Pehesse is a one man show and is the developer behind Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire out on Steam right now. He’s faced his share of doubters and road blocks during development and throughout his life as he paved the way for his indie dev future. But he’s also prevailed in overcoming those challenges and in turn has created a very unique and thought-provoking visual novel. Join in me as I ask him some questions about who he is, what and who is Honey Rose and what adventures await after her.
Who are you? Where can we see your work?
Hi, I’m Pehesse! I’m a french illustrator, with a lifelong dream of making games. So that’s what I’m doing! I’ve posted some of my illustration work over at:
How long have you been developing games? And how did you start?
As an amateur, I’ve been developing games for almost as long as I’ve been playing them! I started at 4 or 5 by drawing paper maps and manuals for games I wished would exist. As soon as I could I moved up to the family x486 to use a role-playing maker engine, though I couldn’t tell you the name. I stuck to paper and dreams for a while, up until high school, where I discovered RPG Maker, which was my main tool and passion for most of my scholarship!
I made two big scale projects using RMK2003, though neither was ever properly finished, nor played by the public at large beyond a few select friends.
I used RPGMaker right up until I got into Art school in Strasbourg, at which point I tried showcasing my games to the teachers: they told me then my work was the worst they had ever seen, and I was doing it the absolute wrong way. This put a complete stop to my solo game-making efforts, and I spent a few years trying to design according to their rules, building smaller-scope prototypes in Flash. I eventually left and went to a game design school, where I made quite a few like-minded friends and developed a number of prototypes and smaller games for the first time in a team environment. Good times, and I thought then I was ready and willing to enter the industry, so I did… or so I tried.
All of my experiences there have been various degrees of disheartening and frustrating. I tried working again for smaller teams and participated in a few projects, eventually working on a medium-scaled one (then titled Memory Chamber, now known as Splitmind, it’ll be out later this year) as a background artist, but the work there still proved unsatisfying. I was pretty much done with games at this point, as my industry experience was crushing, my team experience was frustrating, and the judgment I still heard of my solo work was that it was no good.
I decided I’d give solo development another try, a last try, before hanging my dreams of making games entirely. I had done a series of illustrations a little while prior while I was working on my portfolio for industry jobs: it was a character design series, for 26 female protagonist characters (each one a letter of the alphabet), each associated to a fictional game pitch.
Among these, I wanted to develop one in particular (had for a long time, actually, but didn’t dare go further than basic prototypes), a sci-fi space-opera. I didn’t trust my skills enough to start it again, though, so I decided to prototype a quicker one first, something to practice my game design and character animation skills. That pitch was Honey!
Was Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire your first game idea or were there others that didn’t make the cut?
I’ll pick up the story right where we left off: as you see, Honey wasn’t my first game idea, but it’s the first I pushed this far and turned into an actual commercial game.
To list a few of the others that I attempted at some point beyond simple paper designs: there were the aforementioned JRPGs in RMK2003, a few parody RPG attempts, a prototype for a platformer using RMK2003, another prototype for a “blind game” in Flash (a game where the player would have played a blind person, and “felt” the environment to progress – I was delighted to see this idea come to fruition years down the line in the form of a few different games :-D), a puzzle game as an exercise for school, a psychological horror experience, an action-horror game… I also have a long list of projects I’d like to attempt, now that I have the experience of Honey under my belt. I’m hoping I’ll get the chance to do them all eventually!
Do you work alone or enlist the help of others for more complicated projects?
I try to do most of what I can alone, because my teamwork experiences, while enriching, have also proven to be mostly frustrating. I like having a complete oversight of every part of a project, so I know exactly why it ticks the way it does. For Honey, I’ve enlisted the help of Morusque, a brilliant composer and fellow student at the design school I attended, and asked a few friends for technical help when I was at a loss, since I’m far from a skilled programmer! Ideally, I’d love to be able to handle *every* aspect of a project by myself, but music composition is still a bit out of my reach… though it’s definitely one of my goals at some point!
How did you come up with the concept for Honey Rose? Inspirations?
The original game pitch was based on a simple cross-over idea: I wanted the theme and settings of Persona, but have the battles be those of Streets of Rage 2. As I developed the project in more detail, I looked to many more references, some conscious and other not: the game’s management elements take cues from many Japanese sims, such as Princess Maker and Long Live the Queen, the visual novel presentation is heavily inspired by Phoenix Wright and Cing’s works (mainly Hotel Dusk and Another Code), and the beat’em all segments, while mechanically taking after Streets of Rage as originally intended, are visually inspired by Street Fighter and Phantom Breaker. There’s also a laundry list of movies, books and comics, though the inspirations are less direct and conscious, but still very likely: off the top of my head, I can think of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the new Squirrel Girl comics, most of Bruce Timm’s animation works…
I tried to look for different takes on high-school setting and young adult drama, to study a few directions in a few different mediums. The aim for Honey was to be a “slice of life” story, with heavy emphasis on simple character development: no twists, but the simple fun of watching characters grow and struggle with relatable conflicts, both internal and external. Most of all, the main source of inspiration for Honey was my own experience: the game’s structure and narration is mirrored on my experience with the game industry, and the game’s themes and overall message are (clumsy and heavy handed as they are) direct reflections of my conclusions and thoughts based on that experience. As I was going through a dark period before and while making the game, I wanted the result of my work to be as bright and cheerful as possible, so I could get out of the other side myself by using the game as a form of exorcism.
During development, did you find yourself learning new skills and growing as a developer?
Absolutely! Going in, I had very few notions of character animation, and even less about programming. I made the game using Construct 2, since it’s one of the few engines available that’s entirely able to handle a game using only visual scripting: most others use that tool as a crutch, a learning step in the process of learning the actual languages that operate in the background. In C2, you can do a game of Honey’s size without writing a single line of actual code… though it still requires a firm handle on actual programming logic! The game is filled with artifacts of my learning, and I’m hoping no one will take a close look at the game’s innards, they’re pretty badly put together 😀
As for character animation, it was actually one of my main drives going in: I was frustrated that I had offered on another project to work as a character animator, and been told that I wasn’t good enough. I was determined to learn and prove them wrong. I’m still pretty much a beginner, but I’ve gained a little confidence, and I’m planning to use even more animation for my future games, as it’s a skill I’m definitely looking forward to work on!
Do you like the challenge of learning new concepts and ways to create? Is it daunting at times? Absolutely! Making a game is by far the hardest and most challenging creative
endeavor I ever attempted, and I tried quite a number of them. We live in a time where the accessibility and democratization of game-making tools make it seemingly possible for anyone to make a game of their own, but the truth of it is that most games never take off the ground, simply because of the difficulty of the whole undertaking. It’s also unfortunate to note that society, the industry at large, and a vast portion of the player base, are oblivious and dismissive of the work required to complete a task of that magnitude.
Making a living off games is also a complete crapshoot, because of the over-saturation of the market: there are too many games, and too little time to play them all, so players have an overabundance of choice. In the end, I believe to make games, you must *really* like the process itself, meeting new challenges and devising ways to overcome them, because it’s simply not rewarding in any other sense of the word otherwise! 😀
What was your favorite part about developing for Honey Rose? Least favorite?
My favorite part was definitely making the animations. I had to find ways to bring the characters to life using a limited amount of frames, as the game is extremely resource heavy as it is. It forced me to work on expressiveness and characterization through motions, which is a very fun exercise! I also liked writing the script, even though writing
isn’t my primary focus: it ended up a bit long-winded and faulty, but I had fun trying to figure out each character’s speech patterns, habits and how to convey their whole personality and background through text.
As for my least favorite… it’s a toss between the sound effects, which I had a lot of trouble with, or the testing, as it’s very frustrating to run parts of the game over and over looking for bugs, and still miss truckloads of them. You end up hating your own work, in addition to feeling you’re doing a bad job because you can’t find them all yourself!
How did you feel when you first decided you wanted to showcase Honey Rose to the world?
One small part elation, and one big part dread, perhaps? 😀 I was looking forward to people’s reaction, but in the back of my mind, I was hearing the echo of what I had heard before: that it was no good, with the “worst writing ever”, or such commentary. My first attempts at showing the game received mild enthusiasm: my friends were unimpressed by the early prototypes, and I attempted to participate in the Indiecade
during the first year of development only to be rejected (though to be fair, the prototype I had at this point was very early, too much to properly showcase the game that it would become). Still, that drove me to be more discreet with my showings, and I still shared the process of development but waited until I had a better handle on my prototypes to share them with players. As for the game’s release, the gaming audience at large can feel very intimidating at times, and I was both hoping to entertain them, and fearing their reaction. Thankfully, overall, the reception of the game has been very positive, so I’m very thankful for that!
Do you already have ideas for your next game? How different is it compared to Honey Rose?
I most definitely do, in fact I’ve already started working on it. It’s going to be a modular 2D action-platformer titled Pachacuti, where the player will help the Daughter of the Sun wrestle back control of her home from the Spirit of the Moon. I intend for this game to be an experience both welcoming to new players of the genre, and satisfying for speed runners to try and find strategies and compete against each other. The game will be comprised of a sequence of linear levels (think classic Castlevanias as the main inspiration), but each level will be built off a series of individual “modules”, smaller sections with different challenges and level layouts that will be picked depending on what style you’ll be mainly using through the game: traversal, or combat.
The objective is to offer a re-playable experience, where players will encounter different challenges upon their replay, and an additional layer of strategy for speed runners to try and define optimal paths, depending on the specific layouts they aim to encounter!
If you’re interested in the game and want to support its development, it’s happening here: https://www.patreon.com/pehesse .
I’m planning to use the same “pay-what-you-like” model that I did for Honey, meaning the final game will be free for everyone to access and enjoy, and I’m counting on the audience’s support to finance the game as I’m making it. I’m hoping this model will eventually prove to be a viable alternative to the current industry practices, which I find predatory towards players and dangerous for the medium going forward.
I hope video games will get to keep growing as a creative enterprise, and I feel we need to separate the value from the experience they offer from the act of “purchasing products”, lest we fall to a spiral of mistrust and deceiving tactics. I’m hoping to have proven to players I’m willing and able to build my games, and to gain their trust and willingness to support my efforts towards making more! And to that end, thank you for offering me this chance to answer your questions 🙂
Stay in the know, gamers!