Interview with Ian Isaro: Combining Humor and Hope in Cubicle Quest

Ian Isaro talks about overcoming seemingly impossible odds in his game, Cubicle Quest.

Ian Isaro talks about overcoming seemingly impossible odds in his game, Cubicle Quest.
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Cubicle Quest is an old-school RPG that looks quite different from anything you’d expect. The monsters aren’t your typical goblins or dragons though. You’ll see enemies like “Unpaid bills” that turn into stronger “Late fees” if you don’t defeat them fast enough.

Seems strange, right? Well, the game also presents everything in a fantasy setting so it still feels like a classic RPG. The real-life/financial elements are at the core of the game, but it still offers plenty of humor and fun. The header video gives a great explanation of what you should expect from the game.

Cubicle Quest is on Kickstarter for 23 more days, at the time of writing, and has already raised $590 of the $475 goal. I spoke with Ian Isaro, creator about the game and what he hopes people will take away from it.

GameSkinny [GS]: How did you get into game design?

Ian Isaro [Ian]: My grade school teachers could tell you stories about all the game levels I scrawled in the margins of my assignments (my design philosophy at the time could be summarized as “lots of spikes”). I’ve been interested in games for a long time, especially as a method of storytelling.

GS: What made you decide to make an old-school RPG based on real-life issues?

A lot of gamers who analyze numbers and spend hours optimizing in games don’t use those skills in real life, even though they’re more applicable than you might think. And old-school RPG was a way to get at all of that while still making a fun game.

Ian: Quite a few reasons came together for this. First, I wanted to make a hopeful game about overcoming issues I think a lot of people face. Second, I think it’s fun to go from a depressing situation to a positive net worth faster than in real life. Finally, I think RPGs and real life use different mental systems for most people and it’s interesting to contrast them. 

GS: What tools are you using to design Cubicle Quest?

Ian: The engine is RPG Maker VX Ace and most of the financial calculations were done in cFIREsim.

GS: There is a lot of humor. Should the game be viewed as strictly satire, or do you want people to take more out of it?

The enemies of the game that represent all the worst parts of life are played completely straight, since those can be serious issues. If anyone comes away from the game with the feeling that it’s possible to overcome obstacles that might seem insurmountable at first, I’ll consider my goal accomplished.

Ian: I think there’s a lot to take away, but I chose a humorous tone because I didn’t want the game to come off as didactic. All the numbers that represent finances are based on principles that are well-tested in reality, so the strategies that work in the game will also work in real life. I’ve also tried to make the characters more than just archetypes and I’ve been happy that my alpha testers have emotionally responded to them.

GS: Do you take any inspiration from Earthbound/Mother or other RPGS that use real-life situations and humor?

Ian: Earthbound players might notice a few in-jokes, but overall it wasn’t as much of an influence as satirical games like The Bard’s Tale. Other real-life-focused games influenced me in the sense that I tried to steer away from them enough to create a slightly new flavor.

GS: Does the game offer much customization and player choice, or is mostly linear?

Ian: You begin the game deep in debt and have to follow a linear path for the first part. Once you finish the introduction, however, the world opens up and you can choose a wide variety of paths. Most of the content is optional and there should be enough that all players can choose the quests that interest them and get strong enough for the final boss without grinding

For the required content, I try to offer a variety of choices. The best example is getting married, which is eventually necessary to progress. You can choose among multiple potential spouses, but there’s also a path to stay single and a version of the quest that’s very easy for people who aren’t interested in that.

GS: You’ve stated that the financial side is optional. How important is the side to the overall game play experience?

Ian: The mechanic of the attacking debt armies is central to the early part of the game, and one of the main challenges is getting promotions to increase your salary, so finances in broad terms are a key part of the experience. What’s optional is checking your budget and managing expenses – you can finish the game just fine without touching any of the details.

GS: Are you concerned that the financial side will discourage some players?

Fighting a boss might be easier than overcoming a problem in real life, but the path the game takes is one that really does exist.

Ian: I’m hoping for the exact opposite: encouraging players that it’s possible to overcome financial problems. You start off with 40k of debt and a crappy job, but the game lets you escape that situation in hours instead of years.

GS: What kinds of challenges can we expect to face outside the battles in the game?

Ian: You’ll find a variety of classic RPG puzzles like the carts and boulders in the trailer. I promise the only fetch quest is when an NPC asks you to bring an item named “Fetch Quest.” The biggest challenge is getting your character out of the hole he’s dug himself into, and though that involves battles, fighting everything in sight isn’t enough, so there’s a strong strategy element.

GS: Do you plan on making more games in the future? 

Ian: I love game design, and when I began this project I had to discard a lot of good ideas as unfeasible given my skills and resources. Right now I’m dedicated to making sure Cubicle Quest is as good as it can be, but if people show interest then I’ll seriously consider coming back with a more ambitious project.

GS: Before we go, do you have any advice for those wanting to start creating their own game?

Ian: First create a small project for the fun of it and release it among friends. You’ll learn a lot about design, but more importantly you’ll learn what you really want out of game creation. Before you’ve done that, it’s hard to see where you should go next.

I urge anyone even remotely interested in RPGs, or how this unique take on the genre does, to check this game out. The Kickstarter page has all the information you need.

I wish Ian Isaro the best of luck and I can’t wait to play the game when it’s released.

About the author

Synzer

After gaming for 25 years, Synzer leveraged his vast knowledge of RPGs and MMOs into a job as a games journalist, covering the games he loves. Five years later, he's still writing about Kingdom Hearts, Pokemon, and Knights of the Old Republic. Synzer has a bachelor's degree in English and creative writing. You can see him in action on his YouTube channel (https://bit.ly/2F97BrR) and Twitch (https://www.twitch.tv/synzergaming).