After having once again scoured social media for more indie game developers looking to raise their profile and get their game brought to the attention of a wider audience, I discovered another upcoming JRPG that shows all the promise that many of the other games in the genre I’ve covered this year show. Flowstone Saga is a JRPG that takes a drastically different approach to combat than many other classic games that it was inspired by. Combining RPG elements with that of traditional puzzle games such as Tetris, Players attack by clearing lines with tetromino shapes known as flowstones and gaining bonuses in battle such as enhanced attack power, interrupting enemy attacks, and boosting defense by clearing more lines at once. Players can also customize flowstones to gain strategic advantages in battle. The game also has a heavy emphasis on elements such as exploration, character building, and epic storytelling.
The story of Flowstone Saga takes place in the mysterious island landscape of Ocean’s End; it centers around a young lady named Mirai and her pet companion Sprig as they set out on a journey to discover the many hidden secrets of the long-forgotten ruins of Ocean’s End, meeting a massive cast of quirky characters along the way.
Eager to know about what players can come to expect from this game compared to other JRPGs amidst the game’s Kickstarter campaign, I contacted Impact Gameworks, the indie outfit developing the game based in Columbia, Maryland in the United States, to speak with lead designer and artist Andrew Aversa and producer Andrew Luers to discuss with them the influences behind their game, when players can expect to see it released following the Kickstarter campaign and to ask about the challenges and bumps along the road the developers have encountered thus far. So here’s what Andrew Aversa and Andrew Luers of Impact Gameworks had to say about Flowstone Saga:
What were the influences behind your game?
AL: The most obvious influences are the old school Final Fantasy and falling block puzzle games like Dr. Mario or Tetris. Some that might not be as apparent would be the myriad of deck-building games, like Magic the Gathering or Hearthstone, and more character-driven RPGs like the Persona or Trails of Cold Steel series.
What has the developmental process been like?
AL: Challenging but a lot of fun too! The concepts and mechanics in Flowstone Saga are quite a bit different than our first game, Tangledeep, so in a lot of ways, we had to start from scratch before we really found something that worked for us. While some concepts (core gameplay loop, town-building, etc) have remained somewhat unchanged since the beginning, several have been iterated on multiple times, using player feedback to improve the fun and remove the frustration. The mining mini-game, for example, went through several changes until we landed on the time-attack version that we have today.
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
AA: We’re looking at a release in Summer 2022, but in terms of visuals, audio, and story in the demo so far, it’s pretty polished. The least polished elements in the demo are all UI. Gameplay is somewhere in the middle: a lot of systems are working really well, others we’re constantly iterating on, such as making the battle mechanics even more interesting and engaging.
AL: Content-wise, the demo is just a small piece of the overall story we are looking to tell. We have a ton of new areas to create, and custom animations for cutscenes that we are slowly putting together. We have a lot created, but we want each area to have something exciting to discover in it, and of course, that takes time and planning.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
AL: For me, it’s seeing the world come to life and the players enjoying the game. Watching the game improve through various iterations, and having the team be excited about building a fun experience for players has been so exciting.
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
AA: From the programming perspective, while creating game systems and code foundations can be a lot of fun, it can be challenging to extend or revise those systems down the line. For example, we might decide to change a feature coded two years ago, or add something to it that wasn’t part of the original design. Not only does this usually produce the most bugs, but it also doesn’t feel as exciting to work on. Nobody wants to feel like they are doing the same work twice or paving over old work.
How well has the game been received so far?
AA: I’d say as of right now – during our Kickstarter – the reception has been really good. The KS numbers and Steam wishlists are doing well, and player feedback as of the latest versions has been very positive. The best part is that it’s really only going to get a lot better from here on out.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
AA: We’re releasing for PC, Mac, Linux, and Nintendo Switch for sure. Everything else is on the table, but no definite plans yet. (It’s actually the kind of game that would work well for streaming services, such as Amazon Luna, where our first game Tangledeep is available!)
Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that have since been scrapped or reworked?
AA: Absolutely. We’ve done an incredible amount of iteration on this game. For one thing, the entire visual style of map/town exploration and cutscenes was scrapped toward the end of 2020. That style had more of a side-scrolling profile, but we decided the top-down look was better.
The battle system has been continuously improved and overhauled. We’ve added and removed mechanics. There have been several iterations of various UI elements. And while the core story hasn’t changed, the writing and presentation definitely have undergone several major changes. Even the name of the game changed from “Puzzle Explorers”. Ultimately, we think this is a healthy approach to game development. Like with Tangledeep, we think it’s vital to listen to player feedback, rather than sticking to a rigid and inflexible design document.
The soundtrack promises to deliver the soul of 16 and 32 BIT JRPGs to Flowstone Saga. Who is composing the soundtrack, and what styles of music influenced it?
AL: I am the composer for this game’s soundtrack, and I’d describe the overall mood as a classic fantasy RPG soundtrack- An upbeat main theme, rocking battle themes, lots of different moods for various areas, and dungeons, and emotional cutscene moments. Good RPG soundtracks have a huge variety of styles and feelings, and the great ones do well with all of them.
I am going with the approach of making memorable and tuneful melodies that bring out the spirit of adventure of the game, and I hope that players enjoy it! Obviously, the biggest influence is classic game music, but there are a lot of rock and EDM flourishes. 95% of the songs feature live performers, and they are the real stars in bringing the music to life.
How instrumental has player feedback in terms of shaping the course of the project been?
AA: If it’s not clear from my above answers, player feedback has been essential! Developing games in a vacuum is dangerous. It’s easy to lose perspective. Something can seem fun to us that isn’t fun to anyone else. Or, there could be features or characters people love that we didn’t expect.
What have been the most significant lessons learned from the development of Tangledeep going into Flowstone Saga?
AA: On the programming side, there are tons of best practices I’ve learned and that I’m applying to the Flowstone Saga codebase to make it far easier to work with. The same goes for player-facing things like UI. There’s also the importance of things like paying for great art contractors, listening to player feedback (notice a theme here?), and being open with your community.
AL: from the creative side, improving the asset pipeline and knowing how to organize and schedule has definitely been an iterative process that I feel we’ve improved on. One thing that is very different with Flowstone from Tangledeep is that this time we wrote our narrative first, whereas the story for Tangledeep was written while we were building. Not only does the story-first approach allow us to have a good idea of what assets we will need ahead of time, we have the chance to add extra details that might foreshadow things as we are building them.
It’s mentioned on the Kickstarter page that your previous game Tangledeep ran into issues when ported to the Switch. Would the Switch be the second console you port Flowstone Saga to as well?
AA: Yes, definitely. I’m a huge fan of the Switch and portable gaming in general, so it’s a very high priority. Having gone through the process once, I have a vastly improved understanding of how to avoid some of the same time-consuming pitfalls we hit during the Tangledeep porting work.
If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or for any franchise, which would it be, and why?
AA: I would love to work with one of Square Enix’s franchises, to make a smaller scale game in an established world using well-known characters. Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, the Mana series… any of those would be incredible to work on. I have so much nostalgia for these series.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
AA: Spend less time planning, researching, and learning (in the academic sense) and spend more time making your game. I can’t overstate how unprepared I was at the start of Tangledeep’s development. My early code was awful, I was using all placeholder graphics, and I had basically no design document. But every day I kept chipping away at it, and little by little, I absorbed more knowledge and created a full game.
Imagine climbing a tall mountain for the first time. That’s what making a game is like – a long, arduous task that seemingly goes on for ages. But rather than staring at the whole mountain and worrying, planning, or researching, you’d be surprised at how far you can go by taking it one step at a time. Another much shorter tip is to pay for good art, particularly cover (or capsule) art. Promoting and selling games is hard. When people browse for games you have literally only a few seconds to capture their attention. Amateur-looking art can blow up your first impression in an instant.
Where on the Internet can people find you?
The Flowstone Saga Kickstarter is live from June 9th:
Our Steam store page is also up, where you can wishlist the game (which really helps us!)
Our site, Twitter, and Twitch (where we do live dev streams) are:
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank both Andrew Aversa and Andrew Luers for taking the time out of development during the Kickstarter campaign to answer my questions about Flowstone Saga. To me, it looks like a very unique JRPG with a lot of potential, and with the capability of delivering on what is being promised by the developers, and I can’t wait to get started on this game when it finally releases. The planned release period is in the summer of 2022, but in the meantime, I hope you guys enjoyed learning more about this exciting-looking game, and hope you’re all looking forward to playing it as much as I am.
Scouse Gamer 88.