As the Creative Director of Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle, Michele Giannone is well aware of the reception which his first Daymare: 1998 game received upon its release – with many players stating that whilst Invader Studios clearly had a lot of love and passion for the survival horror genre, their first game was janky and rough around the edges. This criticism wasn’t entirely unexpected, as the developer had (probably) bitten off more than it could chew, with Daymare: 1998 being made by only 5 people. Since then however, Michele Giannone has taken steps to address many of the gameplay issues which plagued his first game, and has also bolstered the number of people working on the Daymare prequel to 15. These changes have resulted in Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle getting much more favourable reviews from press outlets, with GamerBraves stating that the Invader Studios’ new game is “a solid step up from its predecessor“.

I spoke to Michele Giannone about his newly released Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle game, and also got to ask him as to how he and his studio have grown, as well as what his future plans are for the Daymare franchise. Enjoy!

I remember interviewing you for the first Daymare game where I talked about how the game deserved more recognition. You were obviously able to get that recognition as the game went on to get a physical release, and since then you’ve been able to work on a sequel – or a pseudo-sequel. Can I ask however… the first game was pretty much a traditional zombie game in the vein of classic Resident Evil. This new Sandcastle game however feels more like a Dead Space game… Why the shift in direction? At the same time, and from the first game to the second game, what have you learned as a creative director? What lessons are you taking forward from the first game to this new game? Which makes me realise… That was like 20 questions in one.

No problem… I hope I can answer them all. First of all, I want to say that Daymare: 1998 since the beginning was like a love letter to the classic survival horror game that was Resident Evil 2, as well as other games that are more zombie-like games. And we were pretty happy with it because it was the game that we wanted to do and to make back then. And we were also happy with the results that we got… About the sales. About everything… The numbers that we got, and are still getting. But maybe it was a different era…

Pre-Covid…

Yeah, that’s it… And after the release of the first game, we wanted to change some things with the second game, in that it’s a prequel… 1994 Sandcastle. We wanted to evolve the formula a bit and to show people what we could do. It was maybe easy to do another game that could have been like the first one, that was more or less simple, where we could have just tried to sell the same number of copies, and also have tried to get the same level of success. But we wanted to show something different. We wanted to show our skills, our creativity, our thoughts behind the game design. So we decided to evolve the formula, and to also do something that we’ve got a lot of in our game. It’s nostalgic and set in the nineties, but it’s not too action orientated like other games, and is therefore more appealing for different audiences. So we made a game that is still horror, where you can feel the tension and the fear. You get scared, but at the same time, you can also get satisfaction from fighting different enemies with different weapons. I know that on the outside, Sandcastle looks like Dead Space or something like it, but playing the game you find out that it’s actually a lot more closer to the old survival horror games. So it’s not a complete shift, but an evolution. And it seems that people understand that it was risky to change the formula after the first game, but after playing the demo, people seem to like it. So we are satisfied, because they understand that there’s been a change of mindset, and not just the game being changed completely.

And what lessons have you learned from the first game that you’re applying to the second game, and how have you grown as a creative director and industry professional?

You know, we were just 5 people. We were on a limited budget, and we knew that there were some limits to the first production – animation, cast, stuff like that. So when we started with this new production, we decided to hire more people. We are 15 people now. We’re still a small team for a game like this, but we have improved our skills, our expertise, and have worked on the weak points of the first game. After the release of the first game, we said that we will improve this, this, and this. And we wanted to do it, and we did it with this new game. So that’s the mindset behind the production of this new game.

You don’t have the same publisher…

No, it’s different. The first publisher was a Polish publisher (Destructive Creations), and in this case, it’s an Italian publisher (Leonardo Interactive). So we changed…

Different publishers bring with them different expectations, as well as different ways of doing things. You obviously have experience of working with different publishers, so for other studios that are maybe looking to go to a different publisher, what advice would you give them?

Well, you have to find the right partner that is on your side and has the budget that will allow you to have the conditions to work well. So we worked really well with the first publisher on the first game, but when we were doing pre-production on the second game, we knew that we needed more. So we asked them if they were interested in giving us more for this new game, and they said that they already had several projects, and couldn’t expose themselves too much for this new game. We understood, and we told them that we will try to find another publisher. And we did find another publisher – one that was a little bit bigger. And we worked on this new game for three years.

So it’s important to choose the right partner, because usually, and in our case, three years are pretty long, so you have to be able to work well with them. You have to have the same goal, the same ideas. So it’s important to find the right one. That’s the most important tip that I can give – based on our experience.

Invader Studios, with its first game, started out with what was essentially a love-letter to Resident Evil. And you’ve previously mentioned that you were able to get the attention of Capcom who then showed you around their company. Have you ever considered approaching Capcom with maybe making a Resident Evil side story?

Well, it’s probably our biggest dream. We started out with the unofficial remake of Resident Evil 2. We met them and have a really great friendship with them. I hope that when we’re ready, and I hope that something will happen with them. They usually work with other companies, but from what I understand, you have to be ready for it. And maybe after this second game, we might be ready to do something with them, and if not after this one, maybe after the next one. But it’s something that we definitely would like to do with them. It would be a dream come true.

You mentioned the next game… So does that mean that you are already working on the pre-production for the third game? And if so, is it going to be another Daymare title? And going back to the Daymare franchise, what’s the evolution going to be between the second game and the third game?

Let’s say that after the production of this game, keeping 15 people is pretty expensive. This means that we have to keep busy. The team is working on a game for another company, and we can’t say anything about that, but we are working on something different. But meanwhile, we are already working on the pre-production of the third Daymare game, because we’ve always talked about Daymare being a trilogy. So the first Daymare: 1998 game has already got a connection with the past, that we’ve got with this Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle prequel. But also with the final game that will close the trilogy, and which will close everything. So yes, we do want to evolve the formula again in comparison to the second game…

Does that mean that there’s going to be fog in the third game?

Who knows (laughs)…

What about psychedelic visuals?

Who knows (laughs)…

And will there be a “hill” in the title?

Maybe a hill (laughs)…

And will Daymare be pronounced “silent”-ly?

(Laughs) If only they weren’t working on it already (laughs again). But we already are thinking about the third Daymare game. I can confirm that. We’ve already said that after the first game, so it’s not a secret. We want to work on the third one, and we have clear ideas about it.

Would it be the same publisher?

I can’t say, but we’ll see…

Last question, and this is more about yourself… You’ve been in the industry for a while now. You originally started out as a modder, but are now working as a professional game developer. For people that are looking to get into the industry, what advice would you give them?

In my experience, I think it’s important to follow your passion, and to find the right people to work with. Because it’s important to have people that have the same passion, the same determination, the same objectives and goals. That’s probably the most important thing. I don’t think that you can do everything alone and on your own. You have to find the right people, the right partners. And also, if anyone says “no, that’s impossible”, don’t listen to them. If you are sure about your skills, you have to go ahead and try to find your own way. This is what I can say, because it’s what happened to us. Everyone during the production of our games said, “no, you don’t have the money. You don’t have the skills. You can’t do that. Do something simpler”. But we said, “no”. If you are trying to do something, you have to do something that you love, and that you think you can do. It’s been tough… Really tough… But we are here now. We are happy with our story, and our decisions. So that’s what I can advise and suggest.

Any last words?

No… Thank you so much for your interest, and I hope the second game will be a success. I hope that people like it, and understand that behind the game, there were only 15 people working on it. We are not a huge company with a huge budget. We did everything that we could to make a good game. A good quality immersive game that has certain emotions and feelings, and which is also fun.

Mr Giannone… Thank you so much.

No, thank you so much as always.

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