Chibig Indie Dev Interview

Time for another Patron only interview!

The people over at Chibig, who made one of my most favorite games in 2020, agreed to chat with us this time. Summer in Mara started life as a kickstarter and hit the Switch this year with a bang. Interesting to take a look behind the screens!

So, here’s our interview with Diego Freire all the way from sunny Valencia Spain!

Chibig: Small and Big Combined

How did Chibig come to life, and what’s behind the name Chibig?

Chibig started as a one-man-studio. Abraham, in his room, started making mobile games, just to try it and see what could happen. In 2016, he released Tiny Planet and Ankora for iOS and Android. These games are very important for the studio and for us, because they started the “Chibig Universe”.

After that, he decided to leave his room and break out into the world. A team was made and Deiland for PS4 was developed in less than a year. PS4 and PC came next in 2018. Deiland was also a huge success for a relatively small team. Until now, it sold over 30 thousand copies, but we distributed over 100 thousand.

The team grew bigger and we established a 8-person team in order to make Summer in Mara. I guess you already know the story of how Mara came to be: we had an idea, we made Kickstarter and everything explode from there. Right now, there are still 8 people in our team, but they are not all the same people as those that made Summer in Mara.

The name Chibig is a (bad) pun between “chibi” in japanese and “big” in english. We’re small, but we’re big too!

Enter: Summer in Mara!

Summer in Mara landed on the Switch with a bang. Over at LadiesGamers we have a lot of readers who absolutely love the game. What was your inspiration to make it?

Our main inspiration was, ironically, Deiland. We wanted to make something bigger and free to explore for the player. In Deiland you’re there on your planet and you go to different locations, but you can’t explore as freely as in Mara. Then, we had the idea to make an open ocean with islands. And we started to look for different references.

We started with watching Studio Ghibli movies, like Ponyo, but also Spirited Away. On new projects, we always get inspiration about style and art from movies or anime shows that we like. Once we need to think about the mechanics we take inspiration from games like Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon.

What was the biggest challenge in making Summer in Mara and how did you overcome it?

Eventually we decided to make Summer in Mara bigger than we first expected. At the beginning, we only planned 5 islands. We ended up with 30. And of course, we had to fill these islands with content and give them some meaning. So that was really hard for us. We’re a small studio and it costs a lot of time (hence, money) to think, produce and implement this type of content.

I still haven’t figured out how we did it!

Did early prototypes of Summer in Mara look very different from the end result?

Our earliest prototype was just Koa jumping and running around on an empty island. You pick oranges, cut down some trees and break some rocks, but there was nothing else to do. The base of the game was established there and we just had to add content and all the logic of the game behind that.

When it comes to the tools we use to make Summer in Mara, we work with the usual suspects: Unity, Photoshop, Blender… There’s no mystery here, I think.

Deiland Pocket Planet Edition in the Chibig Universe

Chibig now has three Kickstarter projects, the latest one being Deiland Pocket Planet Edition. All three games share a connection in design, history and more.
Can you tell us a bit about that?

We have this idea of the “Chibig Universe”, where every game we made is connected with each other. The catch is not to make a sequel or prequel, rather stories more like spin-offs. If you start our Universe with Ankora, you will meet an adult Mûn in Deiland and a teenager Mûn in Summer in Mara, for example. And you can play them in any order.

Also, we want to make games that you can recognize instantly. We would really like to get to that sweet spot when someone see a glimpse of a game and say: “Oh, that’s a Chibig game!”.

Let’s look at Deiland Pocket Planet Edition. Deiland has been in Kickstarter before, for PC and PS4. What prompted you to go for a new edition this time?

There were external and internal factors. The external factors were, mainly, people asking for it. Deiland was a very successful game for us, and it also gathered a small community around it. Internally, we saw that Deiland has a lot of potential on a console like Nintendo Switch. It’s a perfect combination: a tiny planet in a console that is both portable and a home console. Also, we learned a lot of things with Mara and we wanted to make some changes on Deiland, to keep it up to date.

What will you strive to do different in the new Deiland game from your previous games?

We put a lot of emphasis in a smoother gameplay experience. Focusing not so much on radical changes, as on quality of life improvements. We’re always thinking from the view point of a player that plays for the first time, but also a player that plays a lot and doesn’t want to get used to a completely new system. Both of them should start playing our games and enjoy them almost right away, without any friction.

Tell us something special about this game (or, what sets this game apart from others in the genre?)

We always say that we make farming games in the strangest places. Deiland is inspired by The Little Prince and you have to take care of your own small planet. You will see the curve of the planet and you can customize it as your home. We want to escape from the typical farming game where you inherit your grandfather’s farm or something like that. We hope to achieve a more original approach to the concept and the story.

Combining the Studio and Private Life

What part of being a game design studio sparks the most joy for you?

I think making a story in a somewhat new media. Videogames are really old, don’t get me wrong, but there’s still so much room to explore. Also, being an interactive media, you can see the reaction of gamers to their actions almost in real time. When they do something amazing that you put in there for them to do, it’s a unique experience.

Has the current Covid situation changed the way you and your team work?

Well, it’s a really strange moment in our history. We started working from home and we actually released Summer in Mara in the middle of the pandemic, so that was harder than usual. But we adapted very well. We have a flexible studio and philosophy, so it wasn’t that complicated at the end.

A lot of people have to work from home more often, would you say it’s difficult to maintain a good work-life balance? More difficult then before Covid?

I would say so, yes. Because you live where you work and you work where you live, and that’s not easy for a lot of people. Once, I found myself washing dishes in the middle of my working hours because I lost track of time. It’s harder, absolutely.

What advice would you offer aspiring developer working alone or in a tiny team?

I always say the same: keep the scope. If you’re a tiny team and you have limited resources, keep the scope. And think a lot about your theme when you make designing, artistic or story wise decisions. What’s driving you, what’s important for you, why are you doing this?

What kind of other cool game(s) would you love to make in the future?

We would love to keep doing farming games in strange places. We have a couple of ideas, but we also would like to help other small teams to release their games, so we don’t know yet what to expect in the near future.

What are your favourite recent games? Aside from Mara and Deiland of course! 

Hades! For sure, Hades is amazing. A less known game, for Nintendo Switch, is Röki. Made with a lot of heart and of such a huge quality. Deconstructeam also released a game a few days ago, for free, called Interview With The Whisperer and their games are always cool!

Thanks Diego, for your interview! Really looking forward to Deiland Pocket Planet Edition coming to life!
Want to know more about Summer in Mara? Our review is here, and our set of guides here. 

We love to hear from you!