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Spring Showcase Studio Highlight: TongueSurgery

MonRiverGames is humbled to be joined by developer, designer, musician, and artist TongueSurgery at the upcoming Spring Showcase! We sat down with Kevin Altman to learn more about his journey as a self-taught creator, his experiences as a solo developer, his perspective on the games industry, and more. To meet TongueSurgery and playtest his latest title, Tempest Incorporated, join us on April 1st at the Spring Showcase! Find more details at the end of this post!

 

“Like a lot of people, I just started playing games at a young age. I was like, oh! This is so cool! How can I do this?”


A lifelong, multifaceted learner, Kevin Altman (TongueSurgery) credits some of his favorite childhood titles, such as Dust: An Elysian Tail, with planting the seed for his love of making games. Even though he had no formal education in game development or design, it hasn’t stopped Altman from publishing a variety of games ranging from 2D side-scrollers to 3D narratives.


“My math skills weren’t great, and my programming skills weren’t great, so I had to do a lot of self-teaching later on and carve out time for that,” he said regarding his experience breaking into game development. “But, you know, with modern game engines and software, they’re so advanced now and so sophisticated now. They’re much easier to pick up and learn.”


“Shout out to Sean Spalding and Tom Francis on YouTube! They make a lot of great tutorials.” When asked about the resources he used to learn development, design, sound, and more, he relied heavily on YouTube for tutorials on GameMaker, one of Altman’s favorite development platforms, and the one he used to create his first complete game, Dragon Daycare. “There's so much information out there. There's certainly somebody who has had the same problem as yourself, and if you're lucky, somebody else has answered it, or they've solved it themselves.”


The title screen of Dragon Daycare


“A lot of it was just taking this idea and running with it,” he said, describing his experience developing Dragon Daycare. “Just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.” In the game, players manage a daycare full of mischievous baby dragons as they wreak havoc, light fires, and cause chaos! He used the game as an opportunity to sharpen his design skills. “There’s different dragon types, and they do different things to the environment. I always like a lot of different systems affecting the player in the world, so it was just me getting my feet wet with that and learning design principles.”


Altman’s diverse skill set came into play as he also designed and created the pixel art and original soundtrack for the game. “Everything is self taught, I have no formal training in anything.” Dragon Daycare’s signature cheerful shuffle was created using FL Studio, and all of the pixel art was of his design.



Put out fires, un-freeze ice, and keep property damage to a minimum!


His next game, Aqua Lucerna, presented a new set of opportunities and challenges for the primarily solo developer. “That was my first team project,” he said. Originally created for the 2023 Global Game Jam, Aqua Lucerna gave Altman a new perspective on working within a team dynamic. “It was definitely an experience, because that’s when I really learned that [my teammates] don’t have access to what’s inside my head. I have to really be specific about what I thought to get my ideas across.”


He quotes Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design, agreeing that “there’s hearing and reading what they’re saying, but then there's trying to look at it through their own lens, and what they’re trying to get across. That’s definitely a challenge, because I’m kind of shy. I’m introverted most of the time.”



Investigate the disturbance and uncover clues about what really happened at the Ministry of Light.


In addition to learning more about team development, Aqua Lucerna was also TongueSurgery’s first 3D game. Having originally gone to school to become a draftsman, he had some rudimentary training in computer modeling, but Aqua Lucerna still challenged him to refine his skills. “I did very little 3D low-poly character art,” he said. “I went to school to be a draftsman, so there was a little bit of a jumping-off point, but it was only for machine parts. Everything was a 90-degree corner, so [character modeling, animating, and rigging] was a fun challenge to learn.”


Aqua Lucerna was also a departure from the jovial feel of Dragon Daycare. “In the far future, humanity has retreated to the ocean’s depths from a hostile world,” the game description reads. A machine critical to support life has been shut down, and you are sent to investigate. Find the equipment necessary to restore functionality and search for clues to find out what happened at the facility.”


“It was inspired by the classic Resident Evil from like 1996,” he said. The moody, third-person narrative RPG was a favorite for its recognizable fixed-camera and impactful dialogue. “I just like those kinds of games. The Resident Evil franchise is still going strong, and they’ve reinvented itself multiple times.” Aqua Lucerna added edgy diversity to TongueSurgery’s growing portfolio, and shows off his appreciation for world-building and player experience.



Scavenge for parts and repair the Water Lantern.


Altman’s love for strong narratives and the special relationship between character and player is evident in one of his favorite titles, Bloodborne. “All of the systems and world-building and mechanics are so interwoven with the themes of the story. The storytelling through these elements are just a chef’s kiss.”


We also wanted to know his perspective on why video games are such a special medium for art and storytelling. “It has to be the interactive element,” he responded. “Whether it’s a game where you can make your own character, or a game where you’re literally taking the role of another character, you really get to put yourself in different shoes.” It is easy to see how the game has impacted his development philosophy and goals, as his current title strives to blend high-velocity 2D action with unique character personalities and a witty storyline revealed through dialogue and the environment to reward players’ investment in the narrative.


Inspired by classic titles like UN Squadron, Progear, and Starfox 3D, Tempest Incorporated is a side-scroller shooter that will make its debut at the MonRiverGames Spring Showcase. “I want it to be more character-focused,” he said. “It’s about a group of best friends who founded their own company, and they’re hired to fight back against an invading force using their unique abilities.”


Whether it’s riding into battle on a giant wasp that eats projectiles or manning the mega-laser, each playable character will bring a distinct individual personality to the party. Lively banter and game-length character relationships will be a welcomed addition to the action side-scroller genre. Altman hopes to publish the game to Itch, Steam, and the Nintendo Switch platform. Make sure to stop by TongueSurgery’s booth at the Spring Showcase for an exclusive playtest!

 

Check out TongueSurgery on social media and itch.io!


Don’t forget to RSVP for the Spring Showcase to playtest the growing roster of regional indie games!

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