Yarntown wasn’t actually supposed to happen. It’s not exactly an accident — you don’t accidentally craft a fully playable love letter to a PlayStation 4 classic. But going into the project, indie developer Max Mraz didn’t expect it to go so far — or for it to attract so much recognition.
Yarntown is a free action RPG that looks and plays like a SNES version of Bloodborne. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but for a game made in just a month, it’s a pretty impressive facsimile of the PS4 game. You explore a cursed Gothic town full of dark beasts and giant bosses, level up your stats using echoes, and use the familiar dodge roll-centric combat system, complete with parrying and the ability to regain health by attacking an enemy that just hurt you.
All of that just kind of… happened. The project was really just meant to be a way for him to mess around with enemy behavior while working on another game using the Solarus action RPG engine.
“While developing my other game, Ocean’s Heart, I wanted to give the enemies behavior like those in Bloodborne,” Mraz explained. “By the time my coding skills caught up to a point where I could do that, however, it was kind of too late. The enemies’ code had become, like, an insurmountable spaghetti Rube Goldberg machine. So Yarntown started because I wanted to experiment to see if I could write a system for enemies like Bloodborne‘s.”
But messing with enemy behavior led to implementing a stamina bar. The stamina bar led to parrying. Parrying led to adding a gun. Before he knew it, his experiment had become a game in and of itself.
“It was a very If You Give a Moose a Muffin situation. He’ll want, I think, jam? And it leads to a cardigan and a puppet show, or in this case, a free video game,” said Mraz. Then he added, “That analogy probably won’t make sense if you haven’t read the same children’s books I did.”
While Yarntown took only a month to create, with Mraz mostly working on weekends to get it done, it built on his years of experience with the Solarus engine — an engine that was originally built to help create a The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past fan game before becoming its own open-source engine. Mraz himself discovered the engine when he was setting up a Raspberry Pi to be an emulator and realized that the Solarus engine was pre-installed on the software he was using.
“The idea of making my own game and seeing it on my TV was enough to cause me to spend like three-to-four years toiling away to make that happen,” Mraz said. “Initially, I had like no knowledge of coding and was baffled by basic things like ‘what is a function,’ but I am stubborn and stuck with it.”
When Yarntown was finished, he wasn’t expecting it to gain a lot of attention, saying it was always “only a little side project.”
Over 40,000 people downloaded that side project based on word of mouth alone.
“I figured people would like playing a Zelda/Soulslike, but, like, wow, it’s a lot of people who liked it,” said Mraz. “I really enjoy seeing just how many different languages the streams on YouTube are in; it’s super rad to make that many people happy.”
The only negative feedback Mraz ever received was about features that he didn’t include — most notably, people were disappointed that Eileen the Crow didn’t show up in the game. He added her in after watching one too many streamers get disappointed by her absence. But other than that, he’s content to keep the game as is.
For now, his attention will go back to Ocean’s Heart, which he describes as a lot more in-depth than Yarntown, both in story and combat. And while he does say the game has some similarities to Soulslikes, he stresses that it’s a lot more lighthearted.
“Imagine if in Bloodborne, your hunter ended up embroiled in a tic-tac-toe championship scandal,” Mraz said.
Despite the attention that Yarntown has gotten, however, Mraz didn’t use the opportunity to promote his upcoming work.
“If I were smart about this, which, all evidence points to the contrary, I would have gotten a Steam page up for Ocean’s Heart for wishlists or whatever,” said Mraz. “But I just made a fun game and wanted people to be able to play it. I’m hoping when Ocean’s Heart releases everyone will say, ‘Oh, this dude made that Yarntown game, and that was surprisingly good.’”
Even if Yarntown doesn’t end up benefiting his future projects, Mraz said he’s just pleased it brought some joy to people.
“I, for real, do want to say to everyone who’s played Yarntown that I am super happy you’ve enjoyed it,” he expressed. “I just made it for fun for myself, so the fact it seems to have made, like, thousands of people a little happy for a bit? I didn’t mean to do that, but it’s a great unintentional consequence!”