Dave the Diver Game Director Interview: When the joy of food creates a colourfully delicious gaming experience
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Featured Image Credit: MINTROCKET
Simple moments in our lives can leave their mark, be they positive memories or unsavoury ones, yet few of us get the chance to take those moments and turn them into a deliciously vivid experience for others. Then again, not all of us are the game director behind Dave the Diver.
Described by GAMINGbible’s Ewan Moore as “one of the year’s most delightful games”, it’s not difficult to understand why so many people are drawn to the pixel art wonders of this sushi-making sim. It sounds like a strange premise, diving to catch fish to create unusual sushi for hungry customers, yet it works so perfectly you can’t help but wonder why it’s not been done before.
Journey into the deep with Dave in Dave the Diver!
As someone who threw caution to the wind and purchased Dave the Diver on Steam (I’m more of a console gamer), I soon found myself sinking hours into the game as I explored the ocean despite my fear of water in video games. I was enchanted. So when I got the chance to talk to Jaeho Hwang about the game, its creation, inspiration, and where Dave will go next, I was reaching for my scuba gear to dive right back into those sushi-filled waters.
“Dave the Diver was inspired by a restaurant on Jeju Island, an island off the southern coast of South Korea. Similar to the sushi bar in our game, this restaurant is located right by the sea, and the owner would go out to the sea in the morning to catch fish and prepare dishes in the evening,” explains Hwang.
“Initially, we started with the idea of deep-sea exploration in mind, but after coming across this restaurant, the concept of our current game was born. In terms of gameplay, we drew inspiration from games where you loot resources in dungeons and manage them, such as MGS: Peace Walker, and Moonlighter, and we were also greatly inspired by the beautiful yet terrifying underwater world of Subnautica.”
Subnautica is a game that also filled me with terror, yet I couldn’t leave it alone – it’s such a beautiful game, despite the darkness that lurks if you venture too far down. Fortunately, Dave the Diver isn’t nearly as dark, though those atmospheric moments, like diving at night, definitely set the nerves on edge.
Perhaps the reason so many of us have faced our fears of the sea is due to the pixelated animations of Dave and co; it feels less menacing, even when a giant sea creature is looming ahead of you. For Hwang, though, pixel art was just a natural decision in the creative process. “I think pixel art offers a rich artistic aesthetic and plenty of storytelling potential, from classic JRPGs to recent games like Dead Cells or Broforce.” They added, “The first game I created was Evil Factory, an action game in the boss-rush format, and it also featured pixel art. Through the experience of creating this game, I learned a lot about the fun of 2D action gameplay, and I wanted to expand on that with Dave the Diver.”
Expand on it the devs certainly did, providing us with a game that refused to tow genre conventions, throwing in cooking, farming, fish breeding, and epic boss fights (I could go on). When asked about finding the right balance when combining all these different elements, Hwang admitted it was “indeed challenging”. “If essential upgrades were needed to defeat bosses, the game would revolve around grinding and levelling up, potentially alienating more casual players.”
“On the other hand, if the game became too skill-based, it could create sudden barriers for players who were used to more casual gameplay. So, we opted for a puzzle-solving approach, like the Zelda series, where timing is key. While this still requires a certain level of control, players can win with the right weapon and well-timed moves,” they told me. As someone who isn’t the most skilled gamer, despite what I tell myself when I look in the mirror, I was able to navigate the game without rage quitting once. Though, Dave died often, poor thing.
Dave the Diver gives us so much to work with, it’s understandable that many of its fans want to see Dave return. When I finished the game and watched the credits roll, I wondered if the mini-game during the credits was hinting at where Dave will be adventuring next – it’s a question I put to Hwang, much to his amusement.
“Haha. Thank you for enjoying the mini-game in the credits! It wasn’t actually a hint at a sequel; rather, it was meant to bring Dave, who had ventured into the deepest parts of the earth, into an environment on the other extreme end of possibilities: outer space.” They added, “Also, we wanted to conclude the game by bringing Dave into a Black Hole, a contrast to the Blue Hole where he had begun his adventures.”
Where Dave goes from here, if anywhere, is still left as a question mark next to one of 2023’s best games. It’s a GOTY contender as far as I’m concerned, as I’m sure many other players will agree. Beyond that, it’s a delightful adventure that’s reinvigorated my love of sushi so that all I see are sushi rolls when I close my eyes.