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Kynseed Interview — A Fabled Return to the 1980s

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Kynseed

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.

Kynseed logo

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.

Kynseed gameplay

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…

Kynseed concept art

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?

PixelCountFable 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 FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

Interview

Fantasy Hawaiian Shooter Ashes of Oahu Gets a Second Wind – Exclusive Interview

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Ashes of Oahu

Early last year, one open-world RPG promised to do things a little differently from the norm. A post-apocalyptic setting, various factions, and dialogue options all seemed standard, but Nightmarchers stood out because of its setting.

The game would take place on Oahu, with its story steeped in local folklore and mythology. However, an ambitious crowdfunding campaign fell short and the team behind the project, Wyrmbyte, fell silent.

Fast forward almost eighteen months, and the team stepped out of the shadows with a revitalised project, featuring a more contained world and a rebranding to Ashes of Oahu. In the wake of the comeback, OnlySP got in touch with Wyrmbyte president Scott Brown to find out about why those changes took place and what the game looks like now.

OnlySP: For any of our readers who may not remember Ashes of Oahu, what’s the elevator pitch?

Brown: An open-world, post-apocalyptic RPG shooter where you tap into the power of the spirit world to liberate the Hawaiian island of Oahu from the army that occupies it.

OnlySP: When we caught up with you last year, Ashes of Oahu was known as Nightmarchers. What prompted that rebranding?

Brown: Feedback from Native Hawaiians asked us to not use the name so we changed it.

OnlySP: What has the response been like since you brought the game back into the public spotlight?

Brown: People seem to like our story and are usually wowed when we talk about the small team and how big the world is and how much dialog is in the game.

OnlySP: Do you have any insight into why you might have struggled to garner the funding you required when you took the game to Fig last year? 

Brown: We are so small and larger funding raises require strong marketing efforts, something we could not afford. We stayed with development, it has just taken much longer since the team never had the chance to grow.

OnlySP: One of the changes that stands out the most has been the shrinking of the map from a 1:1 recreation of the island of Oahu to a much more modest 25km2 area. Why have you done this, and what have you focused on in doing so?

Brown: It really came down to two issues. Scope and fun. First the scope of making an interesting world that large was just way beyond what we could pull off with our team size and budget. Second fun, there needs to be variety in experience as you travel around the world or it can become just more of the same. The game is still huge, just not the insane size of the actual island of Oahu would have been.

OnlySP: Are you at all concerned that maybe you’ve compressed things too much?

Brown: Not at all, this is still a very large world and there is a ton to discover. We have several modes of travel to help deal with the size of the game, horse, bird form, shark form and fast travel for example.

OnlySP: From the descriptions you’ve provided, the storyline seems largely unchanged, though you’ve moved away from a claim of authenticity to Hawaiian myths. Why is that?

Brown: Again based on feedback from Native Hawaiians who asked us not to.

OnlySP: This change in perspective also has me wondering what you’ve learned from the feedback you’ve received? Do you think there’s a difference between representing living and ‘dead’ mythologies (like those of the Ancient Greeks)? What advice would you give to other teams that are interested in exploring the cultures of marginalised communities?

Brown: Work with those communities as much as you are able. Listen to their concerns and be flexible in your design to accommodate those concerns.

OnlySP: Aside from the aforementioned differences, the focus on taking over outposts, the presence of multiple factions, and the combination of magic and gunplay for combat all seem largely unchanged. Have you made any other major changes to the overall structure and style of the game in the last year and a half?

Brown: It is more minor iteration in details like how the game controls, AI behaviors, balance,  performance optimization. The reason for the extended time is honestly production. Building out this massive story with multiple paths you can take is a ton of work.

OnlySP: A recent blog post for the game talks about how player choices can have far-reaching consequences. Will many side-quests interact with the central narrative at all, or are they self-contained stories?

Brown: They can influence both faction rating, which unlocks skills from those factions or change your pono (karma basically) which also can change how you are perceived by NPCs.

OnlySP: You mention that Ashes of Oahu will have over 100 endings. How different will those be, and what sort of decisions will players have to influence them? Also, will players be made aware when they’ve made a choice that impacts the storyline going forward?

Brown: Whenever you are making a decision that will impact faction rating or pono you are alerted to the impact before you make the decision. However, all possible decisions are not always spelled out for you. For example, if someone asks you to steal an item from another faction there may be other ways to get the item or even convince them they don’t need the item they want you to steal. The endings all come down to the combination of how you worked with each faction as well as some significant side stories you may or may not have completed.

OnlySP: When last we spoke, you were confident about a Q3 2018 release. The reasons why you missed that seem straightforward, but how far away do you think you are from pinning down a new launch date?

Brown: Right now we are in testing and fixing issues as they are found. We want to have a solid release so it will take as long as it takes to get through the feedback. We are close however, all the mission chains are in, the major points of interest on the island all exist, and we have found and improved a number of bugs and balance based feedback already. I am confident in a summer release at this point.

OnlySP: Finally, do you have anything else that you would like to say to our readers?

Brown: We love any and all feedback and I would invite people to join us on our discord server if you have any questions or just want to talk about the game more.  https://discord.gg/KhW7uSj


For all the latest on Ashes of Oahu and much more from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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