Salad Sits Down With Duality Creator Phineas Carberry
Every indie dev we meet has a unique story to tell, and Phineas Carberry of Essency Studios sure fit the bill. As the talent behind the puzzle-platformer game Duality, Carberry takes an innovative and skilled approach to game design.
Duality began as a passion project, but to play it (as we did) you’d think its labyrinthine passages were designed to shatter the ego. Pull up a chair and dive into the story behind Phineas’s perplexing platformer.
For starters — did the Devil himself inspire that momentum puzzle in Duality?
Little did you know: I am the devil.
Duality was great — it actually made me think! I like Portal, but it’s more “point and shoot.”
It was heavily inspired by both the Portal games, which were the only single-player puzzle games I had managed to play on my crappy laptop. It was only meant to be a learning test project for me, but halfway through I kind of thought, “Hey, this could be a real thing!”
I was lucky to have my friend Blake mentor me for the duration of the project, and that’s how I learned most of what I know now.
How do the games you enjoy inspire your development process?
I was talking with someone else about game ideas, and they said, “What if you had two mazes but on top of each other, and you could switch between them?” This led to the switching mechanic.
At that point, all I wanted to do was make a “simple puzzle game” to learn programming. Then one day I just lined up some cubes, jumped around on them, and said, “Hey, this is pretty fun!”
Duality is the first game you’ve published. Did you have any other projects before this?
Nope. It was my first real game I ever worked on, and also my first ever project in Unity. For a long time I just called it “my puzzle game thingy.” Eventually I just looked up words and synonyms for the number “two” and came up with Duality.
If you go to the “#dev-updates” channel in my server and scroll all the way up, you can actually see the progress of the game from start to finish.
Wow, congrats — that’s great for a first project. Any tips for people just starting?
Yeah, it was a combination of things. The best thing you can do to start game development is to do it with literally anyone else — the accountability alone will get you places.
Having someone working alongside and mentoring me helped keep me stuck to one project. It took a whole year of development, but all that work managed to spawn Duality. Now I could obviously make something like it in a matter of weeks, but it was a huge learning experience.
Did you do everything else, like the music and art?
Music was whatever free tracks we could scrape from the internet and some from a music pack that went on sale. There’s a reason the game looks how it does. It’s literally made of cubes and glowing, emissive materials because I can’t do art.
I made a couple of models for the laser emitters and cubes so you could tell them apart, but that’s it. You can see me start playing around with the darker theme and post processing about ten days after I discovered parkour.
Think you’ll stick with this art style, or are you expanding your repertoire?
While working on They Cant Stop All Of Us, we went for a “low poly” aesthetic with models from Synty Studios. After taking the lead for Duality, it was nice to have Blake manage tasks and most of the programming while I designed the maps.
Now I’m full-time on a new project with a team. We’re using Unity’s new high definition render pipeline and an assortment of bleeding-edge, shiny toys to make a pretty-looking RPG.
That’s a big switch. How many people are we talking?
I’m working on the GDD [game design document] while doing project management and all the programming. The only other person I have in-engine with me is my level designer, Dayton, and a programmer I’m trying out.
Was it tough to make the leap to project management?
I didn’t even know what a GDD was until my concept and texture artists asked for one. I like managing projects and being the creative director, but sometimes it’s nice to get your hands dirty in some of the code. The best thing I learned was to let artists have the creative freedom to actually do what they think looks best.
Any idea when the new project might be available for beta testing?
If you go to the “#beep-boop” channel in our Discord server, you can enter the “!playtester” to get early access to builds and give feedback.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
The dream is to run my own studio, but being a programmer or creative director for other studios would be the ideal job. I live near Austin, Texas and there are tons of big name studios. Even Unity has a big office there. As long as I’m making games I think I’ll be happy.
Branching out into animated films or publishing for games and other entertainment is probably where I would head if my studio became self-sufficient. There are some stories I want to tell that can’t really be expressed through games, so fully animated projects are another goal of mine. But games are more fun to play over and over.
Sounds like you’re interested in a more narrative focus in future projects.
This upcoming RPG is going to be a test of what kind of narrative I’m capable of making. Duality was more of a tech demo of all the patched-together features I made while learning C#. And level design is always fun so there’s a bit of that thrown in.
Around the time of Duality’s release I was actually going through my first week of finals in my local college. I didn’t have the time at my disposal to work in a story in between classes.
How has it been balancing both game making and school?
I’m luckily homeschooled, but when I was 14 I took the TSI entrance exam and started taking dual credit classes. I think being a self taught person helps in any situation, especially in developing a product which will requires your initiative — and yours alone — to make it great.
Before we close, I have to ask — where did you get the name “Essency” from?
I founded the studio with my friend. Our last names made it “S&C,” but I kept it going as Essency. My main principle in making games is to avoid the modern AAA title and return to the good old days when games were built on a solid foundation of fun core features. The “essence” of the game is the most important and not “flashy” graphics.