[FIELD NOTES] IGDATC July – Go West, If You Have To: Developing West of Loathing


The monthly gathering of the International Game Developers Association Twin Cities on July 11 brought designers, artists, programmers, and musicians together for another night of game talk.

This month’s conversations were led by Kieran Sheldon, a developer who described the process of drawing on real-world influences to focus fantasy tropes. After that, programmer Victor Thompson dug into the topic of working on Asymmetric’s West of Loathing, a standalone follow-up to their massively popular Kingdom of Loathing.

Kieran Sheldon started his presentation by describing the process of creating fantasy maps based on the house in which he grew up. He has been fascinated by fantasy his whole life and finds that many fantasy authors, filmmakers, and developers use real-world influences on their work all the time. Popular tropes like “the Chosen One” and “the Legendary Sword” appear all the time in these places and he feels the reason is because they speak so powerfully to our own lives.

Sheldon then introduced his deeply personal Luminous, a platforming adventure game where the protagonist has a guardian angel of sorts that helps him navigate a cold, dark world. At the end of each level, however, the spirit will berate the player if they failed to collect everything, reluctantly praising them only if they completed every objective. This specter of perfectionism was brought to life through his game, putting players in control of the hero.

Sheldon examined a few recent examples of reality influencing fantasy with comics like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Night In the Woods. In Pilgrim, for example, two characters are having an argument in a bar that suddenly erupts into a battle complete with oversized fantasy hammers and martial arts. While this would never happen in the real world, it perfectly encapsulates the combative nature of the two characters.

Victor Thompson was next with an in-depth discussion of his journey through the development of Asymmetric’s West of Loathing for PC and Nintendo Switch. The slapstick, stick figure-heavy RPG was the follow-up to Kingdom of Loathing, a web-based RPG of similar style and humor–before posting on message boards, the player must visit the Temple of Literacy and learn from the Tutoriole, for example.

The team was looking for a programmer to turn their web-based code into a more traditional, standalone game engine. They visited many gaming events and met Thompson at IndieCade in 2014. He was looking for games to work on, but mostly wanted a team he could trust. The team decided to participate in a game jam with Thompson and they found a perfect match in one another.

Asymmetric had branched out into colorful word puzzle games, but their audience was baffled and frustrated with the departure from their signature style (much of which can be attributed to Riff Conner’s incredibly funny writing), so they knew they needed to return to their roots. Thompson used a JSON document to translate their simple web-based code into something that could run in a standalone game, constantly communicating with their audience throughout the development process.

Because they had a 15-year run with Kingdom of Loathing, they were focused on ensuring those dedicated players would be delighted with West of Loathing. Their beta launch was mostly a success, despite the fact that they accidentally exported their game using Unity’s lowest possible graphics quality, but they fixed that quickly and the glowing reviews poured in. The game, released in August of 2017, still has “Overwhelmingly Positive” reviews on Steam.

The International Game Developers Association Twin Cities chapter meets on the second Wednesday of every month at the Nerdery.