Eastshade’s Danny Weinbaum talks imaginative concepts, homogeneity, and turning visual masterpieces into games

Posted on March 21, 2019

In a world where violent, action-based, and adrenaline fuelled entertainment reigns supreme (mostly), it’s always wise to take the opportunity for a different experience. Eastshade is a peaceful environmentally built journey from the artistic mind of Danny Weinbaum and developed by the aptly named Eastshade Studios.

We’ve been thinking about ‘cosy‘ gaming on our podcast recently, and Eastshade is a perfect example.

Players are asked to ‘capture the world on canvas’ as they step into the boots of a travelling painter, exploring the mysterious land. Meeting a diverse range of anthropomorphic animal characters, the painter learns about the beautifully crafted surrounding environment, its deep lore, and hidden treasures.

We were lucky enough to chat with Weinbaum about his imaginative concept development, homogenising video games, and experience as both a 3D visual artist and games developer.

How does Eastshade stand out as an exploration game?

“If you filter all games to only ones with fully voiced 3D NPCs, you already get a pretty small list. Filter it again to games whose core loop is not about killing things, you get an absurdly small list. Filter that again by games where you play as a painter, and now the list is one-game long. You could even ignore all that and filter by art style alone, I think Eastshade would be on a short list.”

As a predecessor, does Leaving Lyndow litter remnants of its lore and story across the Eastshade experience? What should loyal fans be looking for?

“There are quite a few Easter eggs in Eastshade for folks who played Leaving Lyndow, in its characters and environments. But in general, the stories do not continue from one another, nor do the game mechanics, other than the first-person perspective. The primary similarity is in the setting they share, the island itself.”

How did the development and lessons from creating Leaving Lyndow help improve the amazing world of Eastshade?

“There were a few specific pieces of feedback we took into consideration to prioritize, such as the character face designs. For the most part, the experience we gained was in the high level process of shipping the game. What it takes to port to certain platforms, what it’s like to push an update, how that differs between platforms. Things like that. Had we been learning all the stuff on the fly for the first time with Eastshade, I think we would have had quite a rough launch.”

Danny, your prior work as an environmental 3D artist clearly shines through in the project. What difficulties did you find moving from art to game development?

“It was actually the easiest thing in the world for me. The first year of being an indie developer was euphoric. I looked forward to every day overflowing with inspiration and joy. There was nothing else on earth I would have rather been doing. Towards the end of the five year development, I had regular rising and falling of inspiration, and there were some days where discipline and commitment were the only things to rely on to keep things moving. Those initial years, spirits and motivation were so high I could barely sleep because I was so excited for tomorrow to come so I could get back to my workstation!”

Any of your design skills that simply transferred over and enhanced your work on Eastshade?

“The skills I had built as a 3D artist I believe were the back bone of the project, and indeed, pretty much all of that transferred 100%. The only difference was I had to be more selective about where to spend time and where to compromise. With such limited resources I had to compromise and prioritise in ways many 3D artists working for larger studios don’t, since they have orders of magnitude more time than I had for any given thing.”

Eastshade and Leaving Lyndow both include sombre undertones in their narratives. How do you aim to provoke an emotional response in players?

“We actually had no intention of making either game sombre! But hey, art will land on everyone in different ways. For Leaving Lyndow, the emotion we wanted to explore was saying goodbye, and all the bittersweet elements it entails. Eastshade was meant to feel like travel, and all the excitement and wonder that comes with it.”

“The bit about your mother wanting certain paintings, was something we added close to the end of production. It gives players just a little more narrative thread throughout the whole game. We found some people really need that ‘main quest’ to grab onto, so we tried to make one that was low key and open-ended. Enough to not conflict with the open-world, do-as-like style we wanted the game to have.”

“We try to make the audio and visuals beautiful and welcoming. We look at references to find things we think are beautiful and try to unpack what makes them beautiful and put it in our game. Narratively our goals were a little different: As far as the stories, we tried to make them interesting while keeping them non-violent and low-stakes. ‘Interesting’ is obviously a very broad term. The narratives were more supportive than central, there to fill the world and make it lively. The world is the star, and the world is welcoming and cosy.”

‘I am more concerned with the narrowness of AAA game design and the narrow tastes of the gaming public…’

These universes clearly have some diverse characters, with NPCs being various non-binary animals. What do you think of the current diversity in games?

“Variety is the spice of life. We tried to fill Eastshade with variety wherever possible: We tried to make the environments diverse, the architecture diverse, the quest premises diverse, and, indeed, the people too.

I, as a consumer of games, feel our games are little too homogeneous, particularly big budget games. For my tastes they are too homogeneous in their game loops, too homogeneous in their art styles, and indeed, too homogeneous in the characters in them.”

In a climate where games are often shunned for their violence, how do you think these peaceful and artistic experiences can help?

“Violence, for whatever reason, is a ubiquitous staple of big-budget games, and its ubiquity is far more complete than it is, say, in film or books. However, I’m not sure that’s why the public comes down particularly hard on video games. I think it probably has more to do with the perception that video games are for young people, therefore shouldn’t be violent.”

“Regarding what a game like Eastshade can do for public perception of video games: Absolutely nothing at all. We are a small fish in the ocean, and our games are very unlikely to reach the true general public, older people for example. Our industry already has a long list of wholesome non-violent hits—the Sims, popular city builders of all kinds, Minecraft, sports games, racing games, the list goes on. Honestly, any one-dimensional perception of video games will die naturally as the population ages.

I don’t think it’s anything we have to worry about. I am more concerned with the narrowness of AAA game design and the narrow tastes of the gaming public, than I am with the perception from people who don’t play games.”

What’s on the horizon for Eastshade and the studio?

“Our top priority now is to fix bugs, improve performance, and make Eastshade as good as it can be. Following that we plan to have a crack at porting to Mac and Linux, and indeed, console ports are in the works, which we will have more specific details about soon!”

Thanks again to Danny Weinbaum for taking the opportunity to speak with us. Experience Eastshade and its predecessor Leaving Lyndow now on Steam.

If you enjoyed this sort of content, please see our chat about diversity, game development, and elaborate Enya references with Donut County‘s mastermind Ben Esposito.