When I attended Gamescom 2023 recently, I met loads of awesome game developers. I had the chance to try out some demos and chat with the creators, which was an incredible experience. One developer that I met was Yazz Herron from Italic Pig, the studio behind the upcoming Paleo Pines.
Not only did I get to try out the demo, but Yazz very kindly agreed to do an interview with me. We conducted it over Zoom, which is great news for all of you! This way, you can watch the video and/ or read the article, whichever you prefer. I’ve included timestamps for all the questions, so if you do choose to watch the video, you can skip to the parts you’re most interested in.
I haven’t written the conversation verbatim, as the article would end up being about 5 times the length, but I’ve captured the essence of the answers. I’ve also included some of my favorite quotes. Yazz was incredibly fun to talk to, and I’m excited for you all to get to know her and learn more about Paleo Pines!
How Did the Initial Idea Come Around, and How Did It Develop?
Paleo Pines was conceptualized 4 years ago, about a year before Yazz joined the team, so she wasn’t there for its conception. Nevertheless, she was happy to share what she’d heard from her colleagues. It was originally created by Jordan Bradley for a game jam, and she had the idea for a cozy ranching sim but with dinosaurs.
In Yazz’s words, dinosaurs were “the only thing that could possibly make it better, obviously”. The idea really resonated with the studio, and they wanted to keep pushing and see what they could do. “Here we are, it’s happening now”.
Why Dinosaurs? Were You Ever Really Into Dinosaurs?
Jordan was a big fan of dinosaurs, hence the initial inclusion, but everyone in the studio was on board, “All of us had that dinosaur phase”. Yazz talked about how, as kids, you feel that sense of excitement in knowing that these amazing creatures really existed, but that you tend to drift away as you get older.
Paleo Pines brings you back to that childhood feeling. Apparently, the game director always wanted the game to “feel like childhood summers.” They wanted to bring that childhood interest in dinosaurs back to adults.
Yazz shared a fun anecdote about her own memories of dinosaurs. She talked about how she remembered Apatosaurus, which is a large, long-necked dino. She joked that she’d thought, “He’s tall, like me! I wanna be like this dinosaur, he’s my spirit dinosaur”.
What Makes Your Game Different from All the Other Farming Games Out There?
The saturation of farming sims in the indie genre is something that was talked about in the very first episode of the Indie Game Culture Podcast, so I felt obligated to bring it up. Yazz acknowledged the abundance of farming games and even referred to September 2023 as “Farming Sim month” since there are so many upcoming releases. Still, she referred to them as “amazing titles,” so she’s not derogatory about them.
She didn’t want to compare and contrast the titles as she thinks every game is valid and there’s always space in the genre for something new, but she says that what makes Paleo Pines stand out is the sense of community.
She acknowledged the existence of the farm and the ranch, but talked about how you could play hours and hours of the game without ever touching a carrot or a potato. You can just go around interacting with NPCs or growing your herd of dinos by finding new ones in the wild and taming them. “It’s just got this extra feeling of belonging like you’ve found your little tribe.”
Can You Tell Us More about the NPCs in the Game?
The NPCs in Paleo Pines are Yazz’s favorite part of the game. She claimed that if you put out dinosaur content, people go nuts for it, but people never seem as excited about NPCs. We then discussed how we both agreed that that’s a shame since NPCs are great and that they bring character and personality.
She mentioned Granny Agami, one of the first characters you meet, who is tiny and sweet, but “calls a spade a spade” and doesn’t mince words; she’s very direct. She takes you under her wing and introduces you to everyone else. Yazz refers to her as a “mother character” but says that Granny would hate being called that.
She also talked about two other NPCs, Owen and Marie. Owen likes to write in books and study the dinosaurs from afar, whereas Marie wants to get in there and track them/ chase them down, and look at them up close. They both have very different approaches for the same end goal. It causes some friction that the player has to get involved with to calm them down.
Having the NPCs “gives that extra level of intrigue” because you become part of their story. She says how often in games, NPCs have a backstory but not much of a future, and you just become part of the woodwork, whereas in Paleo Pines, you take a more active role in shaping their lives.
Can You Choose Your Own Playstyle?
I asked whether you have the freedom to decide how you play, or if it’s linear in what it encourages you to do. She says you can play how you want to, which is what makes it so fun for her to pitch the game to people, “This game can be whatever you want it to be; it doesn’t have to be a farm.”
Theoretically, you could play the game with no farming whatsoever. Some people like to go around getting collectibles (that will definitely be me!), and others prefer to get NPC levels up to as close to best friends as they can. There are so many things you could be doing. When she was doing the play-testing, sometimes she got too distracted and had to remind herself to be responsible and tend to her farm for a little bit.
How Many Things Are There for You to Discover in Your Journal?
I was keen to know more about this since the journal had been in the demo, and I’d been able to fill in new entries. Sadly, she’s not allowed to give official numbers for collectibles, but Yazz assured me there’s plenty. You can fill out journal pages for different kinds of items, such as crops. She talks about how each season of the game has different crops and other collectibles that can be found during it. She says that some crops will grow better in certain seasons, but you can still grow them in other seasons if you want.
The seasons have fun names; for example, the equivalent of autumn is called ‘Cretumnus’. I love that they’ve included this aspect of the game, and I’m grateful she shared about how seasons will impact the journal.
She also hints at other more mysterious collectibles that she’s not allowed to elaborate on, but that are of interest to an NPC called Zara, who sends you out to discover more. My best guess is that they’re lore-related and are about the backstory of the area and the dinosaurs since I got Yazz to admit that Zara is a historian.
Did You Consider Any Other Art Styles
Anyone with game development knowledge or experience knows that games tend to go through many changes from start to finish. But Yazz said that their original concepts are very similar to the finished article, which isn’t common for a lot of games.
Apparently, it went through a phase where the art was going to be a bit more low-poly since that was the trend at the time, but eventually, they settled on the cartoony style, and it was always intended to be cute. We both agreed that it was the right choice since the final designs are much better than most low-poly assets.
Yazz says the style really appeals to her, although she’s not one of the artists. She joked that her own art skills tended to be more like stick figures. She talked about how she was already a fan of the game before she even got the job working for the studio, and had been following updates for Paleo Pines from the beginning since it was a big deal to have a game studio based in Northern Ireland.
How Hard Was It Deciding on the Different Color Schemes for the Dinosaurs?
Yazz really enjoyed this question, and eagerly told me, “That’s actually quite an interesting process that we went through.” At first, it was just about getting each dinosaur modeled so that the animators could do their thing, so the focus was just on getting one base texture in the game. These are the textures that Yazz always remembers and thinks of for each dinosaur. It was only towards the end of development that they started putting in alternative colors.
Some colors are references to other games or ideas. She mentions how one color palette is inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and some others are pride flag colors. Originally, there was only gonna be one color per dinosaur, which Yazz didn’t think was a good idea, “Why limit ourselves?”.
There’s a great mix now of more natural-looking dinosaurs, which are her favorites, and then more wild and out-there colors. They even did a competition where people in their community could submit color ideas, and the winning design was a strawberry T-rex. Personally, I can’t wait to see these in the game.
How Do You Animate Movement for Animals You’ve Got No Living Reference for?
I was very curious to hear the answer to this one, given that dinosaurs died millions of years ago, so their movements aren’t able to be studied. Yazz is one of 3 animators, and they had 30+ dinosaurs, all needing around 50 animations each, “Our work was cut out for us from the beginning”. Yazz joined the team a year later than the others and talked about how the other 2 animators really helped her get used to the style that Paleo Pines was going for since she was nervous about not having references to work from.
Once she was confident about that, she put her own spin on it. She drew from real-life inspirations such as her dogs, or how cats can get sassy with you, or how it feels to ride a horse. They also had a palaeontologist on the team called Natalia, who let them know whether or not their animations were realistic, given the limitations of a dinosaur’s body.
But they also had the mentality of “It still has to look cute, and if they didn’t do it in real life, they should have, so we’re putting it in any way.” The science side and the cute side had to strike a balance. I was very impressed that they actually had a dinosaur expert who was able to advise them about this; they’d really thought of everything.
Apart from Dinosaurs, Are There Any Other Animals in the Game?
“Yes and No”. She talked about the distinction between a dinosaur and a prehistoric mammal, but it’s all just technicalities. Apart from that, it’s just dinosaurs on the island, as they were keen to make them the only focus. “It’s Paleo Pines, not Puppy Pines“. You might get butterflies flying around, but they’re just for atmospheric reasons rather than anything that affects the game.
What Time Period Is the Game Set in?
This was something I was a tad confused about since the game seems to meld different time periods together. But Yazz’s answer made a lot of sense. She told me how it’s left to the player’s interpretation. You have dinosaurs there alongside more modern agricultural practices that wouldn’t have existed at the same time as each other. The NPCs can also look quite modern in the way they dress and talk, but the game is also simplistic in terms of style, tools, buildings, etc.
Paleo Pines is not intended to reference any particular period from our own world, this is just a separate world where dinosaurs and humans exist simultaneously. “Disconnect from your own timeline and hop into this one.”
How Have You Felt about the Positive Response?
Since being announced, Paleo Pines has gathered a small yet eager following, so I wanted to get Yazz’s thoughts on the fan response. She admitted that she’d never expected the game to grow as popular as it is currently and that she was “Completely blown away.” She was especially surprised since their marketing team is small, and they all have other jobs within the studio. For example, Yazz herself is an animator and a marketer.
Yet, despite not having dedicated and experienced marketing professionals, they’ve been able to get awesome reach just by knowing their own content and pushing out the stuff that they think is great. The fans seem to appreciate it, with people loving the game. Yazz spoke about how kind the community is, “Even the critiques we get are the kindest critiques you could get”; she’s very appreciative of feedback.
They’ve also had some big growth moments from streamers playing, which Yazz and the team have found overwhelming. She gave an analogy about how “It’s like giving someone the keys to your house”. They’ve been working on it for so long but eventually had to relinquish that control and let players explore on their own. She talked about how emotional it is to watch people play something she had a hand in making.
She was initially so nervous when they made the demo available, but the response has been amazing; she’s so grateful for the community. They even have a Slack channel called ‘Feel Good Feedback’ where they share the positive comments they see.
How Are You Feeling Ahead of the Full Release?
“We’re feeling every emotion all the time, all at once.” There’s a huge mix of emotions – excited for people to play it, nervous they won’t like it, sad that it’s the end of an era. She’s excited for all the players as for them, it’s the beginning, but for the studio, it’s the end of years of development. They’ve been working on it for so long, and they’re finally putting it out there.
This was Yazz’s very first project, as she joined the team straight after uni, so it’s really emotional for her. She says that the demo helped calm her nerves because people have had the chance to play some of it, and they’ve enjoyed it. Obviously, the focus right now is on the launch, but there’s definitely a feeling of wondering what’s next, especially since it’s been so busy while they prepare for the release.
Following on from the last question, I wanted to know what was going to be next for Italic Pig. Yazz admitted that she isn’t certain and it’ll be the higher-ups who decide, but that they are currently playing around with some new ideas. However, although new ideas are being considered, she also thinks that if there were a chance for DLC or Paleo Pines 2 then they’d jump on that. It’ll very much depend on the success of the game.
She said that they already have so many ideas for a sequel from having worked on the first one. There are so many things they’d want to add or do differently, plus the community have given them a lot of ideas. “Multiplayer would be amazing”, she also mentions other kinds of dinosaurs such as swimming ones or long-necked ones.
I expressed my enthusiasm for these ideas since they all sound so fun. Yazz said that if the game does well, she thinks they’d definitely expand on Paleo Pines. They all love that world so much, so they’d be happy to return to it.
How Did You Decide Which Dinosaurs to Include in the Game?
I knew from the demo that not every dinosaur had been included in the game, so I wanted to know more about how they’d chosen which ones to include. She said that their actual decision process was pretty boring. They started out with all the types of dinosaurs but then narrowed it down to what they could realistically get done in a sensible amount of time, and which ones fit logistically in the world of the game.
She gave the example of there being a rope bridge in the game, and how you couldn’t have larger dinosaurs such as long-necks crossing that bridge because it would break. It wouldn’t make sense to have something huge like a Diplodocus in the same world as something tiny like the Archaeopteryx, and she mentioned problems with general size scaling.
They would have needed different biomes for swimming dinosaurs, which would have been a whole new development challenge. So choosing the dinosaurs happened naturally based on what was practical, which meant that a few did get cut, much to Yazz’s disappointment. She couldn’t say the exact final number of dinosaurs in Paleo Pines, just that it’s over 30. She claimed that all the dinosaurs have a solid purpose and reason for being in the game, even if that reason is just that they’re cute.
Did You Encounter Any Setbacks during Production?
Yazz couldn’t really answer for the other departments, so she spoke from the perspective of an animator. They’d been struggling to finalize the player design, and even earlier this year, they still didn’t have a firm model in place, and they decided to completely change the player’s face last minute.
All the NPCs and the player had their faces changed from 2D to 3D, which was a massive undertaking. Although she agreed with the call, it was a lot of work, as the player alone needed 70-100 animations with the new face. It was a challenge as there wasn’t much time before the game’s release.
She also said that perhaps the biggest setback for the team was having to restrict the game based on practicality when they wanted it to be able to have everything. She talked about the struggle of head over heart: “Can we get it done vs. we just really want it in the game”. They had to let go of some concepts that they ideally wanted to include.
Is There Customization for the Character?
One thing I love about modern games is that they often give you the chance to customize your look, so I was eager to find out if this was the case with Paleo Pines. Yazz explained that they only have one character model, so you’re limited to one body type. However, you can change things like hair color, eye color, hairstyle, and clothes. You can also get more clothes as you progress through the game, allowing you to personalize your look.
But there aren’t things like accessories, stickers, or freckles, as they couldn’t fit them in the game. It is something they’d love to do, though, so it’s high on their list of things to include in DLC, especially adding glasses. Yazz claims that despite the limitations, “The character to me feels very customizable”, but she acknowledges that not everyone will feel that way. She said that they’re hoping to have the chance in the future to add more customization options.
What Would You Have Done Differently if You Had Full Creative Control?
Yazz said that if they had the budget, she’d love for there to be a separate island with the big dinosaurs where everything is scaled up, and “There are mushrooms the size of houses.” I got excited at this idea as it reminded me of the Isle of Bigsnax from Bugsnax. She described her idea that to get to this island; you’d have to cross the water perched on the head of a really long-necked dinosaur walking along the seabed. It sounded so cute, and I loved her creativity.
She also wishes they could add the Spinosaurus, as they’ve had so many comments from fans wishing it was in the game. She said that if any dinosaur has a chance of being added in later, it’s Spinosaurus, but she was explicit about the fact that it’s not in the full game, and her comment was not a hint. She said that although she’d choose that one for the fans, she’d choose Apatosaurus for herself.
Describe Paleo Pines in 30 Seconds
I wanted to give Yazz the chance to do an elevator pitch for Paleo Pines to get people hooked. She joked about how she’s awful under time pressure, but she gave it an excellent shot anyway. She passionately explained that it’s a cozy farming ranching sim but with dinosaurs. Your pet parasaurolophus Lucky, gets too big for your little apartment so you move to this island and discover that dinosaurs are roaming free.
There are gorgeous biomes and different seasons. You discover a beautiful community of NPCs who invite you in and you become friends. “There’s mysteries abound, there’s secrets, there’s little bits of drama. There’s everything you could possibly want”. She ended by saying that her main pitch would be for people to play the free demo. The whole pitch was captivating, she did a really solid job of selling me on it!
What’s Your Favorite Dinosaur and Why?
Yazz confirmed that this was the most important question, but admitted that it changes all the time. She said it used to depend on which one she was animating at the time, but now she’s past that stage and is just focused on marketing. She said the one that really stays with her is the Archaeopteryx because they’re like cute little pigeons.
She has a personal connection to him as that was one of the first dinos where she felt confident in her animation skills. He jumps and does 360 spins in the air, and he’s got a sassy personality. She admits that it helps that he’s tiny and adorable, but it’s their personalities that she loves most. I remember seeing them in the demo, and she’s not wrong about them being very adorable!
Yazz was a wonderful interviewee and gave me plenty of riveting answers to my burning questions about Paleo Pines. After the interview, we stayed on Zoom for a bit and chatted since we were getting along so well. I talked about how when I was a kid, I had a little book with dinosaur poems and asked if she wanted to hear one, to which her eyes absolutely lit up! I had no intention of including it in the video, but she insisted, so if you go to 29:00 of the video, you’ll hear an embarrassing poem about a Diplodocus!
I’m so excited to play Paleo Pines when it comes out, I had so much fun with the demo, and everything that Yazz has told me about it sounds amazing. I love that it’s not just another farming game and has its own unique world. Which dinosaurs are you hoping will be included?
If you love hearing from game developers, check out some of our other interviews! We’re always looking to speak to those in the industry who have an interesting story to share, so hopefully we’ll continue getting exciting new interview content. It’s definitely a page worth keeping your eyes on!
Question: When is Paleo Pines being released?
Answer: The long-awaited dinosaur ranching sim is being released on September 26th, 2023.
Question: Which consoles will Paleo Pines be available on?
Answer: Paleo Pines is coming to PC via Steam, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4/5, and Nintendo Switch.
Question: How many dinosaurs will be in Paleo Pines?
Answer: The exact number is going to remain a mystery until the release, but they’ve confirmed that it will be over 30.