Inmost interview with Game Designer and Artist Alexey Testov

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Hidden Layer Games’ Alexey Testov tells us more about their upcoming indie game, Inmost, the inspiration behind the game, artwork and plans for launch.

Hidden Layer Games’ upcoming indie game,Inmost was recently highlighted by Nintendo for their Indie Highlights showcase.

After watching the game trailer multiple times and curious to hear more, I reached out to Inmost Game Designer and Artist Alexey Testov for details on the game, their origin story and their development process.

App Trigger: Who is the team behind Inmost? How do you know each other?

Alexey Testov: There are only two of us in our studio, Hidden Layer Games. I work on graphics and game design, and Andrey is a programmer. A third developer, Alexey Nechaev, who joins us from time to time and works remotely, develops the music and sound design.

I met Andrey on a game developers forum. I was a beginner back then, Andrey had a couple of simple games he’d released, which he drew graphics for by himself. We decided to try to make something together, and so we’ve worked as a team for about 8 years now.

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AT: Tell us about your journey into the world of game development. How did you get started and how did you and your friend decide to create this game?

Testov: When we started developing games, flash games were extremely popular and even if you were making games just for fun, it was quite easy to sell them. At that time, I’d quit my main job, and become fully committed to game development. Back then you could make a simple game with experimental gameplay and not worry if it would sell. But eventually the market declined, and only casual genres like match 3 and mahjong remained in demand. For a few years, we developed these types of games and I really got tired of it.

There was a moment when I decided that I couldn’t continue in game development if it meant endless work I didn’t like. If I couldn’t do something I wanted to, if I couldn’t express myself through the games and develop things which communicate some ideas, then I should look for another job.

We had enough money to keep our tiny studio open for about two more months.

For almost a year in my free time, I had been drawing sketches and animations for a gloomy pixel game. Just to have some rest from the countless colorful games which we were producing for our studio’s survival.

We risked everything, and in two months we’d made a demo from these sketches which we sent to the DevGAMM competition. It won Best Indie Game award there, and a very large cash prize which allowed us to continue developing and to find a publisher.

That’s how Inmost started.

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AT: What/who were your biggest inspirations for “Inmost?” Are the characters based on real people you know? Storyline inspiration?

Testov: I’m a big fan of video games and take most of my inspirations from them. When I was a kid, I had a ZX Spectrum computer, and one of my favorite game series was Dizzy. I was charmed by the idea of an open world full of mysteries.

I think it’s easy to see influences of games which inspired me while I developed Inmost. Some big ones are Flashback, Another World, Limbo, To The Moon. Actually, this list is much bigger, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from other games.

Just recently we were discussing with some friends how Inmost is imbued with Lovecraft’s aesthetics, but it wasn’t intentional. I’ve read a few of Lovecraft’s books, but it was a long time ago. I think I was inspired by other games which were inspired by Lovecraft instead of the books directly.

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AT: What was involved in the artwork design and animation for this game?

Testov: In the beginning, the visual style was much simpler. I wasn’t using any image post-processing and color palette was very limited. The initial idea was to make something very old school, with a visual style similar to Amiga and Spectrum. But I was experimenting a lot, and over time the style evolved. Technically, it hasn’t become much more complicated. I’ve just found several solutions which allowed me to make it visually juicier. That was an iterative process, and I came to the current visual style very gradually; it’s still changing slowly.

It’s funny that many people have compared Inmost’s style to games on Gameboy. They were quite rare in my home country, and I wasn’t familiar with the style which was typical for Gameboy games. I’ve only checked them out after reading comments about Inmost.

AT: How was the soundtrack formed?

Testov: All the music has been written exclusively for the game. An extremely talented young composer, Alexey Nechaev, is developing our sound design and music. He pays extraordinary attention to even the smallest details and the result is really impressive! Sound design is a really important component of the game.

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AT: What are you most excited for players to experience? What is your personal favorite part of the game?

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Testov: The story is the core of Inmost. But it’s not a story about saving the world, not a story about a Chosen One and not a story about a Big Evil. It’s a story about little people and their decisions. A story about mistakes and consequences which can destroy the whole internal world like a house of cards. Each of us has our own worries and fears, sometimes that’s even more important than a destiny of the universe.

We’re trying to tell a story via the visual part of the game. Through gameplay and environment – the role of the dialog is less important.

AT: When making a puzzle platformer how do you find the perfect balance between challenging but not too hard?

Testov: Before we sent the demo to the DevGAMM competition we’d posted it in a small group online, where we asked people to record a video of how they play. It was surprising how different people approached it, and we focused on trying to make the walkthrough as smooth as possible for everyone. I watched dozens of videos and would change issues in the game right away. We fixed up the puzzles, changed level geometry, and highlighted places which a player must pay attention to.

Playtests and a view from the outside are unbelievably important. It’s really easy to get used to your own game and to stop noticing obvious things.

AT: Do you have an anticipated launch date? Any idea on the price yet? Will you be working on a physical release?

Testov: Can’t say yet, sorry.

AT: Congrats on being featured by Nintendo in their Indie Highlights showcase! How has working with Chucklefish been? How has the response been to your game so far?

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Chucklefish are incredible! They’re helping us so much, and we are sincerely grateful to them for that. Thanks to them we were able to show our game at EGX Birmingham where we met a lot of wonderful people, including guys from Nintendo Europe. Of course thanks to them the release on Nintendo Switch is now possible.

The best part is that they’re not just some guys in jackets who only do business. They actually love games, just like us.

AT: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring game devs?

Testov: If you really love what you do and if you’re prepared that it will be a long and complicated journey, then eventually you will succeed. You just have to love what you do.

At the time of this interview, Inmost has been confirmed for release on PC and Switch. Join the Inmost community on Reddit for updates.