Developer Talks: Pinstripe's Thomas Brush

We gain insight into a beautiful indie adventure game about man's journey through hell to rescue his daughter.

8 months ago by Morgan Shaver in Interviews

This week, a gorgeous new indie game released to the Steam Store that instantly grabbed our attention. Pinstripe, a game by the one-man dev team Thomas Brush, is one of the best side-scrollers we've played in quite some time. Not only are the visuals striking, but the story and voice acting (with special guests including PewDiePie) are superb, and really serve to pull us deeper into the game.

Pinstripe isn't the fist puzzle exploration game to utilize dark themes and imagery. However, it is the first we've played that managed to really leave an emotional impact on us. This comes to a head as you gradually confront protagonist Teddy's own personal demons during his quest to rescue his three-year-old daughter Bo from the clutches of the evil Pinstripe. 

Recently, we were able to get a hold of the talented man behind Pinstripe, Thomas Brush, to ask him a few questions about the game and the lengthy developmental process behind it. 

Q: We find it inspiring to know that you created Pinstripe entirely on your own over the course of five years and funded it through Kickstarter, all while chipping away at the game during your time at college. Could you explain some of the difficulties you faced putting Pinstripe together on your own and how you overcame them?

A: "Follow-through. It’s so easy to lose passion for something, especially over the course of five years. I think 30% of the time I was passionate about Pinstripe and 70% often frustrated and tired. For me, following through with Pinstripe was dreaming about launch week.

I had a vision of how I wanted the community to respond to my work, and I pressed in day after day, regardless of my passion or energy, to fulfill that dream of one-day launching a perfect Steam title. Dreaming about financial gain was also part of it, although, later I learned this is a poisonous way to think, both to your work and your emotional state."

Q: In some of your descriptions of Pinstripe’s sound and exploration elements, you cite games like King’s Quest, Myst, and The Legend of Zelda. How did these games inspire you throughout Pinstripe’s creative process? Are there any other games that have impacted you as a game developer?

A: "It’s hard to say. To be honest, I’m not sure those games actually reflect Pinstripe anymore. I thought they did during the Kickstarter, but looking back, I think I simply took tiny bits from each game that struck a strong chord in me from when my brothers would let me watch them play them growing up. Hmmm.

It’s kind of funny thinking back on why I wrote these down. I think it was the music of these games. Like the Daventry theme from King’s Quest, or the Outset Island Theme from Windwaker. I understand that these are completely random, but throughout the development of Pinstripe I thought of these two songs often."

Q: When you first load into Pinstripe, you’re immediately pulled in by the array of gorgeous visuals. As a developer, would you say a game’s visuals are paramount to conveying not only a particular tone, but story elements as well?

A: "For me, yes, alongside music that matches the visuals. I have this weird theory that on some spiritual level, music and visuals are identical and no different from one another, and when an artist is able to pair them up just right, the audience is able to sense some unseen, spiritual pattern that stirs up emotions.

That kind of sounds weird saying though, so I guess I’m trying to say visuals and music have a way of moving someone if they are both cohesive. So yeah, they are paramount. A story is really just a way to emotionally connect with someone through some medium in sequence, and for me, visuals do it best."

Q: Along with the game’s captivating visuals, Pinstripe is backed by a beautiful, and at times haunting, soundtrack. What were some of your musical inspirations for Pinstripe’s soundtrack, and have you ever created music outside of the realm of gaming?  

A: "I used to do the whole band scene in high school. I would sing and play covers of MGMT and that’s how I met my wife. Once I got married, surprise surprise, I kind of stopped doing that and would just write classical-type music in my office on my keyboard. I’m heavily inspired by this one song called Gymnopedie No. 1 by Erik Satie.

I also like Chopin and Debussy. It’s funny, I was reading in this TIME article about Pinstripe that the music in the game is kind of counterintuitive, in that you would expect something a bit more Danny Elfman-like. Still, I think these classical artists certainly had an impact on the music in Pinstripe for the better. Oh, and I also love the Skyward Sword soundtrack. So good."

Q: Many people consider “Hell” in terms of fire and brimstone. However, your take on Hell is told in 6 different levels, many of which take place in a barren, cold winter landscape. I was extremely intrigued by this. Why did you decide to go with this particular depiction of Hell, and does it have anything to do with the personal struggle of the game’s main character, Teddy?

A: "I think someone trudging through depression or some mental illness would choose anything over their mental suffering, even potentially fire and brimstone. So Hell to me is a place where you're constantly suffering through emotional pain.

Insecurity and loneliness, requiring perhaps a reliance on a disgusting substance like Sack Juice to feel better, sounds like the perfect Hell. Loneliness to me was best visualized by a cold, barren world. And yes, these visuals certainly have to do with Teddy. As the story unfolds, we learn Teddy is the perfect example of someone going through an emotional Hell."

Q: Each character in Pinstripe feels extremely defined and well-rounded. Were any of the characters in Pinstripe inspired by people you know in real life, and to add to that, what was it like creating Pinstripe’s eclectic cast of characters?

A: "Challenging. Three years into development, I decided to scrap most of the characters in the game, and created these new ones to fit what was already built.

It sucked, especially when IGF judges revealed to me the game was emotionally empty due to the flat characters. The answer was a simple YouTube video explaining how Disney created their empathetic protagonists and antagonists. As for people in my real life, I think most of them carry an obnoxious trait I see in myself. I know that sounds pretentious but it’s very true."

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to an aspiring indie developer? Are there any hardships they need to be aware of (resources, time, learning curve), and what are some of the most positive experiences you’ve had while working as an indie dev?

A: "I wish I could just sit and talk face to face with aspiring indie devs. This is the hardest career path I can think of. It’s emotionally draining. I can’t think of another way to put it. I was just walking through my living room on my way to type up these interview answers and thought, 'I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to go live at the beach.'

Obviously I’ll wake up tomorrow and keep going.

As for resources, it’s pretty expensive. Time is money, so you’ll potentially spend a good chunk of cash on your project when all is said and done. It’s funny how quickly money can go when you are pursuing something you truly love. For me, a good chunk of 'money' was just time spent working in the evenings when I could have been freelancing or spending time with my family. This past year though was fairly expensive as well with actual cash purchases for QA, localization, marketing, travel, and voice acting."

We want to send another huge "thank you" to Thomas Brush for taking the time to answers these questions, as they really helped us gain new insight into the game and creative mind that brought it to life. If you're looking to learn more about Pinstripe, be sure to check out the Steam Store page for Pinstripe, or visit the official Pinstripe website where you can check out some gorgeous media from the game!