Developer Interview: Greg Lobanov

Stunningly well-received Wandersong is developer Greg Lobanov‘s charming and effervescent gift to the gaming community. Wandersong released on Steam and Switch on September 27, and since then has been wreathed in the organic appreciation it’s inspired from players all over the globe. We spoke with the superb mind behind it all, Greg Lobanov, about his charismatic creation.

Wandersong Logo

|| Tell us a little (or a lot) about the man behind the magic. Wandersong was developed almost solely by Greg Lobanov — yourself. What’s your background lore? Where are you from? Why video game development?

I grew up making comics and books and board games with pencils and paper and glue and scissors, even when I was just a little kid. So it was always a part of my life. I grew up in Philadelphia and made lots of friends on internet forums, first in webcomics and then gamedev after I discovered game making software called GameMaker. I live in Vancouver now, surrounded by lots of people I grew up with on the internet.

|| In what way did your 5,000-mile bike ride across the United States inspire Wandersong? Some might assume an indie related to cycling would’ve been in order after such an experience. Why Wandersong?

I tried making games about cycling first, but they didn’t reflect the aspects of that trip that meant the most to me. That adventure changed my life because it exposed me to the kindness of strangers, and the power of optimism to accomplish stuff I didn’t think I could. I wanted to make a game about that, and about the goodness of humanity. It felt like a message that was sorely needed in the world.

|| What unique challenges did using Gamemaker: Studio present during Wandersong’s development? We hear that you utilized this software in tandem with other tools to craft Wandersong. Did any unusual issues crop up as a result – or, instead, unusual rewards?

I think the most challenging aspect was when we started porting to Switch, because we were using the beta version of the software and discovering lots of issues that Yoyogames (the makers of GameMaker) had to subsequently fix. We went through that so that other devs never have to, but it certainly added some complications to the process.

For the kind of game Wandersong is and the kind of visuals I wanted for it, I think most people wouldn’t expect GameMaker to be the first choice of game engine, but because I have so much experience with it I was able to make this game fairly quickly actually, faster than if I had tried to learn a new game engine at the start instead.

|| At what point did you decide to bring sound designer Em Halberstadt and musician Gordon McGladdery on? Furthermore, how did you know that you wanted to work with these two, specifically? Was the partnership as magical as the music it resulted in?

At the very start of Wandersong, I wanted to try doing everything 100% solo, including sound and music. But I wasn’t totally satisfied with my work, especially because it was becoming clear that a game about music and singing had to have amazing audio. That’s what pushed me to do a Kickstarter, so I could afford to hire folks.

There was a lengthy and difficult selection process for collaborators because a lot of people wanted to be a part of the project… but in the long run I felt Gord’s music suited the game best, and the fact that he was local meant that we could work very closely together. Gord hired Em shortly after that–she was his first employee and Wandersong was her first game. I knew less about her at the outset, but her work speaks for itself. She is stunningly talented, and Wandersong was a dream project for her; she gave 110% and really left a huge footprint in the direction and feeling of the game. Overall I’d say our collaboration was really good, bolstered by the fact that we all live close to one another so we were able to spend a lot of days together. So much of this game came from trying to make each other laugh and just having fun ideas and throwing them in as we went. I think you can really feel that when you play.

|| Ultimately, what do you want players to walk away with after playing Wandersong? Many gamers have already applauded Wandersong for being “delightful” and “heartwarming.” Some have described it as feeling like “a hug.” What is Wandersong to you, and what do you want players to carry with them from it after completion?

My minimum goal with it was always to make people smile, to make their day better, and tell a fun story. My ambitious goal was to connect with people on a deep level, to help them feel happier in a more lasting, meaningful way. I’m really pleased to say that we accomplished that. I hoped people would love the game, but I really didn’t expect the extent to which it resonated with so many people. It really feels like we had a good impact on the world, and for that I’m very grateful.

|| Personally, what is your most cherished scene from Wandersong? Is there a particular moment that you’re especially fond of, or proud of, or connect with? Why?

That’s a really hard question! All of this game came from me and my experience, so every little moment resonates with some amount of truth to me. The ending is the part I’m most proud of though… I think it’s a really powerful experience, and I hope many people get to see it for themselves. Part of what makes it so powerful for me is that Gord and Em (and many others) both put a ton of themselves into it, and I can actually take a step back and see something bigger than myself in it. I don’t want to say any more than that.

|| What’s next for the talented developer behind Wandersong? It might be too early to be speculating on your next title, but naturally we must. Wandersong was a tremendous success, and must surely be followed by the same. Is there anything in the works for us to look forward to?

It seems almost certain that I’ll make another game. I’m already playing with some new ideas. Wandersong is a daunting game to follow up, so I don’t think you should expect anything quite so impressive right away. But I definitely want to continue working with characters and story, and making positive things. Please look forward to that :)