Yokai Moon isn’t quite a sequel, but does act as a follow-up of sorts to one Moonlight Fortress, another tower defence game released through itch.io. The newer title maintains the fantastical air of the older one, but moves it from Slavic folklore into the world of Japanese myth. Made by a three-woman team – creative director Abigail Flores, composer and game designer Ashley Rezvani, and narrative designer Samantha Webb – Yokai Moon, as the three told us, represents the best of each individual’s contribution to the project. Also, it looks pretty nifty, but that’s just our editorialising here.
“The aesthetic of Yokai Moon draws on multiple different sources, from traditional Ukiyo-e woodblock prints to present-day anime and manga,” Flores explains. “Particularly, we wanted to create an inviting, charming world reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. We also love the look and feel of pixel art, so we looked to turn-based games from Japan to prompt our artistic direction, such as Final Fantasy IV, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, and the earlier Pokémon games. In this way, the world of Yokai Moon became our love letter to the games and the stories that we loved growing up.”
The game is being made using Clickteam Fusion 2.5, the same tool used to make the likes of Five Nights at Freddy’s and Wireframe favourite, Baba Is You. While it’s largely gone appreciated by the team, the drawbacks of Clickteam aren’t being ignored: “Game development in Clickteam Fusion 2.5 revolves around editing a series of events and so, by nature of the engine, we’re constrained to the events that are provided for us,” the team explains.
“This means there isn’t always a great way of implementing relatively complex features. However, for what we’re trying to accomplish, Clickteam Fusion 2.5 has been very useful. The software boasts a lot of depth so it can be quite powerful if you’re looking to create any kind of 2D game. For developers seeking to create 3D games, however, it might be best to look elsewhere.
“We think that the best thing about Clickteam Fusion 2.5 is that it’s accessible to everyone regardless of their coding knowledge, allowing anyone to sketch out ideas and draft quick prototypes. The logic of the software prepares you to learn code, which is incredibly valuable if you ever want to start learning C# or other programming languages.
“There’s also a great community around the engine, so there’s always someone out there who’s willing to answer questions and help you if you’re struggling.”
And, of course, there’s the experience factor – not just for the individuals working on Yokai Moon, but through the simple fact Moonlight Fortress acted as a smaller-scale test run for the new game. “The greatest lessons we learned by sharing Moonlight Fortress online is to never, ever assume anything will be obvious to players and that frequent user-testing is vital to crafting an enjoyable and intuitive game experience,” Rezvani says. “For example, even though Abby was certain she had left enough clues, a considerable number of players did not understand how to complete the final task in Moonlight Fortress. As we’ve worked on Yokai Moon, we’ve made sure to conduct user-testing as much as possible with testers from all backgrounds, and share our work as widely and freely as we can to avoid this scenario happening again.”
It feels a bit cynical to hoist it up the flagpole as a defining quality of the game, but this is still an industry dominated – in the mainstream and elsewhere – by a narrow ‘type’ of developer, and an equally narrow type of game coming from it. As such, Yokai Moon coming from a small-but-diverse team of women is worthy of note, even celebration, and it’s something those working on the game have appreciated, too: “Personally, I have enjoyed working with two other intelligent, driven, and talented women and I believe we’ve cultivated a safe, heartening work culture between the three of us,” Rezvani says.
“I think that we have all been gracious and calm about accepting criticisms of each other, and we are respectful of each other and don’t interrupt each other. I think the most amazing thing has been the fact that we all recognise each other’s strengths and happily let the person with the most expertise take the lead when it would make most sense, without having to defend our own authority. This has made the development process enormously refreshing, and I genuinely believe that it has improved our game by leagues.”
Asking Flores her hopes for Yokai Moon leads to an answer beyond the usual ‘I hope it doesn’t fail’ you get for questions of this type, again with things coming back to the make-up of the team behind it: “The three of us want to serve as an example that anyone, regardless of their background or experiences, can make games,” she explains. “We hope to inspire others to get into game development, cultivate our own little Yokai Moon community, and add a bit of happiness to the world.” And who can argue with that?
“I think it’s getting better, certainly, but we’re still a long way off (from) the representation of women being where it needs to be,” Webb tells us when asked about the visibility of women in game dev. “You only have to look on Twitter or other social media platforms to see how women are perceived and treated in the games industry, especially in the dev space. I moved from the tech industry and have only been working in games for just over a year now, and one thing that has given me hope and continued to inspire me is the other women I have met, and who have mentored, supported, and taught me so far. Not least having the privilege to work with Abby and Ashley on this project! The games industry is full of strong, talented, compassionate, and creative women, and non-binary folks as well, and with them all working together I have no doubt we will continue to improve as an industry.”