In case you hadn’t seen the articles from Ellis, Nick and I banging on about it, the indie games at PAX Australia this year were really good. They were so good that I set out to interview a silly number of developers, the first of which was Gustav Seymore about his game, Goblins of Elderstone. His studio, Lost Goblins, are a group of 4X and city-building fiends that are well into the idea of goblins. They love goblins so much that they’ve put an excellent amount of thought into how goblins would behave in a 4x/city-building game, likerioting and burning down their own village when they’re unhappy. When not watching over players of his demo like a God-Sim made manifest, he was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk to me about the game.
Where did the idea for Golbins of Elderstone start?
We really love city building games, but we thought there was a lot missing in most of them, like no end game, or not enough chaos. So, we wanted to make a city builder with goblins because we really like goblins! They’re chaotic, they’re the underdog, and they deserve a game.
It definitely feels like a 4X-meets-God-Sim style of game.
Yeah, those are definitely our favorite kinds of games, but there’s a lot in each one of those genres that we don’t like, or like a lot. So, we feel like we took the base parts of each of those, and smashed them together in some kind of mutated goblin fashion.
Can you give us an idea of what Goblins of Elderstone is about?
It’s what I’d call a goblin tribe simulator, so it’s still a city builder at its core, but you are the King or Queen of your goblin tribe. You have to keep your goblins happy, see to their needs, give them enough beer, and frogs to eat, that sort of thing. If they’re not happy, then they’ll riot, steal from each other, kill each other, and eventually burn the village down. There’s also a strategy aspect, which is where the 4X comes into it, by exploring the world map, find the humans, the dwarves, and the other rulers. You can make alliances with those peoples, or go to war with them, and there’s also locations such as dungeons or holy sites, which you can raid, or occupy them with your shamans.
There’s also a God tier, which is your tech tree. In the beginning there’s a creation story, and you choose certain Gods that become your pantheon. Each one of those Gods represents a different technology, or magic tree that you can gain favor in to level up. There’s also heroes that you can hire from the tavern, assign them to raid parties, and these heroes are significant characters to your tribe, that you’ll also level up. There are also story moments that happen, random events; like, maybe a witch arrives in your village, and she wants to speak to one of the chiefs, and if you send her away then she might curse everyone. Or, she might bless the goblins for being wise enough to grant her an audience.
You said before that something you don’t like about other 4X or city builders is that they don’t have much of an end game, how does Goblins of Elderstone address that?
We have multiple objectives throughout the game. One of the things is seasons; there’s this continuous goal to survive every winter, and winter is very harsh. You’ll start with your village, which begins very small, but as you build it up you have to start engaging with the world map, and there are lots of constant threats. You’ll also deal with some stuff to do with your Gods, which is much further along the game. Above all this, your ultimate objective is to make your place in the world, to tame that world, whether it’s through alliances, or by conquering it. There are many layers to it, and the end-game we found that was missing from many city-builders, especially, is once you’ve understood all of the mechanics, and you’ve found a balance, it feels like there’s nothing else to unlock, or nothing new to happen. We constantly throw things into chaos; the goblins might riot, world events will occur, the Gods will put demands on you, and through all of this constant chaos, there’s a very deep end game.
So would you say that the game is very story focused then, with the idea being that you’re building your own story as you play the game?
Yeah, I would say so. In fact, our writer and narrative designer is Edwin McRae, he was the writer on Path of Exile and a few other games, as well. It’s a very important element to us, which is why the first thing you do in the game is create your “creation story” – you’re the first goblins in the world, you’re stepping out of the darkness of a cave, and you get asked, “Who is your tribe?” “What is your story?” It’s even in our trailer, where we talk about your story, and you’re forging a path. So, all these story moments that happen, all the little events that occur during gameplay, they help to build and shape your story.
The game has been on Kickstarter, as well – what’s it like running a campaign, and developing a game under your audience’s direct attention and expectations?
It’s been really positive, we made our goal about a week ago – and that was awesome – and the community we’ve created on there has been amazing. We’ve got almost 600 backers now, and they’ve been super supportive, giving us great feedback. It’s been a very positive experience! We still have a week to go, so we’re trying to get to some stretch goals, we have some really cool tiers planned. We’ve got a lot of designing tiers, as well, so people can design Gods, and design tech (in-game) tiers, as well, so I’m really looking forward to what the community is going to send me, what they’ll come up with, what goblins they’re going to name, and stuff like that. It’s been hard, it’s definitely a hard environment in Kickstarter at the moment, especially for indies, but we’re fortunate enough to have succeeded, and to have found really good people to support us.
How long was the game in development for before you took it to Kickstarter?
Eighteen months we’ve been working on it. We spent a significant amount of time on it full time, we had a bit of funding to get us to the Kickstarter stage, so we could start showing it to people. So, yeah, there’ve been four of us working on it for almost two years – well, eighteen months, but we started coming up with ideas for this about two years ago. We’re very experienced, some of us have been in the industry for about twelve years, and we’ve shipped a lot of games for other studios, but this is time for us to make a cool game that’s unique for ourselves.
So how is this game being developed? Are you making it from scratch, are you using an existing engine, or using some kind of programme?
We use Unreal engine 4, and our programmers are C++ programmers, so they really get into the guts. We use unreal in a unique way, apparently, with the way we’re doing things. Unreal have been amazing to us, as well, they’ve been really supportive, we got to meet the Unreal development team, and we’re really happy using the engine – we’re proud to be Unreal developers.
So, you’re one of the artists on the team?
I’m the founder of the studio, but I do everything except programming. I do some of the art, we’ve got an amzing, talented artist that does a lot of the goblins, and buildings, and some other stuff. I do a lot of the environment art, but I’m chiefly the designer and creative director, and we’ve got two programmers that knock out all the code. So, there’s the core four of us, and then our audio is being done by HyperDuck SoundWorks in Ireland, they’re fricken awesome to work with, really cool guys, award winning sound designers and they’re just really awesome.
You’ve got a cool sort of Tron-meets-fantasy visual style going on, what kind of influences did you have while coming up with this look?
I had a few ideas in the beginning when deciding on the art style, one of which was low-poly, which was just becoming popular at the time. You sort of see it everywhere now but at the time it wwas just becoming a thing. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to make games and you can’t always be the first. But we were very early on with the low poly style, and I think we’ve nailed it – a part of that is that everything is vertex painted, instead of textures, which allows us to iterate the game really quick. So we can produce our art assets very quickly, and we almost skip the concept stage, we concept directly in 3D and that’s been very cool. It creates this really unique facet to low poly style, but one influene for me is that I wanted it to look a bit like a vinyl toy world. So, our goblins have that very toy-like look to them – and hey, maybe we can turn them into toys one day.
How long do you think it’ll take to complete the project?
We are launching into Alpha for the alpha backers in January, then we will do controlled alpha releases up until we go to Early Access, which is aimed at June next year. Then we’ll be in Early Access for as long as the game and the community needs us to be, and for what we need to do. So, if there’s a lot of demand from out community for new features and things, we’ll have to see how we can work those in.
Finally, what’s your personal favorite game?
Right now I love Rimworld, I’ve been playing it since alpha from, like, three years ago, but it just came out on Steam. Rimworld is fricken awesome. Anno’s one of my favorites, but Rimworld is right at the top.
Here are some other places where you can show your support for Paradigm:
Kickstarter: Goblins of Elderstone Kickstarter