• Larry Kilgore III

PixelSmiths Ep. 6: My Lovely Daughter w/ Riris Marpaung of GameChanger Studio



A librarian in Indonesia leaves her 20 year career behind to make video games.


On this episode, Larry & Clinton talk with Riris Marpaung, a librarian from Indonesia who left her 20 year career to become a game developer, about her studio's games, My Lovely Daughter, and the upcoming My Lovely Wife. My Lovely Daughter is an alchemist simulator that explores the depth of a father’s grief and how far he will go to resurrect his daughter.


In this conversation, they talk about adapting to her new career, the challenges of growing a game studio from scratch, and how her company uses real stories of trauma to create unique, emotional games with their My Lovely series.

Other gaming topics include: My Name is Mayo, Shower with your Dad, NSFW, GoBlock's Impossible Medley, Don't Starve Together, LIMBO

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Find My Lovely Daughter on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/580170/My_Lovely_Daughter/


Find My Lovely Wife on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1251930/My_Lovely_Wife/


Follow Riris on Twitter: https://twitter.com/rirismarpaung

Follow GameChanger Studio on Twitter: https://twitter.com/gchangerstudio


Transcript:


Larry Kilgore III:

Video games are an art form. From the bits and bytes of the old-school arcade cabinets to the technological advances of the modern era, video games have been a way for creators to tell 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 artist 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 Riris Marpaung, a librarian turned game developer, about changing careers, starting her own studio and My Lovely Daughter, the first game in the unique, supernatural point-and-click series her company is currently working on. This is PixelSmiths.


Larry Kilgore III:

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're back to bring you guys more from the leading indie game developers, giving them a platform to explore their stories.


Larry Kilgore III:

Today, we are talking to Riris Marpaung, CEO of GameChanger Studio and creators of the My Lovely series. Riris thank you so much for joining us today.


Riris Marpaung:

Yeah. Thank you so much, Larry and Clinton, for your invitation in this podcast.


Larry Kilgore III:

Now, Riris, you have a very unique background that I'd love to talk about a little bit. Before changing careers into the game development arena, you worked in academia as a librarian and information consultant for 20 years. Can you tell us a little bit about what your career was like and what led you to want to shift into the world of gaming with little experience in the field?


Riris Marpaung:

Yes. I was graduated from one of the best information and library science university here in Indonesia in 1998. So yes, I have a career as a librarian for 20 years, but I can say maybe it's like an accidental thing to enter game developer work.


Riris Marpaung:

Because when I work in a university, I met my co-founder, Dodick, and he was a information technology lecturer at that time and I was head of a librarian in that university. So we met in some events in the university, and what he saw from me is not my no background at all for game development, but my leadership. At that time, he needs a leader for a game studio because having a game studio is like a childhood dream for my co-founder, Dodick. That's why he asked me to join him and founded the GameChanger Studio in 2013.


Riris Marpaung:

As a librarian for 20 years, I don't know anything about game development at all. I need to learn everything fast at that time. I watch YouTube... Because I'm a librarian, it's easy for me to choose some books that will be benefit for me to learn about game development. I don't know what should I do as a CEO, as a game producer. I don't know what is game design. I don't know about concept art. I don't know even about pixel art. What is pixel art? I don't even know the definition about that. I don't know anything, actually, about game development, so I need to learn fast about that from the books and of course from YouTube. My university background as a librarian and my career as a researcher for 20 years, it's makes me easier, actually, to learn faster and, of course, from my co-founder Dodick who teach me a lot about game development.


Clinton Bader:

That's awesome.


Larry Kilgore III:

Yeah. It's really interesting, too, that you're able to use your skills as a librarian to teach yourself about your new career.


Clinton Bader:

We'll probably focus a lot on the My Lovely series, Riris, but before that, you did make some smaller games. Can you tell us what was that experience like when you first started?


Riris Marpaung:

Actually, when I started becoming a game developer in 2013, we developed, I don't know, about 10 mobile games because at that time in Indonesia, that kind of game it's becoming a hit. And of course, it's easier to develop mobile game instead of PC or console game because we don't have access. We don't have opportunity to get a developer kit to develop a console game at that time here in Indonesia.


Riris Marpaung:

So we developed some mobile games, but it did not success because we realized the most important budget that we need to prepare for mobile games actually for marketing budget, and we don't have that budget. So in 2015, we make some research regarding PC games and at that time, Steam doesn't have a lot of indie games. And then we research for small games probably, you know My Name is Mayo or Shower With Your Dad. That's a small game, but very interesting. And I think the price is not really that expensive. It's only like $5 or $3, I guess. I forgot.


Riris Marpaung:

So then we make some research. And at that time, actually we already started to develop My Lovely Daughter and we already got publisher. Toge Production is our publisher for My Lovely Daughter. And then we run out of money. I almost sell my car or my house to finish the game in 2017.


Riris Marpaung:

But then, I don't know, the miracle happened, I guess, by playing My Name is Mayo or Shower With Your Dad. So then we came up with this not simulator for work, NSFW. It's a small game. We developed this game only for two, three months, I guess, and the ideas for this game came while we're taking a nap.


Riris Marpaung:

Yes, we have a nap because we don't have money. We don't have energy to make games, but then in our sleep, we talk to each other with the artist and the and programmer and the designer. How about if we make game about you watch a porn video while you working? And actually, it's not legal to do that in the office, right? Especially in library, you cannot watch porn. And you just make sure that you don't caught up with the HR people so you don't get fired. So that's the idea came in our nap, actually.


Riris Marpaung:

But then we got surprised because some YouTuber played the game, so the game become viral, but making NSFW and GoBlock's Impossible Medley and other small games in my studio, actually it came from a desperate condition because we're almost running out of money when we have to finish My Lovely Daughter.


Riris Marpaung:

And the true story from NSFW, actually that's the real story that I caught my visual artist watching porn when he's supposed to make art for the My Lovely Daughter. Actually, it's a true story game in my studio.


Clinton Bader:

That's a great story. Oh my gosh.


Larry Kilgore III:

It's good that you guys found a way to make money because I will say that My Lovely Daughter is a very unique and interesting game. So you started working on that, you said, in 2015, and I know that the general premise of the story is that a father awakens to find his dead daughter's body and attempts to use alchemy as a means to restore her soul and bring it back to life. Where did the idea for the story come from?


Riris Marpaung:

Ah, okay. Now we come to a serious tone for this game instead of NSFW. Actually, the idea for My Lovely Daughter also came from true experience from the original artist. Is a female. When she has a true experience from her parents who wants her to become perfect because in Indonesia, I don't know in other countries but here in Indonesia, to have a profession as a game developer, especially when you are a female, it's still rare and it's not understand by the parents when their daughter wants to become a game developer. Probably most parents wants to have their children to become a doctor or an engineer or a programmer, but not a game artist. So that condition happens to this artist, a young artist.


Riris Marpaung:

And I will send you later, maybe, the first sketch of the My Lovely Daughter that she draw at that time. It show the feeling that she had being a daughter who wants to become an game artist, but the parents wants her to become a housewife, not working, actually to get married after graduated from a university. And it's kind of sad.


Riris Marpaung:

That's why we want to have this depression that she has to the game. She even said, "If I can have a wish in my life, I wish I can be reborn to be someone that my parents wants." So we really want to put this experience, this depression for the original artist to the game so the player can also feel it. We found out later the player even asked us to have a different choice when they don't want to kill the homunculus, and that's why we make a choice for a passive choice. We got a push here from the player for one ending. I don't want to kill the homunculus at all.


Clinton Bader:

For people listening, in the game you have to create the homunculuses, right? You're trying to get the soul revitalized, I guess, for lack of a better word-


Riris Marpaung:

Yes.


Clinton Bader:

Yeah. From your dead daughter. And so you got to make these homunculus. And to get the energy out of them, you have to kill them. And so it's kind of like you want to avoid doing that because they're cute or they have emotions and feelings in them. So that was me. I literally was just telling Larry before the podcast that that was me, trying to find a way to not kill the homunculus.


Larry Kilgore III:

Finding out that it's a very personal story, because I know when when open up the game at first, there's a disclaimer about the fact that it's a commentary on all of these sad or depressing things, for lack of a better word, and it may be considered like supernatural or horror but I think the gravity of the decisions that you have to make in the game are really educational. And you want the person playing the game to feel the weight of those decisions.


Riris Marpaung:

Yes, and we made that ending, Clinton, actually after we launched the game for three months and then we get the review from the player. And finally, we put the new ending for those who don't want to kill the homunculus.


Clinton Bader:

I want to touch on something here, Riris. We talked a lot about your artist and how she influenced the game personally and her story, but also I want to touch on her art. I thought it was really beautiful. It felt hand drawn. It doesn't have a lot of color, but it really gives you a feel of a graphic novel or a very dark story. Is this how it started out, or was there a change in the art over time?


Riris Marpaung:

I must say I must be honest. We got influence from other indie games or some indie games. And one of the game that we took as a reference for My Lovely Daughter actually Don't Starve Together by Klei Entertainment.


Clinton Bader:

Yep.


Riris Marpaung:

That's why some players will say the game have a similarity of an art style because actually yes, we took a reference from this game, from a thick art stroke and limited color style, because there's only four major color in My Lovely Daughter: black, white, brown and gray. And as a signature for My Lovely Daughter to make it different from other games with Don't Starve Together style, we put that old paper thing as a background in city or in other scene in the game. So that kind of old paper thing make us a signature for My Lovely Daughter. We got influence, also, from other games. LIMBO, you familiar with the game LIMBO?


Clinton Bader:

Yep.


Riris Marpaung:

It's also have a limited color monochrome. We want to stick with that style. But if we jump to My Lovely Wife, if you already tried the demo of My Lovely Wife, we make different things in colorful because in My Lovely Wife, we put more color in that game, but there's still a connection. We always make the connection in between game from My Lovely Daughter and My Lovely Wife.


Larry Kilgore III:

You did forget one color that you have in My Lovely Daughter, and that's red. I always noticed the-


Riris Marpaung:

Ah, yes.


Larry Kilgore III:

... blood trails, when you sacrifice the homunculus, that lead from the room.


Riris Marpaung:

Yes. When you kill the homunculus, then there will be a red color in the scene. Yes.


Larry Kilgore III:

Well, this has been a wonderful conversation. I've loved talking about your background and the inspiration for My Lovely Daughter. And we'd like to delve into the game a little bit further, as well as talk about the sequels that you guys are working on. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be back more from Riris, here on PixelSmiths.


Larry Kilgore III:

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


Clinton Bader:

I'm Clinton Paperthin Bader. And we're talking to Riris Marpaung, CEO of GameChanger Studio. Riris, I want to focus a little bit more on the development of My Lovely Daughter. It took about two years or so. And as someone who was relatively new to game development, what were some of the challenges you faced with this game?


Riris Marpaung:

Okay, the struggle that we have mainly regarding the game design of My Lovely Daughter. We made like five prototype for this game from different kind of genre until we finally got the final game design, gameplay for the game. And that's why it took so long to finish the game.


Riris Marpaung:

We started this game actually in 2015, but we released the game in 2018. So it's like three years, I guess. Okay. So it took long because we don't have experience. Like I said, we develop mobile games. It's different, totally different. The gameplay of mobile to PC, it's different. And first struggle that we have is to find a good gameplay for the game. We got a really help from our lovely partner publisher, Toge Production, because they have experience already with their game in PC and they have expertise about this.


Riris Marpaung:

Not to mention about the story. We don't have a game writer in the studio. Actually, the writer of the studio is our friend in the university. He's a lecturer as well, so everyone in the studio don't have any experience with PC games at that moment. That's make impossible to finish your game in a short time.


Riris Marpaung:

And of course, the art design of the game, we also have difficulties to get the right direction from a mobile. Because in mobile, everything is smaller, right? You just need to match the size of the asset to a screen of mobile. And then you have to work with a lot of resolution, bigger resolution, in My Lovely Daughter. So that's will be everything in the game development area for My Lovely Daughter is becoming our big challenge, actually.


Riris Marpaung:

Then for marketing and the publishing, it's not going to be our obstacle, our challenge. We got help for Toge Production to bring this game to many events in other countries. But for the development, yes, it's a struggle for us to finish this game for the first game, but we are so happy with the result from the player and especially what surprised us for direction of the player the day two when we released the game.


Riris Marpaung:

The day one, no sales. We cried in the corner of our studio and then like, "My God, we failed after two years. No money." And then I almost shut down my studio in 2018. December, we almost want to close my studio because we think only one shot, and then I'm going to stop being a game developer and then go back to my library. But then on the second day, we got surprised by the sales from a China market. It spiked like, I don't know, thousands of sales and we made sales only in a week for how many? 10 thousands in a week?


Clinton Bader:

Wow.


Riris Marpaung:

So we got surprised by that because we made it at that time as a first-time game developer. But if you ask me if I satisfied with My Lovely Daughter, the answer is no. And I also read all the review from the player regarding the boring of the game, the repetitive, the not so deep with the story. They the need more relations with the homunculus because what we put in the game is not really that deep, not really that long, only with the letters that sent by the homunculus to Jake. So if you ask me, I'm not satisfied with My Lovely Daughter. That's why I make My Lovely Wife.


Larry Kilgore III:

So you talked a little bit about the reaction you had to the release. And then I know actually in March of 2019, you guys also released the Inquisitor DLC. So what made you guys decide to do a DLC instead of moving on to the next project? What was the motivator that you wanted to continue with My Lovely Daughter before starting on My Lovely Wife?


Riris Marpaung:

The DLC also based from the review, from the input from the player. We cannot make the sequel in a short time. We need more time to develop the sequel of My Lovely Daughter, but then we came the idea to make a DLC based on the player review. And we must expand the story and to tell about Mahael.


Riris Marpaung:

There is a place, Mahael, in the game and we want to give some closure regarding the ending that I don't want to share here because it's going to spoil other players who haven't played the game. So the reason behind we make the DLC because we want to make something small to make a better thing to the game, but then we are going to make a better thing that based on the player review in My Lovely Wife.


Larry Kilgore III:

So as you mentioned, you guys are now working on My Lovely Wife. I got a chance to play the alpha build. And like we've said, it's a different setting, different characters. It's got a bit more color, but it still has the same function and feel of My Lovely Daughter. Where did the idea of My Lovely Wife come from?


Riris Marpaung:

My Lovely Wife, the true idea of My Lovely Wife actually came from some experience of myself before I got married. Of course, I have several relationships with my boyfriends. And some of us, including me in the past, I have a toxic relationship with a person who actually not give something nice, beautiful, enjoyable, but more like hurtful, painful. I get exploited by my ex-boyfriend for money. I don't know why I cannot stop that relationship. I don't know why I feel stuck in that condition and don't know... It's like my hands tied my feet as well, until I feel in the bottom of life. And then finally, I can get out of that relationship.


Riris Marpaung:

So for My Lovely Wife, the message that we would like to deliver to our players actually about a toxic and abusive relationship that we supposed not to have in our life from the one who said he or she love me. You should need to find the real definition of true love for yourself, for your happiness.


Clinton Bader:

I think a lot of us could relate to that, Riris. I want to say, I really appreciate... I haven't gotten to try the alpha build from My Lovely Wife, but My Lovely Daughter, the tone of it, the darkness, I think attacking those ideas is important and I truly appreciate games like that, that tackle the hard topics. I think that's really an excellent thing.


Larry Kilgore III:

I think it is important, and it's very nice to see that you've taken these personal experiences, like the experience that your artist had for My Lovely Daughter and your experience yourself for My Lovely Wife, and taking these rather sad, depressing experiences and making something out of them and telling that message. And it's taking your pain and turning it to something positive, I think, is a wonderful message that you guys are sending as well.


Clinton Bader:

Truly, truly.


Riris Marpaung:

Yes, yes. I got some comments from other developer here in Indonesia or other countries or even from players, "Why is it you make a game in a tone of darkness? You talk about love, a love between a father and daughter, a love between a wife and a husband, but you put this thing in the dark and a gothic and a terrified condition." Because that exactly the things that we would like to present to our player, to experience not just beautiful thing or colorful thing.


Riris Marpaung:

We make a different color in My Lovely Wife, but actually it's not really a true thing. It's like a... How do you say? A Illusion. An illusion. You're in a toxic relationship and abusive relationship. It's an illusion. It's not a real thing that you're supposed to have when you're in love, when you have a healthy relationship. That's why the color is still not the bright, but we put the color to My Lovely Wife. And I don't want to spoil Clinton because Clinton haven't played the alpha.


Clinton Bader:

Please don't. I'm going to play it. Yeah, yeah. So don't spoil.


Riris Marpaung:

Okay. But you will feel a different experience from My Lovely Daughter in My Lovely Wife. You might see the trailer, right? You see some succubus there with their beautiful body, seducive or something like that, but you will find out who's using who, is it Jake or is it the succubus, and you will find in the end of the story one of the story we put the... Okay, it's a spoiler. No, I'm not going to [inaudible 00:22:31]. My co-founder just signed me like, "No, no. No spoiler, Riris." Okay.


Larry Kilgore III:

So now that you've been working on My Lovely Wife, how has the development for that game been going?


Riris Marpaung:

After we finished with My Lovely Daughter in 2018, we port the game to Nintendo Switch. We also have difficulties for that thing because the control from PC to console is different. Mouse to joystick, okay. But then at that time, we already working on a sequel, which is My Lovely Wife. We start the project in 2018, but then we hold the project until 2019 and then I go back again to My Lovely Wife.


Riris Marpaung:

And as for My Lovely Wife, I can say I can do better in My Lovely Wife than My Lovely Daughter because in My Lovely Daughter, I'm still working in the library. So I work from 9:00 to 5:00 in the library, go to my studio, start my work as a game development from 9:00 PM to 12:00 PM or sometimes 2:00 AM, 3:00 AM, wake up again, working in the school library again, until I decided to become a full development in late 2018.


Riris Marpaung:

So I go back to My Lovely Wife project, [inaudible 00:23:54] all the art asset. And if you see the demo in 2019 and the demo that you play, Larry, it;s totally different. The style of character, the city and everything from the demo in the 2020 build is totally different. So right now, I'm satisfied with My Lovely Wife development, but things that we work for only 10 months, we finished My Lovely Wife in January 2020 until October 2020. We finished My Lovely Wife.


Riris Marpaung:

We work differently with My Lovely Daughter. As I said, it took three years for My Lovely Daughter, but then we got better from the design of the game, the gameplay, the story. We got a writer finally, a female, and we have artist who dedicate their self to the visual art and everyone in this game. So we learn a lot in a year to finally working started the development of My Lovely Wife. That's the thing that I want to share with you guys.


Clinton Bader:

Oh, we greatly appreciate it. Really. That's a fascinating story. Truly.


Riris Marpaung:

Yeah. It's different when you work your baby full time and you work as a development in part time. At that time, I struggle myself to work in two different areas, morning as a librarian but then at night becoming a game developer with an eerie game. But in the morning, I have to teach my students about information, information searching about books because I'm a school librarian for kindergarten and elementary school. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. I must share to you, Larry and Clinton, being a 20 years as a librarian, I got awarded by Indonesian government as the best national librarian in 2014.


Larry Kilgore III:

Right before you left the field.


Riris Marpaung:

Yeah, so it is not easy as well for me to leave my 20 years career as a librarian. Being awarded by government as the best national librarian and a female one, it's an achievement in my life. It's a rare gem that I got for my career as a librarian at that time.


Riris Marpaung:

But then I decided to leave my career as a librarian, focus as a game developer, get all my power, my spirit, my heart to game now. I'm not just become a producer or a CEO in my studio, but I'm also an art director for My Lovely Wife. So all the art, all the assets I have to check them. I have to review them. I have to work with all my artists. So I really love my career now as a game developer.


Clinton Bader:

I feel a lot of parallels with you, Riris, in my life as well. When I transitioned to doing eSports full time, I see a lot of parallels between what you did, where I used to do IT and even taught English. Then I transitioned to being an eSports full time. It's really enjoyable for me to listen to you because I feel a lot of the same ideas coming out.


Clinton Bader:

So Riris, finally My Lovely Wife is hopefully slated for release this year, and I think will hopefully be received as well as the other My Lovely game, My Lovely Daughter. Do you have any plans to continue the series?


Riris Marpaung:

Hopefully, My Lovely Wife will release in quarter one 2022. I'm still waiting for my publisher, Neon Doctrine, for a final date. But right now, we're working with the porting of the game to Nintendo Switch.


Riris Marpaung:

And there will be more surprise regarding these two My Lovely series, My Lovely Daughter and My Lovely Wife, in the future. But I think I cannot say it because Neon Doctrine will get angry if I share some NDA information. But guys, and all the listeners of PixelSmiths, have your patience a little more because we will have surprise for you from My Lovely Daughter and My Lovely Wife, not just My Lovely Wife launch date, but also something that we are cooking for My Lovely Daughter. Please have more patience for the next series.


Riris Marpaung:

Yes, our vision actually for My Lovely Wife, we want to finish trilogy of the game. So the last game of this My Lovely series will be My Lovely Queen. And if you're familiar with the game, Yes, Your Grace... Have you ever heard that game, Clinton? Larry?

Larry Kilgore III:

I have not.


Clinton Bader:

I don't know that game.


Riris Marpaung:

Maybe you can check that out later. But other than that game, we're going to finally put these three different games in one last game that we are going to work with. That's all I can say for now. Please wait until finally we can release the demo of the game.


Larry Kilgore III:

Well, Riris, this has been a wonderful conversation. I'm glad to see the amount of enjoyment and happiness that you get from your new career. And it's been such fun talking to you, and thank you for joining us here on PixelSmiths.


Larry Kilgore III:

The songs in this episode are from My Lovely Daughter and were performed and composed by Faiz Andrevano. My Lovely Daughter is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch. My Lovely Wife is slated for release later this year. You can follow Riris on Twitter at @RirisMarpaung, that's R-I-R-I-S-M-A-R-P-A-U-N-G, and her studio, GameChanger Studio, at @gchangerstudio. You can also follow their dev log on their YouTube channel, GameChanger Studio.


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 at @paperthinhere, and you can catch me streaming on Twitch at 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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