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Our interview with Couchpotato sharing the juicy details of our developing game and our time on the Square Enix Collective.

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Hello my fellow watchers and anonymous readers. Today I have a new interview with Indie RPG developer called GrenadeTree about their new game Outland 17.

I asked for questions and only received one reply, so most of the interview is questions from myself. So thank you HiddenX for the questions. I can always count on you.
Let's get started.

Couchpotato: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions about your game Outland 17: Void of Liberty. Can you share a little background information about yourself and your game studio Grenade Tree Games?

GrenadeTree: I grew up playing games, so you can say it's been a lifelong dream. It wasn't until college that I actually got the ability to make video games. I started making with cell phones in college. This was back in the day when phones were monochrome and you had to carefully choose which platform and model you wanted to support.

It wasn't until I went to Mt. Sierra College that I got the opportunity to learn programming and project management. (Back then there weren't college programs on game development, you had to research yourself by reading articles and going to conventions like GDC.)

For my senior project I produced a game with classmates. This is where I met Rob, a fellow alumni. He and I figured that the best way to start getting experience was to jump feet first into development. It was there in the halls of school that we started practicing with pen and paper prototypes of games. We even called people over to try out new changes we had made and got them to sit with us and play!

Our team grew from there as we took our project forward by refining elements of gameplay, visual style, and narrative. We formed a name for the team, Grenade Tree Games, and took a prototype of our game to E3 2013 to display at the Ouya booth. We’ve grown even more since that year and now are ready to push our project into full development through crowdfunding.

Couchpotato: In case some readers have missed the posts for the last few months on our site, can you describe what Outland 17 is about?

GrenadeTree: Outland 17: Void of Liberty is a tactical RPG that draws inspiration from similar games as X-COM, FTL, and Heroes of Might.

Our game’s story is based around the concept of the American Revolutionary War. You and your fellow colonists have re-located to Outlands throughout the solar system in the hopes of working off their debt. Working conditions and violence have lead you to rise up with your fellow colonists to throw off the shackles of oppression.

G. Martin Wallace, citizen of the People’s Republic of Earth, hears rumors of civil unrest in the colonies. Despite the official reports, Martin Wallace is compelled to validate these rumors for himself. You start with Martin Wallace landing on Outland 3 seeking out the truth. You help choose the direction of your revolution by gathering the people to organize a more effective force that can match the military force present on Outland 3.

Every new member to the team unlocks new missions, new insights, and possibly a new path to win the Revolution. In the game you lead a squad of soldiers on missions to spread your revolution to each Outland. Your squad members get experience and level up like traditional RPG’s. Each squad member has a unique set of abilities (we call a Kit) and a unique back story. Where we start changing things up is the leveling up process, which is based on which abilities you use and what your playstyle is.

Your squad members also aren’t limited to just certain class types. Every one of them can use any weapon, weapons are customizable to how you want them to play, and abilities in your kit level up depending on how you play the game.

Couchpotato: What inspired you to make a game like this in today's game market?

We love RPG’s and that love was where inspiration grew from. I grew up on the classics, with one of my favorites being Final Fantasy VI. It’s a genre that really defined gaming for its time, but there were some things that stood out about it to us.

First we looked at traditional JRPGs, which haven’t changed their formula’s since the early 1990’s when RPG’s on computers were still addressed as CRPG’s. Since the genre doesn’t stray too far from what’s been established we felt there was something to be gained from expanding on that. This isn’t to say that everything we are doing is going to change the foundation RPG’s are built on, but we are giving the genre our best shot at moving away from convention.

We also looked at games like XCOM and wished there was a lot more customization and immersive story. Combining these elements with traditional RPG aspects is a really exciting prospect for our team and how we originally started forming together.

We knew that if we could blend the elements customization, narrative, and roleplaying adventuring in a way that felt different from other turn based games that we would have something that people would want to play.

Couchpotato: I see your game is going to be turn-based. Can you share why you chose this method of combat, and describe how it works in the game?

GrenadeTree: Turnbased gameplay is one of the easiest game concepts to understand and is the basis of almost all games. The fundamentals are simple: you take a turn, then your opponent takes a turn. It was even adopted into warfare through the colonial period, where enemy troops would take turns firing at each other from across a field until the other side surrendered.

With this style of gameplay, it stays familiar enough for people to pick up right away. However, we’re using that as the core to branch off into other ways of playing RPG’s. Player’s squads will take turns firing back and forth with the enemy, but it’s the extra elements we add that start to change long standing traditional RPG play styles.

Couchpotato: To add the above question, you stated on the game's webpage "Void of Liberty is a turn-based tactical RPG designed to be accessible for casual gamers, but enjoyable for the hardcore community." How will you satisfy these two oppositional gamer groups in one game?

GrenadeTree: A few years back if you would have told me that you could get casual players into an awesome tower defense game, I might have thought you were nuts. But games like Plants vs Zombies changed up the formula and guided the player through the first portion of the game until they were ready for a challenge.

Likewise we are working on making basic gameplay choices intuitive enough that they won't get frustrated with the game before they give it a chance. Something that MOBAs do to ease players into more competitive play is giving a recommended build for a character.

These builds might not be the best possible, but they are safe and easy to understand. Once the player feels more comfortable with the game they can experiment with different builds. We feel that’s one of the best ways for people to have fun, by not being forced to make choices and have to sink or swim based on their early builds.

Where many games tend to go too far is that they oversimplify aspects of the game that the hardcore actually enjoy. For our game, unbridled customization and experimentation is something I won't compromise on. People are going to be able to play the game any which way they want. This can mean making quick, efficient teams with surgical precision and brutality or building crazy and unbalanced teams like kamikaze healers or sniper tanks.

The key here will be providing a solid foundation for casual gamers that the hardcore genre can springboard off of to explore the other layers of gameplay.

Couchpotato: Reading up on your game, you replied on the comment section that the game will be told through multiple perspectives. How will this work and will more be told with future updates?

GrenadeTree: One of the big things that we see from fellow indie devs is that often they will have lofty goals of making a huge 100 hour epic, which ends up with bigger budgets and extended production times. We think this kind of ambition is great to have, but we want to keep our production goals more realistic and attainable for a team our size.

We will be creating a complete game where your choices will affect the story. There will also be characters you can unlock for your squad that will offer different perspectives or choices during missions.

Outland 17: Void of Liberty is just the first of several “episodes” that we have planned. If there’s enough support and fans want more, we’ll be able to release additional episodes that further enrich the story with perspectives from other characters and factions.

Couchpotato: I'm also curious to see you talk about how the Open Ended Character Progression will work? Is character progression limited by using weapons/skills?

GrenadeTree: This is actually my favorite part of the game. Squad members start out with a certain set of abilities and weapons that would suggest a certain play style.

However, the characters are not limited by items or weapons they use. Any character can pick up any weapon or item at any point in the game. You even have the freedom to give every squad member shotguns.

Where the open ended character progression comes in is your playstyle. Even though each character starts with specific items and abilities to fit a certain role, their uniqueness is cultivated as you play the game.

You want a character to be a better tank? Keep them in the fray and practice soaking up damage. You want them to be more accurate with their shots? Have them fire from a further distance. Want to heal wounds faster than the enemy can damage you? Use your medic abilities every chance you get.

Couchpotato: You claim the game will have "Impactful Choices". How will these work, and what sets your game apart from others that have tried this?

GrenadeTree: In the game you will have three different advisers that represent certain qualities that can motivate a revolutionary leader. They’ll be trying to influence Martin Wallace to approach certain missions with specific motives or goals in mind. The player will then choose how those missions are carried out and, depending on what you choose, it can affect how the Outlanders, or even some squad members, react to you.

For example, you can have a mission available that’s an SOS from another rebel faction on Outland 8. You can choose to ignore it and focus on other missions that are available or you can accept it and help out those Outlanders. Successfully completing that mission will keep that faction around, which creates other unique missions chains with them.

Those kinds of choices can also have an affect on other separate missions. Say you went and saved that rebel faction and then go to another different mission. That mission could have an event where you were ambushed by that faction, but since you saved their friends, they actually thank you for helping them and show you a different path you can take to complete your objective.

Choices will even carry over to the characters that can join your squad and who you select to take with you on a mission. Say you happen to have someone on your team that came from Outland 5 and you choose a mission from there. Since he knows about the Outland, him visiting it with you will provoke him to tell you more history about it. Thus certain choices will open up opportunities to learn more of the lore in the Outland 17 universe, which could end up providing a completely different outlook on what is taking place.

As we said before, we want our goals as a small indie team to stay realistic. We wouldn’t be attempting intricate, convoluted narrative choices on the level of say Mass Effect, but we still want the player to feel their hand is on the wheel of the ship. Player mission choices will end up influencing the result of your revolution: ushering in an age of equality for mankind or reigning as their new dictator.

Couchpotato: I see you guys are on the Square Collective asking for voters to help get your game on Indiegogo. How does the process work for gamers unaware of what it's about?

GrenadeTree: How it works is developers submit their pitches to the Square Enix Collective. They pick four games for that month that they think are interesting or are presented well and feature them on their web page. You can think of it as a way of them saying “Hey guys, check out this cool project we found.”

For 28 days, that game’s pitch is put up to vote on their page on whether or not people would be interested in crowdfunding the project. This is an excellent opportunity as it gives developers a platform to showcase their project. They can also get feedback from those voting on what they like or dislike about the game.

At the end of the 28 days, if there is clear support for the project and you have a clear plan of execution, Square Enix will sit with you to work out the likelihood of your project reaching completion. If you pass that stage, Square Enix will help feature your game while you’re crowdfunding on IndieGoGo or Kickstarter. They’ll spread the word to their fans on their blogs and also post/tweet about it to their followers.

However, they don’t actually take it to full publisher status. No money is given by them and no project direction is enforced by them. Should your crowdfunding be successful, they receive 5% of what you raised as supplement for helping push your marketing forward.

It’s actually a really great opportunity for developers. Personally, it feels like we’re a lemonade stand that was just loaned some spot lights to help get people to notice us. We would recommend it for any indie developer or team.

Couchpotato: Another question. Why not use Kickstarter? Many members on our site will not use Indiegogo to back projects. What would you say to convince them to do so?

GrenadeTree: We totally agree that Kickstarter is the more obvious choice! In fact, we plan on using that platform for crowdfunding. Originally, the Collective only supported IndieGoGo campaigns. Recently though, they announced that they will also support developers that go through Kickstarter.

Couchpotato: Do you have a timeline for when the game will launch the crowd-funding campaign, and do you have a demo planned for release?

GrenadeTree: Our plan is that, with the huge wave of support we’ve gotten from our fans, Square Enix will approve to help feature us on Kickstarter. If that is the case, we will launch the Kickstarter campaign as soon as we get the stamp of approval from the Square Enix Collective. Our current campaign on the Collective will be over on 10/20.

As for a demo, we’d love to share something playable with our fans to give them a taste of what they can exepect. We’re planning on sharing a prototype sometime during the early Kickstarter campaign. We want to make sure people have the best first impression possible when they give it a try.

Couchpotato: That's all for now, and I look forward to seeing your game funded. Do you have anything you would like to add before we finish?

GrenadeTree: We’re really grateful to the Square Enix Collective community for all the great feedback, as well as to our followers on RPGWatch. It’s because of you guys that we can even attempt a project like this and it’s crazy awesome being in a time where development can work so closely with the players on what they like about the project and what they think could be improved. We want to make a great game for you all and we’re working hard to bring that to you.

Thank you for your time, GrenadeTree.

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