Chatting with Paige Ashlynn

For this interview Ember had a more casual conversation with Paige Ashlynn, creator of the Yurivania series made with GB Studio. Having conversed regularly, what follows is more relaxed interview about her games and how being a queer developer influences their game development choices.

Ember: So just to start, tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you, and what have you been doing with GB Studio?

Paige: Okay! So let’s see…. I’m Paige Ashlynn, she/her, a white American trans woman currently based in Seattle. I’ve been working in the games industry for 10 years primarily in the roles of programmer and/or producer and entirely in the indie space.

For a long time I got by working on other folks’ projects, which I really enjoyed, in part because I’ve been fortunate to have mostly worked on games that I really believed in (for example 2064: Read Only Memories and LongStory).

E: Yeah, I was really surprised when I first looked up your itch page to see you’d worked on a lot of games prior.

P: But I really wanted to work on some games that were my own ideas. It took me some time to come up with some concepts that I felt passionate about. And once I got them I found I didn’t have all the needed skills. GB Studio has provided a nice space for me to grow my writing, graphics, and design skills.

E: Yeah that’s awesome, do you remember how you first found out about GB Studio? And what made you start using it for those game ideas?

P: Hmmm, I think I first found out about it through a YouTube channel called Game From Scratch. I am very interested in programming languages and game engines and frameworks and the channel covers a really wide variety. Also, for a long time now I’ve been looking for an engine that was really fine-tuned for 2D but less complex than GameMaker.

When the 2.0 release of GB Studio was announced, I was like “Holy crap, this is what I’ve been waiting for!” It had everything I wanted, including web export, which is super important for small games in my opinion… and crucially it didn’t have a bunch of stuff I didn’t want!

(In my day job I used Unity and Unreal, so I’m not afraid of complexity where it’s warranted, but for the kinds of tiny games I wanted to make that level of sophistication can be burdensome)

E: I’ve spent a lot of time with Unity and Source and I’m with you that tiny tools help a lot. Like I have an easier time keeping my mind clear because my tools are simple.

P: Totally! Also, the bigger tools tend to either try to be one-size-fits-all, which never works out well for 2D… or they make you implement a lot of things specific to your game, which undercuts the value of using an engine in the first place

Like, there’s so much I love about Godot, but I wish I could just turn off all the 3D features in the editor and have them not even load. Alas, 3D is where the money is, so 2D always takes a backseat in engine and editor design.

E: Since you’ve done a lot of programming in different engines, and your interests are mostly in programming, was it always your intent to put out games with lots of story like the Yurivania series? Or did that start out with a different intent? (And I feel I should add, the stories to those games are a real delight to read)

P: (Oh, thank you so much! I’m really glad that so many people have found something to love in these little stories :3)

Well, I really love programming and that’s what I went to school for, but my interests are actually a lot wider than that. Part of why I like game development in the first place is because of how multidisciplinary it is.

I always wanted to make games with a lot of story, but I think the Yurivania games thus far skew a little too much in that direction. I don’t want less story, but I do want more mechanical things to do. I’ve taken some time to prototype a lot of mechanics so that I can hopefully do some of that in the next game

Yurivania is in large part inspired by my longtime love of the Castlevania series, but one small complaint I have about Castlevania is that I wish there was more to do than just fighting. I want to interact with the castle more!

E: Yeah yeah, I was gonna ask where the theming came from (and I mean, it’s in the title) but including stuff like, having monsters and humans, having battles and puzzles, it seems like you always have something different for the gameplay between games.

I wanted to ask, have there been any notable challenges working on multiple games in the same series?

P: There has definitely been a lot of change working on each title in the series. Kind of 3 main things:

1 – I get to know GB Studio and the Game Boy better each time. I actually never owned a Game Boy or other handheld system as a kid cause the old LCD screens hurt my eyes, so for me getting into GB Studio was 100% about what it could do, not nostalgia. But working with it has given me a lot of admiration for the system and every new game I make on it has benefitted from me understanding better what I can and can’t easily get the system to do.

2 – I was lucky to get a lot of feedback on the first Yurivania, which helped me understand what players were responding to in the game. I like to think that each title has gotten a bit more honed in on the things that make the game exciting and relatable.

3 – It’s been a real blessing working on a series that can grow with each iteration. Each game the world of the Midnight Palace gets a little bigger, the graphics get a little nicer, and the gameplay gets a little smoother. For example: It’s really freeing to know that I don’t have to draw any brick tiles for Yurivania 3 cause I already have good bricks from Yurivania 1. Now I can focus on creating tiles for small details, objects in people’s rooms or items you can collect, I didn’t have time to create that for Yurivania 1 because I was busy drawing bricks!

Similarly, I can add new characters and have a pre-existing stock of characters for them to interact with.

I think if I hadn’t gotten such a positive response to Yurivania 1 I probably would have just moved on. Knowing that the games have a few fans is super motivating to keep working in that world

E: That’s really cool, cause usually I just wanna try brand new stuff when I’m done on a project, but I can tell it works well as, like a really refined polish.

P: Regarding the themes for these games, they’re actually very personal for me. I’ve always felt, for better or worse, that horror and horror-adjacent pop culture mirror a lot of what it’s like to be queer in the today’s world.

The metaphor of “monster girl approximately equals trans girl” works so well sometimes that it’s almost not a metaphor.

And people love this kind of content, queer or not. However, most of this kind of content is violent and ends badly for the monsters.

I wanted to show what happy monsters doing their best to pursue healthy relationships could look like. So that’s a lot of what I wanted to explore in these games.

E: Yeah! I’ve been enjoying more media of late with openly queer characters, but my gut reaction is still to hesitate cause I don’t always know how it’s gonna end. But on the other end of things, holy heck, there’s like, a lot of games right now that are just the affirming fantasy I wanna see as a trans person.

P: I feel like it has really taken off in the last couple of years, yeah! Even as recently as 2018 I felt like there was hardly anything out there explicitly about being queer (much less trans) that was actually positive

I’m really, really glad we’re finally getting games that are like, “You can be a trans person and be happy! Oh, and also, you can be a trans superhero, or trans robot, or trans pirate, or trans…”

I think it’s important for marginalized folks to include their trauma in their games when they feel the need. I also think marginalized folks should be allowed to make games on just as many topics as those in power do, and I dislike the double standard our own communities often hold us to. But, for me, what I really need right now is just places where I can let go of the stress of everyday life and model how our lives could be if everything worked out nicely.

E: Yeah absolutely, I say “affirming fantasy” but some of that includes when that element is normalized and the focus is elsewhere.

P: Yes, totally!

E: Moving towards a few closing questions, are there any projects you’re currently working on that you’d like to share with us?

P: Well, I am working on Yurivania 3. As I mentioned I am aiming to have a bigger mechanical element than just jump, fly, or swim to the next conversation (though I do enjoy that, too!)

One element will be a scheduling minigame, where you have to find the right time for all members of your polycule to get together.

I also have a lot of ideas I would like to get to. One I am very excited about is a game set in the asteroid belt where you play as a queer femme who works as a field assistant for a team of exobiologists. You would go out and map asteroids and catalog the lifeforms there, and then return to the space station to go on dates with the scientists.

E: Oh hell yeah.

P: I’ve been poly since I was a teenager and it’s funny how much using calendars is a major part of non-monogamous folks’ lives, and I’ve never seen any media that really tells that part of the story.

E: Seems like something I could learn about to improve my monogamous relationship >.>

P: Haha, totally! Google calendar is like the one thing Google makes that I am a complete fan of XD But then that may be the games producer in me talking.

E: But that all sounds awesome. Do you have any favourite GB Studio games or developers you’d like to shout out?

P: Yes! So, I really like Max Oakland’s Wink series! And many of his other games.

His art and design are so playful and colorful ~~ they at once put me in the mood of playing an old ’90s mascot platformer without ever feeling derivative.

E: Yeah, I’m also super impressed by his level of detail with pixel art and good colour choices.

P: Same! He’s also been very helpful. In general, I have been super surprised and pleased by how supportive the community is!

I also want to mention LemmaEOF and their GB Studio Toolkit, which has helped me wrangle the large amount of text in the Yurivania games more than once, Bryon Trent’s Advanced Platforming Toolkit Engine which helped me figure out how to implement swimming and flying, and, if you don’t mind, yourself — your Date With Falco game was very inspiring and encouraging as another explicitly queer GB Studio game by an out dev.

E: Aw heck, thank you for that <3

P: Absolutely, and thank you!

E: And lastly, is there anything else you want to say to our readers?

P: First I want to thank you for taking the time to interview me! I am an avid reader of GB Studio Central so it’s a real pleasure to be interviewed here!

Second, there is a really cool bundle on Itch right now that will help support queer developers and queer games: (Editor’s note, the 2022 bundle was on sale when Paige was interviewed, but has now closed. Make sure to follow them for when the next bundle gets released!)

The bundle includes all of the Yurivania games to date and several other Game Boy titles, plus hundreds of other games by small or medium-sized queer developers. Many of the devs in this bundle rely on it to continue making games at all, so every bit of support means a lot!

(Full disclosure: Other games I worked on, like 2064 and LongStory, are in here, too, but I don’t get any money for those since I’m no longer working on those teams.)

Last thing I want to add is, keep making and playing GB Studio games! It’s such a wonderful little ecosystem with loads of creative folks! Definitely one of the places to be in game dev right now, IMO!

E: Hell yeah. Thanks so much for taking the time to be interviewed!

P: You’re super welcome!

You can check out Paige’s Yurivania Series along with some other tools and assets to use with GB Studio on her Itch Page:

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