Sasha Shipulin talked about PAPERHEAD, sharing the idea behind the game's creation and sources of inspiration, detailing gameplay mechanics, and giving some tips for beginner game developers.
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Hi! My name is Sasha, I'm a Solo Developer of the game PAPERHEAD! I've been working in gamedev since I got my university degree, got some experience as a Game Designer and a Level Designer. PAPERHEAD is my first attempt at making something bigger than just a game-jam entry.
The first drafts of the game were done about 6 years ago, back when it was mostly me learning how to code and work in Unity in general. Only recently, at the start of 2023, I decided to get all the stuff together, leave my full-time job, and finally create a full demo, releasing it publicly. After about 9 months, here we are.
To be honest, being able to do everything in the project by yourself may be time-consuming, but it is also much easier than it seems, especially if you are not sure what exactly you are doing as a designer. I highly recommend to any aspiring designer out there to work on a few jam games fully on their own from time to time, including full code and art creation. This is the best way to learn how to do your best design work, at least in my opinion.
I guess the main skill for a solo dev is being able to code and create art things fully on your own, starting from scratch. It may take time initially, but looking back, I realize that's the biggest lesson I learned: not relying too much on various assets and plugins. Learn the basics, try to develop things your own way, and keep them simple. Strive for the simplest solutions that still convey your vision.
I didn't do that and lost a few years of progress. All stuff like "super advanced action FPS controller" from my experience is a ticking bomb of problems. The current version of PAPERHEAD is the 3rd one, two previous ones were victims of the usage of too many coding assets and auto-rigging plugins I was not experienced enough to understand.
All and all, if you want to be a solo indie developer here is the ultimate guide on how to do things (from the guy who made 1 demo in 6 years):
- Watch Bakuman and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann to learn how not to give up under any circumstances;
- Learn how to code and how to make 3D assets and textures without any fancy software;
- Join Ludum Dare in the compo category a few times (like 5-7);
- Start your dream indie game but add only things you understand how to implement, and be okay with how it comes out. I think the best things are the ones we "discover" rather than plan from scratch.
The idea for this particular style came mostly of out necessity. I always wanted to make a first-person shooter-type game but wasn't sure what setting I wanted it to be in. I had a few other ideas, but they were expensive in making art-wise. I was thinking: "What can I do so it will be easy to make, but also cool to look at?".
And then it snapped: Maybe I should do kind of the same thing as South Park creators did and use simple cardboard cutouts as a base for the whole visual design. This decision allowed for many things: easy-to-draw/animate characters, the ability to use plane photorealistic textures for the environment, all the "art" could have a doodle-like quality, and so on. And to tight things up, to spice them a little, I decided to add "bleeding". I have always been a fan of cartoonish violence, like in The Madness Combat by Krinkels for example, so I thought some people could also like the mix of non-realistic blood and gore with funny evil simple designs.
The horror aspect was inspired by my childhood fear of living evil toys: that scene from Toy Story 1 with cursed toys, the movie Small Soldiers, and oh, Chucky! I couldn't even look at him until I was 16, with all those stitches on his face. Eeew. So, my line of thought was: If I was scared but intrigued by things like that, then maybe someone else would be intrigued by my game if I based it on stuff like this.
When it comes to the game's inspirations, I think the most I got was from the mod Action Doom by Stephen Browning (Scuba Steve), particularly from the lab level. But I also love DUSK to death, so I was looking at how things are done there too.
Tools and Software
I mainly use Unity, Blender, and Krita. But some PBR stuff was done in Substance 3D Painter. Most of the things in the environment are done by using just a pack of cardboard and paper textures I bought on ArtStation randomly.
The VFX part was inspired by the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. Loved the realistic fire and explosions in the cardboard simple environments, so I decided I would do the same. Same with blood decals. I just like how this realistic grungy stuff blends with cartoony cardboard cutouts.
PAPERHEAD's Gameplay Mechanics
Paperhead's action mechanics were mostly iterated through me playing the game in the way I would like it to be played. For example, if I love high jumps in games, I knew I had to add that. Similarly, I enjoy games with double jumps, so that was another addition. In this way, the character controller was put together. I was somewhat inspired by Quake defrag videos in terms of how they feel, but I never quite managed to learn bunnyhopping myself. As a result, the game has movement in the style of "By producers who saw 'DeFRaG World Cup 2017 (Official Movie)' but never actually understood how it works."
The Pencil, which is currently the main weapon of the game, was never actually planned until I received a message on Twitter from John Gavin Polson. He asked, "Is there anything that the paper concept lends to unique gameplay?" My initial response was, "No, it's just an art style..." At that moment, I realized that maybe my answer wasn't very exciting. After some time, I came up with the idea of the pencil. Gameplay-wise, I wanted the game to have a Nintendo-like design feel, with combinations like drawing a bomb that you could also kick, collecting coins, and so on.
In the future for PAPERHEAD, I plan to include more of these kinds of concepts, similar to the Pencil. I want to add real-life related tools/toys as weapons, but conventional ones are also in the plans. Additionally, I have this idea of different characters with different load-outs and perks, maybe even abilities, which players could choose at the start of each level. It's somewhat similar to Hotline Miami's masks or Anger Foot's shoes.
Speaking of the business side of things, I must admit that I'm so bad at promoting things. Currently, all I have is a Twitter account, where I've been fortunate to have some cool people retweet my stuff from time to time (huge thanks to all of you). I absolutely love the community feedback and I try to like or reply to almost every mention of PAPERHEAD, but that's about it.
I am planning to eventually release PAPERHEAD on Steam if the game manages to find funding or a publisher. To be honest, I have no idea if I could keep working on it under other circumstances. I know that sounds randomly pessimistic, but unfortunately, it's the reality.
The main goal right now for me is to find funding for the game. Any other plans are too far in the future. I think I will update the demo a few times with fixes and quality-of-life options/improvements here and there.
As for now, you can follow the game on:
Also, you can follow Joonas Turner who created all the SFX and music for the game.
Thanks, 80 Level, for giving me the opportunity to do this interview! I always dreamed about doing something like this.
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