Interview: Kynseed development team

We love 8-bit, and Kynseed brings the mystery of forgotten spaces and magic, along with a storyline that spans generations. As a project created by former Lionhead Fable devs, the Kickstarter effort has gotten quite a bit of traction, and NerdQ’s Erik Meyer was happy to shoot the breeze with the chaps behind the curtain.

EM: There aren’t a lot of games that have plots extend to the children of player characters, but Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom comes to mind as an example of a title that does this well. What made you decide to have the inhabitants of Kynseed age and transition through the stages of life? What does the story gain for the cycles of life and death?

Kynseed: Aging was one of the ideas in the original Project Ego, before it became Fable.

I personally always loved the idea of not only the hero getting older but aging alongside everybody he knows. NPCs in games usually stand in one place and are the same the whole way through, and usually throwaway.

We wanted the player to get to know these simple folk, to grow up with them and see their relationships and expose their needs, fears and desires.

Then, when they die, you will be like, “Oh no! Sam is dead! I used to buy stuff from him! He’s got 3 kids now without a dad!”

That intimately knowing people and getting to reveal what makes them tick so you can use that knowledge is what we find compelling.

So for each tale, it creates its own set of stories. Using the Traits system, you can mess with their lives and watch the results, or just observe. Players will get their own stories just from how they treat their world and based on what they see and experience.

It is about time the NPC gained some importance and place in the world to better immerse players. You are not the world saver in this game. We want you to feel like you are part of the world, a world that goes on without you, rather than the game universe being a slave to the player, who is the only thing that matters.

EM: 8-bit games carry nostalgia for anyone who grew up in the ’80s or ’90s, but devs have been applying new tools to the retro feel in recent years. What appeals about pixel art to you, and how do you see it as an integral part of Kynseed?

Kynseed: To be bluntly honest, it was down to cost as to why we went 2D, and partly to help realize our ambitions. As a child of the ’70s, I grew up with retro games, and the C64 is still my all-time fave.

There is just something so lovely about pixel art…it fires the imagination, and the little details are just so lovely. It has a comfy, homely feel about it.

EM: The connection to Lionhead and Fable will catch the eye of anyone with a connection to game-changing RPGs. What do your experiences from that time bring to your work now, and what were some huge takeaways from your time at Lionhead?

Kynseed: The huge takeaways were from the Thai restaurant in the evenings working late at Lionhead 😉

Being around inspirational people, especially your favorite artists, just fires you up and makes each day a pleasure.

I think what we learned is…don’t have too many meetings, don’t cook fish in the microwave, don’t hinder creativity and stay true to your vision.

I would also say that the most important is…listen to your community and respect them.

EM: The addition of composer Russell Shaw is huge; the audio examples on your Kickstarter page certainly evoke Fable. What musical direction has Shaw taken with the new project, and what kind of themes are you seeking to reinforce musically?

Kynseed: Our in-game music was made by a friend of our production manager (and is awesome) before Russ stepped in at the last minute with an offer to help.

He did the title theme, and our plan, with funding, is to have Russ on board. Mr. Shaw is a great friend; we are such fanboys of his genius.

He has had thoughts on direction and themes, but it is one to let ripen over time…but a sense of idyllic summer, joyful childhoods, and simple rustic folk and their quirky customs on one hand…the passing of time, dark fairy tales on the other.

EM: You’ve embarked on a Kickstarter, which means you’re busy. Describe your preparation to launch the campaign; how are you approaching media, fans, and the kind of feedback that comes with putting your work out there and asking for support?

Kynseed: We looked at a LOT of other Kickstarters to prepare. There are so many things to consider…what goes near the top, how to word it to attract people, the length, making sure the video isn’t too long and boring, having nice presentation, and setting up stuff like accounts and making sure all social media platforms and websites are in place and that feedback is directed to a company mail etc etc. Phew!
We took an age deliberating the rewards and prices, but one thing was always clear…no exclusives. Everyone gets the same experience, and nothing is held back to sell on later.

We also learned about the need to keep pushing during the campaign, and when the sags come, to push harder. Updates and communication are so important. Our production manager Matt is very experienced in this area and has been a legend organizing our campaign and social media.

The rest of PR was about getting Fable fans on the train and reaching out to industry pals to help spread the word. Mailing a press release to as many sites as possible takes time but is essential…and adding personal touches to engage sincerely with them is important.

We don’t want the press to be just a tool for our needs. We want to develop meaningful relationships, like in our game, and be honest and fair at all times.

That also goes for our community, and we desire greatly to get them involved and feel like part of PixelCount, where they can be listened to and become part of the process….even helping out if they wish (we have had so much help so far from outside the team, it is humbling)!

EM: Describe the balance players must achieve between jobs and adventuring. Characters maintain their lives in town but explore Quill; as you’ve designed the game environment and added the mechanics for these different interactions, what challenges have you had to overcome?

Kynseed: We are still a bit early in development to have worked on those areas, but the plan is that it is up to the player to live how they want. They can happily, just scrape by and try things out, or dedicate to making their business the very best, which will not only involve finding the materials needed to create and attract more customers but also keeping an eye on rivals and maybe even trying to hinder them!

We want the player to initially feel stretched and unable to multitask efficiently. That’s where good business and time management come in, as do the temptations of Mr. Fairweather and his Arcana. These tools can help automate tasks and facilitate your speed of travel…but, of course, like real life, you need to find that work/life balance. It is a bit of a mirror of our real lives…working hard at the expense of quality family time and having fun. But players can decide to not work so hard and take an easier life. Either one brings its own reward.

EM: You’ve made your game engine from scratch, so describe the impetus for that and the benefits as devs. A great number of projects rely on existing platforms like Unity, RPG Maker, or Unreal, so let us into your process a bit.

Kynseed: The game engine is built on top of the Monogame framework, so it’s not entirely from scratch but not a lot to start with!  Neal, our coder, was more familiar with the framework from messing around with prototypes that never went anywhere in the past so was more at ease starting using that than diving right into an existing platform.  The game so far is all a prototype which we were intending to get to a certain point of work and then decide between options as to what engine the full game would be developed in!  As time went on, with such a small team, we just ended up rolling with it (but there is a remote chance we might still end up switching, though that might not necessarily be to an existing big platform either!).

The big benefit, other than familiarity, was being able to create very bespoke tools for the game at hand and being much more easily able to interpret and fix errors. Platforms like Unity and Unreal are great and have a lot of benefit for content creators, but from a coding perspective, there is quite a steep learning curve to understand how they work and how to get them to work well.  Past experiences with Unreal (and a little with Unity) have shown that they can do amazing things, but again from a coding perspective, with only one developer, it would be hard to achieve what we were setting out to do without likely spending a lot of time trying to figure out what the engine was trying to do rather than getting on with iterating gameplay.

EM: A connection to spirits and communities seems to tie Kynseed together, with life-altering rules imposed by Mr. Fairweather. Sayings and superstitions serve a direct purpose in the game, because they inform players about how things operate. As you’ve gone deep developing story and group dynamics, what has been your guide, and what have you stayed away from?

Kynseed: Again, it is a bit early as we are still designing the intricacies on paper. The main inspiration is olde English customs and folklore. There are some incredible yearly rituals and festivals, some amazing objects and superstitions from hundreds of years ago that nobody has really put into a game. We thought, what if these odd customs were actually real…that the Hand of Glory does put people to sleep, or the running of the goat on a Sunday actually does ward off the long-legged face muncher of Buxton?

Players learning the rules (which we haven’t elegantly incorporated yet…we just have simple proverbs on notes to collect) will lead to hopefully a lot of discussion and discovery.

Miss the trailer?  Check it out here:

Author: Erik Meyer

Erik edits content, writes articles, conducts interviews, and draws silly things for The NerdQ. He also produces Planning Session, a comic showcasing dev discussions.

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