As part of my promise of two weeks of new interviews, I had the chance to interview Jeremy Townsend of Psycho Sorted about his latest game, Everstar.
I know some of you have doubts about the game from replies on the news-bits, so let me address a few of them, and try to convince some of you to help back the game.
Couchpotato: Thanks for agreeing to the interview! So to start off, can you tell us a little bit of information about yourself, and about your game studio Psycho Sorted?
Jeremy Townsend: I'm Jeremy Townsend, Director of Psycho Sorted. I've been working on AAA games since I graduated from college as a producer/designer/tech designer. I started at EA Games and EA Sports, worked at Zenimax for a while, and most recently was the MP & balance designer for Command & Conquer. Our team is composed of wonderful and talented people I've worked with over the years, really great, passionate folks who love games and wanted to try something that a larger corporate studio would never go for.
Couchpotato: Can you share a few details about your game, Everstar, for new readers, and what makes the game stand out from other RPG games?
Jeremy Townsend: Certainly! Everstar is a real-time 3D party RPG set in a fantasy world. You get to a control a party of six characters - customize their skills and equipment, and give them orders in combat. You can control them directly or rely on their AI. You can also play through the story campaign co-op with your friends if you want. On the surface, Everstar has a bright and fantastic appeal, but at its core Everstar is actually a coming of age story that explores the psychology of child soldiers who find themselves developing insane levels of power.
Couchpotato: So I'm curious as to what inspired you to make a game like Everstar, and to launch it on Kickstarter?
Jeremy Townsend: No one is really doing party based 3D RPGs. There are some great solo games but everything else has left bad tastes in our mouths both from a game systems and story perspective. A lot of games focus on trying to have an epic scale without ever giving a reason to care about or believe in the powerful characters you are controlling. Systemically, the party RPGs haven't changed much - they are all flat statistics games (usually dressed up with flashy VFX and backflip animations), even though technology has advanced enough to let us simulate more detail.
Kickstarter is a really exciting way to get a game out the door. We are funding a lot of Everstar out of our own pockets, but we wanted to have a way not only to involve the community, but to be able to improve the production quality of the game with an increased budget. This would also allow us to not have to deal with publishers trying to steer the game or water it down. With Kickstarter we can tell the story as intended and by unveiling actual, innovative gameplay we hope to show that we are deserving of player trust.
Couchpotato: I always ask every developer the following question - what are your favorite RPG games you played over the years, or helped to develop?
Jeremy Townsend: My favorite RPG experience was playing the original Baldur's Gate I&II over the internet with a good friend who had just moved across the country. I've never had another RPG experience come close to that co-op goodness (except maybe Demon's/Dark Souls)! We'd each take control of three characters and have a blast delving into those dungeons.
Couchpotato: What do you think about recent gaming trends like KS campaigns, F2P, forced online , and streamlining?
Jeremy Townsend: We think that KS can be great when used by indie groups who can show that they have more than just an idea and some concept art. F2P can be done tastefully, though I personally can't stand energy systems in games - I'll uninstall a game as soon as it asks me to decide if I will wait 5 minutes or put in money. Forced online can make sense for server side games, but for most, it's just a sham form of DRM, which I find distasteful. I think the traditional wisdom that says a game should be easy to learn and hard to master is good – but that a lot of the big studio fumble because the try to dumb it down. Players are smart, even new players and non-gamers, and they can master the most crazy/deep games if you teach them how in a fun way. Just look at high level raiding in WoW: they’ve on-roaded the most casual players into wrangling 50 button hotbars, UI mod installation, and 25 man coordinated raids.
Couchpotato: So back on the topic of your game, will you be able to customize your party members, or will they all be pre-set options?
Jeremy Townsend: Customization is the bread and butter of Everstar. Everstar uses a job system for progression, and features 'kit swapping' so each character can be extremely versatile. Each character is not forced down a preset class. For example you could take your sword & shield warrior and have her learn some healing spells; you could make a stealthy archer who can swap his bow for a staff and let loose some offensive magic; you could make a pure two-handed bruiser or a character who does a little bit of everything. The skills and progression in Everstar is what I am most excited to dig into, and I can’t wait to see what crazy parties other players can come up with.
Couchpotato: When people hear about the multiplayer options on your game, some are concerned that it might mean a lack of emphasis on the singleplayer AI. Where will most of your emphasis go? Will it be to the single-player campaign, or to your multi-player options?
Jeremy Townsend: Everstar already has some of the most advanced AI in an RPG or RTS; our AI already does actions like flank, block, wait for attack opportunities, combo, use abilities strategically, and accept orders. And that is just the friendly AI; the enemy AI is its own awesome beast.
AI is equally important in co-op play, so in no way would we ever prioritize one against the other! For example, what if you and I were playing together and we each took control of 3 characters - having great AI is just as important (if not more important) in co-op! To be clear, the single player campaign is the same content that you play when you invite someone in for co-op!
We would never make a value judgment against an AI feature by saying "OK we have 6 player co-op (where every player controls one unit), so the AI can be bad" - that is just really counter to everything we are trying to accomplish with Everstar!
Couchpotato: Since the game is still in development, what's your estimate for how long your campaign will be? Will it allow multiple playthroughs to see different endings?
Jeremy Townsend: By our estimates, you could blow straight through the story in about 10 hours if you didn't do any optional quests, skipped all the story, etc. If you want to try to delve deep and max out your progression you could easily spend 50 hours on it. And yes, you’ll have to play through the game more than once to see everything – your story choices matter and we are working hard to make every story choice interesting!
Couchpotato: I see you guys promise that gamers will not waste your their time wandering huge empty worlds. So how will this work? Will the game be very linear, and will you be allowed to explore any part of the game?
Jeremy Townsend: The structure of our game is inspired by Persona 4; there are hubs that you fast travel from and smaller areas to explore. Each game day you choose an NPC to spend time with and deepen your relationship with them - unless you decide to focus on training or studying instead. So, each calendar day in the game is actually a finite resource, because each calendar day moves you closer to big story events, like tournaments or celestial alignments. Spending your days the way you want will let you develop the story differently than other players, so I wouldn't call it linear, though the entire game has a specific start and end calendar day.
Couchpotato: You promise the game will be about the main character's personal journey, and will have good interaction with party members. So how will this work, and will choices you make alter the game in any way?
Jeremy Townsend: The major characters in our game each have what we call 'story threads' that you explore by choosing to spend time with them. The choices you make as Yona define how the other characters see and treat Yona; for example Tessa is a warm, strong, and good natured friend who can get very upset if you make greedy choices with her around. Opal, on the other hand, is a pragmatist so she doesn't mind if you do despicable things so long as they can be justified logically.
Your choices can have direct effects on them as well; for example in the 'Cendant Heist' story event that we showed, you can see Tessa has an eyepatch - Tessa actually lost an eye based on an earlier choice we made as Yona. When other people play, they can make a different decision with an outcome that leaves her un-scarred, but you might find the consequences even worse!
Couchpotato: Since we're on the topic of choices, I read the game will be using something called the sanity" system". Can you give an explanation on how it works?
Jeremy Townsend: We mentioned how other characters treat you differently based on your choices; if your choices are all over the place and inconsistent, then all the other characters notice that your Yona is wild and unpredictable and react accordingly. It's like another story path through the game, but one where we introduce a bit of an unreliable narrator aspect into what you as a player sees through Yona's eyes.Exactly how far we go with that is TBD, but we have some really fun ideas that we want to try out!
Couchpotato: Will your game have any kind of modding support? Can we expect nearly-full moddability on release?
Jeremy Townsend: Since we are building the game with Unity3D Pro we can't just pack up with tools and give them away. If we can find a way to do it we'd love to open the doors to modding though!
Couchpotato: Do you plan to offer a demo for potential backers to try? Will the game be released DRM-Free if it's funded?
Jeremy Townsend: We're showing a lot of gameplay during our campaign, and the first time players will be able to get their hands on the game will be in the closed alpha - that will be the first time anyone outside the team gets to play through the full game cycle, and not just the combat & story set pieces.
We're looking into gog.com as a DRM-free release portal - hopefully that will work out since we are too focused on the game to try and roll our own digital distribution system!
Couchpotato: The campaign is asking for $850,000, and I have to ask why the high amount is needed to fund the game. From my experience with recent gaming Kickstarters, only a few ever get funded asking for more than $50,000.
Jeremy Townsend: We did a thorough cost analysis on what it would take to bring this game up to a high quality bar and be able to release it soon. A lot of Kickstarters low-ball in the hopes of doubling what they get, but we wanted to be upfront and honest. The sticker shock is understandable, but these kinds of games are really hard to make and cost a lot of money.
Since Everstar is a high end 3D game, we have to make all the content through these very difficult and time consuming pipelines. To give you an example, look at what it takes to make a single 3D character:
Concept Art -> Modelling -> Painting -> Baking & UVs -> Rigging -> Animation -> VFX -> Game Implementation -> Cinematics Implementation, not to mention the writing, recording, face capture, etc. Not only that, but once you look at the fees, rewards, and taxes we are only going to have maybe 2/3 of the funding amount to spend on development. We are all putting our own money in as well – we aren’t trying to fund the whole thing through KS, so hopefully that helps give an idea of why high-end game development is so expensive :)
On the plus side, Everstar is designed to make the most of these 3D systems - it's core to fundamental gameplay, and not just a 2D game spruced up (or down) with 3D graphics. It's definitely scary to ask for so much, but it never hurts to ask right?
Couchpotato: To go along with the last question I asked, do you guys have a backup plan just in case the game fails to get funded?
Jeremy Townsend:Yes, our backup plan is to go back to talking with publishers and, if need be, just finish the game in our spare time over the next several years.
Couchpotato: And for my last question, I was wondering if you could share what you have learned from working at Bioware, and just from developing games? Now might also be the time to add anything you might like to say before we finish.
Jeremy Townsend: One thing I've learned is that there are some excellent kinds of gameplay that can only be made with larger teams and budgets, but that the bigger companies are becoming so risk averse that they'll never even try to make them. Hopefully we can forge a way for game like that get made - starting with Everstar!
Thanks for having me on RPGWatch! We’re a bit amazed at how little media coverage we’ve gotten, so you guys are awesome for bucking the trend! Also, thanks to all the readers who made it to the end of the interview. Please consider backing our campaign and help spread the word if you can!
So thanks for talking to us as well, Jeremy! Whatever happens, we're looking forward to playing Everstar! As of now, the game has three weeks left to get funded.
Developer: Psycho Sorted
SP/MP: Single + MP
Genre: Tactical RPG
Combat: Pausable Real-time
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Publisher: Unknown