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Tom Grochowiak Interview

In my first interview ever, I had a conversation with a Polish developer named Tom Grochowiak. Just entering the indie scene, good ol’ Tom wanted to make an EVN after a string of smaller hits. Little did I know the attention that title, Cinders, would grab in the independent gaming world on its release a year later. So sit back and enjoy!
VNs Now: According to your website, you’ve spent five years in the video games industry. Then you were ‘regurgitated’, which couldn’t have been too pleasant, but what has your experience taught you as you went into independent games?

Tom Grochowiak: I quite enjoyed my time in the video games industry, to be honest. It’s a hard work, but you meet cool people, and I was lucky to work on games I really liked. I learned that it’s not the best place to be when it comes to job security, though. I know only a handful of people who worked in the same company for more than 2 years. It’s not a big problem when you are just starting out, but becomes a liability as years go by. It was one of the reasons why we decided to go indie — in a way it’s actually more stable and predictable.In general, I learned a lot during my work. In design, marketing, business, programming — hell — everything. I feel like I’m a much better game developer than I was few years ago.

VNs NowWhen you first started MoaCube, did you expect it to become a full indie game studio as quickly as it did? Are you happy with the decisions you’ve made so far in directing MoaCube’s development? 

TOM: MoaCube’s conception actually marked our transition into full-time indie. Before, we were just a bunch of friends working on ArcMagi in our past times, without any official name to go under. When we decided to give full-time indie a shot, we knew we need a brand and a nice website for our work. So we came with MoaCube. The story behind the name is too silly to tell it in public ;). So far I’m happy about how it’s going. It’s good to finally have a proper website for our team and a growing fanbase. Seems that people are interested in our work. But I’ll reserve my final judgement for after Cinders is out.

VNs NowIn the last few weeks you’ve recruited Ayu Sakata, who is the mind behind SakeVisual and specializes is visual novels directed at a female audience. In any other industry, this would be an sign of expansion so what are you guys planning now?

TOM: In our case it was just a matter of survival. Ayu contacted us when we started showing the game to the VN audience, and offered her help. When later we realized we won’t be able to finish the whole thing on time with me doing both the game and all the writing, we decided to accept her offer. So far we’re very happy about the cooperation. Ayu is a very skilled writer, and much more experienced in the genre than we are.

VNs Now: Cinders is your first Visual Novel project and it will be released this Summer. From everything you’ve talked about on your website, this is a role-playing game driven by folklore rather than by pop culture. What can you tell us about your inspiration in developing this game?

Tom: It’s a role-playing game as in “you play a role” not as in “RPG”, mind you :). Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between pop-culture and folklore, especially with a story as old and established as Cinderella. We try to mix both. We have many elements that come from the more traditional telling of the story, but we also have some references to the most well-know recent versions, as well as several additions of our own. Like two “Fairy Godmothers” representing two opposite ways of thinking about fate and life. We treat the fairytale more like a setting or framework to tell our own story. We actually picked Cinderella because we don’t really like it and its morals. Classic Cinderella is an extremely passive character. The moral of the story seems to be: “be a good girl and take whatever life throws at you without complaining, then maybe you’ll find a rich husband”. Ugh! We wanted our modern Cinderella to be an active woman, making her own choices. We also thought that The Stepmother and Sisters could be very interesting characters if developed more. Our game focuses a lot on their motivations and complex relations between them.

VNs Now: As an American, I think of Visual Novels as having a distinct Japanese origin. In fact, many English visual novels have an obvious anime influence. But the art of Cinders is so unique and, frankly, refreshing in comparison to some other products. How did you decide to go in such a different direction with the game’s look? 

Tom: It was hardly a decision, actually :). We don’t like anime style too much. It’s just not something we could do. We aren’t otakus, and we don’t really know much about conventions and cliches used in Japanese games, so we have approached this without any pre-conceptions on how it should look or feel. It’s like: “this is a game we wanted to make, and this is how we think it’s going to work best”.


VNs Now: Most major video game studios have some sort of franchise that defines them. Bioware has Mass Effect, Square Enix has Final Fantasy, etc. etc. Considering how much you’ve put into this game and considering this does well, do you see Cinders as the potential flagship franchise for MoaCube or more of a single game unto itself?

Tom: We have plans for at least one more fairytale VN, and one another game that VN audience should like. But we don’t want a strict franchise. We like to try different things each time, and while all our games will certainly have common themes and style, we don’t plan on making straight sequels.  Indie games have that advantage over AAA productions, that they are less driven by franchise and more by team’s general brand and recognition. If people will think that MoaCube makes cool games, they will try our future works, even if they aren’t named “Cinders 3: Re-armed” ;).

VNs Now: According to your website you are also redoing your first game, Magi. What has it been like developing ArcMagi so far and what changes can fans expect from it?

TOM: ArcMagi is a different beast. It’s developed slowly in our past time. It’s more of my personal project, and I’m having a blast working on it. Because it’s not treated as a project crucial to our survival, we have a certain leeway when it comes to development. We can iterate gameplay and mechanics countless times, without having to worry about deadlines.  Fans can expect it to be an entirely different game from Magi. Albeit with similar feel and gameplay. We haven’t left a single feature unchanged, and some were re-worked drastically. Then there’s of course the new art…

VNs Now: Are you thinking about for MoaCube a year from now? What do you see for your group heading into the future?

Tom: Sure I do. In one year, the studio will either be dormant (if Cinders fails), waiting for us to give it another try, or it should finally start getting some stability, allowing us to work on longer and more experimental games without having to worry about deadlines so much.  I know we currently suffer from a certain dissociative identity disorder, with our fan base being separated between mostly-female VN audience and more hardcore mostly-male Magi players. We would like to somehow bridge both with our future releases, and we already have several cool ideas. These games just require more development time, so we can only start thinking about them when our studio becomes stable.In the future, I would like MoaCube to have a strong presence in indie gaming.  But not as a “troubled-artists collective” — a trend that seems to be dominating the indie scene now — but in more traditional sense. Like: “MoaCube? I know them, they make some awesome games”.

VNs NowThanks for taking the time to talk with us!

TOM: Thanks to you, too :). Was a pleasure.

See more of Cinders here! Also pre-orders for the game are open here!