Continuing on with my efforts to uncover new games coming out of the indie community, another Kickstarter project I came across this week was a simulator RPG named The Kingdom of Gardenia. Under development at Little Ricebowl games based in Birmingham, the game put the player in the shoes of Roman, a former soldier who has come to Gardenia looking for work. Stumbling across a job advert for a groundskeeper, Roman applies and the game begins. The player must plant flowers, hunt food, and interact with the townsfolk by catering to their needs in accordance with what their favorite flowers are and what food they like to eat. Along the way, the game’s main story also starts to unfold the further the player progresses, which is somewhat unusual for a simulator game. My first thoughts were that not only does it encompass elements from Stardew Valley (which was one of the developers principal sources of inspiration), but Dark Cloud also sprung to mind to a certain extent as not only does have an element of simulator games to it as a georama game, but it also has a rich story as an RPG.
But eager to find out more about the game, I contacted the game’s core designer Paul Trochowski to get a clearer insight into the development of the game and what players can expect to see with the finished project. Here’s what Paul had to say about The Kingdom of Gardenia:
What were the influences behind your game?
I got the idea for the concept of the game after playing Stardew Valley a few years ago. I’m a huge fan of the game and I really liked the notification about the train passing through town, which you then run towards, to see if it drops any packages at the station. This got me thinking about having a train station as the focal point of the game and the player getting excited about who would be getting off the train each day.
Going back to my childhood days, I was first introduced to gaming with the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES. The art style and soundtrack were so iconic, and I loved the challenge of the boss battles with Bowser. I could never beat them as a child and I only properly beat the game recently when I played it on the Nintendo Switch! I’m working on a challenging boss battle for my game that will hopefully keep people coming back for the amazing satisfaction you can only get from beating a tough boss. There are also some adventure and puzzle-solving elements, inspired by games like A Link to the Past.
What has the developmental process been like?
I started out by learning how to make basic pixel art, I would sit with a mini laptop on my daily commute and draw NPCs, flowers, and trees, a little bit at a time, then carry on in my lunch breaks and after work. Over time I realized I had enough content to start thinking about learning how to code and making the NPCs move around with some basic AI. I don’t have a background as an artist or a computer scientist, so learning both areas was a huge uphill battle for me, but also amazingly satisfying when I started to see things come together.
The game is based around a day/night cycle and train schedule, this became really difficult to put together with the more NPCs I started to create, as I found they would clash at certain points that I hadn’t anticipated and I would have to go back a re-work huge sections of their paths/timings. Each new visitor to the kingdom is a huge amount of work, but I’m planning on adding more visitors over time via free content updates.
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
I’m at around 80% completion at the moment. I had originally planned on completing the game by April, but unfortunately, I fell really ill with coronavirus and had to put the release back a few months. I’m running a Kickstarter project to help fund production costs and the release of the game.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
I would have to say putting in the sound effects, the game doesn’t really come to life until you start investing in some better quality sound effects and tweaking the settings to improve the audio. I still have a lot of work to do in this area but hearing footstep sounds change when the player moves from wood to the path to grass is really exciting for me.
Another exciting moment was when a colleague from work did some playtesting for me. Seeing someone new play the game for the first time was a great buzz, and I took away a lot of great ideas for how to improve the gameplay mechanics and things that were missing that the player needed to get accustomed to the world of the game, like adding in a compass! At one point I had a message in the game that tells the player to head east, but I hadn’t put in a compass yet!
Where did the inspiration come from where the soundtrack is concerned?
My favorite game soundtrack would have to be Undertale, Toby Fox is a musical genius, I’ve listened to that soundtrack so many times and I never get tired of it. I used to play guitar in a local indie band, we had some minor success and got some national radio play, but it didn’t quite work out. After leaving the band, I really missed creating music and was looking for another outlet to start recording again. You’ll hear a lot of guitar in the soundtrack, I’ve tried to work in some sounds inspired by some of my favorite guitar bands, like Thin Lizzy and The Strokes.
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
Solving coding problems! The soil tiles took me a long time to work out, all the possible iterations of what happens to the surrounding tiles when you dig holes in the ground was a challenge for me, but it felt great once I’d finally solved it.
I also came across a number of frame rate slow down issues with collision checking for the trees, I wanted all of the trees to turn semi-transparent when you walk behind them, so you can see where you’re going. Some of the trees in the game are really big and there were way too many collision checks going on, but I think I’ve fixed it now. Interestingly. they decided to avoid this problem entirely in the latest Animal Crossing game. I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about the camera angle issues of not being able to see behind trees!
How well has the game been received so far?
A lot of people have shown interest in the Kickstarter project and given some great positive feedback to images and posts about the game on Instagram and Twitter. We have a small following at the moment, but I’ve been really pleased to see that people are genuinely getting on board with the concept of the game and eager to find out more about the story and the world of the game.
There has been some feedback too from fellow developers, who have warned me against putting a game out with such a stripped back, retro art style, insisting that I get a designer in to improve the look of the game. My motivation for continuing with this art style, which I know is going to be an acquired taste, comes from the overwhelmingly positive reception that Undertale received, despite the minimalist look of the game. There is something unique about a game that has been made entirely by one person, I’d be worried that the character of the game would be too far from my original idea if I get someone else to re-work all of the sprites.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
Initially, the game will be released on PC and then I’ll be looking at a Mac/Linux version before moving on to Switch. I might consider a mobile version after that, but porting to each new platform will bring significant challenges for me as a new developer, so I may need to get some outside help with this.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Making a game can at times feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall. You will come across design or coding problems that you feel like you’re never going to get past. But stick with it, come back to it the next day, and the next – don’t listen to people who tell you it’s not worth all the effort, there’s nothing more satisfying than solving problems that you previously thought were impossible. And when you’ve got something you’re happy with, which you’re ready to share with people, it’s a great buzz to find out that there are people out there who like your work and want to follow the project.
Where on the Internet can people find you?
You can also follow the progress of the game through these links:
Youtube: Little Ricebowl
Do you have anything else to add?
I would ask people to please check out the Kickstarter page for The Kingdom of Gardenia and back the project if you like what you see. I’ll be working hard to finish the game and spread the word over the next few months. Thanks so much to everyone who’s supported the project so far!
As always, I’d like to thank Paul for sharing his insight into this wonderful-looking game and hope you guys will check out the Kickstarter project as well as Paul’s additional links to more information about the game as development progresses. The Kingdom of Gardenia looks to be a particularly promising game in my opinion and I can’t wait to see what the finished will have to offer players. I’d also like to wish Paul and Little Ricebowl Games the best of luck with the project.
Scouse Gamer 88