The Italian School of Game Design, Fallen Flag. An interview with Francesco Barsotti.

Fallen Flag Studio was founded by high school friends Francesco Barsotti (@jakkizz) and Jonathan Costantini (@FireWasTaken). Teaming up with composer and sound designer Sergio Ronchetti (@SergioRonchetti). The studio came together in order to go full-time on the development of “Eldest Souls”, their first pixel-art, souls-like title. Eldest Souls is a souls-like, pixel-art RPG. In Eldest Souls, the player will explore the vast, forgotten Citadel, in search of the Old Gods. The temple-prison will contain a great deal of NPC’s, quests and mysteries. Encounters with the Old Gods will be…deadly. With a fast-paced, exciting action combat, every instant will count. But fortune favours the bold and defeating the Old Gods will grant the player powers beyond mortal comprehension.

Recently partnered with United Label, the Warsaw based independent publishing label attached to CI Games, The Eldest Souls is looking very much like one of the games to watch for in 2020. Personally we think it’s very interesting given the amount of activity that can be found in the Italian game design community.

We had the chance to field some questions at Francessco Barsotti, one of the founders of Fallen Flag and probed some development-oriented questions in regard to The Eldest Souls and just where did the name Fallen Flag come from?


PK: What was the lightbulb moment that sent you down the path of game development?

FF Francesco: I don’t think there was a specific moment to be honest. I always liked games and always liked building things, from Lego to paper construction or weird moving objects. Solving puzzles as well has always been something fun to do for me I think that “eureka” moment that you get from solving one alone it’s quite unique. In high school I was studying in an IT class ( mainly programming ), I started thinking what I would have liked to do after and tried to do some games on my own in the free time, it didn’t go so well, so I decided to embark on university to learn more about game development. Since then it kind of slowly grew on me, to the point now that I really enjoy doing it in the free time as well. Turns out you don’t really need a course to become a game developer you just need to commit the hours, university taught me a bit of that.

PK: You are working on Eldest Souls now and it’s your first game. I know it’s potentially a long answer but what was the genesis of the game?

FF Francesco:  The game started as a university prototype, our idea was to work on something that could allow us to learn more about Unity (game engine we are using) and game development as well. We picked something contained that we could achieve. At the beginning we simply worked on a single boss and the basic mechanics. We tried to put in a bit of everything that we liked at the time from action RPG to MMOs. We fell in love with the idea and we managed to have sparkles of fun. What we did in the following month was working more in depth to try and make those sparks occur more often or last longer. Iteration is at the base of game development and since the beginning we kept a very quick cycle of trying something in game, testing, collecting feedback and then starting the cycle again. Some stuff can work on paper but not in game and it goes the other way as well, sometimes we discovered new mechanics by breaking the game :).

PK: Tell me a little about your approach to the (Game Design Doc) GDD, is it a highly detailed work from which game is built or are you more likely to evolve the design of the game as the code is being built?

FF Francesco:  This is our first project and we really didn’t look that much at other people GDDs, so we had to figure it out ourselves. I read a lot on the subject and I came to the conclusion that Devs should do whatever works for them, every team and game is different. In our case keeping up a huge Bible was a bit of a problem, so we went with something of middle length where we describe loosely mechanics systems and the world or lore (together with the game loop). This helped us to sit down and understand better the scope of the game which can help with budgeting and scheduling, so it is highly advised. If you don’t have the resources however, I wouldn’t spend too much time on it.

PK: What are some of the most difficult challenges you face with Eldest Souls?

FF Francesco:  It’s hard to say, we learned as we went through the different steps, everything seems incredibly hard to do, until you manage to get it right, and as you go along challenges are harder and harder but you also get better and better at it. Having no senior meant that we could rely only on what we could find online or we learned from the super nice Devs we met along the way. Organization of the whole thing and scheduling has probably been the hardest challenge since to do right, it in itself requires a bit of experience. Trial and error, it’s a very good way of learning but it eats up a lot of time, sometimes problems are hard to track since making a game involves different roles and people, and the whole machine slowing down can be the result of multiple smaller “failures”.

PK: Tell me about the art style of Eldest Souls, a personal choice or more practical?

FF Francesco:  We loved pixel art, I’m myself a bit of a pixel artist, I think is an incredible craft and can be used in all sorts of different ways. It might have been the influence of the Game Boy which was my core console when very littles, but pixel art really holds a special place in my art. That said I’d love as well to explore something else in the future. I really like low poly and flat shaded games (Sable 👀/ Furi 👀).

PK: Multiplatform or single platform focus, what’s your philosophy?

FF Francesco:  It takes time and resources to port a game, personally I’d love to be able to just have every game on every platform, I’m a gamer and I like playing games where I think they are most fit for the time that I play or when/ where I want to play them.

PK: I have learned that Fallen Flag is a term for defunct railway companies – this is intentional?

FF Francesco:  Ahah that’s actually quite funny, we didn’t know. We picked the name back in high school more than 7 years ago and we just stuck with it. It doesn’t have too much meaning, we liked the name and we were playing way too much Warcraft back then; We imagined this teared banner standing in a battlefield, and how cool it sounded, and how crazy it was that no company snagged it yet!

PK: How many of you in the team and how do you see the growth of the company in the next 12 months?

FF Francesco:  We are two co-founders; we work together with two other artists and one composer. We are not sure about growth just yet, we have a lot to learn and managing people and organizing the team is something we definitely need to improve.

PK: Does the studio have a speciality, a common thread that you want to incorporate into all Fallen Flag projects?

FF Francesco:  Early to say to be honest, we love games, we played many and we will play more. We definitely will keep making something that we can enjoy playing, it is a bit of a necessity because we end up playing the game hours and hours per week. Hopefully they will all have tight controls and fun mechanics.

PK: I ask everyone this: How do you browse games on Steam – how do you select a game to play on the weekends?

FF Francesco:  I sometimes go in the recommendation or if there is a sale up I just go in the sales page and see what is on sale. To be honest I don’t find too much time to play at the PC lately, I often find myself scrolling through Steam and ending up buying the game on Switch if available. If it helps, I’m currently playing Dead Cells again on Switch, and I have Blasphemous and Dandara next.

You can find Fallen Flag at: https://fallenflagstudio.com

on Facebook @fallenflagstudio

You can wish list the game here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1108590/Eldest_Souls/