IKO is the driving force behind Lost Bay Studios, a small indie publishing company that has been producing some fascinating and innovative projects. They're currently Kickstarting Skyrealms, an interactive rpg/coloring book with art by the fantastic Evlyn Moreau (you can find my interview with Evlyn here). IKO was kind enough to answer some of my questions. [Note, English is not their first language, but I left the text without editing]. In addition to the above links you can also find IKO on itch.
Question. Talk to me about your influences. I'm especially interested in hearing about The Perpetual Broth, which comes with a pop-up model of the inn that can be assembled.
Answer. I dont think I’m consciously influenced by a specific game or genre, rather I know that I’m super interested in a specific relation to play. I remember what playing meant when I was a kid, not specifically TTRPG, just playing. It was something filled with joy, very relational, necessary for venting heavy stuff my and my friends were going through, and important. Seriously fun. Happily meaningful. I try to find games, and players, and designers that strike that balance, and learn from them. I’m very young in the indie scene, and I keep learning constantly, so I don’t have a specific idea of what TTRPGs should be. But I know I’ve been struck by the work of, Batts, Ava Islam, Sam Leigh, Emiel Boven, Perplexing Ruin, LF OSR, Ian Yusem, Zedeck Siew, Alfred Valley, Yochai Gal, Leo Hunt, Sean McCoy, Paolo Greco and many more.
The Perpetual Broth was born during one of the lockdown, or semi-lockdown periods we went through. I was looking for a way to find some peace, doing cool and cozy stuff. I watched a lot of paper crafts tutorials on Youtube, particularly Matthew Reinhart videos, and The Pop-Up Channel. I started experimenting with paper and then launched the Scissors and Glue TTRPG jam, where the idea was to make a TTRPG using as little digital techniques as possible. That was a very inspiring moment where I connected with a lot of super interesting creators, who did amazing zines, sometimes with very unexpected techniques or mechanics. I highly recommend checking the jam entries. Emiel Boven, who wrote the text of The Perpetual Broth, and Bordercholly who drew the pop-up came pretty quickly on the project. I had noticed their work and just asked if they wanted to work together on this idea. The theme of the cauldron perpetually cooking a broth was sparked by an historical French Cooking book. Emiel brought all the rest of the content. The adventure he wrote is really a great one shot. Bordercholly’s drawings are amazing too. Basically the idea behind pop-up zine was to do something that combined two hobbies that meant a lot to me: TTRPGs and paper crafts.
Q. Your upcoming project is a system-neutral fantasy project with Evlyn Moreau doing the art. Her work is so evocative. How are the two of you working together on the project?
A. After the Perpetual Broth, or more precisely while I was writing it, I was looking for another idea, for a bigger project combining TTRG and something related to paper crafting and art. I love coloring, it’s simple and creative and easier than drawing, and I was looking for a way to do a coloring RPG project. I’ve been wanting to work for a long time with Evlyn, her work strikes me visually and moves me. And her drawings literally sparked the idea. I very often start writing from visual sources, that are not only prompts, but art I’d like to actually use for the game/zine. Evlyn’s fantasy drawings made me think about a bestiary, a coloring bestiary. That was the first step of the project. Actually it was supposed to be a series of NPC cards first, it then became a coloring book, and expanded to become a full source book and a pack of accessories. In the book, and the game accessories that accompany it, there are some pre existing Evlyn’s drawings and some I commissioned for Skyrealms. We are running a kickstarter campaign right now and one of the goals is to produce more drawings for the book.
I’ve read in an interview Evlyn did somewhere (but I’m not sure of the source anymore) that she does exploratory drawing. I can relate with that way of approaching creative work. I try to give her open prompts she can explore, and to listen to her feedback, understand what inspires her. I think I do something similar with writing and design. I just try things, interact as soon as possible with others, the illustrator, or just members of the scene, like in a dialog, and build from that. I’m so grateful to be working with her, it’s really a privilege and working with the rest of the zine team as well. Emiel Boven and Bordercholly are back. Armanda Haller an Argentinian designer is designing the solo optional procedures, Sam Leigh is doing editing.
There is also something very personal in Skyrealms. The overall tone, cute, dreamy, but probably dangerous, that contradiction is something I like to explore in games. The setting and the overall fantasy tropes: three floating islands and their odd creatures, are very much inspired by my own culture as an islander. I'm not very conscious but I realize that there are very often islands in my TTRPG work. The creatures that are featured in Skyrealms are derivations from my personal fantasy tropes. I grew up on a Mediterranean island and what is referred to generally as European fantasy was actually very exotic to me. I had no idea what a goblin or an elf was before somebody brought in my village a photocopy of that book from the USA: D&D. My fantasy culture was made of magical sea snakes, Cyclops, dreams, winds that possess your soul, evil eye, cursed blood, trance spiders and magical plants and boars. Skyrealms is built on that, and on Evlyn’s drawings.
Probably, yes, I can see how Skyrealms relates to the historical zine scene. I love the DIY side of the punk scene. Actually I see punks as wild rebellious craft-persons. I value the possibility of working in a medium that has a low entry barrier, I mean technically. You just need a sheet of paper and a pencil, and a lot of work. That paper and pencil can be a simple text processor too. Sounds a lot like craftsmanship I realize.
Q. I'm also interested in hearing about your podcast. You've interviewed or discussed many of the luminaries of the indie game scene. How has that process of doing a regular podcast influenced your creative output?
A. Talking with podcast guests, and I’ve named many of them in the interview earlier, had a huge influence on me. To be honest the first thing that struck me was how generous they were, and willing to talk openly about their work, influences, processes and struggles. I’m particularly grateful to the first guests, Yochai Gal, Leo Hunt, who accepted the invitation of that dude with a French accent who didn’t know what he was doing. Each one of them influenced me on very specific aspects of the craft, of the business. But what they all have in common is the freedom with which they approach the medium, indulging in their particular tastes and obsessions, and also the dedication and work they put in it, the sense of community too. Basically what I learned from all the guests of the show is that TTRPGs are an artistic medium, and that means they can be at the same time joyful, personal, political, fun and meaningful. I try to walk in their path.