The subsequent interview was conducted in 2016.
Recently, Long Gone Days was successfully funded on Indiegogo a RPG borrowing from visual novels, playing in a dystopic world. Now Camila Gormaz (@Burasto), head of development, is answering to my questions. You can find the game on itch.io and Steam.
JRPG Scholar: First, let me congratulate you for the successful funding of Long Gone Days. What were the first things you felt once the campaign was over? Relief that everything worked out in the end? Or stress, because now you have the pressure to deliver the game to so many people?
Camila Gormaz: Thank you. During the last two days, the amount of people backing the project went up considerably, so my projections proved that we would reach the goal during the last 24 hours. In that regard, we were a bit more calm… until we noticed backers could still ask for refunds even on the last second of the campaign. The campaign ended at 4am in our local time, so we stayed awake refreshing the page until it was officially over.
To be honest, I was so overwhelmed with emotions, that it wasn’t until some days later it finally settled in that I wouldn’t have to set the development on hiatus. I can finally work full-time on making Long Gone Days a reality.
JRPG Scholar: Before we talk about the game, let us talk about the campaign itself. Since you’re based in Chile, you could not use Kickstarter for your campaign and had to rely on Indiegogo. Even though most would argue that this is a big disadvantage, do you maybe see some positive points about this forced change? For example, when I looked into the Indiegogo app, your project was always displayed to me. I doubt this would have happened at Kickstarter.
Camila Gormaz: One of the few advantages of Indiegogo is that is allows you to use PayPal (but it doesn’t allow Credit Cards if you have a fixed goal campaign like mine), and it also has an InDemand feature, so people can continue backing your project once it ended.
On the other hand, the most attractive feature of Kickstarter is that it has an active user base of people willing to pledge. A lot of campaigns get funded just by Kickstarter’s internal traffic (in our case, only 12% of the pledges came from Indiegogo’s internal traffic, the rest we had to bring it ourselves), and the payment process is easier, and it allows credit cards. For this reason, it’s pretty hard to get funded on Indiegogo, in fact, Long Gone Days is only the second most funded Latin American videogame on Indiegogo.
JRPG Scholar: You used an interesting system to unlock additional features in your game, akin to Bloodstained which used a very similar system in their successful campaign. It is based on certain metrics, e.g. number of shares of a certain Facebook posts or number of Retweets, and once a certain amount of such achievements has been unlocked, it unlocks a new feature in the game. So, I actually have three questions. First, I felt like social media interaction of fans was a bit lacking (e.g., over a thousand Facebook followers shared the respective post less than 60 times). Do you feel this affected in some way your campaign? To me, this looks like the most important metric, as it spreads the knowledge about the campaign. Second, on the other hand, I was amazed by the number and quality of fanart entries. Why do you think so many people already care so much about a game which is not even done? And finally, are there some achievements which have not been unlocked, but you want (or would like) to implement into the final game nonetheless?
Camila Gormaz:Using achievements is really useful to engage with your audience, since you need to make new content often during the campaign, and these achievements help you spread the word.
From our profiles, Facebook is the one where we got the least activity, but this is a pretty common occurrence for indie games. Usually Twitter and Tumblr get the most activity, and Tumblr pretty much overpassed all of my expectations.
If we could, I’d love to implement everything that was offered on the Stretch Goals and Achievement Unlocks, like having a physical artbook, and letting you choose to play the game as a male or a female character.
JRPG Scholar: OK, so let’s start talking about the game itself. The demo itself really amazed me on many levels, but let’s first talk about my pretty much only point of criticism – the use of the RPG Maker. I give you that this game is far away from standard RPG Maker games and only feels like one at very few points in the game, but don’t you think other forms of programming would have allowed for better/faster programming? Or have you grown so accustomed to the RPG Maker in the past years that you don’t feel any restrictions anymore?
Camila Gormaz: When I started developing the game, I was using Unity, because it would allow me to port the game into more platforms, and to customize the battle system just like I wanted to. I wasn’t sure if people would be interested in this kind of story, and I had to take a decision before I spend all my savings working on this prototype:
- I could make a prototype in RPGMaker in 4 months, but the battle system would be a bit limited in comparison to what I had in mind, or
- I could continue using Unity, but I’d have to remove a lot of gameplay features temporarily, just to have this prototype ready in 4 months.
Because of this, I decided to switch to RPG Maker MV to make a fast prototype, but now that the demo was well received, I’m once again developing the game in Unity.
JRPG Scholar: Now to the good points of the game, and there are so many! The first thing I noticed were the visuals. The still images used look to me like a blend of Japanese anime and American comic culture. The spritework also stands out, as it diverges from common JRPG sprites and uses tall sprites, something not often done in the genre. Are there some games or artist in particular which inspired the visual aspect of your game? (In the developer blog, one can find some more information about the creation process of the sprites)
Camila Gormaz: One of my major inspirations were the sprites from Mother. I love their use of dark outlines, and the way it seems to imitate cartoons, rather than a realistic look. I’m not much of a fan of chibi/super deformed proportions, so I drew them as tall as I could handle, as long as the production times wouldn’t be affected too much.
JRPG Scholar: Next, the music. God the music. It is relatively sparsely used, which increases its effect dramatically, and has a really modern sound to it, fitting the theme of the game. The music in the demo was from many different artists, but the full game will feature music by Sebastian marin. Can you shortly describe your collaboration with him, how you met and how you described to him what the music should be like?
Camila Gormaz: As I wanted Long Gone Days to be set in modern times, I always imagined it with modern music, especially jazz, progressive or post rock, instead of classical or 8-bit chiptunes. This obviously made things harder when I started my search for composers. Most people who had experience with these musical genres had no experience working in video games, so it took me several months to find someone with this profile. I searched for composers from all around the world, getting dizzy from scanning all these portfolios.
When I first encountered Sebastian Marin’s portfolio, I saw that he had worked in films, games, and he even had his own solo project, which was exactly the kind of music I was looking for. It’s pretty hard to explain what you want when genres like prog-rock are involved, because it could be anything, but Sebastian quickly understood my vision as he saw the Music Design Document, and he even put together some samples.
JRPG Scholar: To me, the two most important things of any RPG are the story and the gameplay. The story pictures a near in the future, dystopian world. What inspired you to this rarely used setting?
Camila Gormaz: I was inspired by films like “Gattaca” or novels like “Brave New World”. As dystopian fiction works as social criticism, if you take out the sci-fi elements, the dystopian elements would still be possible in our current era, and I wanted to explore that. The fact that no matter how much technology advances, human and social evolution is a really slow process, no matter how many years in the future the story might be set in.
JRPG Scholar: And even though the world itself seems interesting enough, you combine it with the personal fate of the characters which leaves an even greater impact. This is also something which few games do (the Suikoden series tries to do it most of the time, and the demo actually feels a bit like the prologue of Suikoden II). How did you approach writing the characters? Did you first develop the world and then created them?
Camila Gormaz: I created the characters over a decade ago, because I wanted to make an RPG, but I had no story, just a few vague ideas. The personalities of these characters were shaped as I wrote the story. Rourke used to be more rebellious and undisciplined, which would make no sense for someone who has lived all his life as a soldier, and Adair was a lot more unstable, which is the kind of feature a combat medic shouldn’t have.
JRPG Scholar: You described the game as a combination of RPG, Shooter and Visual Novel. To me, it rather felt like a “Visual Novel” featuring RPG elements, as there is little actual gameplay featured in the demo. Will this change in the final version of the game or do you see the battles just as a means to progress the story?
Camila Gormaz: There’s isn’t too much gameplay in the demo as it serves more like a prologue to the story. There are some mechanics that are unlocked as the story progresses, like crafting, team formation, quests and translations. In the full game, these areas are more extensive. For example, you’ll be able to visit more areas in the Core before you leave to the surface, and the forest of Kaliningrad will be a lot less linear.
JRPG Scholar: By reducing the RPG elements, you also got rid of many of the genre’s negative points such as grinding or random encounters. Can you maybe hint at how characters will be able to progress in terms of gameplay (i.e. how they get stronger)?
Camila Gormaz: I actually enjoy grinding, but in this particular story, where there are no supernatural elements and they are fighting other humans, to grind would technically mean “let’s kill some people/animals to level up!”. So, in order to get stronger, they learn new skills, they upgrade their weapons or craft new ones, while you also boost your team members’ morale enough to get bonus on their stats.
JRPG Scholar: I really like the battle system, or rather: the battle systems, as there are two featured in the game. The Sniper mode looks like it has great potential to be used for small puzzles and the traditional turn-based combats with its hit zones and intriguing skill system also set the game apart from other RPGs. (note: this is something I cannot really write in the form of a question but maybe you want to write a bit about the battle sequences).
Camila Gormaz: The battle system is getting a few changes, and one of the most important aspects is that it now has mouse-support and the movement is pixel-perfect instead of grid-based, so you can actually aim at the enemies in a shooter-like fashion. The combat is still turn-based, though.
JRPG Scholar: Instead of a traditional magic point system, you employ a “morale” system, i.e. dialogue choices directly affect the performance of characters during battle. It seems to be well developed – telling a realistically thinking character that “all will work out” will not raise his morale, but even lower it, as he won’t believe you. How did you come up with that? It’s rare to see a character’s character affecting the gameplay.
Camila Gormaz: In most RPGs, when you get to pick your lines, most of the time the choices are an obvious good answer and a bad/neutral answer. This is what inspired me from Visual Novels, the fact that you don’t know which consequences your choices may bring, or how people may react. Communication is one of the most important aspects of humanity, and so I wanted it to take a big role.
JRPG Scholar: Last question, and it may be a bit early as Long Gone Days will not release until the end of next year: Are you already thinking about a next project? I know that the idea of Long Gone Days follows you now for nearly a decade. maybe we’ll get a sequel?
Camila Gormaz: We do have some ideas in mind for shorter games, exploring other genres. Personally, I would love to work on a simulator like “Papers, Please”, or games where players experience mundane things in a different light, and maybe they can get something useful out of it. I’m not sure about a sequel for Long Gone Days yet, we’d have to see, haha.