Tag Archives: JRPG

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Q&A With Impact Gameworks

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:

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/zircon/flowstone-saga-a-charming-jrpg-inspired-16-bit-adventure/

Our Steam store page is also up, where you can wishlist the game (which really helps us!) 

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1372000/Flowstone_Saga/

Our site, Twitter, and Twitch (where we do live dev streams) are:

https://impactgameworks.com/

https://twitter.com/ImpactGamew

https://twitch.tv/ImpactGameworks

 

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.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88.

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Q&A With Jon Bookout

After once again scouting Kickstarter for more new video game prospects, I came across a title that is exceedingly different from any that I’ve yet to encounter this year. Lucid Soul, developed by a team of numerous artists, coders, and musicians, and fronted by indie developer Jon Bookout of Las Vegas, Nevada, is a JRPG blending horror and dark fantasy inspired by classics of the genre such as Chrono Trigger and the Lunar series; namely Eternal Blue and Silver Star. A turn-based RPG in basic design with a planned minimum of 30 hours of lifespan, it boasts a number of gameplay features new to the genre such as two-tier combat flow, the ability to play bosses, and a feature known as cinematic encounters, whereby certain battles take place across multiple screens. The game’s story revolves around the villains taking center-stage as opposed to the heroes, presenting a vast amount of wonderfully sadistic player characters to play as and develop over time. Wanting to know more about this fantastically brutal-looking JRPG experience, I contacted Jon, the game’s head programmer to answer questions I had about the game, and what the final product will possibly bring to players looking for a potential game-changing entry into the widely popular genre. Here’s what Jon Bookout had to say about Lucid Soul:

 

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What were the influences behind your game?

I’ve been writing Lucid Soul since high school, but the game was written as a hero’s journey from Rubin’s perspective til about 5 years ago. I, like many others, got hooked on a little show called Game of Thrones. For those of us who love fantasy, it was the first to really embrace a true-to-life adult feeling to it. What WOULD happen if an evil prick ran the country? It wouldn’t be like Emperor Gestahl where the lust for power isn’t shown, it would be FELT. So that show and the fact that you recognize MILLIONS of people gravitated to raw, gritty, adult fantasy, caused a massive shift in my concept. It influenced the design from the ground up to not only do maturity but what about the next evolution of our nostalgic JRPGs and RPGs of old… what about the villain? Not a “SURPRISE! YOU WERE EVIL!” style game, but one you knew going in, you will be the ‘bad guy’ or ‘girl’. So Game of Thrones-inspired what Lucid Soul is today feeling the time was right, but the history of it is the great classics, Chrono Trigger, Lunar: Silver Star, and more importantly Eternal Blue, Final Fantasy (Specifically 6 or 3 in the U.S. and 4 or 2 in the U.S.), Final Fantasy Tactics, Shin Megami Tensei (Specifically Digital Devil Saga), and Silent Hill. Horror tends to be all modern-day, so it felt fresh to bring Horror into the world of fantasy. And we hope our influences shine through to all players.

 

What has the developmental process been like?

Once Sangrde, our character artist came on board, pretty smooth. The past is littered with reaching out to people, asking their expertise and thoughts, trying to have them understand the Horror and artistic styles we’re after, and feeling out who can best slip in. Once the team has been finalized development is smooth, and it’s a treat to be able to know there’s quality because no one would want this game with my talent at the helm for art and pixel work.

 

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How close are we to seeing the finished product?

Depending on the final funding of the Kickstarter, I hope to speed our production up by hiring a Programmer, as that’s my task. The projected date is October of 2022 and we feel we can hit that mark, but if I could grab a professional that could drastically speed us into the Beta phase. But to try to be as professional as possible for all involved, 2022 October.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

Oh man, everything! Honest truth, it’s a learning experience ground up, so every time you catch a bug, or pull a Picard Facepalm, or see a wandering pixel and blurt out “Oh hai Mark!”, it’s fun, knowing you have improvements to make on yourself and a game. But the best part is meeting new people, talking about Lucid Soul never gets old for me personally, but it’s that look on a person’s face when you explain it for the first time and feel the response sinking in. That’s what I’m personally after with the players, so it’s great to see and feel it during development as a new person comes on board for acting or art.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

Translating concept to the actual controller in hand gameplay. I imagine this is what anyone who creates goes through, but learning it and experiencing it, that’s a challenge. Notebooks in the house are filled with mechanics and being an algorithm guy more than a coding guy, that’s the most challenging aspect.

 

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How well has the game been received so far?

The backers we’ve managed to bring in are absolutely amazing to communicate with and get their feedback on the game’s subject matter, characters, and future plans. Through them I’d say those that put in the pledge to be able to talk, the reception is positive. In truth, the one thing I WISH as a creator I could say is that I can’t reach out to those who don’t pledge or move on. Those that click your title picture but leave. I truly wish I could hear from them as well, because we as creators can never stop learning, and failure I think is the key to success. I’d like to know where I could improve, or what failed to appeal. Praise makes you feel good, and it IS wonderful, but it’s the harsh truths and criticisms that make the end product a better experience, and I openly expect and respect it.

 

Do you and the development team see Lucid Soul as an attempt to subvert the traditional Japanese RPG?

Subvert isn’t the word I’d use completely, because you don’t want to break a wheel that we all know and love. But subverting the EXPECTATION of the JRPG fan, then yes. We want the player to enter Lucid Soul fully feeling comfortable in traditions, the menu, the map interface, the overworld feeling bigger than hubs, a home base to put your feet up, the adventure, the exploration, the artifact gathering, the growing in power. We FULLY want those to be expected and embraced. Much like Undertale’s revelation of what EXP meant to the player, we do hope that the same fun takeaway occurs with our changes. Our team couldn’t think of a mainstream JRPG in which the hero is the villain, and the villain is the protagonist, so how does that affect those traditional elements, is major on our priority and creativity list.

 

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Which entries in the Final Fantasy series have you and the team had in mind most during development?

6 is the most influential to style, and a number of distinct personalities. 7 is the most influential for the villain’s journey alongside the heroes. Lastly, 10 plays a major part in influencing the idea of Cinematic Combat, or Combat that continues on multiple screens without actually leaving it, with dialogue and story, reinforcements and such playing a part to be more dynamic. 4 is, forever and always, my personal nostalgic favorite, but it’s also the only of those which kept far away from technology until the Blue Whale and the Babil Giant, keeping its roots very deep in fantasy. One of my favorite conversations with our tile artist starts something like “Ok, but if this were Final Fantasy, how would they make this ship fly. Ok now, how would we do it?”
I think Sephiroth is considered by most to be the single best remembered Villain, at least every gamer I’ve ever mentioned him too, can give me a response on how they feel about him or things they remember. The remake going mainstream of 7 really helps cement him too. So for our JRPG, it’s taking the impressions people have, and then asking the obvious follow up to us: “Would you play Final Fantasy 7, if he was the main character, and if so…” going from there. I LOVE the responses you get from that, and it’s how we adapt and add little pieces to those responses.

 

How instrumental has the involvement been of so many different musicians famous from all over YouTube?

Youtube is massive, and I dare say the single most important key to if we succeed. Through Alyssa Gerwig (SpectroliteAAA), and approaching her for our animated trailer idea, she introduced me to Diwa De Leon (String Player Gamer), and then the network kind of grew from there. I’m lucky, blessed, touched, and thrilled that the famous ones like these and the juggernaut Camila Cuevas staked their reputation to show us support and introduce us to friends and acquaintances of theirs for getting work done. Sound, animation, music, vocalists, all through their good graces. The only musician I can say I personally played a hand in, is Lauren Kinkade, of Laurenkinkademusic.com and if you went to Dodgers games she sang the anthem for many live performances. She’s a girl I luckily went to highschool with and is actually where the Goddess got her name when she agreed all those years ago to sing in the game.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

PC and Mac are first, Steam and Itch are the approved distributors, and our first Platform stretch goal is the Switch. Beyond that we’ll happily do others, Stadia has reached out to me personally, it simply is a budget and programming issue, but we expect to have to gauge feedback on the game first to distribute to more.

 

Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that have since been scrapped or reworked?

Feeling out spriting budgets, so far the number of Bromides and Souls is the first to be affected, this is why we put those as Tier rewards in our Kickstarter hoping we could take a more personal approach to them also while allowing more in the game. In Lucid Soul, we want the main character Scythe to truly feel like an Everyman/Everywoman to the player, but unlike say Chrono who is played without speaking, you never get to change anything about the visual nature. So a female player may like his story and bond with the team, but feeling like “Chrono is Me” never lets him evolve beyond “I control him first”. How MUCH customization to our main character will directly relate to budget, and that’s the first thing I and the others had to talk about and tone down. Most, for now, have not had to be scrapped, and that’s the only (knock on wood) to need reworking.

 

Which characters have been among the most fun to design out of so many outlandish individual personalities?

That’s tough, lol. I mean even as the one who created them that’s tough. My goal’s always been, RPGs are for their characters, people remember Marle hugging Chrono 20+ years after the game’s out, people still have youtube reactions posted or recount that moment Aerith meets her fate. While I want each one to have a memory when it’s all said and done that makes you even recount some things about the ones you didn’t like, my personal favorite is Synella. I play Tanks mostly in MMOs, WoW, SWTOR, etc. so designing how a Tank could translate to the JRPG tactics style and feel like they had character, has been fun… challenging but fun. Since she speaks in groups of 3, one word for each month, trying to convey her stories and dialogue choices and emotion through ‘which’ 3 words she says, that’s by far the most fun. The other is Wick. She’s my son’s favorite and blew him away when I said she’s my second favorite, just because she’s a unique race design, so you don’t know if the slow-moving, long-eared, magical race that let their blood spill and congeal to make hair and Runes, and you never know if she’ll be liked for that alone. But for her, it’s the personality and making sure it’s presented and played properly. All are fun for different reasons but those 2 stand out for me.

 

If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or any franchise, which would it be, and why?

Disney. It may shock a reader for that one, but because they have the biggest franchises and genres of fantasy that could be taken down different paths, and the money to be TRULY creative with it if they ever chose to. They shoot down Tim Burton for years, and the irony of ironies, bring him back to do a “his style” Alice in Wonderland. I would LOVE to have an hour just to hear what that experience is like. But I have to give credit where it’s due, the 1 game that I never played until the sequel came out, and truly impressed me and changed what video games are capable of, is Kingdom Hearts. When 2 companies with that much history come together and decide to let the storytellers do their thing… Just the ingenious culmination of that was mindblowing. But their franchise now I would love to see how they’d react on a creative team, is doing a Heist movie in the Star Wars universe, like call it Trick, and have this elaborate subverted movie as a husband leaves out his house without any explanation as the wife gets concerned and starts a “what’s going on moment”, all your typical tropes of breaking into vaults, holding up hostages, etc etc but at the end, the coveted Heist item is brought to a man in a robe that waves his hand in front of him and says “You’ve done all you need for the Jedi console… go home to your wife…” and it’s all a Jedi Mind trick.

 

On your Kickstarter page, you expressed the sincerity that to prove your intent to your backers, you will take accountability on a personal level. Although this indeed sounds like a personal passion project to you, how supportive have your team been throughout this entire process so far?

As supportive as anyone can be on the outside joining in, I think. I truly hope if you asked their opinions they’d say that this is as much THEIR game now as mine. The artists especially, from pixel to drawings, tile, and Alyssa’s animations, are just a blast to bounce ideas off of, that you sense they genuinely take an interest in improving things, and I hope I do a good job adapting THEIR creativity into everything also. But they’re an amazing group of people I’m fortunate enough to work with and have been in my life and this project as a result. I know for a fact I’d not be on Kickstarter without each and every one of them, from Augustinas to ZeitDieb.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?

Depending on when this article is published or when the person reading it says it… know this: you’re reading this from someone not proven to be a success story or even representing a product that will ever be considered a success. My influences to develop, are Dwarvenaut the movie, Indie Game: The Movie, the creator of Pokemon’s history, Sylvester Stalone’s rejection and aspiration to see Rocky be made, and Tim Burton’s career long before Batman but in the days at Disney when Pee Wee’s Big Adventure wasn’t yet in production. Follow your dreams, believe in yourself enough that people will one day WANT to be a part of whatever world you create, and hold to that. Never believe differently. Creativity is the key to us all playing games and experience things we didn’t know we wanted yesterday, yet today tell our friends we can’t live without, and tomorrow influence someone else’s creation.

 

Where on the Internet can people find you?

I can’t be the only one who reads this question wanting to channel my inner superhero nerd, and write “Where there is injustice… you will find me… where there is suffering… I’ll be there… You can find me using the Bookout signal!” But sadly nothing so dramatic, our website is the easiest, https://lucidsoulgame.com, and our Kickstarter at the moment, where I’ll happily answer any questions to the best of my ability.

 

Do you have anything else to add?

Just that it’s a true honor to have met you and be going through this experience. I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity to talk to others about Lucid Soul, myself, and my development team. We’re nothing without them. Thank you for the questions and your time!

 

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank Jon for taking the time out to talk to me about this promising-looking game, and to wish him and the various different musicians and artists working on it the very best of luck with its Kickstarter project and subsequent release. Lucid Soul is indeed set to be an incredibly unique take on the traditional JRPG and a standout title compared to many of the classic games in the genre, and I can’t wait to play the game when it comes out. In the meantime, if you wish to support the Kickstarter page, you can do so via the link below:

Lucid Soul Kickstarter

But in the meantime, I hope you guys enjoyed reading this article as much I and Jon did putting it together.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88.