Interview with Tails of Iron Producer, Jack Bennett
Less than a week after the release of Tails of Iron, the producer of the game, Jack Bennett, was nice enough to carve out some time to do an interview with us. Bennett resides in southern England, spending the last seven years working at Manchester based Odd Bug Studio, which he helped create. After releasing The Lost Bear (a PSVR exclusive), Jack and the rest of the team began working hard on what would eventually become the well-received Tails of Iron. Without further ado, here’s the interview.
Kieran Toovey (KT): First off, congratulations on the launch of Tails of Iron! After roughly three years of working on the game, how are you and the team feeling about the reception of the game?
Jack Bennett (JB): Yeah it’s really weird to have the game out in the world; after working on it for so long, you kind of stop seeing it as a game and more a list of things you need to do, so it’s really cool to see so many people streaming it and enjoying it! Yeah, I don’t think we could have dreamed for a better reception to Tails of Iron, it seems to have really struck a chord with a lot of people. It’s also reviewing really well too, so at the moment everything seems super positive!
KT: That is cool. And count me as one of the people that really enjoyed it! But I’m sure it was difficult to get to this point. What were some of the major challenges that your team at Odd Bug Studio had to overcome during development?
JB: Obviously where we have been developing for the last few years, it means we’ve been working through a global pandemic. I don’t want to be a game developer complaining about working through a pandemic when there has literally been doctors and nurses putting their lives on the line, but it has affected us. It’s meant that we now no longer all work in an office together and are 100% work from home, communicating over Discord. As well as this, two members of the team also caught COVID, so it has had an effect on development. Luckily, we was already doing one day a week from home before the pandemic, so we was fairly well prepared.
KT: Yeah, the pandemic has definitely been a massive hurdle and adjustment to all of our lives. I hope that your team members are doing better and fully recovered now. Shifting back to Tails of Iron, one of the features I enjoyed most was being able to take on a boss again immediately after defeat, due to save points being right next to boss areas. Was this a feature the team had in mind from the onset? If so, were there other similar mechanics that received the same treatment?
JB: We always knew that we wanted the difficulty in Tails of Iron to come from the fights; the difficulty should be learning the boss and responding correctly, honing your skills and timing. The difficulty should not come from having to travel to the boss and save as much health as possible; as a team, we don’t really find that fun in most Souls games. I think another mechanic that we knew about fairly early on was the stamina bar. Initially, we had a stamina bar, but it was too distracting. Players were more focused on watching the UI [user interface] than actually focusing on the enemy’s attacks. By removing the stamina bar and having the colored tells on attacks, it means that combat has a much more fluid rhythm to it and allows the player to take more risks, which ultimately leads to more intense and interesting combat encounters.
KT: Well both of those design choices, among others I’m sure, really help shape the game into what it is. Additionally, Tails of Iron has some clear inspirations like Dark Souls, Hollow Knight, Redwall, Daniel’s pet rats, etc., but are there any more obscure or lesser known inspirations?
JB: Firstly, I would add Salt and Sanctuary, The Witcher, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings to the list of inspirations. In terms of lesser-known inspirations, I’d suggest Mouse Guard, which is really awesome and has great illustrations! I’d also say Wind in the Willows for the world of animal characters, and probably finally, the Clangers for the character sounds.
KT: That’s a great list of inspirations and source material to choose from! Good on you and the team for using those as reference points, but still making your own unique game. As the producer and designer of a relatively small indie game studio, how many hats would you say that you have to wear?
JB: I wouldn’t say its just me that has to wear multiple hats, it’s the whole team. We’re a small team of six people, which means we all have to do a lot of work to get the game to the polish level that we want it to be. However, the positive side to this is that because the team’s so small, we all have a say in everything, so coders get to work closely with art, audio working with design. It’s really cool and creates a game where we can also see the major role we’ve had in crafting it!
KT: That’s awesome! Continuing on that note: do you have any advice for those looking to get into independent video game development?
JB: I would just say start making something, whether that’s on your own, or by going to game jams. As soon as you start making something, you’re going to have questions. This is going to lead you to meeting other people who also want to make games, and from there everything will spiral until you’re releasing a game about medieval rats fighting frogs.
KT: (Laughs) Yeah, you never know where you’ll end up! What upcoming games are you looking forward to playing, be it indie or AAA?
JB: From an AAA perspective I would say it has to be Breath of the Wild 2 or God of War Ragnarök, but I think they’re a way off. God of War was an important game to us because it was a big inspiration for the combat in Tails of Iron, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they do in the next one. In terms of indies, I’d say it’s most probably either Sable or Witchbrook, both of which look beautiful and I’m sure will be amazing experiences!
KT: I’m with you 100% on those. They all look so good and so stylish. Final question Jack: what’s next for Odd Bug Studio? Tails of Iron DLC? Tails of Iron 2? A brand new title?
JB: Well that’s all heavily under wraps at the moment. All I will say is that we have signed a new contract with United Label, the publisher for Tails of Iron. But as the narrator says at the end of Tails of Iron, “that is a tail for another time.”
And there you have it! Thank you so much to Jack Bennett for taking the time to speak with us. Tails of Iron is available now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, Switch, and PC. We awarded it a 9 out of 10 and highly recommend it for those looking for a challenging action RPG. For more cool stuff about games, keep it here at GotGame!