During a Nindies Showcase in March, Nintendo revealed a new game from Flight School Studio that combined the addicting gameplay of pinball with the dungeon-crawling aspects of a Zelda title. Throw in a beautiful art style and some electrifying sound effects, and you now have Creature in the Well.
Bohdon Sayre and Adam Volker are doing their best to make this an incredible game. Fortunately, I had the chance to talk with Bohdon Sayre about the development of Creature in the Well.
The development and influences of Creature in the Well
Nintendo Enthusiast: Creature in the Well is a game that combines two unlikely genres: dungeon crawling and pinball. How did you come up with this unique concept?
Bohdon Sayre: We were prototyping various things at the time; one of the prototypes was a 1v1 air hockey-like game. We liked the gameplay side of it, and it seemed like there was a lot to explore when looking at inspirations like Breakout, Ballz, or even Rocket League. After two short VR projects, we really wanted to try our hands at more storytelling too, so it became this weird combination of a top-down Zelda-like adventure game but you hit balls with a stick.
NE: I keep hearing from other players that the gameplay of Creature in the Well feels satisfying, which I understand is an incredibly hard feeling to nail down. How long did it take to tweak the gameplay into what it feels like now?
Sayre: [laughs] Probably most of the production timeline. The game relies a lot on the moment-to-moment gameplay, so we knew we had to nail it 100 percent. Things started off pretty chaotic, and it was hard to control the orbs, so we put a lot of focus into mechanics and tools that would allow you to control that chaos better. We continually made the player’s actions faster, so that it would be less punishing if you ended up in the wrong spot or swung your pipe in the wrong direction. When the gameplay is dependent on external objects, it can be tricky to make sure that you never feel powerless. We like the game feel of dungeon-crawlers with swords, but we also didn’t want you to be attacking living enemies, so it meant we had to really delve deep into making the unique mechanics work well.
NE: We’ve seen some unique weapons in the game already, such as the Focus Hammer that can slow down time. What other types of gear will players have in their arsenal?
Sayre: So there are two types of weapons you can discover in the game, strike tools and charge tools. The charge tools allow you to stop orbs, charge and aim them, and then when ready, you can “shoot” them with your strike tool. We don’t want to reveal too much as they’re really fun to discover, but aside from the hammer, we’ve shown the dual blades, which are charge tools that give you a red laser sight that allow you to see exactly where the ball will go.
NE: You used the sound of a violin string scraping against a cactus needle for the noises of the Creature. What other unique sound effects have you discovered during development?
Sayre: Yeah, we had a lot of weird inspirations go into the game. After we realized the game was very pinball-esque we started to look for some sounds that were reminiscent of the classic pinball dings and chimes. We ended up distorting a lot of SFX and applying subtle electricity elements that a lot of those inspirations have changed a lot. The player death sound is actually a very slowed-down version of a video poker machine beep. We wanted to showcase that aspect in our reveal trailer; we ended up using only SFX and no music and it seems like it struck a chord with people.
NE: Creature in the Well catches a lot of attention immediately because of its art style. What made you decide this was the best look for the game?
Sayre: We’ve always been interested in unique art styles, and for this game, comic books were a large inspiration. Mike Mignola and the Hellboy comics were a big part of that, and there are many other references. We like the immersiveness of 3D games, the subtle camera movements and high level of detail, and we wanted to combine that with a more graphic, high-contrast, high-color art style.
NE: I saw Adam Volker’s post on Twitter from PAX East that said people were talking about speedrunning Creature in the Well. Is this a community you guys wanted to make your game accessible to?
Sayre: Yes, definitely! We’re big fans ourselves of the community through events like SGDQ. We’re having people playtest as we get closer to release, and we’ve already gotten feedback of what strategies they would try if they were to speedrun it or even players describing possible challenge runs, like only using one specific tool through the whole game for example. We’re excited to see what people do with it.
NE: What are some speedrunning tricks you could point out for Creature in the Well already?
Sayre: Ha, yeah, there are a few secrets that were made with speed running in mind. One small tip is that the player runs faster the longer you hold down sprint (up to a certain point).
NE: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced during the development of Creature in the Well?
Sayre: Probably the largest challenge was figuring out how to design something that could be made by mostly Adam and I in about a year and a half of development. We actually like constraints like that most of the time; it’s fun to problem-solve ways to build things given different limitations. It meant we had to be smart on where we spent our time and how we created content. We built a lot of our tools so that we could create content and iterate quickly, as well as reuse a lot of visual assets to create completely new rooms.
NE: What are some unique challenges of developing Creature in the Well on Nintendo Switch versus the development on PC?
Sayre: I think for Switch one of the first things we realized is that our UI was a bit too small. [laughs] It’s really nice to be able to just pick up the game and go, but making sure you could still read everything on the screen the same way was obviously different than when you’re sitting at a PC.
NE: What has it been like working with Nintendo to release your game on the Switch?
Sayre: A delight. We met Kirk [Scott] from Nintendo for the first time at MIGS in Montreal and the game resonated with him and their team so much; he asked us to keep everything under wraps so they could announce it themselves on the GDC Spring Nindies Showcase stream. They’ve been massively helpful, and we couldn’t have wished for a better outcome.
NE: Do you have any other bits of interesting information you would like to share about the development of Creature in the Well?
Sayre: Creature in the Well has been a really interesting production for us. We both moved to Canada, Montreal to be specific, at the beginning of production, spent some time working remotely, tried out a lot of new ideas and processes. It’s been a whirlwind and we’re lucky to have had the opportunity to make something like this.
NE: Obviously, the Creature is a very important part of your story. Is there anything you can share with us about it, or will we have to play through the game to find out?
Sayre: The Creature was awoken in the depths of the mountain when the machine was first built many years ago. The machine was being constructed in order to control the weather and stop an eternal sandstorm that was approaching the small town of Mirage. The Creature sabotaged the project, destroyed every BOT-C worker robot that was built to run the machine, and prevented it from ever being activated. Years have passed and the Creature now plays the role of a false deity to the town, tricking its remaining inhabitants into believing that there is nothing beyond the sandstorm, and that Mirage is all that’s left in the world. The Creature has a lot of inspirations and represents a lot of things to us, and we’re excited to see how people perceive it as well.
NE: Where is the best place for our readers to keep up with the development of Creature in the Well?
Sayre: We’ve really started to use Discord as much as we can these days to get feedback on the game and what people are looking forward to. It’s awesome to have direct interactions with players. We encourage anybody to jump in at Discord.gg/creaturewell and chat.
NE: Personally, I’m very excited to see more from Creature in the Well. I can’t wait to play it on my Switch later this year. Thank you for your time.
I hope you all are as ready for Creature in the Well as I am. Flight School Studio is also teasing more reveals for Creature in the Well at E3. So stay tuned for more!
[This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.]