Developing a Zelda & Pokémon-Inspired Creature-Collecting Life-Sim Game

Sandy Spink has shared a breakdown of creating Moonstone Island, telling the story behind the game, challenges the creators faced during the process, and some mistakes that were encountered.


My name is Sandy and I'm the creator of Moonstone Island, as well as the founder of Studio Supersoft. I do the design and direction for Moonstone Island, as well as many other little things that just need to get done. Before joining Moonstone Island, I had primarily worked on smaller games for game jams and similar events. Prior to becoming a full-time Game Developer, I had worked as a UX/UI designer for various megacorps. 

I pieced the studio together bit by bit just by reaching out to people I met online. We are fully remote with people in Canada, Australia, Brazil, Malaysia, and elsewhere.

The Story Behind Moonstone Island

Moonstone Island is a love letter to all the games and anime I grew up on. Harvest Moon, Pokémon, Zelda, and Studio Ghibli can all be felt in there in some way. I think the real epiphany moment came when I decided that your farm would be equivalent to the item shops in Pokémon. I know that may not seem like a huge realization but after that, it really felt like everything began falling into place. 

It was also a big leap of faith to add card-based combat but I am obsessed with deckbuilders and have grown increasingly tired with the Pokémon battle system so it felt necessary to shake the genre up in this way.

Speaking of the game style, it all grew pretty naturally from the initial pixel art that was done by our incredible artist cocefi. His style is unique, clear, and satisfying. I think it is a big reason we gained a following in the first place. When more art was needed and we brought on other artists to help, we used cocefi's style as the north star for our visual language.

Speaking of the Worldbuilding Tools/Challenges

We experimented with full procedural generation in the beginning, but it was difficult and didn't produce interesting results. Instead, I made all 100+ islands by hand. It took three years... I would just make a few islands a week, and over time, I got better and better at the toolset as well as the level design for the islands. I used the in-game editor in Construct 3 to create the Tilemaps that make up our islands, and Stan, our programmer, created a tool that allowed me to import/export them from the game to make changes and updates.

When I create an island, I either want it to be a good island for setting up a home, so it should be nice and open with cute features, or I want it to be a little bit puzzle-y and ask the player to do something, in particular, to get to its point of interest by way of its level design.

The Animation Process

We have several animators that we've worked with, as there are over 30 animations for the player alone. Additionally, each spirit has four animations (idle, down, up, side), resulting in thousands of frames of animation. The animators I work with are very talented, so I usually just show them the spirit and let them come up with how they think it should move. They know what they're capable of and often surprise me with incredible idle and walk animations that I never would have produced on my own. I consider myself very lucky to get to work with so many talented people.

The Main Challenges with Getting the Battle System

I did a lot of paper prototyping in the beginning, which involved playing one-on-one battles against myself at the dining room table for hours and taking notes along the way. The goal was to create a deckbuilder that would be easy to learn but still provide satisfying strategic depth. This approach led to a lot of subtractive design, where I would remove elements from the system to see if it still worked. I kept iterating and removing until I achieved the desired result.

To help players understand the system and make informed decisions, we provide them with a lot of information. The cards have the rules written on them, there are tooltips, and we automatically display if a Spirit is weak to your card on screen. This way, players don't have to memorize the entire type chart. There are still areas I would like to improve, and I'm confident we will address them in future updates.

As a former UX designer, it's fantastic to be able to watch streams, as it essentially provides free user testing!

Final Words

I think most of my mistakes occurred on the business side of things. I've learned that contracts are very important, cash is king, and until something is in writing it can't be counted on. There were ups and downs on our way to finding a publisher, but once we signed up with Raw Fury things were rather smooth. We're very lucky to have them as our publisher.

Sandy Spink, UX/UI Designer/The Founder of Studio Supersoft

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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