Over recent weeks our Kickstarter summaries (which will resume this weekend) have featured Animal Gods, an intriguing project from US developer Still Games. Though listed for PC, Mac and Linux, as is the norm on the crowdfunding platform, the developer has also included the Wii U in its core goal, placing Nintendo's system as the primary home console for the project. As the title takes inspiration from '90s RPGs and SNES classic The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, that decision to include Wii U becomes less surprising.
As a title with mythology partially based on real-world history, with plenty of fantasy besides, we caught up with the studio to learn more. Kara Myren and Peter Harmon explain more about the storyline, development approach and the studio's inclusion of the Wii U eShop as a target platform.
To start off, can you introduce yourselves and Still Games?
Kara Myren: We’re a two-person video game studio located in West Virginia. Not quite Silicon Valley, but it’s been a great location to develop game ideas. Overall, I do the programming and Peter Harmon develops the feel, flow and content of the games. We also pull together all the stuff in between, sometimes collaborating with other artists, other times selling our soul to devil at 4am.
Animal Gods is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter; before we get into detail, can you provide a basic concept outline of the game?
Kara Myren: Animal Gods is an open world, action / adventure game set in Bronze Age Europe — mixing the core combat of classic Zelda with an intriguing story surrounding the great Animal Gods and the new coming of bronze metals. Monsters are in lots of video games but they’re usually not explained that well. We wanted to tell a story surrounding the Animal Gods themselves.
The setting is rather striking, with a 17th Century BC Bronze sword, a 1500BC England setting and clear fantastical elements. How did that come together, and is the setting based on travelling to locations such as Stonehenge?
Peter Harmon: We’ve researched mysteries, mythology and folklore surrounding these areas. There’s a good bit of fiction and fantasy like you’ve mentioned — but all of the fiction is grounded in reality. Grounded in History and established folklore. For instance — there are some fictional dungeons and temples you explore in Animal Gods. From a gameplay perspective, that means things can stay abstract and lead to fun level design. Whereas key story pieces & scripted events can surround Stonehenge and some other famous places you’ll discover.
We’ve done our research stateside — we don’t have the budget for a European vacation. Books, Google maps tours, images, reading travel blogs have all contributed to the feel we’re getting across. Most of the research surrounding the period and time was done on a computer, stateside. We haven't had the chance to visit, unfortunately.
Is the Animal Gods idea, of rescuing these Gods, based on any established mythology or lore?
Kara Myren: No, we haven’t found a mythology that features a human character rescuing gods. In most myths, the gods help the hero, or trick the hero. The gods are usually all powerful. Animal Gods takes place in world that is going through a shift, which means that we get to shift the power structures of the world as well. Your character, Thistle, is needed to help the gods. The atmosphere of the game features familiar elements of European paganism, but the storyline — the fact that YOU are called upon to save the GODS — is unique to the Animal Gods myth.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is cited as an influence, which is also evident in early footage, but was A Link Between Worlds (3DS) also an influence in terms of an open world and tackling areas in the order that a player chooses?
Peter Harmon: Yeah, that’s right. I think A Link Between Worlds did some pretty great stuff with giving players a choice in dungeon design. From a story perspective, the Elder Scrolls series has also done a great job with open world story telling. As a player you choose a direction and you go along your way. On your path, you discover some really cool side-stories and characters. They feel really personal, as if you're the only one who knows about them. That’s a great feeling and those moments can be powerful.
What other '90s titles have had an influence on Animal Gods?
Peter Harmon: Chrono Trigger & Final Fantasy VI are pretty big influences. The whole top-down, village thing might feel similar — but more than that, those games had a lot of character reflection and soliloquies. You might find a character looking off to distant skies thinking about personal turmoil and/or impending doom during a scripted event. These moments of introspection are something that classic JRPGS did really well. Some of that will be in Animal Gods, too.
The confirmation of the Wii U as a core platform is pleasing, but what prompted this decision by your team? Is it nostalgia for the company, solely a business decision or a combination of factors?
Peter Harmon: All nostalgia aside, I think Nintendo is one of the most consistent & high quality developers around. I’m honored that they verified us to develop on their own platforms. Nintendo has always been making good games.
On the business side, the Nintendo eShop is quite friendly — the eShop gets more use than it does on other platforms — Wii U owners use the eShop. Indie games show up on the front page, and players know they exist.
From a design perspective, I think players will find Animal Gods has some core gameplay elements in line with Nintendo’s, so Nintendo fans will find Animal Gods to be an enjoyable experience.
If funded, do you have any particular plans to utilize the Wii U hardware in unique ways, such as the GamePad?
Peter Harmon: We’re still mulling around with the ideas for touch-input, but Animal Gods will definitely offer off-screen play.
Are you using an off-the-shelf development tool-set, such as Unity or Game Maker?
Kara Myren: We’re developing the core game in Unity, which is compatible with Nintendo hardware. So far, the software has suited our needs in the development process. Unity is a robust, packaged engine that makes it relatively easy to port to other devices as well.
How optimistic are you, at this stage, of hitting your funding goal?
Kara Myren: Kickstarter feels a bit like the Wild West! Anything can happen. We are now over 75% funded — but we’re not there yet. There’s a little mystery & magic surrounding Kickstarter, and we’re enjoying the ride.
Do you have a final message for our readers regarding Animal Gods?
Kara Myren: We need your help to make Animal Gods. We’re super pumped for this project and hope that you are too. We want your help and we want your thoughts, so please back us! Without your help now, Animal Gods won’t be possible.
At the time of writing the Animal Gods campaign has raised nearly $21,000 of its $26,000 goal, with 7 days to go. We'd like to thank Kara and Peter for their time.