• Larry Kilgore III

PixelSmiths Ep. 10: Cursed to Golf w/ Chuhai Labs Game Director Liam Edwards


A game lover from the U.K. moves to Japan to follow his dreams

On this episode, Larry & Clinton talk with Liam Edwards, Game Director for Cursed to Golf, out now on multiple platforms. Cursed to Golf is a challenging golf-like adventure with rogue-like elements, where players are tasked with playing a crazy obstacle-filled course to making it out of Golf Purgatory.


In this exciting conversation, they talk about Liam's winding road that lead to him being a game creator in Japan, his experience with crunch culture and burnout while working QA for Rockstar, the wonderful team that helped him make Cursed to Golf a reality, and the high level of interest the game saw from announcement to release.


Other topics that are discussed include: Mario Golf, Castlevania, GTA V, freelance game journalism, Starfox, SNES, Nintendo, Cartoon Network animated shows,

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Find Cursed to Golf on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1726120/Cursed_to_Golf/

Follow Liam Edwards on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LiamBME

Follow Cursed to Golf on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CursedtoGolf

Follow Chuhai Labs on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChuhaiLabs


Transcript:


Larry Kilgore III:

Video games are an art form. From the bits and bites of the old-school arcade cabinets to the technological advancements of the modern era, video games have been a way for creators to tell their stories in an interactive environment that can be shared the world over.


Clinton Bader:

Developers, designers, visionaries, and storytellers, like the artisans of old, it's their blood, sweat, and tears that go into crafting these unique and innovative experiences for players. But oftentimes the independent artists get lost in the overwhelming space that is today's hectic gaming market, and on PixelSmiths it's our goal to be a platform for those artists to celebrate their drive, their vision, and the work it takes to create their art.


Larry Kilgore III:

On this episode, we'll speak with the Kyoto-based game director for Cursed to Golf, a unique new rogue-like golf game, out now on multiple platforms.


Larry Kilgore III:

This is PixelSmiths. Hello, and welcome to PixelSmiths. I'm Larry Kilgore III, podcast creator and video game enthusiast.


Clinton Bader:

And I'm Clinton "Paperthin" Bader, an esports broadcaster and commentator, and we here at PixelSmiths want to shine a spotlight on the processes, hard work and dedication it takes to develop any games.


Larry Kilgore III:

Today, we are talking to Liam Edwards, game director and designer at Chuhai Labs in Kyoto, Japan. Liam is the creator of Cursed to Golf, their newest release.


Larry Kilgore III:

Liam, thank you so much for joining us here on PixelSmiths.


Liam Edwards:

It's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.


Larry Kilgore III:

So first of all, Liam, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got interested in making games and what your journey was like to take you to Chuhai Labs?


Liam Edwards:

Yeah, I'm Liam. I'm the creator of Cursed to Golf and a developer here at Chuhai Labs. I've been a game designer in Japan for about going on five years now, but previously I used to work at Rockstar Games before I moved out to Japan about seven years ago, and it's been a very weird journey to get to this point.


Liam Edwards:

I grew up in Wales in the UK. I'm initially English. I was born in Manchester, but I grew up in Wales. For anybody who doesn't know, Wales is very... In Japan, we'd say inaka, it's very, very country side, the mentality is very small town. Everyone grows up and doesn't leave and I imagine there are many places like that in America also but in Wales. If you ever watch Lord of the Rings, that's what it looks like just not New Zealand.


Liam Edwards:

So growing up there, I grew up basically either doing two things, which was playing sports or I was playing video games. And all of my friends were not sports people, I was the only sports person really in my friend's group. I played soccer, I played cricket, I played a bit of golf when I was younger, but the people I hung out with, were the people I really kind of looked up to, which was all older kids who played video games, because video games was my obsession when I was younger.


Liam Edwards:

And I never really thought about it, I just was obsessed with Nintendo and stuff like that when I was younger. I grew up just chatting about Nintendo constantly. I knew everything like this encyclopedia knowledge about everything Nintendo at the time, but I never really thought about a career in video games. I sort of grew up and I went to school and I was an average student in every single way. You grew up in Wales, you don't dream of ever being able to do anything great.


Liam Edwards:

But I really also enjoyed animation and it was something that I wanted to pursue because I liked cartoons as well. Growing up watching Cartoon Network, Ed, Edd nd Eddy, Dexter's Laboratory and stuff like that. I didn't know what it meant to do, these kind of things, but I thought, "Oh, maybe I can draw and do animation." So I went to college and I did animation first, and that was a good time, and it was in part with filmmaking. So I learned a lot about the process of making stuff and creating things from start to finish, and I think that really helped with what I do now.


Liam Edwards:

But after I left college, I kind of didn't really know what to do. There were no film and TV or animation jobs in Wales. So it was kind of a ridiculous thing to do, because I never expected to move away to California to go work at Cartoon Network or anything. That was never really anything I even thought about. So I just ended up working odd jobs and stuff, while still playing video games. But at that time I sort of started to think about going to university.


Liam Edwards:

In the UK, we go to college, which is kind of, I guess like high school and then we go to university a bit earlier I think. I'm not really sure. Japan's also very different to the way UK is. And then, my mom was really desperate for me to go to university. I would be the first in my family to go, and she was like, "Please go." And I went to visit my friend, one of these friends that I'd grown up with, and basically all I did was, party with him and play video games in his university apartment and I was sold. I never even went to the university or anything. I was just sold on the life of like a student.


Larry Kilgore III:

I think there are a lot of people that have that visit and they're like, "This is what it's like, let's do it."


Liam Edwards:

Exactly. So I came and I was like, "Mom, I'll go to university." And she was thrilled, and I was like, "But I don't know what to do." And she's like, "Honestly, you like video games. Why don't you do something to do with video games or something?" And I was like, "Okay, well I could do computer science, which is programming and then I could make video games." Not realizing in my complete naivety that I would be the worst programmer to ever have existed on the planet.


Liam Edwards:

But I applied and I actually had to take a math exam to be able to qualify to do the course. I managed to actually study for that and pass that because math is not something I'm very good at, but I got in. And I was like, "Oh my God, this is it!" Right? I get to be a student and stuff like that. And then I proceeded to spend the next three years literally just playing video games and not really going to university.


Liam Edwards:

So I continued my trend of only really enjoying the student life, but not being very good at what I was actually there to do. But what it did solidify, minus the fact that I did realize I was not going to be a great programmer, was that I really liked video games. So what I actually started to do while I was there was, I wrote about video games.


Liam Edwards:

So I would do freelancing for GameSpot or smaller websites in the beginning, and that really was something I was super passionate about. It was like, "Oh my God, I'm getting video games for free to review." And stuff like that. I'd get sent terrible PS3 games in the post from publishers in Asia, and it'd be terrible, weird hentai games and stuff like that too, and it was very strange.


Liam Edwards:

But I was getting free games as a student, and me and my housemates, we could play them and then we'd review them and then I'd write about it, and yeah, it was amazing. And I was like, "Oh my God, I really want to do this. I want to go work at either IGN or GameSpot or something like that." So I kind of switched from wanting to make games, because I never thought that would be a possibility, to then thinking, "Oh, I can write about this." Because I can do it from Wales, I can not worry about having to move somewhere to do it.


Liam Edwards:

And then that actually led to me having an internship at GameSpot in London, and I met Danny O'Dwyer who was working there at the time, and then Lucy James who is now, Giant Bomb and Tamoor Hussain and all these incredible people have gone out to actually do those things, and it was amazing. I was working in an office to do with video games and I was like, "Okay, this is what I want to do." So for as bad as I was a programmer, I was also a very bad writer, it turns out too. I just couldn't do that either.


Liam Edwards:

I was kind of boned either way because I'm like, "Well, my passion is there, but my skillset is really not." And I do blame the Welsh education system for that, but it was still something that I wanted to do, and I went away from the GameSpot thing being a bit down because I was like, "Well, I kind of messed up that opportunity, but I still know that this is something I really want to do." I had to go back and I took a job as a web developer based on the fact that I could at least do CSS and HTML programming and stuff like that at a very bare minimum.


Liam Edwards:

And sorry to have delayed this up till this point, which is then a friend reached out who worked at Rockstar and was like, "Hey, we're looking for QA staff for the next project." Which was GTA 5, and he was like "You should totally apply. You'd be great." So I applied and I got an interview and I went for the interview and I still remember the stupid things they said.


Liam Edwards:

They were like, "What do you think about QA and stuff like that?" And I was like, "Well, I play a lot of Street Fighter IV and I look at patch notes and all that kind of stuff, and I can tell i-frame." I just was awful, my answer was terrible, but it seemed to go well and I was super excited.


Liam Edwards:

And then I waited three months to get a reply. It took so long because I imagine so many people applied for that job, I mean it's Rockstar. And actually I got a no. Initially, I got a no. I can remember the email. It said, "Sorry, but please know we'll put your name on file, in case we need you in the future." And when anybody says that you're like, "The opportunity's gone."


Liam Edwards:

So I went and did my web developer job and I moved across the country to the capital of Wales, which is Cardiff and I moved there and I really didn't like it. But after one month of going there, so paying up front for an apartment for six months rent and everything, of course in typical irony, I got an email from Rockstar saying, "Hey, sorry, we'd actually like to offer you a job. Please come move across the UK now to here and start work next month." And I'm like, "Oh, I just paid for six months on this apartment and everything." Thankfully the landlord was really great, and the people I was working with as web developers were like, I was like, "Sorry, I really have to do this. This is what I've always wanted to do." And they understood, which I'm grateful for at the time.


Liam Edwards:

And then I moved across to go work Rockstar, and I started out in QA working on GTA 5, which was amazing. So then I proceeded to spend four years at Rockstar where I was working on GTA 5. Mostly, the online stuff, as well as the cut scenes and the single player, various different QA levels, and then before I left, I started doing stuff for RDR2, but as I think anybody who sort of probably listens to this podcast knows who's probably read about Rockstar in the past, it was not exactly a great work culture, especially for QA people at the time. Lots of overwork.


Larry Kilgore III:

Lots of burnout.


Liam Edwards:

Yeah. It was basically four years of six days a week, 12 hours a day, and I didn't know any different. And Rockstar at the time, it was the attitude we don't have now about game development jobs. Everyone is valuable. I'm glad that we're sort of understand just how valuable stuff like QA and localization is and stuff.


Liam Edwards:

But at that time it was still, people were like, "Well, QA is the bottom of the bucket." Right? It's the bottom level who gives a shit about those guys, pay them minimum wage, make them overwork, because there used to be a saying that went around the office, yet came from one of the old bosses, which was, "If you don't like it, fuck off to Tesco's." And Tesco's is a supermarket in the UK, so it's basically just like, "If you don't want to work here, go work in a supermarket because there's 10 other people who will replace you instantaneously who want this job." So everyone was basically held by the fear of just losing their job because someone else would replace you, which sucks.


Liam Edwards:

But eventually I saw through the cultish nature and I was like, "I don't want to do this." It's like, "I can't do this anymore. This sucks." And GTA 5 at that point had released and we were just releasing DLC and stuff. So I was like, "I'm just going to do something completely different." Because I used to dream, I literally used to dream in the Rockstar office of being on a farm in Wales, where I could just be free and outside because I was stuck in an office constantly.


Liam Edwards:

That phrase of, the grass is always greener, eminently bouncing around my head, but I couldn't go back to Wales, I just couldn't do that. So I was like, "I'm going to do something I've always wanted to do." I've always wanted to go to Japan, but I haven't wanted to go for just two weeks because I know there's so much I want to see, I'm going to go for a year and I'm going to take basically a sabbatical and then come back and apply for game jobs somewhere else.


Liam Edwards:

So myself and my partner at the time, we moved to Japan and I taught English for the first bit a while. It was the best experience ever. It was a cleansing of everything. And I didn't play video games, I didn't do anything, but I just was amazed at being here in Japan and stuff like that.


Liam Edwards:

But that allowed me to sort of do other projects. And I started doing podcasts like this, about video games actually, and I sort of had this idea while I was at Rockstar that I'd wanted to do for a while, which is a podcast called Final Games. And I did that for a while and I really enjoyed it, and I really enjoyed talking to other game developers. Their experiences always sort of seemed to have matched mine in the early days, but then, they'd gone on to do something else.


Liam Edwards:

And then it sort of was bubbling in my head that, "Oh, I could actually do this again, but I have a better time of it. With more control." And so I just started to prototype and do stuff again, kind of relearning programming, even though I was bad at it, doing GameMaker tutorials and just anything. Even a character moving left to right gave me so much enjoyment because it was like, "Oh I did that. I'm making a game now. I don't have to rely on 500 other people to help me build this thing like at Rockstar where you're a small cog in a big machine." And now I'm making my own stuff and then I just gradually got better and better at it.


Liam Edwards:

When I was releasing stuff, I was scared in the beginning because the games were terrible, but they got better and better like anything does. Right? With practice, you do it more and more. And because I understood game production and sort of game sensibilities from having worked at Rockstar and having sort of always been fascinated by game design, which is what I had always wanted to do.


Liam Edwards:

It sort of just led to me taking it a lot more seriously, trying to treat it like, what I was doing was almost freelancing for myself in a way, that professional mentality was like, "Okay, we're getting to a point now where you're getting good enough at this, that experience that you had before and this growing stuff could probably go somewhere here in Japan if you take it seriously enough." And I'd been obviously networking with game developers because I'd been doing the podcasts and I'd been going to events a lot and people knew I was doing stuff based on Twitter or whatnot.


Liam Edwards:

And at that point it started to become more of a snowballing conversation about, "Oh, hey, have you thought about working at a studio?" And I was offered jobs at places like Capcom actually back at the day, but that would've required me to have stopped podcasting and stuff, which was not something I wanted to do because at that point that was a lot bigger than any game development stuff I was doing. And I'd still been burnt out by the Rockstar stuff that I didn't want to work at a big company.


Liam Edwards:

But I met a guy called Dylan Cuthbert, who was one of the original programmers on Star Fox. And he was a great guy and he offered basically, he was like, "Hey, come work at my studio, Q-Games." Which is the creators of the PixelJunk series, "Come move to Kyoto." I was living in a different part of Japan at the time. "Come, be a game planner." Which in Japan is basically a game designer, but it's a hybrid role of you're a designer, but you're also a producer, at the same time.


Liam Edwards:

So they don't have express game design, you have multiple responsibilities. And I was like, "Oh my God, this is it! I've done it." I'm finally, I've done what my dream always was to be, which is to be a game designer in Japan. Working for the guy who freaking programed Star Fox, this is going to be amazing, and it was great. I spent three years at that studio and I made a fair number of games. I co-directed in Apple Arcade game for them, and then I learned so many things about not only just from big scale to small scale, from going from Rockstar where you have zero creative control about anything you do.


Liam Edwards:

So then a small scale where every decision you make has a very big ramification based on the size of the project. And I learned so much about indie game development and it would still within a professional boundary, enough that money's on the line and these things matter. So it was taken very seriously.


Liam Edwards:

And I learned a lot about designing games to my own standard, like what I believe when making games, which is definitely about harnessing the fun and making sure fun is the main operative above anything else, trying to almost emulate Nintendo in some way, and I learned a lot of that, at Q. And then, so from then it was a case of, "Oh wow, this is what I want to do forever."


Liam Edwards:

Now, I love living in Japan. I love making games. There's nothing really I can complain about, but with everything, there's always a natural sort of conclusion you reach where you're like, "Okay, I want to sort of do my own thing a bit more now." And when COVID hit, I just launched the Apple Arcade game I'd co-directed, a game called Scrappers, which is actually about to launch on PC and stuff through Q-Games and I was, you get sort of, I don't know if anybody's talked about this before, but post-release depression, with anything. Right? You work so hard on something and then you release it and then you're like, "Ah, crap, what do I do now?"


Clinton Bader:

We get post-event depression in esports where we finish a big event. We're like, "Ah, man. It's over? Ah, God."


Liam Edwards:

Yeah, exactly. You go to PAX or something, you meet everybody, and everything's really frantic. You're like, "Oh my God, this is so exciting." And then all of a sudden it ends and you're like, "Ah." And that's what game development is like in a nutshell. Every day is like this frantic thing and you're really bonded with your team, and then all of a sudden it stops and you don't have to have that anymore.


Liam Edwards:

And it becomes quite depressing, and I'm terrified of the next two weeks when Cursed to Golf is there and I have to think like that again. But it became a case of like, "Okay, well COVID's hit, I'm stuck remote working from my team." Which, was one of the best development cycles I ever had. I loved working with the Scrappers team they were amazing and it was quite depressing, so the only thing I thought that made me happy was to prototype games and design stuff, I really enjoy probably more so these days, making games than I do playing games. So my hobby really is my job, so I just went back into it.


Liam Edwards:

And then I was listening to a podcast called The Eggplant Podcast, which is a game design podcast, where they mostly talk about rogue-likes and I was thinking, "Why is nobody made a physics rogue-like?" And the answer is because it's really stupid. It's a stupid idea.


Liam Edwards:

You combine, RNG heavy video game genre with physics, which is the natural RNG of life, and then you've got a very combustious combination that is very hard to control. But I sort of was prototyping because I didn't think anything of it, and it sort of ended up being this prototype that was kind of like a dungeon golf game, which then became Cursed to Golf.


Liam Edwards:

There was a prototype version for itch.io that I made, off the back of getting it ready for this Discord event that was flying around at the time because of COVID and then I launched the itch.io version. It did really well on Twitter. It got written about, and some publishers thought, "Hey, there's really something here, you should develop this." And at that point it's a case where, "Oh, I have a job, but a lot of people offering me money to go make my own thing." And I'm really at that point now where I think, "Oh, I really want to go do my own thing." So then I went and did my own thing, kind of, because Japan's kind of difficult to run your own company and business.


Liam Edwards:

So it was a case of, "I want to accept all of this money that you're going to give me to make this game, but the reality is I can't legally do that. I have no foundations or structure to be able to do that." So thankfully, I teamed up with one of my ex-colleagues at Q. Mark, who was the producer on Cursed to Golf, and he was like, "Hey, come do it at Chuhai Labs."


Liam Edwards:

And Chuhai at that point were VITEI Backroom, which was another studio in Kyoto that I was good friends with, and is also run by an ex-Star Fox programmer and Giles Goddard a guy who did 1080 Snowboarding and he's done so many amazing things in the past. So they were like, "Yeah, come do it here. We'll build you a team, you bring yourself and the publisher and we'll all make it work." And then, now I got this little game about to launch and sorry, I wait, I long-winded, I told you it was long-winded, I'm sorry.


Larry Kilgore III:

But you know? We got to hear your journey and it may have been a little bit winding, but it sounds like you got to where you wanted to be in.


Clinton Bader:

I could probably do a whole episode with you just about, on your transition from life in the UK to Japan, because me, it was the US to Korea and I have a very similar story in some ways.


Clinton Bader:

I do want to ask you about Cursed to Golf a little bit. I like the term that's been thrown around for it, a golf-like, which I think is really cute. And there's a lot of cute little things in the game. Right? Like the name of the shop Eterni-Tee, with T-E-E. I like that kind of stuff.


Clinton Bader:

So it's a 2D golf game, but it's also a rogue-like, like you were talking about and you covered a lot of the bases here. Where did this idea come from? You mentioned that you played some sports when you were younger. Do you still play a little bit of golf? I know for me here in Korea, I play a lot of screen golf, so for me, I kind of like this game, because it's kind of like a departure from the real swinging of the club and that kind of thing. How did you decide to start making this project?


Liam Edwards:

It's weird because a lot of people think I would've started with golf. I actually have sort of a... Not a long history with golf, but when I was younger, I played soccer and golf and I was pretty good at both of them to a point that if I'd actually taken them seriously, maybe either all could have gone to a point of maybe a career or something like that.


Liam Edwards:

But I did love soccer whereas with golf, it was just a case of, "Man, this book sucks." I cannot deal with the pressure of playing this game. It's anybody who plays golf knows. You love golf and you hate golf, but when you're a kid it's for me, it was just hate because I was good enough that I played in tournaments and my parents were like, "Oh, maybe he could do this." I won an academy and I got kind of, not a scholarship, but I'd got a UK equivalent to be able to go to a school, to learn, have to my actual school.


Liam Edwards:

And there was a period of time where I was like, "Oh I could take this here." But I hate, I was a sore loser. I still am to this day. If I played bad, I just wouldn't care. I wouldn't want to play, again. I just really want to be at home playing Zelda, or Smash Brothers or something. Right? That's what I was happy doing.


Liam Edwards:

So I quit, and I didn't play golf for years, but I knew a lot about it. And when making Cursed to Golf, it wasn't a golf game to start with, which I think a lot of people think is the case. It wasn't, it was a pure game design thought experiment, about why has nobody made a physics rogue-like, and then of course the answer is because it's a stupid idea, because it's very hard.


Liam Edwards:

But what that led me to do is to get to a point where you're in a middle ground, where it's not quite a rogue-like and it's not quite a physics game necessarily. That's why it's alike of both, because it's not really either or, in their full way. Cursed to Golf is not full like Mario Golf or PGA Tour or something like that.


Liam Edwards:

It's a simulated arcade golf, so it's not a hundred percent golf. And then it has a lot removed from it that makes a rogue-like a rogue-like. It just has sort of tendencies to move towards a rogue-like, so it's not really a rogue-like either it's this golf-like thing.


Liam Edwards:

But it sort of started just with me knocking a ball around, in a dungeon. I drew a Metroid level and I was like, okay, let's try to just get to the end of the Metroid level using basic physics, power, angle, hit. And then after a sort of while when I was building the levels, I was like, okay, well we need something to simulate you getting to the end, so I put a hole for it to go in or like a goal or whatever. And I was like, "This is kind of like golf."


Liam Edwards:

So I drew a character and I was like, "Well, he can swing and the play, he can do the different things." And I was like, "Okay, well now it's a golf game in a dungeon." And originally when I was just making the prototype, I was actually just streaming on Twitch, a little bit. It was originally meant to be a game boy game, and then it spiraled into, because I can't do pixel a lot very well, it just spiraled into a bigger game, so I can make the pixels a bit bigger and get the screen space and stuff like that.


Liam Edwards:

So kind of like retroactively became a golf game and then, because it was a golf game, it opened up more opportunities because that was kind of within my vocabulary of understanding, like what I could do with the rule set. "Okay, well I need to get to the goal, but why or how? Well, what if I have a par or a certain amount of shots with which I need to get to like a golf hole?"


Liam Edwards:

Okay. Now it's more challenging because I have to do this within a certain limit, so that was easy. And then it was like, "Okay, well what if I screw up a shot or something? Well, I could mulligan." Which is a pretty common thing in golf. So then it just became this thing of like, "Oh, well what if I do this or this? What if you get a birdie, do you get more points?"


Liam Edwards:

Then it was like, "Oh, well now I know a lot of things about golf anyway, I'll just turn them into game rules and then I'll make this thing." And in the basic prototype we had stuff like a mulligan, and then we had the par count and all these things and it was like, "Yeah." And now I can make it anything themed around golf, and the idea was just that you were stuck in a curse where you golfed forever until you finished it.


Liam Edwards:

And that's what became this version now, which is a lot more of a fleshed out one with a proper story and stuff. And when building it, it became the ability of just like, "We can do whatever we want because it's just a golf game that tangentially can relate to golf." And then we were able to put so many golf references in, Eterni-Tee and stuff like that. I don't shy away from stupid stuff like that because it's fun, and I don't take those things very seriously. It is more about the fun than it is anything else.


Larry Kilgore III:

From the experience I've had with playing the demo too, I think that really gives it its personality. There are times when it's very tongue in cheek and punny and...


Clinton Bader:

I like that. Yeah. Yeah.


Liam Edwards:

Sorry. That's the irony now, is it was tongue in cheek to kind of make fun of golf a little bit.


Clinton Bader:

The irony.


Liam Edwards:

See, I like where you're thinking. Well, the irony is that actually because of this game, I started playing golf again and now I actually like golf again. I don't take it seriously anymore. I just enjoy playing. I enjoy, you hit one good shot and you're like, "Yes, that was great." And that I get it like as an adult, why people play it.


Liam Edwards:

I still don't like a lot of what's surround golf, the culture of golf and generally the people who play it, but as a pure sport of where you, yourself, just try to better yourself, I do like it because it's also what makes my game fun. If I said golf sucks, then I'd basically be saying my own game sucks, so that's not a great marketing tool to be honest.


Larry Kilgore III:

Well, we've been having a wonderful conversation and we're kind of closing under the break, but before we get there, I want to take a chance to talk about the art style.


Larry Kilgore III:

I think the art style is very appealing in this game, not only is it pixel art, but it has a very retro feel in the fact that it kind of looks grainy and shaky, which reminds me a lot of the two TVs you play and SNES or Sega Genesis on. I'm assuming that was a very intentional choice. So what was it about the game that kind of made you settle on that SNES era kind of 16-bit grainy look to the game?


Liam Edwards:

I think it was a natural thing because I built it off, the fact that I did pixel art for the prototype, I am an awful pixel artist. If you play the initial version of the game, you can see like it's ugly, it's terrible. Right? But it was a surface to requirement because I just needed people to have art, to be able to see what was happening. So it was only ever there to show you what the potential of the gameplay was.


Liam Edwards:

But it needed to be better, and it wasn't necessarily that pixel art was the way we should do it. But it was one of the things that stood out to the guy who signed it. So the guy who signed the project is a guy called Ed Valiente. He was a scout for the publisher Thunderful, and Ed has a long history of working at, he worked at Square Enix, he worked at Nintendo Europe, he worked at Sega, he worked at Sony, he worked everywhere.


Liam Edwards:

And his words to me when he played the game and he said, "This feels like a Nintendo game." And I, as me, as like somebody growing up, just wanting to emulate that and be a designer at Nintendo was like the magic words, it was like, "Dude, sign me up. I'll do anything you want." He was like, "The music's great." Because the initial track that was in the game is by Mark Sparling. My brief to him was just Mario Golf, Cross Castlevania, and he made a banger of a tune, and so that had already the retro feel of like those games, and then the pixel art was just that it was pixel art.


Liam Edwards:

So it was kind of a thing where it was like, well, this game is always going to be pixel art in some way, and it's always going to try not to be a Nintendo game, but it's going to try to just be what we love. Right? Which is growing up, playing some Famicom, growing up, loving and obsessing over those games. And I hate the word love letter to those things. We are not trying to copy them, we're not trying to even remotely get close because we never can, but it is just us being like...


Larry Kilgore III:

Do you like the term homage? Where you say-


Liam Edwards:

Homage? Yeah. It's like an homage, but I think even that is personally being dismissive of how talented our pixel artist, Jon is because he's so talented that to say his work is a homage or he's copying other styles, is I feel like not doing him the credit because he's so good at what he does.


Liam Edwards:

He's an incredible pixel artist and I think even Cursed to Golf is not the greatest example of his work, but it's a game production and assets have to be a certain thing and everything gets cut in a level of detail. But the fact that the one thing that we both agreed on was that, we just want the game to be appealing, so it has to be cute. I.


Liam Edwards:

T is a game that's not horror themed or a Halloweeny themed, but it's dark themed. You die, you go to hell or purgatory and then you are stuck in this place that's kind of like golf castlevania, which was always my brief. Which was like, "This has to be basically Mario Golf in Castlevania." And he nailed it.


Liam Edwards:

The only thing I can really compare it to is like Nightmare Before Christmas, where it's very appealing and jolly and good to look at, but it is death themed and horror themed, but any kid can watch it and not be scared. And Cursed to Golf is this thing where it's this cute little, I know, horror is definitely the wrong word, but I don't know how to describe it other than, it was spooky, spooky themes, there we go.


Liam Edwards:

But everyone loves charming things and going back to the fact that I wanted to be an animator, cartoons and stuff like that, they're the most expression, video games have not reached that kind of expression, yet. Maybe games like Cuphead and stuff like that have, but cartoons express animation in ways that video games cannot really reach. But what we really wanted to try and do was to overanimate everything and really, try to give everything character.


Liam Edwards:

Give the world character, like the moon is a golf ball and stuff like that, just silly things that really stand out and give character. And it was always a case of like, "We're just going to do it for ourselves and hope that people notice." And then when we released the announcement trail and people like, "Whoa, this art is amazing and everything has animation and the character really moves and we've got this big guy called the Scotsman, who's really bouncy." And all those things. It was like, "Yes, people get it." Right? People want what we want, which is to really give character to something, and Jon completely smashed it.


Liam Edwards:

Without his art, the game would not be the game it is today. Without that kind of character, we call it the Triforce in the studio. This, myself and Sean, who is the lead programmer, so we are the content and then there's Jon, who is the art and everything that he's done, and then there's Mark, who did the music. And then those three things without each other, don't make that game. If one pot falls and link still has to keep going to find it, to have the power to make it.


Liam Edwards:

So it is a case of we're essentially a Triforce, and there's loads of other people who have helped definitely make the game mad, as good as it is. But without those three key things, it would not be the game it is right now that people are talking about. So it is quite incredible and I'm really happy that people really do comment on the art, of the music to almost extends whether like, "I couldn't care if this game is good, the music's amazing or the art looks amazing." And you're like, "Yes, that's good, but please play the game."


Larry Kilgore III:

Well, Liam, this has been a fun conversation so far and I wish we could talk for forever, but we do have to take a quick break and afterwards I'd like to talk a little bit more about the development and the challenges that you guys have faced and getting the game to release.


Larry Kilgore III:

We'll be back in a moment with more from Liam Edwards, here on PixelSmiths.


Larry Kilgore III:

This is PixelSmiths, the podcast that gives voice to today's indie game developers, I'm Larry Kilgore III.


Clinton Bader:

And I'm Clinton "Paperthin" Bader. And we're talking with Liam Edwards game director at Chuhai Labs, creators of Cursed to Golf. So we've talked a lot about your story, but I want to know more about your team. How did your team come together? And how many people do you have on your team? So once you got to Chuhai, how this all started to blossom into a real project?


Liam Edwards:

Yeah. That's really important to me as well, because even though I'm just the talking head and I created the prototype, the game that it is like I talked about that sort of Triforce, it's a case of, there are so many people who, without their professionalism at work the game would've never been built.


Liam Edwards:

When I came to Chuhai it was a case of, we didn't know the project would become what it is now. Absolutely not, we never expected this. It was just a, "Hey, we're going to do this. Let's see what happens and we'll release it and it'll be a game that's out and it's in the catalog of whatever." We didn't expect it to be this wild thing, where everybody seems to be talking about Cursed to golf and PlayStation, Nintendo wanted to be involved and we really was never planned to be like that.


Liam Edwards:

So the team started small. It was just myself and Sean who sits here, who is the lead programmer, and essentially the co-director of the project. Trying to find an artist, trying to find a musician, especially for the first three months of development, it was just me, myself and Sean and sometimes Mark our producer, stepping into really get things going and building a team and stuff like that.


Liam Edwards:

So we nailed the list of people we wanted for the art job, and Jon was always at the top and it was a case of like, "Okay, let's reach out and he's probably busy, but we'll..." I'll like testing people at the same time and Jon was like, "Hey, I'd love to do this, but I'm not available until May." And we're like, "That's five months into our project." That's literally only a year long, turned out to be a year and a half, but that's risky. But he is the best, so maybe we should wait.


Liam Edwards:

And we waited and it was totally worth it as you sort of highlighted already. What if we panicked? And we're like, "Well, we should just get someone else because that's too late." So with Jon, it was a case of like, "We'll wait." And it turned out amazing.


Liam Edwards:

In the beginning, it was tough because he's a freelancer and we work here in the studio, like we worked 24/7. We had to try and get him to the point where he's like a team member, and we have a system and the way the studio runs and the way the team works is not that different to a freelancer coming in. We want you to be a part of the team and to really work within our structure.


Liam Edwards:

And then music was always going to be Mark because Mark made the prototype and he's my favorite musician in video games. He did the Short Hike soundtrack, which I still think is the best soundtrack to a video game. It's so good. I said, "Hey, I'm going to introduce you on this project. Will you do the music?" And he is like, "Yeah, if it get signed. Yeah, let's do it." And he did. And he's been amazing ever since.


Liam Edwards:

But then it became this case that the project started to get a little bigger. And then when we announced it was, wow we didn't expect the wave of incredible positive response we got and quite the sheer number of it, the eyes. We announced it via IGN and it kind of was, I've got to say, beyond our wildest expectations of what could ever happen, which took us by surprise in a good way.


Liam Edwards:

It was a good problem to have, which was, "Oh crap. Now there's an expectation." Now we have to make this product be the product that people are expecting it to be. And you can either go one way and just be like, "Okay, well we just make the best game we can." Or you try to step up to that, and you're like, "Okay, well, there are some things we need to do." Right?


Liam Edwards:

Let's look at the structure of the game right now. What can we improve? One of our things to do was to make boss fights and stuff like that in the game, which then define the legendary caddie characters that you have in the game, which gave the game a lot more structure and made it a lot more of a solid sort of rogue-like experience.


Liam Edwards:

But that required additional programmings support, and that required additional art, and then Jon couldn't quite do the pixel art, and the UI at the same time so we have this, if anybody's seen videos of the game, we have all of the pixel art of the world and everything's pixel art, but all of the UI, over the top of it is meant to resemble like an old Konami Golf game. So we have this very vector, clean UI that's easily to read and it stands out above the pixel art, so you pay attention to it instead of ignoring it.


Liam Edwards:

I'm not personally a fan of pixel art fonts in games, because they're hard to read. I have bad eyes. So I wanted it to be very clean and easy to read, so we used vector art for that but Jon couldn't do that and the vector at the same time. So one of the artists that we had art tested prior, who I thought was a great artist, we reached out to and was like, "Hey, do you think you could do this?" And he was kind of like, "I haven't really done this since college, but I'll give it a try." And Nathan, a great pixel artist, but a great artist as well, decided to basically just become our UI designer, and then we now had a UI designer and things were getting a lot bigger.


Liam Edwards:

And then because we started doing more story elements based around the fact that we had these bus fights and we wanted to make sure, we did have a bigger idea of how the story of the game was going to run first. It was going to be something that you had to go through multiple times to sort of get to a true ending, but of course we couldn't do that, there was kind of completely out of our scope.


Liam Edwards:

It became a point where actually we needed a lot more dialogue than we thought we did. And we needed a lot more explanation about certain things and to make sure that there was a lot more will building to give the player the care, to get the character to the end. So going back to the fact that we talked about, I'm not a very good writer. I can come up with the premise and trying to be jolly and funny about it like the Scotsman sort of dialogue, is me because it's essentially just me talking.


Liam Edwards:

But we needed some structure and we needed somebody who was talented and a good friend of mine, Liz who works at Obsidian and has worked on that Harry Potter game in the past, the new one that's coming out next year. Who is an incredible narrative designer, an incredible writer who basically was passing me notes all the time. I would bounce ideas off her and I was like, "Hey, would you mind helping?" And she was like, "Yeah, absolutely. I'd love to, I'm glad you asked." And then it was a case of like, "Oh, now we have an Obsidian level narrative designer on this stupid little golf game."


Liam Edwards:

So it became this thing where now, we were sort of building a team and whilst outside of that, Triforce, I talked about a lot of people were part-time or would just like one day a week, but it would not be what it is, without this structure that Liz is given it or without all of the incredible UI that Nathan has done. Jon's art would not stand out the way it does. And then towards the end of the project, we realized, "Well, not even the end, within six months after we went to PAX West last year and it was even bigger."


Liam Edwards:

Our other producer Kinsey came on board, and then Kinsey was invaluable to me as basically, I was the only designer and I was having to art up and like level design, like 70 holes and they're all huge, and it was like an insurmountable task, and then together tackling all of those things and then play testing it all and balancing it, and it became like this, "Okay. Now we have 10 people, we have four full-time people, but then we have this roster of incredible people who've all come in and out to change these things."


Liam Edwards:

And we even have Shino-san who was somebody I worked with here in Japan before, who was an artist at Level-5. She worked on Professor Layton, stuff like that in the past, who actually did all of the key artwork that we have overused massively. She just painted this one piece for us and we've used it nonstop in everything. So it was like, "Oh, now we actually have a team of people who have worked on this." And wow, without them, it would not be the game it is.


Liam Edwards:

If it was still just the three myself, Sean and Jon and I guess Mark making the music, it would be a smaller project and it wouldn't be as good. And is a testament to the fact that nobody can really do anything by themselves. I always take with a pinch of salt when people say it's a game solo developed because I don't think truly, that can really happen without some sort of influence from other people, unless you're the most talented person in the entire world. I don't think people can develop video games by themselves that are of a level, that can reach the heights of certain other indie games.


Liam Edwards:

It is about leaning into people's skills and we just kind of got, I don't want to say lucky because it's always, we spend a lot of time researching and trying to work with people and to just say, "Ah, we got lucky, we got the best people." But it truly was a case of luck that people were free enough to be able to do it, but also that it all kind of cohesively came together.


Liam Edwards:

Things aren't without the problems, but it cohesively came together that these sort of 10 to 11 people ended up all working together, and it then made this project way better than ever could have been. The project that we signed, that Thunderful thought they were getting versus the project they're getting now. I think they got a bargain, is my personal opinion because of how proud I am of my team.


Larry Kilgore III:

Well, it sounds like you really learned how to adapt kind of as things came at you and adding more people and stuff like that, but what would you say was the biggest challenge that you and your team faced in development? What was one thing that just sticks out in your mind, that was a difficult thing to overcome or kind of stopped everybody in their tracks and you guys had to creatively find a way around it?


Liam Edwards:

I don't think there's anything to stand out, that's a major game stopping point. I mean the challenge of balancing a physics rogue-like was always going to be something that was problematic for us. Where do we draw the line between what is controllable by the player, but what is also feeling like a random physics thing?


Liam Edwards:

That was always the biggest challenge for us from a design standpoint, and making sure that the power-ups then offset that, but they are fun and they don't just feel, you're controlling the physics, but you are adding to it. That was always going to be tough, and the way we balanced it, I feel like was a really big challenge.


Liam Edwards:

In terms of actual like toughest subject, it's time. Time is always the biggest factor in anything. Cursed to Golf development was only supposed to be a year, because it was meant to be a smaller project, but it spiraled into just over a year and a half now. Time because we have to cut stuff. We have to make really difficult choices.


Liam Edwards:

Originally we had the ability to run through the game three times, and you would have three different outcomes and then you'd have a true ending and then be more of a story. We had mini games in it, the way you owned cash. We had other characters that we wanted to add in it. You get costumes in the game, not costumes, but you get pallet swaps of different things. We wanted a more inventive way of unlocking them than just them being in the store and stuff like that, that had to get cut.


Liam Edwards:

There are curses in the game that you can trigger, and we wanted to add more of them, but they were unbalanced and it was really hard to control them, so we had to cut them as well. It is a case of time is the toughest thing, and I think everybody would complain at me personally about something that's been cut from the game that they felt strongly about.


Liam Edwards:

Whether it's Jon and some characters or some animations not being able to make it or polish that we just couldn't do, because we didn't have the time or Mark wanting to make more tracks for the game or Liz who wrote more backstory to all of the characters, that we just are unable to accommodate because it requires Sean then to program a system that allows us to get the player, interrupting the player flow and doing all those things, and Sean wants to work on performance for the switch.


Liam Edwards:

It's that time balance that's really difficult with any project where you really need to meet in the middle and make the hard calls to make sure that on August 18th, Cursed to Golf comes out. And it's a case that everyone has to understand if Liam says no, it's a no. And I then have to justify it because people work really hard on these things. I don't want to say no to somebody, making a character that doesn't make it into the game or somebody is going home, being like, "That bug is driving me crazy." And I'm like, "Forget about it because you can't fix it. I need you to do this instead, because otherwise that's not going to be done."


Liam Edwards:

Someone really stupid once said to me, time is not an excuse, and I feel like that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard anybody say to me because it is. Time is my [crosstalk 00:39:42] but you have to call it and it's more about getting better at understanding what to do in that time, and making harder and harder calls.


Clinton Bader:

You've been talking about how all of this just kept growing and growing and growing. Was this based on the feedback you've been receiving from the trade shows and you went to PAX West and all these things, was that one of the main drivers of this kind of growth for the game, the expansion of the game? So to speak, I'm kind of curious about what the feedback propelled you guys to do.


Liam Edwards:

I think we've never really got feedback that it compelled us to do anything. What we did get was, we had the announcement where the announcement came out and I think we can safely say there's not really anything like Cursed to Golf that people have seen before. It is kind of unique, which is real tough to do in a world of no original ideas. And Cursed to Golf's not an original idea. It's built upon so many other types of games. It just happens to be two genres that maybe have not been done together yet.


Liam Edwards:

So the thing when you do that, is that people look at it and they're like, "Well, I can't actually envision that ever working, but it looks great." So then the expectation is that when they play it, doesn't meet that expectation.


Liam Edwards:

And when we went to trade shows, what was so alleviating for us was that people played it and they were like, "That is exactly what I expected it to play like." "Oh that is what I thought but better." And you're like, "Ah, great." Not people playing it and like, "Yep. I knew you can do it. I knew you can pull it off. That's why nobody's done this before."


Larry Kilgore III:

Let me ask this then, was there anything that anybody said that made you lean harder in something? Something that everybody just really enjoyed and made you like, "Okay, that's great. We need to make that a bigger part of the game."


Liam Edwards:

Honestly, it's the polish, at the end of the day for as, luckily we are that we get talked about, it's really hard to make indie games and make people care. It seems that a lot of people care about Cursed to Golf, which I'm so thankful for, but it's the polish. Right? Because it is a golf game. It's just a golf game. Right? I have to keep telling myself, we're not making an JRPG or an adventure game that has all of these spiraling mechanics, and it is a arcade sports game with a twist and it's fun. So how do we make it seem bigger than it is?


Liam Edwards:

And it was to put a lot of time and effort into the polish, whether it was the music and making it the best music we ever could do, or it was getting Jon to make the best animations he could do, or making sure that the transitions and all of the little flourishes make it feel like a Nintendo game, as best as we possibly could.


Liam Edwards:

And that's what we lent really hard into because the solid foundation and the base we had was super lucky, we had that early on. It was the gameplay, we knew. It couldn't be more than it was. We just build upon it and hope that it's enough, and it was.


Liam Edwards:

So everything else was like, "Okay, well, how do we make it look the best it can?" And it was to add these Mario Golf style intros to every hole to make it so you could see the hole and see different things, but it gives it that extra level of polish or extra level pizzazz that people are like, "Wow. They really spent the time on doing that." And then the flip side of that is that everybody wants to skip that crap and just get to the gameplay.


Liam Edwards:

So it's, well, at least it's there because then people are like, "Wow, this really does look polished." So one of the things we did lean into was trying to get it to a level where it seemed more than it is. And I think we achieved that in some way that we are happy with.


Larry Kilgore III:

All right. So I've got what might be the most difficult question of the interview. And we were just talking before about how time and because of time you weren't able to do everything that you wanted to do. If time was not a concern, what would be the number one thing that you would've liked to have put into the game that you just weren't able to?


Liam Edwards:

Probably multiplayer. Multiplayer would've been the thing. It's still something we planned to do down the line, but it's a sports game. Right? You want to compete-


Clinton Bader:

Get that golf with friends vibe in there.


Liam Edwards:

Yeah. You want to compete with other people and it's fun because even here in testing and development, I always kind of like making things that allow my job, not to be boring than it is. I spend a lot of time playing the same game over and over and over again. Being GTA 5. Right?


Liam Edwards:

When I make games, now I'm glad of a game like Cursed to Golf, where it's a game that's almost infinitely replayable because then I don't get bored of playing it. The first people that get bored of playing it, are the people making it. If you're making a platform where you know every jump, it's tough to be able to care by the end. Right? But with Cursed to Golf, I'm very proud to be able to say that even when I pick it up now to play or to test, I want to keep playing till I set a score and I always want beat my score, but what if I was playing with someone else? Right? I'd want to beat that person.


Liam Edwards:

So making gameplay that makes it infinitely replayable is always going to be something I want to do. Whether that's multiplayer, whether it is something that changes the levels. There is something I experimented with early on, which was remix holes. So holes that are earlier holes, but then they are remixed to be harder. They have more difficult hazards in earlier stages and they become really tough, almost assault courses of golf holes.


Liam Edwards:

And I do want to do that because for me that makes it more fun for me because I'm at a level now where playing the normal game is very, very easy, even though it is a tough game, where I want the next challenge and there will be somebody else who will come along and be as good as me at the game who will want that next challenge as well. So more stuff like that is definitely what I would want to do.


Liam Edwards:

There's stuff that we cut from the game. We had mini games because we wanted you to earn cash or cards via mini games, which is way more easier than just opening a chest or a box. Right? The reason our map is like a golf cart that you drive, is because we thought maps are really boring. You just select a marker on an icon and you go to it, so why not drive to that icon instead?


Liam Edwards:

So it was a case of, we really just wanted to do more interactive stuff. So we had mini games from the first prototype, but we just couldn't make it because it was out of the scope. So stuff like that, stuff that makes the game more fun for us, developing it to keep playing, because then we know that's going to be fun for everybody else.


Larry Kilgore III:

So final question. Cursed to Golf is coming out soon. Got to be excited about that, but what is next for Liam Edwards and the Cursed to Golf team? It sounded like you guys had plans to work on the game more. Maybe do some DLC, but whatever you can share, what do you guys got coming next?


Liam Edwards:

I mean, if I had anything to share, I would share because I can't stop talking, but honestly, it's that, it's the nitty gritty is the reality is we've got to support the game now. So when it comes out, it's not going to be perfect, there'll be bugs, we'll have to fix it. Hopefully it's all varying degrees of success in everything. If it's successful or it's very well received, then that means we'll support it for longer and then we can make more content.


Liam Edwards:

The team has ideas that we've always wanted to do, whether it's multiplayer or something else that we've wanted to add back in. There is lots of different things that we feel we can do, where it's add more levels, add more characters, do different things that we really personally wanted to do. And then we'll see what the community feedback is and what does the community want as well. And hopefully we can support it.


Liam Edwards:

And then probably in the next month or two or three, when those things become a bit more of a daily sort of checkup, then it becomes about thinking about the next thing and what is it that we do? So don't know yet.


Larry Kilgore III:

Well Liam, this has been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. I'm glad you're able to take time out of your busy schedule. And I'm sure you're busy putting the final touches on the game, but I think the three of us here can all agree, it looks pretty good. So again, thank you so much for taking the time to join us here on PixelSmiths.


Liam Edwards:

My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.


Larry Kilgore III:

The music used in this episode is from the Cursed to Gulf soundtrack and was composed and performed by Mark Sparling. Cursed to Gulf is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch and Xbox and PlayStation platforms.


Larry Kilgore III:

You can follow Liam on Twitter @LiamBME. You can also follow the game @CursedtoGolf and Chuhai Labs @ChuhaiLabs.


Larry Kilgore III:

PixelSmiths is brought to you by Podcamp Media, where we provide branded podcast production services for businesses. Podcampmedia.com. Executive producer is Dusty Weis, and I oversee editing and production.


Clinton Bader:

And you can follow me Clinton "Paperthin" Bader on social media @paperthinhere and on twitch.tv/paperthinhere.


Larry Kilgore III:

Thanks for tuning into PixelSmiths. I'm Larry Kilgore III.


Clinton Bader:

And I'm Clinton "Paperthin" Bader.

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