Tent City Dystopia: Alien Squatter Creator Interview
In Alien Squatter, a new RPG/sim available on Steam, players take the role of a homeless extraterrestrial in an unforgiving futuristic dystopia. If making friends with crazy people, fighting gangsters, fishing from a sewer grate, and eating globs of hardened mayo sounds fun, then I’m not sure what to say, but Alien Squatter is probably a good game for you.
Below is an interview with Andrew. Hagen, Alien Squatter’s designer and writer, and Shea Kennedy, its artist and musician.
Ideas come from a bunch of different places all at once. How can someone keep track of that? However, in the case of Alien Squatter, I actually have a good answer.
Where did you get the idea for Alien Squatter?
AH: Most people hate getting asked this question. Ideas come from a bunch of different places all at once. How can someone keep track of that? However, in the case of Alien Squatter, I actually have a good answer.
There are tons of homeless people near where I work. There’s a homeless shelter and a Greyhound bus station nearby, and across the street is a vacant lot with dozens of homeless people’s tents. I ride the subway to work every day and also encounter lots of homeless people there. Interacting with them and seeing how they live is perpetually interesting and heartbreaking to me. That being said, Alien Squatter is a satire, and definitely not an accurate depiction of homeless life.
I came up with the idea of making a survival sim because my girlfriend really likes the Harvest Moon and Survival Kids series so I wanted to create something she would play. Seeking her approval is an important part of my creative process. =) Ultimately, I don’t think she liked Alien Squatter though. The tone is a bit too pessimistic for her.
While creating Alien Squatter, what was it like trying to think from the perspective of a homeless alien?
AH: I’m not sure that Alien Squatter really explores the psychology of homelessness. I worked a lot harder to characterize the game’s world than the people within it. The characters exist to reflect aspects of the setting. Through them, the player can see that mental and physical illness are commonplace, as is addiction, crime, violence, and hopelessness.
I work in customer service, so I reserve the right to change my positive outlook about people at a moment’s notice.
Alien Squatter has a bleak setting. Is this a reflection of how you see the world?
AH: I really have to think about this question. On one hand, I really like people and often see the best in them and forgive their faults. On the other hand, I live in a large city with a reputation for violent crime, political corruption, and racial segregation. This environment has given me a pretty cynical view of the world. I guess Alien Squatter encompasses both these perspectives. Its world is a total dump, but the people in it are mostly good. However, I work in customer service, so I reserve the right to change my positive outlook about people at a moment’s notice.
If a new restaurant opens and everyone tells me it’s great, I just won’t go there. I’m not sure why I’m like this.
How important is being indie when making a game like Alien Squatter?
AH: I’m a pretty independent person in general. I’ve got a lot of ideas that I want to share, and it’s great not to have to stress about making something with mass appeal. Plus, I’m just not a joiner. In fact, I deliberately avoid doing things that other people do. If a new restaurant opens and everyone tells me it’s great, I just won’t go there. I’m not sure why I’m like this. It’s just a character flaw.
Also, creatively, I like to work alone. Shea and I have a good working relationship because we each control a different aspects of the game. I make the decisions about the game design and writing, and Shea makes the decisions about the style, look, and feel of the game and its world. We work on our own parts independently and then combine them.
I too think that having this be an indie title opens the game up to a lot more creativity and allows us to steer the game in any direction we want and say whatever we’d like to say without watering anything down.
SK: I too think that having this be an indie title opens the game up to a lot more creativity and allows us to steer the game in any direction we want and say whatever we’d like to say without watering anything down. While working on this project, we did a lot of long Skype meetups to discuss the game’s plan and the directions we wanted to take with it. It was great meeting up to chat while we worked on the game because we could bounce our ideas off each other. This gave us an opportunity to bleed in to each others’ work, I could suggest some minor story additions and game mechanics and Andrew could suggest graphics and audio additions. I think this really helped make the game world seem complete and well thought out.
Why is Alien Squatter set in Japan?
SK: During the majority of Alien Squatter’s development, I was living in various locations in Japan. I lived in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka for a short time, giving me close proximity to the ocean which helped inspire the harbor area of the game. After that I moved to Oizumi Gakuen, Tokyo which was a pretty busy and crowded area close by Shinjuku. This gave rise to the game’s downtown area.
Next, I spent a long time in a Nagayama share house with a great group of people and made some close friends there. Nagayama’s Keio Rail Line literally runs underneath a graveyard which I always thought was strange while walking to and from the station. I decided to inject this into the game as the abandoned KO Rail Line seen tunneling under the terraced graveyard, a slightly twisted version of what I encountered in real life.
My Nagayama dwelling was also only one stop away from Hello Kitty’s Town, Tama Center. Getting to meet the giant mascot that is Hello Kitty inspired me to develop my own mascots for some of the locations in the game. My last Japan home was in Musashinodai, right next to an amazing soup curry restaurant simply named “Soup Curry”. My love for curry made this a must have location in the game world. I decided to rename the game’s restaurant カレー (Curry).
There were also various small additions I made to the game based on encounters I had while living in Japan. I added the sumo because I occasionally saw sumo wrestlers waltzing around the city with their entourages. I added the small shrines, Torii gate, and monk statues, as they were commonplace to see during my travels. There are so many details here I can’t recount them all.
Shea, what are some of the things that influences your art style?
SK: Definitely the first thing a lot of people notice is that the art style resembles that of the Mother series. I really enjoy Itoi’s work on the Mother series and have been enamored with his game’s art style since my first encounter with it in Earthbound. At the beginning of development, I did not have a defined style and had to start picking up pixel art techniques wherever I could. I settled on his game’s art style as the foundation for Alien Squatter’s art. As development progressed, I started to develop some of my own techniques too and blended them with the foundation I had built.
One might also notice that the game has a subdued look to it and a fairly limited palette. I really think that limiting oneself leads to a lot of creativity and allows tasks to be accomplished faster, and my love for vaporwave culture brought about my color and design choices.
Like people in real life, they are all different and all quirky, but there’s no reason that they can’t seek to understand each other.
Is there anything you hope Alien Squatter players will take away after playing the game?
AH: Well, most of all, I hope they have fun. Despite its grim setting, Alien Squatter is supposed to be an enjoyable game! Beyond that, I hope that Alien Squatter makes people think a little more about diversity. This sounds pretty corny, but it’s how I feel. The characters in the game are a diverse group from various species and backgrounds across the galaxy. Like people in real life, they are all different and all quirky, but there’s no reason that they can’t seek to understand each other.
SK: I really hope that the story, visuals and music can come together to produce an emotional experience for the players. I think there’s a lot of happy, hilarious, intriguing, frustrating, and deeply sad parts in the game. I hope that each of our parts work together to strike a chord with the players.
I also want to impact the players in such a way that they walk away with a favorite memory from the game and have something to reflect on even after things are all said and done.
You can access and play Alien Squatter now on Steam https://store.steampowered.com/app/1131750/Alien_Squatter/