Kynseed very much feels like a continuation of Fable‘s mission statement: an open-ended, player-driven fantasy world. Unlike Fable, however, Kynseed achieves its statement, or at least attempts to. The game’s obvious parallels to a 14-year-old game make sense given that Kynseed‘s developer, PixelCount Studios, is made up of ex-Lionhead staff members.
OnlySP’s glowing preview of the game painted it as a project was massive potential, investing man hours into the right areas. Currently, in Early Access, the title has flaws, but the developer has made its intentions very clear: it is going to be working on the game’s downfalls.
Following the preview, OnlySP sat down with the lovely folks over at PixelCount Studios, to discuss all things game design, Britain, and intertextuality.
OnlySP: Firstly, how did PixelCount Games get together? I know you’re a bunch of ex-Fable devs, but what inspired you all to form a team again?
PixelCount: We had often discussed going indie prior to the news of Lionhead closing, but the announcement pushed us to suddenly seriously consider it. It was scary, but also an exciting opportunity. We originally tried to get a few more Lions onboard. We got a few interested and helping out, but it was a risk for some and others secured new jobs, so the team diminished.
We reached out to Matthew Allen, a long-time Lionhead Community member and Fansite owner, who had expertise in websites, production and community building and we got to work!
OnlySP: How has Early Access been treating you? You’ve been getting glowing reviews on Steam; it seems like the game has a nice bubble of hype surrounding it!
PixelCount: The start was great, and it was very exciting. It is surreal yet wonderful to see reactions to the game. Thankfully, most players have understood the rough state and can see the vision. It has really helped us to be open and honest and make them feel involved. We are still very small fry, but hopefully, we can build on this solid base. The hard work starts here though to keep existing supports happy and entice in new players.
OnlySP: Aesthetically-speaking, where do Kynseed‘s art inspirations come from? The pixel art is super nice. I really dig the hints to druidism.
PixelCount: We had a few things we wanted to get out of the visuals. We wanted to firstly avoid the square, tiled look of most 2D RPG’s…what we call the RPGMaker look (not to dump on RPGMaker though, as it is a brilliant tool, really nice). So, making a lush, organic and yes, messy world was the aim. We wanted to also make the world feel alive and consistent, so lots of movement and detail, without resorting to clichés. The brief to the artists (in particular, Matthew Weekes our environ artist) was to make things feel idyllic, mysterious, colourful and the reference material was a lot of henges, barrows, Yorkshire Dales, Dartmoor, and so on.
OnlySP: Kynseed, much like Fable, seems very British and pastoral, both aesthetically and in terms of its sense of humour. How much does being British inspire your work? I get Oakvale vibes while playing Kynseed, and that town just seems like Middle England encapsulated.
PixelCount: One thing that we are trying so hard to capture is the spirit of UK games from the ’80s, in the heyday of the C64 and Spectrum. These games had such a unique Britishness to them. The humour, the janky writing, the colourful visuals, the references to British culture and sheer eccentricity.
They were games often with a lot of freedom, no tutorials and a great atmosphere where your mind filled in many blanks.
Growing up we were subjected to things like the Carry On series and all the innuendo-laden TV and movies of the time. Monty Python and its ilk really left a mark too. Being British also meant being immersed in other areas of British culture…the ancient history we still see embedded into our land, the inventiveness, the sense of humour even in dire times, the beautiful, bucolic countryside, ghosts and mythical monsters, nursery rhymes and so on.
OnlySP: Are you happy where the combat is right now? In what ways are you looking to improve in that area?
PixelCount: Not happy no! We have a vision for it but it is way early. We want a meaty, responsive combat system that opens up and gives you more tactical options as you play and improve.
OnlySP: You mentioned you were working on Kynseed‘s conversation options. What in particular are you working on? Where do you see its strengths so far?
PixelCount: There has been a design overhaul, with the idea that you get a tree of options that lead to a response, and then your response to that. So you can greet someone, ask for info to help you on any tasks, get gossip of different qualities, take on Favours and so on, with each option depending on your friendship level and the context. Ask an NPC how they are and they may say “I feel unwell” triggering an option to gift them say, a cure or a Favour to go get them something”. The only strengths so far are in the NPC’s themselves, who don’t say much yet but already have bags of character.
OnlySP: What other areas of the game are you working on, right now? Any major expansions or revisions planned?
PixelCount: We plan for monthly updates, adding features and improving existing ones. So right now it is all Update 1 work but can’t say too much more on what it contains…
OnlySP: I liked the range of choice and non-linearity in Kynseed; it’s definitely one of its best points. Are there any games that inspired this free-form approach, or is this something you’ve all been collectively seeking for a while?
PixelCount: Fable and its freedom to choose is, of course, a huge inspiration, as is Ultima 7. In that game, you could go anywhere and tackle the story at your own pace. The world felt alive and was hugely detailed, so we are trying to combine the two games. The NPCs in Ultima 7 responded to crime, but not much else, whereas the NPCs of Fable reacted to you well, but didn’t really have solid routines or sense of purpose (they had routines to an extent but felt a bit anonymous and there to simply react to your farts).
OnlySP: Are there any literary inspirations for Kynseed? The textual quantity in the game is surprising!
PixelCount: The ideas in the game are definitely inspired by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell, and also various books on British myths and folklore.
We want the lore to feel real and believable, but also not be up its own arse and so full of high fantasy claptrap that you fall asleep reading it.
We want a simple, scrappy, energetic charm to the writing….and that’s mainly because I have the technical writing skills of a dung beetle.
OnlySP: Where do you see Kynseed going story-wise? Any plans for endgame content?
PixelCount: Not going to say much on the story. A lot of it you discover yourself, but there are ‘end game’ threads to tie up and ongoing comings and goings.
It will go to touching places. Sad places. Happy places. Hopeful places and very very dark places. We want a game that flips the idea of happy, shiny farming games and adds themes that aren’t touched upon much in this genre.
OnlySP: Fable gets a lot of undeserved bad rep, mostly for its ambitions. Is Kynseed an extension of Lionhead’s initial free-form promises for Fable or was this conscious choice to make something different?
PixelCount: Fable is very close to our hearts, and our aim is to carry on the spirit of Lionhead. That means messy, funny, quirky, unique games with fresh ideas and new takes on old clichés.
Ideally, though, we will stick to the vision and actually deliver what we say…and by tying in those visions into the gameplay, we have no choice but to deliver!
Kynseed is currently in Early Access and is a must-play for fans of Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing. For more on the world of single-player, be sure to follow OnlySP on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.