Life, death and a pair of antlers: making The Deer God

Life, death and a pair of antlers: making The Deer God

Just a few weeks ago, we at Crescent Moon Games launched our first original PC and console game, The Deer God. Despite releasing our own IP before, The Deer God was a turning point: focusing on PC and console, crowdfunding our development costs and having complete freedom to explore our own concept.

The Deer God was inspired by my personal love of nature and pixel art. Growing up, I was always out exploring in the woods, building forts and enjoying the beautiful scenery in Upstate New York. It was a great time in my life, and I remember spending most of my childhood there. I’d even be outside during the cold winter months.

With The Deer God, I wanted to try something different that I hadn’t seen before, which was to take pixel art and extrude it so that there could be more depth in a side-scrolling game. We traditionally developed on PC, optimizing for mobile with touchscreen controls; but the focus on PC as a platform allowed us to really experiment more with viewing distance and shaders. After I had a pixelated deer running around in that pixelated world, the game naturally evolved into a story about a hunting accident, inspired by a real-life event.

The cardinal, that little red bird that helps to protect your character, made it into the game  – oddly enough – because I was driving along one day, and noticed one in the middle of the road. I tried to swerve out of the way, but unfortunately ran it over. I think that was the first time I had ever seen a cardinal on a road – and I was the cause of its death. The Deer God is dedicated to that poor cardinal, and it felt only fitting to include him in the game somehow.

Life, death and a pair of antlers: making The Deer God

I had always wanted The Deer God to have randomized level generation, so that each time you played it would feel a bit different. It ultimately ended up as a mix of metroidvania, endless runner, and roguelike genres, with elements from all three – a long, streaming world with no backtracking. You’re always moving forward, but you’ll encounter the same terrain blocks if you haven’t yet completed them.

Permadeath was another logical step – if you run out of lives, you’re dead. I know it’s cruel, but that’s just the way life is. The Deer God has two playable modes – one with more traditional saving of your progress, and a hardcore mode that features permadeath; this hopefully allows different types of players to be happy.

There were a bunch of ideas thrown around that didn’t make it in though, mostly because of time constraints: deer dreams, karma effects, and “god” mode were all considered, but for whatever reason we weren’t able to include them. Early on, we even joked about having the player reincarnate as a plant – it would’ve been hilarious to make players sit there, maybe shaking a leaf or two. We’re still actively thinking about and working on the game though, even post-release: so there are always possibilities.

The Kickstarter process completely changed my mind on crowdfunding as well. I’d previously been skeptical but I now see it as being about more than funding. The support, ideas and passion from the community really helped make the game happen. The excitement level alone added so much energy to development. It’s really about building a community around your project and getting more people interested.

Life, death and a pair of antlers: making The Deer God

In the end, The Deer God is a game about reincarnation and religion. Being open-minded in regards to those phenomena actually led me to explore more views of what I think the nature of them truly is. I’ve read a lot of reincarnation stories and I believe that there has to be something to it – even if different religions might debate the finer details.

There are stories of young children between the ages of 2-5 that remember detailed accounts of their supposed past lives – and can remember, names, places and other details that seem impossible for those of that age to remember. It’s all very interesting to me and I have a feeling our next game will somehow be related to this idea as well.

Josh Presseisen

Josh Presseisen

Founder, Creative Director at Crescent Moon Games
Josh is the founder and creative director at Crescent Moon Games, a small indie studio that has worked on games for PC and mobile platforms. Their latest game, The Deer God, is available now on Steam.
Josh Presseisen
Josh Presseisen

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