Interview: Pinstripe’s Thomas Brush

Pinstripe follows an ex-minister through Hell as he searches for his daughter, and the development of this beautiful 2D adventure game has been the consuming passion of Thomas Brush for more than five years. Brush composed the music, wrote the code, designed the levels, and created the art; the game released in April of 2017, and NerdQ’s Erik Meyer caught up with the one-man show to reflect on the project’s journey.

Erik Meyer: Very few games get made with a team of one, much less a sidescroller combining lush graphics, nuanced classical music, and all the other aspects that make Pinstripe unique. Describe your workflow process; how do you go about adding elements and building your world? How have the disparate parts come together?

Thomas Brush: It’s hard to describe my work-flow, especially for the first 4 years of development. During that time, I had a day job, so I would wake up an hour before work to add content to Pinstripe, then scramble to get some work done on Pinstripe during lunch-break. Finally, when I came home, I’d jump on the computer after eating dinner with my wife. In terms of adding content to the game and building the world, it was fairly spastic, in that I would guess and check whether a puzzle worked properly after the level’s illustration was already completed. Looking back, this was a pretty inefficient way to build a game.

EM: While the visual look of the game might appear lighthearted to some, the story focuses on an ex-minister venturing through Hell, seeking his daughter and her kidnapper. What have you held as a compass in balancing fun, engaging gameplay and darker themes?

TB: I’m not quite sure. I just build the story, music, and illustration all at once, and I hoped that for some reason everything would hold together and make emotional sense. I feel I’ve accomplished that, and I guess the only way I can explain it is I simply relied on artistic instinct. I think this is part of the reason why making games is so emotionally draining for me — pretty much every aspect of the development was based on faith that players would understand the balance of the game’s pretty visuals contrasted by dark themes.

EM: A highly successful Kickstarter campaign and numerous awards have helped the game build momentum and given you the ability to focus your attention on the project entirely. What have you learned along the way with these media and funding experiences? What responses have surprised you, and where have there been challenges?

TB: I think a lot of people are afraid of Kickstarter because they think they will be “beholden” to the backers. Basically, instead of getting a single publisher to help roll out the game, you have thousands of angry customers controlling the game’s release. This was certainly not true for Pinstripe — my backers were super generous and kind, and I really didn’t have any complaints on release. I think the biggest challenge was keeping backers interested through a year of working on the game after the campaign. Pinstripe is a very distinct game, and there’s only so much depth to the game before launch that you can Tweet about. At one point during the final year of development, I kind of gave up trying to keep people interested, and just trusted that my backers would be excited on launch.

EM: Before Pinstripe, you made Coma and Skinny; how did those projects inform your creative process, skill sets, and approach as a developer?

TB: People loved Coma. Skinny, not so much. Basically, whatever Coma did really well I wanted to do for Pinstripe. I didn’t really replicate anything from Skinny except perhaps some item collection. That game is boring.

EM: You’ve been working on Pinstripe for half a decade, and projects that happen over a longer span of time tend to live in the heads of their creators. How has Pinstripe benefited from this lone-wolf approach, and what aspects of the game happened in years 4 and 5 that might otherwise have never come to pass?

TB: The Pinstripe you see today on the Steam page is a result of the 4th and 5th year. The first three years were pretty much overhauled to a large degree, because those years were learning years for me. It’s an odd thing when you realize 3 years of work was a house of cards and needed to collapse to start fresh and build a more solid game.

EM: Topics like faith and the afterlife can be tricky with audiences, but the world you’ve created is beautiful, well-executed, and inviting. When devs take on difficult topics, what do you see as critical tropes to avoid? What do you see as essential in the pursuit of rich, literary playing experiences?

TB: This is a really good question. Any trope that is hard right or left in terms of faith should be avoided, at-least in artistic expression. That’s my opinion for now — it certainly could change. Does Pinstripe have a deep and distinct point-of-view? Yes. But it’s one that has to be dissected and worked for. An author’s viewpoint is better digested when it is sought after, rather than obvious and uninvited.

EM: On your Kickstarter page, you list Kevin Abernathy, Tom Fulp, Steve Brush, and Ben Schipper as people who have given critical industry-specific input. What kind of help have you asked for along the way, and what answers did you find vital?

TB: Kevin Abernathy was crucial in helping me understand YouTubers. YouTubers have busy schedules, distinct desires, and career objectives. My brother Steve Brush helped QA the game and offer gameplay advice, while Tom Fulp introduced me to some amazing industry professionals that lifted me on their shoulders.

EM: Pinstripe has clearly been a project of huge scope and demanded a great deal of devotion on your part. As the game is now available on Steam and you look ahead, what do the next few months look like, on your end?

TB: I’ve got to finish up some Kickstarter backer rewards, port Pinstripe to other platforms, and continue reaching out! Marketing for a game doesn’t end on launch. In a way, it’s kind of just beginning 🙂

In case you missed it, here’s the Pinstripe trailer:

Author: Erik Meyer

Erik edits content, writes articles, conducts interviews, and draws silly things for The NerdQ. He also produces Planning Session, a comic showcasing dev discussions.

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