Independent videogame developer from Spain - Owner
Digital Sun blends roguelike and shopkeeping mechanics in their upcoming debut title Moonlighter
Digital Sun Games was founded in 2013 primarily as a studio-for-hire but the team has always had greater aspirations. With a longtime passion for games, CEO Javier Gimenez decided to leave a career in enterprise software to jumpstart the studio with his friend Ruben Pico three years ago. “We thought it was the best way to enter the market and develop our skills,” Javier says. “Our dream was always to create our own games as an independent studio.”
While the studio has worked primarily for clients over the past three years, the team of six spent the majority of their free time brainstorming ideas for potential games. After many pitches and prototypes, they decided to make the the jump to indie development in 2015. They rallied around the development of Moonlighter, a retro-inspired action rpg with a mix of roguelike and shopkeeping elements.
The idea for Moonlighter was conceived in 2015 during one of the team’s prototype brainstorming sessions. “In order to decide what prototype we would create, each member of the team developed an idea, pitched the idea to the rest of the team, and we voted on what we’d work on,” Javier says.
Creative Director David Fernandez provided a winning pitch that the team loved: a shopkeeper who dreams of becoming a hero. “When we created the prototype and we all saw the art, we loved it,” Javier recalls.
For the most part, the core idea of Moonlighter has remained the same; it’s about Will, a shopkeeper that dreams of becoming a hero. As Will, you’ll need to venture into nearby dungeons to defeat enemies and obtain loot to sell at your shop. With the money you make selling items, you can invest in better weapons and abilities to become more powerful.
While the team loved the idea of Moonlighter, they wanted to see what the public thought. After seven months of development, and with help from Square Enix, they launched their Square Enix Collective campaign with overwhelmingly positive results. “We received the highest score on Square Enix Collective with 95%,” Javier says.
Javier attributes the positive reception as likely due to the mixed gameplay and visual style of the game. “People were really intrigued by the dual aspect of the game which combines roguelike elements and and management elements,” he explains. “People were also ecstatic about the pixel art of the game.”
The inspiration for Moonlighter spans a wide range of classic and contemporary sources including Zelda, Hyper Light Drifter, and Studio Ghibli. “Moonlighter has one foot in 16-bit classics like Zelda and another foot in modern pixel art — games with more synthetic tendencies like Hyper Light Drifter,” Javier says.
At the same time the team’s love for Studio Ghibli is emulated in their attention to detail: “We’ve added a lot of handcrafted detail to the world, the shop, and the dungeons which makes the world feel alive,” Javier says.
This emphasis on creating rich environments can be seen in the richly detailed locations in the game. Moonlighter takes place in the village of Rynoka and five strange realms which can be accessed through nearby interdimensional gates. “Each realm has different art, lore, items, enemies, dungeons and a boss,” Javier says. “We want each location to feel unique.”
Considering players will spend the majority of their time fighting in dungeons, the lore and design of these spaces are incredibly important. Dungeons in the game are procedurally generated, leading to new enemies and different loot each time a player enters. “In Moonlighter dungeons are the source of wealth for the village of Rynoka,” Javier says. “The five gates leads to a different culture, each one more challenging than the last.”
To keep combat fresh the team wants to ensure there is plenty of variety. Will can use several classes of weapons such as swords and spears, each with a basic attack and secondary attack.
After finding scrolls, Will can also use special abilities like a quick dash which can help him in combat. “Different enemies might require different weapons and abilities,” Javier says.
With a mix of weapons and abilities at players’ disposal, certain mechanics are implemented to ensure the game remains challenging. Many items in the game have random secondary effects (mostly negative) which, combined with the limited inventory space, mean players have to be very selective with what items they bring with them. “Say you have a book you want to sell but as you carry the book, you lose half of your HP,” Javier says. “It makes you consider not only gold, but surviving. You need to be very tactical about what items you take to a dungeon.”
Without a traditional leveling system, the team focused on gold and items as the primary means of progression in the game. “The only way to get stronger in the game is gold. The only source of gold is from the loot you sell at the shop,” Javier says. “To get a better weapons and armor, you’ll need to gather loot from the dungeons which you can sell. You can then invest gold into crafting and upgrading your equipment.”
The shop in Moonlighter is a mini game where you'll need to manage your shop and inventory to make sure your customers are happy so you can gain more gold. "Some customers are looking for weapons, some are looking for armor, some are rich, and some are poor," Javier explains. As players progress through the game, Will can invest more and more gold into the shop in order to sell more items and attract better customers.
Creating a compelling soundtrack that matched the environments of the game was also a priority for the team. Alec Holowka, developer and composer for Night in the Woods, was brought onboard to create the music for Moonlighter. “We want the town to feel relaxed and feel like home,” Javier continues. “In comparison we have five dungeons of five different cultures, so we want each to have a different musical aesthetic. Overall, we want a feeling of menace for the dungeons.”
For Digital Sun, the biggest challenge so far has been making the transition from a producer to an independent developer. “When you make games for others, it’s different; you are mostly producing the game, keeping deadlines, and making art,” Javier explains. “When you make your own game you have a creative process. Adjusting to this process while creating new habits as a team has been the most difficult part.”
Moonlighter has been entirely self-funded by the studio’s work as a service company over the past few years. With the recent success of their Square Enix Collective campaign, the team decided it was time to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help speed up the development process.
The team launched Moonlighter’s Kickstarter on May 2nd, 2016 with a modest goal of $40,000. “In 52 hours we were completely funded, which is absolutely amazing,” Javier says. The end date for the Kickstarter is on July 2nd and the team has already hit over $75,000 for their campaign.
The idea of Will being a shopkeeper and deciding to become something else, it’s sort of a metaphor to who we are
The parallels between the journeys of Moonlighter and Digital Sun is clear; one revolves around a shopkeeper working and fighting to become a hero and the other is a studio striving to become a become an indie developer.
“The idea of will being a shopkeeper and deciding to become something else, it’s sort of a metaphor to who we are,” Javier says. “Will decides to rise above the routine and pursue his dream of become a hero, which is similar to how we are as a company.”
The team is still hard at work developing Moonlighter with a tentative release date of Spring 2017. They also have a beta planned several months before their launch. Make sure to support Moonlighter's Kickstarter campaign here and follow Digital Sun on Twitter to stay up to date on Moonlighter.