Old School Gamer Magazine chats with Michael Silverman (Silverware Games Lead Designer. Studio owner, programming) and Say Mistage (Silverware Games Derpy Wasabi. Art, community), who detail their new virtual pet experience that harkens back to the days of Rob Fulop’s Petz series, as well as Tamagotchi, but takes the genre to fun new levels.
About the Game:
MatchyGotchy Z is a colorful digital pet experience that combines idle clicker elements with a new take on pet-raising simulation: trainable personalities. The pets can have jobs based on their natural skills, but only you get to define your pet’s personality through gameplay – not itemization or goal oriented milestones.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How was this game born?
Michael: Everything starts from an original game character “Matchy Star.” I came up with an idea based on the feel of cartoon heroes I like: Sponge Bob, Johnny Bravo, Gumball Watterson, Andy from Advance Wars, and even the invincibility star from Mario. I did multiple tries of this star character and it was sort of a weird, long and experience for me – but very rewarding at the end! Eventually, Matchy Star became a game of its own and took over into a universe of many games. This is where MatchyGotchy Z comes from, one of the many casual and fun games from this world.
Say: When Michael and I started working together, he had almost wrapped up Matchy Star at the time. It was when we joined in ideas that Matchy Star went from one game to a series of games – we started last year with MatchyGotchy, which was initially meant to be a promotional game, but got quite the positive response from steam players and from all that feedback we created a sequel game called MachyGotchy Z, which we are launching next week via Early Access. Matchy Star is still in development, we are hoping to have more news on that soon enough too.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What was your role in the game?
Michael: I am the lead game designer, I do most of the creative direction of the games including all the programming. However, the game development process with Say is very collaborative and fun – I come up with ideas and she helps me materialize them. For MatchyGotchy Z, for example, I introduced the idea of the currency with the purpose of including a store for itemization and she helped me come up with the storefront details and the characters in them. It’s a fun process because ideas go back and forth, and things end up with a lot of zazz as we define it. It’s been fun and rewarding working with Say because she always is very careful to make the work better but keep going in the right direction.
Say: I often say he is –the- game designer, because he is. I have worked in publishing for years, and I have never taken an active role like this in development before. I’m still getting used to thinking of myself as a game developer, but quite humbled for the opportunity to be part of this world of cuteness. I have been a technical artist from a publishing end before – now I get to design scenarios, characters, so much. MatchyGotchy Z feels like a wonderful new and personal take in an industry I’ve been part of for years. I’m thankful Michael believes in me as an artist to have motivated me to take this big step.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How did you get involved in the industry?
Michael: I was always into games since I was a child. My first games were for those TI calculators you get in middle school. I did a game about scoring goals and a drawing thing and also even a basic monopoly game. I even took computer graphics at the University of Delaware as a high schooler to get into the game making stuff ASAP. I started undergrad doing Computer Science at University of Rochester, then I got a brief gig doing some code for Firaxis Games and I knew for sure I wanted to do game development. It’s always been my calling since I was a tiny baby. I remember even as a high schooler I wanted to have my own team, start a creative company.
Say: I am a business graduate and I come from corporate management! I feel like I have no place in gaming sometimes, haha. I got into the gaming industry back in early 2002 when I met a bunch of Sierra Games fans and joined in a King’s Quest fan game development team. At the time, it was just fun and games and eventually from doing digital art in the team I took an active role in PR for them – and a fan team that didn’t even have a demo, got on the covers of Edge Magazine, Computer Gaming World, Mtv and so many more high profile media at the time. I can proudly say we survived a Cease & Desist from Vivendi Studios, and ultimately from Activision – and both times we were granted a fan license due to the amazing and overwhelming community support. None of this was luck – it was a lot of work and I loved every single minute of it; sadly, I parted ways with them to devote myself to my business career around late 2008. However, they called me back in late 2012 – the team was now a company, and they wanted my help again and here we are. I now have two awesome studios I love like family; these lovely people are everything to me.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What was development like?
Michael: This project has been one of the most fun projects I’ve worked on because Say has been a lovely work and design partner. Also all the freelancers we worked with have been on top of their game. The only real issue is just trying to get all the stuff in there because we want to do the best we can and that’s how the game evolved into a whole new thing.
Also, I had the chance to do more than just design thinking, but explore artificial intelligence in something like this. I used Markov Chains for the pet’s personalities, which I loved because I did that stuff back in college as part of a statistical natural language course. It was fun to get to flex my CS algorithms chops to design the AI that run’s the pet’s behaviors.
Say: It’s new and chaotic for me, haha. While I am familiar with most of these things as a technical artist, that includes most of graphic design knowledge in terms of optimization of assets and preparing things either for builds, digital promotion, or print. The whole idea of me creating something from thin air, not having instructions but just an idea to materialize, is quite a challenge. I can get work done pretty fast, the part that seems a challenge is the design bit: How to convey cuteness, how to express joy without words, how to make something intuitive but also fun – a lot of questions that I never really explored. I am very thankful Michael has the patience of a saint, and has been able to sit down and guide me through. There is a lot of trial and error kind of process that I’m still getting used to it.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What makes this game special?
Michael: The characters are very special to me. I spent a lot of time defining them and they are Say’s and mine little star children. I mean we have a UFO who grows up to be a Doctor, which I’m super proud of how the characters turned out and I want to keep making them more and more interesting and fleshed out.
Of course, the training system is the big unique element. I think we are the first game to use Markov Chains to describe a personality that you the player can train and evolve. You can make it so that your pet likes to derp out, or just work all the time, and it is entirely based on how you train them – not how you feed them, or how they are programmed to behave – but entirely up to the player, which is a really fun twist. I generally like to throw a twist into the games I work on just to make it my own and something special.
Say: I echo Michael’s feelings on this, this kind of feels like part of my own. I consider MatchyGotchy to be a real first-hand experience into game development. I have participated in jams and I have done technical bits here and there, but nothing to this extent before. Most of my experience has been on the publishing end of things, never on this front before. That is as crazy special as it gets for me.
We believe casual games are important. We both have had some pretty difficult experiences in life and we find value in providing venues for people to relax and rediscover the joy through charming gaming experiences like these.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What games influenced this one the most?
Michael: Tamagotchi was the big inspiration. We know how virtual pets work, but we actually had a lot of research dissecting how tamas work and their algorithms. We even immersed ourselves in tama fan groups to understand better what drives the fun and the joy in these experiences. We wanted a set of Stars that were colorful, inviting, derpy, and fun!
Say: As gamers, I think Nintendo is a huge inspiration for both of us. From the point of view as a company that always keeps players present and loves to expand their own universe of IP’s, to the magic and color games like Super Mario series. The idea of virtual pets, inspired in tamagotchies, was to provide an opportunity to provide more depth to the characters of the Matchy Star universe with the perspective of desktop gaming.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Michael: Too many to remember. One moment that stands out was when we first put in the trainable singing for Loony Lander and the character was singing and singing away and then right in the middle of the song Lander burped. I mean that was when it was clear that the characters really had minds of their own.
Say: Haha, I remember that moment! To me, one of the most powerful moments in game development must be after we had launched MatchyGotchy (the first promo game) and we were working on the Valentine’s Day update but we had a bunch of lovely people check in on us for more game content, they wanted more of the game! And I had the opportunity to meet and chat with a bunch of them – and there is this lovely lady that shared a heartfell thank you with me. I remember she told me playing the game was her favorite thing to do at the end of the day, especially after a very long day of work. Turns out she lives with chronic pain and sometimes she’s unable to relax to sleep, so the game provided a brief relief during moments of distress like that.
It means the world to me because I too live with nerve pain. I know what it feels like to live through intense pain like that and what it means to be able to provide even an hour of mental break through something like that. That is perhaps the highlight of my entire career in game development thus far. Hello Anna! Big shoutout for you, you’re hecking awesome <3
Old School Gamer Magazine: What were the major lessons learned?
Michael: I personally leveled up my coding to be able to deal with so much stuff. I was doing a lot of the texture sheet management manually and just recently I switched to a more dynamic system. I also learned that the publishing end of things takes just as much time as coding up the game, sometimes even more. Publishing is really tough, especially for a new piece of IP. The Matchyverse is a special place made with love and passion and we hope to share that to the world.
Say: We often schedule development and publishing on production schedules, but we always forget down time. It is impossible to work nonstop without at least a day to recharge. I guess the lesson I have yet to learn is that development and publishing are important yeah, but so is your health. Without it, none of the other two would get done.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
Michael: The short answer is: of course. But more detailed: game ideas are sort of like DNA. It’s clear that there are some ideas that will always come back again and again in different forms. The Tamas are one idea that will always pop up in one form or another. We’ve combined that idea into a lot of different things and taken it into a new direction but there will always be people who want to take care of a cute little critter as long as there are humans. Its been both fun and a big challenge to do justice to this experience of being a caretaker and I know being on the creative end there is an important obligation to do it up right and really create something fun.
Say: They are, yeah. But as Michael mentioned, we had taken concepts that were entirely faithful to the original gameplay mechanics and they didn’t translate as they should for desktop gaming. Reason why we love player feedback, they pointed us into the right direction with this and we are crazy excited (and anxious!) about Early Access. We hope to incorporate the community to make something wonderful together.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How do you want this game to be remembered?
Michael: I want this to be a sort of a “Steamboat Willie” I know its a bit grandiose but I want the Matchyverse to exist longer than I do and evolve and grow so I want this to be remembered as the beginning of that adventure.
Say: I want MatchyGotchy Z to be remembered as a personal happy thought. Eventually, I want people to look at the Silverware Games logo and feel joy.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s next?
Michael: As someone who wants the Matchyverse to go one to be a big universe to explore for years and years, there is a lot to do next. In the short term, we want to keep doing updates! Like the “infinite progress” update, where you can make an absurd amount of zoot. In the long term, I’ve been dreaming about making a gigantic game called Xanadu based on the end goal of MatchyGotchy where you can build up a party palace out in space. But that one might take a while to finish!
Say: Matchy Star is next! And we have three unannounced games in mind right after that. More games, more cuteness.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Anything else you’d like to add?
Michael: Yes, thank you! It’s always an honor and humbling to find people who want to take the time to get to know us. I know “small developer makes unknown fun game” isn’t always the headline that a lot of places want to run. We don’t have any juicy gossip or scandals, we just want to get to work making fun stuff and reaching the community. I am grateful that you took the time to get to know what we are about and why we are so into making fun. Again, thank you.
I also want to thank Say, who is just the best creative partner I could have on this project. She listens and takes things in a perfect direction. It’s a lot of fun to work with her, and she keeps me on my toes with all her great ideas and passion.
I also want to thank the citizens of the Matchyverse, our community. The people who have been involved with the project so far have kept me going. A game isn’t a game till people play it, so having some people trying things out and suggesting ideas has been a wonderful experience I hope to continue.
Say: Thank you for the opportunity! I rarely ever give interviews in this industry because I often feel it’s the developer’s spotlight, not mine. But this time I’m one of the developers, and it’s been new and quite lovely to be able to take the time to do this. All ‘em feels and stuffs.
I want to echo Michael’s sentiment as well, I never expected to build up such a lovely community in such short amount of time – but we are quite thankful and happy people give us the time of the day at all. Thanks to Michael for believing in me, even when I don’t even believe in myself.