Once a while, Devlyn feels the incredible urge to just go out and interview someone. However, this time, he also took the time to actually log it. Today’s victim of his whims? James Newton (a.k.a. Newts), Creative Director of Shining Online.
Devlyn: Allright, before I go on to the actual in-depth and less in-depth stuff, you might as well first introduce yourself for a bit.
Newts: Ok, not a problem. I’m Newts and I would like to call myself the “creative director” at Smash Software, which basically means I’m in charge of all the musical, artistic and design aspects of Shining Online. My main tasks include music composition and recording, character design and script and plot writing. All in all, it’s hugely challenging stuff, but I enjoy it!
Creative director. That sounds pretty impressive! When have you first joined the development team of Shining Online?
Well, being Ty’s brother, the almighty leader of Smash Software, I was involved from the very beginning. I’ve always been a massive Shining Force fan, so when it came to starting work on Shining Online I thought I could lend a lot to the project with my creativity. Ty doesn’t think of himself as very creative, so I’m only happy to fill in the gaps.
Looking at the past demo and the music downloads quite some of those gaps seem to have already been filled. Within the different aspects of the game, what particular element do you like doing the most?
The most enjoyable part has to be when I sit down at a keyboard and find that spark of a new piece of music, that really excites me. Any form of creative idea excites me, sad as that sounds, but when I can hear a song start to develop and I can change its course, that bit’s tremendously rewarding. Getting the thumbs up from Ty for a piece of work is always good, too!
What is your goal with tracking songs exactly? Do you feel Shining fangame music should be close to the original soundtracks or do you feel people should aim at the particular fangame instead?
I’ve always aimed to produce music that closely reflects the mood of the scene, but also would fit just as well in a Shining game. Obviously, I’m not as good as that professionals, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try :P.
With regards to other fangames, it’s important that each has their own style to distinguish itself from the crowd. In particular, your own tracking exploits are far more unique and challenging than mine, tending to be more upbeat and beat-driven than my own relaxed, instrumental affairs. Of course this difference is crucial, and as long as the music suits the mood, I think that everyone should go for what they want to hear.
Are there particular things music-wise that are totally not done in your eyes?
As you know, I’m sort of afraid of using percussion in my own songs, but that’s just due to poor rhythm more than anything else. I’d prefer Shining fangames to have more reflective music, but then they’d all sound like Shining Online!
Some people might not exactly figure out what you mean with reflective music, including me. Could you elaborate a bit on that?
Yes, of course! If some fangame producers feel like putting MIDI files of Slipknot songs in their music, so be it, but I like my music to relax and soothe the player. You’ll notice a lot of my tunes are downbeat, use strings, flutes etc., which tends to make the player “reflect” on the emotion in the scene. Hence, reflective music.
It sounds like a style that is pretty popular in the newer role-playing games. Do you have any particular soundtracks as sources of inspiration?
The Shining Force III soundtrack is hugely inspiring, as is the Shining the Holy Ark soundtrack (both Saturn games), and a little-known title called “Story of Thor 2” has a really beautiful orchestral score, which is wonderful. I’ve always wanted to write these sorts of lush orchestral pieces, and now I’m getting a chance.
But then again music is not your only cup of tea. You mentioned something about artistic and design aspects. How do you feel about making graphics yourself, as opposed to using copies of the original Shining imagery?
We came in for a lot of criticism for using Shining Force II tilesets in Demo 3, so Ty and I decided we’d design everything ourselves from that point on. I think that, by using our own tiles and our own town designs etc., it just gives Shining Online that extra character and charm to it, as opposed to seeing the same buildings as you would in SFII. It’s a whole new world :).
Well, that is definately a good side to the matter, yet there has been some loose criticism on the graphics on several Shining games, including Shining Online. Do you agree with this criticism?
Of course, with any fanwork project expectations get out of hand. I myself have high expectations of the graphics, even though I’m not very well-equipped to fulfill those expectations. The only disappointing thing is the number of Shining fangames made in RM2K (RPG Maker 2000) using standard graphics… that, to me, is a waste. Whilst I realise that not everyone has the time, talent or desire to create their own sprites and tiles, it really does help tremendously in creating as I say your own world. Of course, I would love Shining Online to have all its sprites hand-drawn by a professional artist, but it’s not going to happen. Sometimes, graphically-speaking, we have to keep our feet on the ground.
It sounds like you’re talking from some experience there.
Well obviously we’ve had criticism from certain quarters regarding Shining Online’s graphics, but the main aim of the project isn’t to forge new ground graphically – we want to remain stylistically-linked to the previous Shining games whilst giving it a twist. It’s quite a challenge to balance those two aspects, you know.
And the big twist will mainly lie in the on-line play features?
That is the main attraction to play, yes. The idea of playing Shining-style battles against your friends online is too good to miss out on, really. Of course, there are other options planned besides head-to-head play.
I heard some vague rumours about a level editor. Do you know anything more about that?
At the moment the level editor exists only as a development tool, to allow Ty to create the towns and battles in the game. We may use it to release new arena’s or battlefields in the game’s lifespan, but I doubt it will be available to the public.
Hopefully you guys will change your mind about that someday. All that remains is the last and hardest question: Shining Online demo 4. When will it be released?
Ahhh… if I had a bratwurst for every time I’d been asked this question, I would be a very full, fat man :)
*laughs* All the more a sign that the public demands answers!
Yes, and they have every right to an explanation. I mean, it’s nearly a year since Demo 3 was released…
True. Moreover, the earlier mass release along with SSC in early July didn’t quite happen either. Are there any dates set at all?
We have a very delicate pre-Christmas time pencilled in our diaries, but we could just decide to fuck the deadlines and release it only when we’re ready. The obvious answer is that we’ll release it “when it’s ready”, but I would expect to see it before the end of the year.
Well, that is rather profound language from a person who likes ‘reflecting’ soundtracks! Still, time will tell the rest of the story. I’d like to thank you for your cooperation, and expect me to come visit again at the next demo release (or lack thereof).
Yes, I must apologise for that four-letter outburst, especially if my mum’s reading this :p.
I’ll send her a free copy of this interview. Have a nice day and good luck on Shining Online!
Thanks a lot Dev!
Written by Devlyn, 4 October 2002