Game Director Bendik Stang on what makes Earthlock: Festival of Magic different from other role playing games out there.
Earthlock: Festival of Magic is an upcoming role playing video game that scheduled for release across a number of platforms including Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PS4 and Xbox One. The game takes place in the world of Umbra, where a mysterious event has stopped the planet from spinning.
I recently sat with the game’s director Bendik Stang to know more about the game. Check out the full interview below.
Rashid Sayed: Earthlock Festival of Magic is coming across six platforms. Taking on a project of this scale obviously requires more manpower. How many members strong is Snowcastle Games?
Bendik Stang: We are only 8 people in house on the dev team but we are getting one more member next month that brings a decade of experience with him, and we’re looking for an experienced 3D modeller to join us in the near future.
We’re developing the game in Unity which makes going cross platform less painful than it could have been. Our internal builds are running on PC and MAC already and we have tested builds on the XBox One and WiiU dev kits without encountering too much trouble, so we’re confident we can get it done.
Rashid Sayed: There is definitely a potential for a complex role playing system in Earthlock: Festival of Magic. Which gameplay mechanic do you think will undergo a massive change when the game eventually comes out?
Bendik Stang: I seriously hope we won’t need to do any massive changes to the gameplay after launch. We’re constantly playtesting internally and we’ll run a QA period with beta testing that is meant to make sure the gameplay works as intended. The goal is to release a game that won’t need much in ways of post launch changes.
"We wanted to steer clear of a monochromatic grey and brown world and have everything feel serious all the time. We wanted colours in there that could talk about the world and support the fun parts of the dialogue in a better way."
Rashid Sayed: Is there a specific reason why you guys decided not to include random encounters, especially given its utilization in other role playing games such as Dragon Quest?
Bendik Stang: Well, we think that random encounters are less fun than seeing the enemy and allowing the player some chance of maneuvering past should they want to just get on to where they’re going. This is just a personal thing, of course, but I feel random encounters often becomes tedious when I don’t want to fight.
Rashid Sayed: Does switching between a male and female character changes the way the story of the game plays out?
Bendik Stang: This is an excellent question. I wish I could just answer yes, but adding all the extra game content is outside the budget for the first game, Earthlock: Festival of Magic. However if we make good money on the first game, we might not only make differences between the male and female protagonist, but also between the other player characters.
Rashid Sayed: The game is not pushing any hardcore graphical benchmarks but it sure does look beautiful. What was your inspiration behind the current art style?
Bendik Stang: It’s really a mix of all sorts of games, movies and influences the dev team grew up with. A lot of fond memories can be drawn from both eastern and western RPGs. We also have a weakness for Studio Ghibli and Pixar. We wanted to steer clear of a monochromatic grey and brown world and have everything feel serious all the time. We wanted colours in there that could talk about the world and support the fun parts of the dialogue in a better way. The characters are colourful in who they are, so the visuals should reflect that! The characters are deliberately designed very clean, from concept art through 3D to textures. The same goes for our environments. This way of working has allowed us to make something that looks colourful and fun while not taxing any hardware too much.
Rashid Sayed: What can you tell us about combat pairs, item, inventory, leveling, skills and ammunition system? [Essentially the entire RPG mechanics] and how does it make the game different from other RPGs?
Bendik Stang: Let’s see…The combat pairs is one of the unique elements of our combat system. Basically you will be able to unlock special perks and abilities that are only available to the characters when they are teamed up. We call them friendship abilities. We also have a friendship energy that builds up when you have a team active in combat. Using this energy they’ll be able to unleash pretty awesome combo attacks based on who is teamed up with who.
Any action during combat will cost something – either mana/stamina, ammo, consumable item or friendship energy. The latter being very powerful.
Back at your base you can plant and harvest all sorts of spuds and plants that will be used in a crafting system where you turn the different resources into all manners of ammo and potions. The crafting is directly tied to combat in that you make the ammunition you need when you’re out questing. The home base is a place that will evolve as the player moves through the game as well. New inhabitants will set up shop that grant players access to more content and crafting possibilities. The home base is also where the player will return to manage their character progression and take a breather in between quests and combat.
"We have set up a very console friendly combat interface that is beginning to feel very good. I can say we have many ideas regarding the WiiU touch screen but before we go into details I would like to have prototyped and tested the ideas first."
Rashid Sayed: How are you using the Wii U’s GamePad and the DualShock 4’s touch pad to further make the gameplay intriguing?
Bendik Stang: We are still focusing on the core production and as such have not began to experiment with the input devices. We have set up a very console friendly combat interface that is beginning to feel very good. I can say we have many ideas regarding the WiiU touch screen but before we go into details I would like to have prototyped and tested the ideas first.
Rashid Sayed: I assume that you guys have been working on the PS4 and Xbox One versions for awhile or at least have access to the development kits. What is your opinion on the differences between the consoles?
Bendik Stang: I think they are both quite easy to work with and the support on both consoles is good. For our game, the hardware is punching over what we need to run so the differences aren’t really noticeable for us. I think Unity has really changed the landscape on cross platform development, at least for a small studio such as ourselves. The ability to develop a game and (more or less) push a button and have it on the different platforms is a game changer.
Rashid Sayed: Will the game run at 1080p and 60 fps on both the PS4 and Xbox One?
Bendik Stang: I expect it will run at 60 fps on both platforms but we have not began render optimization yet so it is too early to say anything certain. But since we in general don’t push the hardware too much I’m fairly certain both consoles will achieve that standard.
"We hit some delays in production this fall when we had some trouble finding the perfect outsourcing partner for this production. We have since started collaborating with a company called Original Force, and we're wildly enthusiastic with what they're delivering."
Rashid Sayed: Earthlock:Festival of Magic is also coming on the Wii U. Don’t you guys think it’s a great opportunity for Snowcastle Games since the Wii U is literally starving for solid role playing games?
Bendik Stang: Yeah, ever since we announced the WiiU as a platform for Earthlock we’ve gotten very encouraging response from the WiiU owners out there!
Rashid Sayed: Do you guys have a solid release date in mind?
Bendik Stang: We hit some delays in production this fall when we had some trouble finding the perfect outsourcing partner for this production. We have since started collaborating with a company called Original Force, and we’re wildly enthusiastic with what they’re delivering. Working with them has certainly sped things up! With the current scope of the game we are looking at a release in Q3 this year. It’s a matter of manpower and scope, and we really do not want to cut down on the scope to deliver earlier. We want to release the game as close to what we envisioned as possible.
Rashid Sayed: Are there any plans to support the game post launch via DLC?
Bendik Stang: Well, for each new game in the series the world will be expanded and new features will be added. First there is Festival of Magic, then there is The Last Memory and finally there is The Awakening. We are already beginning pre-production planning for The Last Memory this spring.
Rashid Sayed: Is there anything else you want to tell us before we let you go?
Bendik Stang: We will be attending GDC in San Francisco in the first week of March this year. We will have a demo booth at GDC Play, so if any your readers are attending GDC this year come find us and try Earthlock!