Dr. David's Indie Spotlight: Talking gods and civilizations with dev Abbey Games
Developer Abbey Games just recently released its debut project, a god game titled Reus. Already, the game has managed to receive a favorable amount of praise due to its unique mechanics and addictive gameplay. I had the chance to interview Abbey Games Programmer Manuel Kerssemakers, who spoke on behalf of the whole team. He shed light on the studio, Reus, a previous game jam project, and what the near future holds.
GameZone: First off, can you give the readers some info on who you are? Tell us all about Abbey Games!
Manuel Kerssemakers: We’re a small and young studio from the Netherlands. We started out as four computer scientists, but during Reus we worked with about 10 other developers. For the past one-and-a-half years we have been developing our debut.
GZ: Your latest project is a god game. Can you explain the premise and discuss the various elements that make up Reus?
MK: Reus is a 2D single-player god game. In Reus, you control powerful giants that help you shape the planet to your will. You can create mountains and oceans, forests and more. You can enrich your planet with plants, minerals and animal life. There is only one thing on the planet that you do not control: mankind, with all their virtues and all their vices. You can shape their world, but not their will. Provide for them and they may thrive. Give them too much and their greed may get the upper hand.
GZ: What makes Reus different from god games of the past?
MK: The main difference is that in previous god games your goal was always to destroy the other gods or convince your followers that you are the true god. In Reus, there is no ambiguity about who is the true god. This means that Reus is a game of ultimate power and balance, rather than a game of proving your power against another.
GZ: Speaking of god games, that's a genre that hasn't been as prevalent these days as it once was. What made you want to focus on a genre that isn't so common?
MK: The game was originally inspired by this movie: https://vimeo.com/22775048
After the decision to create this god game, we quickly thought it was a sensible one. God games are super cool and they aren’t made often enough. We think one reason is that they are quite complex to create. However, with our academic background we thought we could make one.
GZ: Let's talk about the actual in-game content. Reus features some unique war and puzzle mechanics, requiring players to keep citizens happy and rewarding them for going the extra mile with their worlds. One example of the puzzle-like elements is putting a flower next to a fruit crop, which causes the land to be more productive. How did you come up with this rather brilliant little feature?
MK: At one point we knew we had to somehow shape the core gameplay of Reus. What is the moment-to-moment gameplay when you interact with a world’s nature? The reasonable answer was that you would have to create ecosystems. Ecosystems consist of small and large elements that allow each other to exist and thrive. Adriaan, our lead designer, is very much a systems designer, and after many iterations he came up with the current Symbiosis and Aspect system.
GZ: Does Reus have an endgame? Or is the gameplay experience all about getting immersed in the world and going as far as you can go within that world?
MK: Reus has several tiers. You can definitely call the 120-minute era endgame. You only unlock that mode after many hours of play and the game gets way harder. You really have to have a strategy to bring them to a good end. Still, your strategy may vary a lot. So yes, you still determine how you want to shape the world.
GZ: What were some of Abbey Games' influences as far as Reus is concerned?
MK: An important one was the previously mentioned movie. In terms of games we have of course looked at Populous and Black & White for the theme. For the game mechanics we have looked at Civilization 5 and a lot of other strategy and RPG games. For the metagame we took inspiration from The Binding of Isaac. This roguelike is very different from Reus in gameplay, but the global progression is similar, as you keep unlocking more options and more challenges every game.
GZ: You previously worked on a game called Tinytanic, a 72-hour project created for Ludum Dare. Can you explain the concept surrounding this game, which boasted both brawling and socializing mechanics?
MK: Haha, yes, Tinytanic was great. The theme was "tiny," so we quickly thought about this tiny world that would slowly fall apart. Your challenge would be to be the last remaining survivor. The Titanic seemed to be like a good place. The goal is to use both the brawling mechanics and some social manipulation to avoid being thrown off the ship or in some fire or steam. The game involves a lot of chaos and is definitely no pinnacle of design. It is, however, hilariously chaotic.
GZ: Would you ever consider expanding Tinytanic and releasing it on download platforms such as Steam, Desura, or GOG.com? If so, how would you expand it? Given the game was created in three days, are there ideas you couldn't include which you would've liked to?
MK: We did consider working more on Tinytanic at the time. But then we realized that the harsh deadline of empty bank accounts was close and we needed to finish Reus, our one chance of breaking into the industry. Working on Tinytanic might have given us some breathing space, but ultimately it would have been a risk, which would endanger Reus’ development as well. Of course, we had lots of ideas (mostly disasters) for Tinytanic, but we just like to see it as a proof of what we can do in three days.
GZ: Now that Reus has launched, is Abbey Games already working on a new game? Or are you still letting this all sink in and taking a little breather? Can you share any projects you may have in the works, or any ideas you hope to bring to life?
MK: We are not taking breathers, actually. And we’re also not working on a new game. The first few days we had massive amounts of interaction with a community that spawned overnight. It was so cool that we forgot to rest and sometimes even sleep. We quickly did a technical patch and now we’re working on localizing and porting the game (for Mac and Linux). We’ll also create some more content for Reus, listening to the community. New projects are still way off, and we don’t even allow ourselves to think them up yet.
GZ: Lastly, now that you've released Reus, are there any games the team at Abbey Games is looking forward to playing?
MK: As said, we’re not taking much rest, but Adriaan wants to play Fire Emblem and Civilization 5: Brave New World. I’m going to take a look at XCOM myself (and get back to more StarCraft 2). Bas and Maarten are usually playing Trackmania Nations or Kerbal Space Program when the working day is over.
I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Manuel and Abbey Games for taking the time to participate in this interview. You can follow the studio on Twitter @AbbeyGamesNL. If you’re looking to engage in some satisfying god gaming, be sure to check out Reus on Steam.
Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.