I had the opportunity to sit down and communicate with Team SPEAR, the studio behind the music-based platformer, Symphonia. I first learned about Symphonia through itch.io, where its polished art style and musical theme drew me in at first glance. I was wary. There are a ton of games with great art design but whose mechanics are somewhat lacking — but after playing through the game's first version, it's clear that its game mechanics were just as meticulously crafted. I felt Symphonia reached the heart and soul of a good game: being fun to play and having a story to tell.
I was able to get a few questions to the team behind the project: Team SPEAR, a group of developers from the same school, ISART Digital. It was clear that the team had great synergy during production, having created a well-focused game unified in its story, art, sound design, and gameplay. I got some behind-the-scenes scoop regarding Team SPEAR and also took a deeper look into the mysterious world and story of Symphonia.
Getting to Know Team SPEAR
How did Team SPEAR meet and agree to make a game together? Was Symphonia part of your school curriculum?
We are composed of 13 developers, and we’re all coming from the same school! Symphonia was pitched last year by one of us, to all last year students, as a graduating game. It was a very different game idea back then, but it got us all together to start working on the game and make it evolve.
I felt that every aspect of the game was strong, especially the art design and game mechanics. What is your studio like, in terms of its personality or working together as a team?
Thank you! One of our guidelines when working on Symphonia was to make sure every voice was heard, and everyone was involved. Even if we all had different roles and expertise (design, art, programmation, music and sound, producing), we wanted the creative identity of Symphonia to be the product of the synergy of all of us. So Symphonia had been made without designating leads, and our game artists and sound designer had a lot of freedom in what they were creating. This all required a lot of communication.
How long was development for Symphonia? Did you come across challenges that took a long time, like puzzle development or artwork?
We worked for a total of nine months on Symphonia, and to be honest, we faced quite a few challenges. The most obvious one is the COVID crisis, that forced us to finish and ship our game from home. But we also spent more time than expected balancing our game controls and the physics of the game, which were questioned a lot throughout the development. Finally, Symphonia involves hand-drawn 2D graphics with multiple layers of parallax, mixed with some 3D game assets, so you guessed right, it took an incredible amount of time and effort to fully draw and integrate all of our artwork!
Diving Into the Characters and Mechanics
I absolutely loved the game feel of Symphonia. It was a buttery smooth platformer with lots of visual and aural feedback. But I also loved the world, setting and musical theme. What came first? The idea for a platformer, or the idea of a musical world setting?
In fact, the initial pitch was already a 2D platformer, but it wasn’t set in a musical world at all! Our character wielded a spear (hence our name, Team SPEAR), and we explored quite a few possibilities including setting the game in ancient Greece. When we finally had the idea to replace the spear with a violin and bow, everything suddenly clicked and Symphonia started to come to life.
I saw on your website that Team SPEAR is aiming to expand Symphonia, perhaps into a full release. How did your team make that decision? Do you expect any challenges going from a project to a full game?
Firstly, the reception of the game has been incredible. Symphonia has been downloaded by thousands of people all over the world, and we’ve been flooded by touching comments, tweets and emails, a lot of those asking if more of Symphonia was in the works. Secondly, we believe a lot of stories and emotions have yet to be explored in the world of Symphonia. We have a lot more ideas that we think would surprise and inspire our players!
There is one big challenge we are facing right now: all of our team is not yet available to work on more Symphonia, so it will definitely take quite some time before we can turn this into a longer, commercial game. Apart from this, our game art takes a lot of time to create, therefore we will need to be smart if we need to make more content!
In Symphonia, the player controls Philemon, the agile, bird-like character armed with a bow and violin. However, Philemon’s origin is still a mystery. What is his place in the world of Symphonia? Will there be more to learn about the character in the future?
That’s a good question! Philemon is a mysterious figure, that’s for sure. His music has the power to bring the realm to life again, because he is tightly bonded to the realm of Symphonia. I wish we had more time to tell more through the game, but if more of Symphonia comes out, you will definitely learn a lot about him.
Philemon is on a journey to awaken the realm of Symphonia, a musical world inhabited by sleeping robots. Are we going to learn more about the world in the future? For example, why the realm fell asleep? Any secrets you can tell us?
To us, the violinist and the sleeping world he awakes are so bonded, that we designed the realm of Symphonia to share the main character position with Philemon. Until now, the most important part of the story to us was not necessarily how the realm fell asleep, but what it takes to bring it back to life, and how it happens. I can tell you one thing though, music is the key element, it is the blood of this place, both technically and metaphorically. Now again, we will have additional story elements to share if more Symphonia gets done!
I was impressed by how intuitive the game was. It felt great to learn the mechanics on my own, and that the game respected my ability to learn them without telling me what to do. Did the team have any fears that players might have trouble with learning how to play without instruction? Any puzzles/parts of the game that the team felt people might have trouble completing?
Yeah, as I mentioned earlier, we questioned a lot our controls and how intuitive or not they were going to be for more casual players. We came up with several control schemes and tested them, we also considered the possibility for the player to customize the controls. In the end, we went for the one that felt the best after testing, and managed to carefully design our tutorial area, to make up for what could feel like a steep learning curve.
I was surprised by the game’s platformer mechanics, first for feeling so good to play, and second for how they mixed well with the level design. Were there any mechanics in the works that had to be dropped, or any plans for new movement mechanics in the future?
Regarding the core mechanics, we experimented a lot with a dash ability that we decided to drop in order to focus on our violin and bow mechanics. It’s not always good to have too many mechanics, and cancelling the dash was one of the best decisions we made. We also thought about another movement ability that could have been a power-up, but we quickly gave up this idea in regard to the targeted length of Symphonia.
Follow Your Intuition... and Symphonia
Any final thoughts on Symphonia to share, or any shoutouts to make?
Thanks a lot for having us at Indie Story Games! I want to finish with some advice to our fellow students or young developers. Our school has a certain tradition of making 3D student games, a lot of those revolving around battle. We didn’t have a lot of models in our school, regarding 2D and artistic experiences, yet we tried and made Symphonia. Please don’t be afraid to follow your intuition, and be passionate about it! Create games that you love, because there is an audience for all kinds of games out there.
Where can people follow or find you to keep up with Symphonia updates?
You can find us under the name @symphoniagame on Twitter, which is our main social media account, and on Instagram. We’re also on Facebook as "Symphonia - The Game". You can check out Team SPEAR's _Symphonia for free on itch.io.