I hope everyone is keeping well! It has been a quiet week over here on SG, where I’m approaching the end of my current work contract. One silver lining of that is my free time will be expanded greatly, so I will have more time to write.
Today, I bring an interview with with Ellpeck, who recently launched Tiny Life. You can pick that title up by clicking on the link below:
This is a really cool, pixel art life-sim game. With so little competition for The Sims, I’ll always support stuff like this. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the interview!
Let’s start off with an introduction! Please tell me who you are, and what do you do?
Hi! I’m Ellpeck, but I usually go by Ell. I’m a queer indie game developer and university student from Germany, and I’m currently working on my sandbox indie game Tiny Life, as well as finally getting my bachelor’s degree in computer science.
What game/studio are you currently involved with? And what position?
I technically own, and work at, Ellpeck Games, but that’s really only for the books – there’s no other people working at the company. For getting Tiny Life out there, I work with a publisher called Top Hat Studios, who handle the PR and (in the future) the console distribution.
What advice would you give those who wish to enter the industry?
Hm. This sort of question is tough to answer for me, because there’s really two major ways it could go for an indie developer: you’ll either be lucky and successful, or your projects will stay unnoticed and you’ll be incredibly disappointed. I happen to have already had a following from my Minecraft mods, which I got very lucky with, and so getting Tiny Life out there was reasonably easy for me.
I think, as someone suffering from anxiety on a daily basis, my advice would be this: try, as hard as you can, not to take criticism of your work, your projects or your games personally. Taking and considering feedback is really important, but obsessing over it is unhealthy, and it’ll only make you feel bad about yourself.
If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?
I love playing video games. I know people are going to want to argue with me over this, but my all-time favorite video game is The Sims 4, which I think is pretty obvious from the way most of Tiny Life’s mechanics work. I also love playing Minecraft, Stardew Valley, the Forza Horizon series, as well as classics like Pokémon and Animal Crossing.
How did you get into your chosen field in the industry?
I’m starting to feel like these questions were made for someone who is actually, like, properly “in the industry” and knows what they’re talking about.
I’m just a person who happened to like programming and then happened to start making games and then happened to be, like, semi-successful with it. I dunno.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Honestly? Dealing with the fact that there are a lot of people out there who don’t have any actual suggestions or good-faith criticism towards my projects, but are just trying to find reasons to be passionately mad about something. I’ve said this before, but I have huge trouble not obessing over that kind of stuff, and not taking it personally, even though I know that it’s not personal, or important, at all.
What lessons have you learned during your time in the industry?
Again with the industry! This is going to sound like all I think about is emotions and, like, feelingsy stuff (which is honestly pretty accurate), but: If you’re nice to people and you support them, they’ll be nice and supportive back. And if they’re not, then they’re likely not worth your time.
Of course, being able to pick and choose who you want to interact with kind of comes from privilege: I’m lucky enough to have enough time, funds and opportunities to be able to turn down people, companies, or opportunities that I don’t think are good for my mental health, or good for my project’s wellbeing overall.
What are your future project(s)?
In the scope of Tiny Life, there is so much stuff I want to do. I have a whole roadmap on the game’s website of major features that I want to add, but there’s also a ton of smaller stuff as well. Eventually, once the game is out of Early Access, we also want to get the game out onto consoles, which will be very exciting.
Outside the scope of Tiny Life, I’m still working on my Minecraft mods sometimes, and I also have a lot of open source projects, both mine and other people’s, that I contribute to occasionally. I don’t have any concrete plans for new projects, but I never do. They just kind of come to me randomly and then, if I have the time and motivation, I start working on them, and if I don’t, I forget about them again.
If you couldn’t be a game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?
I used to really want to be an author. I still write short stories occasionally, but I don’t think I’d be able to turn that into a proper job. Not only am I not all that good at it, I also don’t have the sort of constant flow of creativity that you’d probably need to be an author.
Other than that, I don’t really think I have an answer for you, in all honesty.
What were your greatest challenges during the development of Tiny Life?
By far the biggest challenge, boringly, is the isometric rendering that Tiny Life uses. Isometric is tough, because all objects are technically just flat 2D planes on your screen, and the order they’re rendered with makes all the difference for whether it’s going to look realistic or not. To add to that, Tiny Life has very slim objects that fit between bigger objects (walls) as well as very large objects (like the big dining tables) that all have to work together.
The isometric rendering went through a ton of iterations during development, and it still has a lot of problems that other isometric games also face. But it’s getting better and better with every iteration, and I’m quite happy with it right now.
What are your plans for Tiny Life during 2023 and beyond?
In 2023, I really want the parts of the public roadmap labeled “Soon” to be implemented into the game. This includes more public lots, the ability to have and use phones, the ability to start and attend social events, and more.
After 2023, I mainly want to continue working on the stuff on the public roadmap really – that’s what it’s for, after all! The long-term plans include the ability to build houses with multiple floors, the ability to work at jobs from home, and then, much later down the line, things like seasons, pets, online multiplayer, and more.
What games were your greatest inspirations in designing Tiny Life?
I’ve always been a big fan of The Sims, ever since I was a kid. My dad’s friend gifted me a used PlayStation 2 with The Sims 1 and 2 on it (well, with it, it was all CDs back then, of course), and I played those to death. I moved on to The Sims 3 on PC, which I never really vibed with all that much, and now I’m still addicted to The Sims 4 after almost 10 years of that game existing.
The second main inspiration, which I don’t think is as obvious because the artstyle ended up being quite different, is RollerCoaster Tycoon 1 and 2, which I also played so much as a kid. I loved the isometric art and I still do, and I love the sort of higher-res pixel art that those games use, which I know was mostly down to the technology at the time. RollerCoaster Tycoon 1 and 2 were also created by a single developer, and that’s always been really impressive and inspiring to me.
What is your ideal video game if money and time was no object?
Honestly, it’s Tiny Life. A really expanded, grand, fully-featured version of Tiny Life, with everything I want in it, and a million unique animations. I’m really happy with where the game is now, and where it’s going, but development is always going to be slow because that’s just the nature of it.
More about You
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love playing video games, as I said before, and I also really enjoy reading. My favorite genre is romance, especially romantic comedies, and currently, my favorite author is Alexis Hall because his books are just so funny and so cute. I also like doing yoga because it’s fun and really helps my mental health, and I do a bit of gardening on my balcony, which is also really relaxing for me.
I know those are like the most stereotypically gay hobbies there are. It is what it is.
Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?
Ever since I started watching James Hoffmann, I became a huge coffee snob. Like “buying a coffee grinder” and “making latte art” and “pretending to know what I’m talking about when in reality I don’t” levels of coffee snob.
You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?
This is going to sound so lame, but I really like being here, where I live? I love Europe, and I’m really lucky to have been born in an, all things considered, progressive and safe country like Germany.
I’d love to visit Canada at some point, or maybe the US, and I’d love to go to the north and see northern lights at least once in my life. I also keep daydreaming about this weird, like, cruise ship company that takes you to Antarctica for a ridiculous amount of money. Maybe one day.
Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
This is going to sound like I’m into the most niche fiction there is, and I’m sorry.
I want to take Heather Davis from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Luc from Boyfriend Material, and Hannah from Please Like Me. I don’t know why. I just would. It might turn out to be a really depressing road trip. Also, I don’t know if any of them except for Heather has a driver’s license, and I don’t have one either, so it might end up being really frustrating for her.
We’d drive up to Sweden to see the northern lights. That’s it. I don’t have a better idea. I really want to do that, though. I guess I should’ve taken Chalmers from The Simpsons for comedic effect.
I need you to know that this is the question I spent by far the longest time on. It was a difficult one, okay?
Finally, what superpower would you most like?
I was going to say “forgetting embarrassing moments whenever I want” and then make a joke about how I’m not sure if that’s something neurotypical people can already do, but I didn’t want to close out on such a sad note.
I guess the standard ones are, like, teleportation or flight or invisibility or whatever, but I want to be able to be good at any skill I want to be good at immediately, without having to learn it or train or do anything like that. There you go.
Thanks for the time, Ellpack! I really enjoyed this interview in particular. We’ve seen a few discourse on social media recently regarding ‘what makes a gamedev’. Simply put, if you do anything regarding the industry, that makes you a game developer. We all start somewhere! Me too. I’m a gamedev as well, even if my current work is tutorials!
I hope you all enjoyed today’s interview. Tiny Life is a cool little game, and you can look forward to my review on it in the coming weeks. Lots of plans! Stay safe, and stay hydrated.