Pirate Software Talks about Heartbound's Journey of Emotion
In the middle of the night, you awaken to a terrible storm. You go to put on some clothes and then, when you turn on the lights, you’re electrocuted. Your best friend, a dog named Baron, asks if you’re okay before you two venture out into the hallways to get him something to eat. Yet, something doesn’t feel right about this night -- something feels off and you can’t quite put your finger on it. Even with the house’s normal disarray and the eerie quietness outside, something isn’t quite normal.
After falling asleep again, you find your house trashed and Baron missing; now it’s up to you to figure out just what in the world is going on. This is only the beginning of the demo for the game Heartbound, an emotional story driven RPG looking to be funded on Kickstarter. This is its first attempt at being crowfunded, and its being developed by the ambitious team over at Pirate Software.
I sat down with Pirate Sofware and asked them a few questions about their upcoming RPG, one that’s going to deal with complex interpersonal stories involving the hopes and fears of many of its characters.
GameSkinny (Angelina Bonilla): What motivated you to create this independent game by crowd funding rather than proposing this idea to a publisher?
Pirate Software (Jason Thor Hall): After speaking with a number of publishers in the beginning, I really felt it was better to keep us independent. With our community growing around us organically, I get to spend a lot more time with them and be a part of the action. This also helps me get feedback and develop the game in a way that more clearly portrays the story I am trying to tell.
GS: The main characters of the story are Lore, Baron, and Binder; what sort of character dynamic do these three have, and are we going to see some banter between them?
Hall: Lore and Baron have a very interdependent relationship with one another. Lore deals with a lot of troubled thoughts and Baron is always up to the task of cheering him up and keeping him happy or taking him on adventures. In turn, Lore helps mitigate Baron’s intense fear of isolation and loneliness. While they have their issues, the two lean on each other to get by.
Binder is a bit of an oddball when it comes to relationships. He has his own motives and objectives to get through and keeps himself very guarded in most social situations. In terms of banter, there is quite a lot of that throughout the beta and you can expect more of that later on as well. That being said, they are by no means the only characters in Heartbound everything up until now is setting the stage.
GS: Environment-wise, the game is beautiful, from the unsettling space-like area Lore gets transported to through the clock, to the outside of Lore’s house. Within these environments, you mentioned that small things that you do or don’t do can change things in major and minor ways. Does this mean the players should pick up every sock they find or to just be aware of their surroundings, taking special note of oddities in them?
Hall: It entirely depends on the kind of player that you are. If you want to interact more with the world, then it will be more interesting and full of different things to interact with. If you want to be colder to people or actively avoid exploration, then the world will be more in tune with that. Right now there are quite a few events, dialog, and storyline that change in small ways based on these minor actions. In the full game I hope to add more storyline paths and arcs for these different kinds of playstyles.
GS: Were there any games that inspired Heartbound, whether in combat system, story, art style, or anything like that? What about inspirational books, TV shows, or films?
Hall: Wario Ware was a heavy inspiration for the combat system. I always loved the wacky, fast-paced mini-games that made up all of the iterations of Wario Ware. I was also heavily influenced by a lot of the RPGs of the SNES period. Games like Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Illusion of Gaia, and Earthbound. For more recent games, I turn to things like OneShot, Off, and Undertale because of the unique qualities each one brought to the table. For films, I would say A Boy and His Dog. It’s a pretty rough film and not really kid friendly, but definitely something you should watch. If you have ever played the Fallout series, that’s where Dogmeat got his name.
GS: The battle system is a little unique, as you've made it have all sorts of mini games like dodging, popping pods, or memorization puzzles. Does each enemy have their own multi-staged way of defeating them or do some have similar methods?
Hall: All of the enemies have their own mini-games that are heavily varied in objectives. Additionally, as fights progress, the mini-games get harder, change objectives, or more mini-games enter and leave the rotation. As Heartbound doesn’t have random battles it leaves me free to develop unique games for every fight and tune them heavily to the story of the character you are fighting. One of the major planned features is how combat ends in an exploration game where you play through a memory of that character from their perspective. My hope is to show that in a lot of cases good and evil are just perspective shifts.
GS: When you say you get to “rebuild the town of Animus,” did something happen to Lore and Baron's hometown? Was it decimated by a disaster or was it completely abandoned by lack of jobs?
Hall: Animus is a place that players haven’t experienced yet. The grand majority of characters released during the Greenlight campaign live and work in Animus. In total, there are five worlds at play in the entire story. I plan to release another beta a few months from now with additional content leading up to the discovery of Animus, so stay tuned on that front.
GS: Lore’s relationship with his father appears to be distant and not very positive when we first see him in the demo; do you have anything big planned for those two? Or does Lore’s dad continue to be a shadowy figure, ominously looming in the background?
Hall: Lore and his father have a broken relationship and their perception of one another is entirely out of sync. There will be a lot more to see between the two of them, but nothing I can reveal right now.
GS: Regarding those optional cryptograph puzzles that could be solved by the community, will those give hints or clues about the game’s lore, or will they just give fun messages from the developers? Or are you planning on doing a lot of things with the secret codes?
Hall: They already have extra hints and clues about the game’s lore actually! Everything in the ARG is part of the story, but not in a way that is mandatory for progression. You can learn a lot about the darker undertone of the game through them or the backstories and true feelings of different characters.
GS: Will there be customizable outfits for the characters or will they remain in the same clothes throughout the game?
Hall: Depending on how you progress or where you are in the game, there are a lot of different outfits that are possible. Nothing really on the side of truly customizable but your actions and discoveries can change your outfit.
GS: With mentions to sanity and relationships affecting things, were there any particular issues or hard questions you set out to tackle and explore in designing this game?
Hall: How to explore these kinds of concepts without being overbearing and pushy was something I dwelled on for a long time and still do whenever I’m writing dialog. I rework things dozens of times, up until the exact minute I have to release the game.
GS: Do you believe that this game has an emotional core, and if so, what do you believe that core is?
Hall: At the core I feel that Heartbound is about experiencing thoughts and motivations through other characters' perspectives. These kinds of explorations can happen through objects in the world, interacting with the character directly, or living through their memories after combat takes place. I plan to release the memory system at a later time as I want it to feel perfect before I put it out there. It’s something I am actually working on right now and may release in a quick update to the beta sometime soon.
GS: What platforms can we expect Heartbound to be on?
Hall: Windows, Mac, and Linux!
I would like to thank Pirate Softwares's Jason Thor Hall for taking the time to answer my questions. It appears that Heartbound will be a game that'll tug at the heartstrings and more by the time of its release, which, judging by the title, seems just right.
Check out Heartbound's official website or Twitter for more information. If you want to show your support, there's still time to back this project on Kickstarter as well.