari

To be even more ready for feudal Japan, we interviewed the creator and designer of Trek to Yomi: Leonard Menchiari.

The trek to Yomi is almost upon us. The fairy tale published by Devolver Digital has attracted the attention of the public thanks to its style and distinctly independent character. We have already played it in preview, but not happy that we have bothered the creator of the project by asking him about ten questions. Ready to discover some details and background in this interview with game designer Leonard Menchiari?

In the maze of feudal Japan

Trek to Yomi: stylistically lovely

The love of a particular type of Japanese cinematography is the basis of the Trek to Yomi style. Where does this passion come from and how did it fit into the work’s creative process?
Specific! Growing up with Sergio Leone’s masterpieces, heavily inspired by the works of Akira Kurosawa, the cinematic style struck me from the first time I saw one of the films of the time, The Seven Samurai. The idea of ​​being able to take on adventures in the shoes of a samurai-inspired character from the time was an idea that has always fascinated me, and also why I decided to carry out this project.

Trek to Yomi is a bit of a growing novel, a bit of a heroic journey. How did you intervene in the narrative of such a classic archetype, but at the same time look for originality?
The original idea started with a journey through the world of the dead to meet an evil antagonist and get revenge to protect a loved one. To be a story inspired by Japanese film, I tried to keep a very traditional structure, without deviating too much from a plot that was present in the typical samurai tale of the time. The evolution continued almost by itself when I teamed up with Alec Meer, one of the authors of epic games like Warhammer. Thus was born the idea of ​​a world of the dead united with the symbolism of Mitama’s souls, the number seven used as a reference at each level, the path to a hero in search of his own inner balance, these were all main aspects that we had in mind, and that the player will travel along the path of this story.

The gameplay in Trek to Yomi is at the service of the game’s stylistic code, but that does not mean that it overrides quality and a pinch of depth. How difficult was it to match the video game needs with the staging needs?
The biggest challenge was communicating with the remote design team and how to transfer ideas to them throughout the pandemic period. In terms of gameplay is ludo-narrative dissonance it was a very difficult aspect to keep at a distance, having to communicate with a team of well-defined and decidedly interrupted sections. Given that all these obstacles are not easy to overcome, the game presents a balanced rhythm between moments of exploration and other “focus”, which leads to a good direct and dynamic experience.

Doctors with design

Trek to Yomi: the charm of feudal Japan has not changed a bit

Trek to Yomi: the charm of feudal Japan has not changed a bit

Choosing to create the work with precisely this style that mixes two-dimensional and three-dimensional progress, is it only a choice derived from budgetary needs, or on the contrary, started the whole creative phase based on this desire?
To begin with, the idea I had in mind would greatly reduce the amount of work; it was also for this reason that I decided to create this style. The fixed camera, the side images, were all tricks to be able to focus attention on something specific, without having to reproduce every single detail in the scene. Like on a movie set, this made the construction of the world much easier and made it possible to reduce budget not a little! The dynamics of the two-dimensional development was more a limitation for the development team and the game design team, who had not yet developed the technical skills to achieve three-dimensional movement in the time we had available, despite the use of these tricks. As we worked through these boundaries, we were able to balance the style with what we had available and achieve a direct and linear experience (with alternative endings).

Trek to Yomi: landscapes that are both melancholy and satisfying at the same time

Trek to Yomi: landscapes that are both melancholy and satisfying at the same time

Are there other video games released in the past that you consider real inspirations for Trek to Yomi?
Probably Limbo and Inside, and maybe some of the first Prince of Persia would be the games that most closely resemble the end result of this project. It’s hard to answer this question, because instead of being inspired by games themselves, we’ve focused a lot on Japanese samurai films of the 1950s and 1960s as a reference. The decision not to be able to jump as in the typical platformers we made deliberately to preserve more realism, for example. Despite gameplay structure is very similar to an indie platform with no obstacles, the game that came out as a result is more a result similar to the movies rather than other games.

Feudal Japan has been a major trend in recent years. How much competition can be good or bad for those who try to make their mark in this “genre”?
Honestly, this aspect has never touched me personally. The moment we started developing this game, eight months after creating the demo, writing everything and making pre-production, “Kurosawa Mode” was added to Ghost of Tsushima, which made a lot of people think I had directly copied idea instead of even thinking about it. Even when we decided to use Toshiro Mifune as a character in the game, a prominent film actor from those years, we were denied permission because another samurai game used his image. I can say that it is not easy to make a mark, but that was never our goal. The development team and I immediately aimed to push as hard as possible to create a high quality project and evoke strong sensations instead of focusing on this specific “genre”.

Past, present and future

Trek to Yomi: The glory of battle comes first

Trek to Yomi: The glory of battle comes first

Can we consider the Trek to Yomi as an isolated case, or is there an opportunity to continue the universe you have created?
Currently, I have no intentions of continuing this project with a sequel: the project started as a tribute to Akira Kurosawa’s film; developing another project related to this is not something I intend to do at the moment.

Choices are important in Trek to Yomi, determined from an emotional point of view. Besides the four different endings, does choosing one path over another also change the events and episodes of the game?
The game differences are very subtle, they are not something the player will necessarily notice. The music, some dialogues, small events, are all aspects that will lead to a slightly different emotional path, calibrated more for the first time that the player will complete the game instead of noticing the difference in the different narrative threads. THAT conclusions they will be very different and in my opinion all equally valid. The players’ choices will never be right or wrong, only the ones best suited to them.

Trek to Yomi: The journey to Yomi is long and dangerous

Trek to Yomi: The journey to Yomi is long and dangerous

How did the transition from the original prototype to the choice to produce a complete game go?
This question is not easy to rattle off in a few lines, but I will try to give the idea a sequence of events: I start with the idea and make a prototype with a friend while learning to use Unreal Engine 4. A month later, I finish the prototype – a boss level – and send the footage to the publishers. Publishers show interest and ask to wait while they make a decision. During months of waiting, I prepare a production schedule with levels, budgets, assets, etc. Publishers accept and entrust me with a writer and a development team to help. In the months of waiting while the contracts coordinate, I dedicate myself to developing the story in detail along with the author. Contracts continue to be signed while I develop storyboards, characters, settings, and world map design. The project starts eight or nine months after the demo. The first months are dedicated to pre-production (sketch, concept, design, etc.). A few months to set up another demo with the assigned team. At that time, the project is officially accepted and production starts with a calendar. I lead the team during the pandemic through chat and video calls, even remote motion capture with actors through webcams and cell phones.
The first version of the game is completed with basic gameplay and levels without details. Then it’s the turn of the beta version of the game, which finishes the details of the levels, movies, dubbing in Japanese, more balanced gameplay and everything you need. It starts with testing, then more testing, debugging, more debugging and finally the marketing phase. I have definitely skipped a lot of details, but I hope at least this short list has given the process a little idea of ​​what was behind such a project.

Would you like the opportunity to expand Trek’s universe to Yomi even outside of the video game, perhaps with a graphic novel or an animated series?
I never thought about it, but it would not be a bad idea at all! If anyone is interested in cooperating, please do not hesitate to contact me! I have always had a passion for graphic novels, movies and animation, and despite having other projects in the pipeline at the moment, I would certainly be willing to recreate this adventure using a different art form besides video games.

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