Memory of God, the handle; Lambic Studios, the developer; Coyan Cardenas, the person–no matter what name you use, the man behind the magic is the same. Coyan Cardenas is the solo developer behind Where the Goats Are and its savagely beautiful successor, The Stillness of the Wind. The Stillness of the Wind released on February 7, 2019, expanding the vision of 2017’s Where the Goats Are into a fully realized experience. Both titles feature a morosely meditative tale that lingers long after the final scene whittles to an end. We caught up with the brilliant Coyan Cardenas to discuss his previous titles, his future development, and Talma’s place in a world rocked by coronavirus.
|| How did your journey to solo game development begin, and when did you find yourself being called “Memory of God”? Elsewhere you’ve mentioned that the story behind the moniker is long. Would you be willing to impart that tale, as well as some of your background lore?
Since I was a kid I’ve been interested in the idea of making games. I was into the art side but the coding was impossible for me, so I gave up the dream. I ended up studying painting and practising for a few years, and then went to university to study architecture. When I was studying architecture I downloaded Unity and started messing around with it, following tutorials and making simple little things. It wasn’t until I’d been practicing architecture for about a year that I took a month off work and did an online computer science course. This is when the basic fundamentals of programming clicked for me, which led me to make the first free games I made which were released on itch.io, made in my spare time alongside my full time job. When I was nearly finished with Where the Goats Are (precursor to Stillness), I decided making games was way more fun than my real job and decided to hand in my notice and try developing full time.
Memory of god was actually the name of one of the first game ideas I wanted to make. It was going to be a depressing black and white game about a village drunk, who sees mystical beings, or something along those lines. So I quickly made the twitter account in anticipation, but I quickly realised the game was way out of scope for my abilities at the time and I moved on to other ideas. I couldn’t be bothered to make a new twitter account so I just used that one as a general account and I’m stuck with it now. I want to revisit the idea of the “memory of god” game at some point, it had a cool atmosphere.
|| If you had a chance to remake The Stillness of the Wind without any external constraints, would you change anything? You’ve stated that certain aspects of the game were intentionally limited in scope. If you had the opportunity to make The Stillness of the Wind again with an unlimited budget and unlimited time, would you? If not, why? If you would, what would you develop further, and why?
I think it would be a completely different game if it was remade with an unlimited budget. One of the key concepts of the game is this idea of ‘the simple life’ and the art style, gameplay, narrative and content all reinforce that key idea. I think adding all sorts of bells and whistles onto that would only water down that core concept. So it might be a more fun game, but perhaps less unified and meaningful? Besides, I didn’t set out to make a fun game :)
|| In the aftermath of The Stillness of the Wind’s release, what were some of the most memorable moments of fan feedback and personal revelation? Were there media interactions that surprised you positively (or negatively)? Were there things you realized after release that linger with you and may influence later work?
There were definitely some mixed emotions when it released. I had been overworking myself for a while at that point, so mostly I was just very, very tired. I got some lovely messages from people who found the game impactful. Including someone who actually had a grandma who lives in a small desert village, who raises goats and who refuses to move to the city where the rest of her family lives. So essentially the exact premise of the game – I think I was surprised by the fact that this purely fictional story had real world connotations to some people, not just metaphorical.
|| Are you still involved in game development, and what are your plans for the future? Occasionally a screenshot tease is published on your Twitter account. Are you in the trenches with a new game, or are you pursuing other interests at this point?
I’ve been keeping a low profile :) I was so tired after Stillness I needed to take about 6 months off without thinking about game dev. Then I pursued some freelance opportunities and took part in some game jams. Stillness released over a year ago now and I’m only just now feeling like I have the energy and in the right frame of mind to start thinking about a next major project. Right now I’m playing with a few different ideas trying to decide which one I want to commit to. So yes still definitely involved in game development.
|| Imagine Talma’s universe is the same as ours and that you are writing to her amidst the chaos of the coronavirus outbreak—what sorts of things would you tell her about the world outside her farm? Would the letter be one of encouragement, in spite of the crisis? Would you avoid telling her the truth? What would you tell her of your own life?
I think I’d tell her how everyone is now having to live like her whether they like it or not! I think she’d enjoy that ;) Also I think it’s interesting that, in contrast to the game where time is slow and change happens gradually over time, the corona virus has drastically changed how the entire world is living pretty much over night. I don’t think anyone could have imagined such drastic changes to our lifestyles happening so quickly, and now also normalised so quickly too.
|| What can real people learn from Talma’s fictional narrative during this global crisis? Are there lessons to be had in Talma’s quiet, meditative existence, even in the face of the storm? Do you personally find strength in the patient stoicism you gave Talma?
Talma knows how to social distance :)
|| If you could remake one video game to feature a grandma as its main character, which one would you choose, and why? We hear you believe there aren’t enough grandmas in video games, and we couldn’t agree more.
The game that immediately comes to mind is Legend of Zelda, as Link represents the perfect archetypal young boy-hero, so it would be interesting to flip that on its head. In the Wind Waker art style, where the young hero goes off in search of adventure while you play as grandma and potter about your little island? Sounds like the perfect game to me.