Whispering Willows released earlier this month, and after delivering the horror-puzzler to gamers, Night Light Interactive Co-Founder Michael Bellavia took time out of the early development schedule of multiple projects to answer our questions about the game.
Q: For those who do not know about Whispering Willows, what is the elevator pitch for the game?
A: Help a young girl find out what happened to her missing father in a haunted mansion, unlocking trapped souls and ghosts, and using a magic amulet that lets her astral project into the spirit realm.
Q: As Elena Elkhorn, you try to find out why your father is missing in a haunted mansion. However, later on, she gains the ability to use a spirit outside of her body. How did she come across this power and what is the father’s connection to the mansion?
A: She finds an amulet in the catacombs of the mansion, and it allows her to astral project into the spirit realm.
Q: How is Elena’s power to project a spirit used as a gameplay mechanic?
A: Elena corporeal form is bound by the laws of physics, yet her spirit form has certain abilities including levitating, flying, and transforming into a wisp form to pass through tiny cracks and crevices.
Q: What led you towards the unique art style of Whispering Willows?
A: The art style was key to the approach to Whispering Willows in that we wanted to hearken back to some of the early 2D games we played as kids. We wanted a painterly approach, so we worked with a variety of traditional illustrators and animators to create a richly textured environment.
Q: When creating a horror atmosphere, how important is the audio design? How did you strike the balance between music and silence?
A: For horror, sound design is key. We started very early in the process to make sure the audio would immerse the player into the game, unsettling them and keeping them on edge throughout. Whispering Willows is all about atmosphere, so we wanted that eerie feel that being alone in an empty old house can give you, where you don’t know if what creaks or moans is just a settling house or a poltergeist.
Q: How difficult was it to port the PC version to PS4 and Vita?
A: We enlisted the help of the porting experts at LOOT Interactive to help us port Whispering Willows to PS4 and Vita.
Q: Have you used any specific features of the PS4 and the Vita for the game?
A: LOOT Interactive took advantage of the unique features of the Dual Shock 4 controller. The light bar changes colors, the controller rumbles, and sounds are emitted from the controller throughout the game, enhancing the already immersive Whispering Willows experience on PlayStation.
Q: Whispering Willows was previously crowdfunded on KickStarter. How did you manage with the pressures of delivering a final product to those who supported you?
A: Our KickStarter supporters have been our most vocal and loyal supporters, so we wanted to make sure that we did right by them. Throughout the fundraising process and on into the day-to-day concepting and development of the game, we shared the behind the scenes decisions we were making, and in many cases their opinions helped shaped the direction we took. They’ve continued to be there through to launch and are some of our best marketers too.
Q: What is it like to read and watch players’ reactions from your game on social media websites?
A: We love our social following – again, the biggest social supporters were the folks who were our early KickStarter backers. Their enthusiasm has turned into Facebook posts, tweets, YouTube videos, Twitch livestreams, and much more in a ton of different languages even. We have a huge following in Russia it seems – who knew?
Q: When will we hear more about your next project, Nomad?
A: We are already in early stages of development on a couple of other titles, as well as early development on a Whispering Willows sequel.
We want to thank Michael Bellavia for taking the time to answer our questions. Whispering Willows is available for download on PS4, Vita, PC, Mac, Linux, and OUYA. In addition, the game is coming to Wii U and Xbox One platforms later this Summer. Mobile releases of Whispering Willows are also planned.