The fine folks at Zeboyd Games really understand what makes old-school role-playing games tick.
Over the course of their last four games -- Breath of Death VII, Cthulhu Saves the World and the third and fourth chapters in the Penny Arcade On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness series -- the core team of Robert Boyd and Bill Stiernberg have refined their craft significantly, and managed to produce a series of excellent turn-based role-playing games that simultaneously channel the atmosphere of the 16-bit era while streamlining and polishing the experience for a modern audience.
About three months ago, Zeboyd announced its next project: another role-playing game, this time inspired by the dreamy combination of Phantasy Star, Chrono Trigger and Suikoden. The Phantasy Star influence in particular was immediately apparent in the game's graphical style, and the game's use of non-square, larger character sprites with more frames of animation calls to mind late 16-bit, early 32-bit era Japanese RPGs.
The titular Cosmic Star Heroine is Alyssa L'Salle, one of the galactic government's top agents. She inadvertently comes into possession of some information she wasn't supposed to see, and is promptly outed by her government, leading both fans and foes alike to know exactly who she is. It's up to you to save the day while simultaneously fending off the unwanted attentions of both Alyssa's adoring fans and those who want nothing more than to see her dead.
While Zeboyd's previous games have had a strong SNES-era Final Fantasy vibe about them, Cosmic Star Heroine does things a little differently. A la Chrono Trigger, battles take place in the field rather than on a separate battle screen, for example, and you're able to save anywhere rather than only at specific points. There's also animated cutscenes inspired by those seen in the Sega CD and TurboDuo/PC Engine Duo era and a modern soundtrack composed by Hyperduck, who previously worked on the gorgeous Dust: An Elysian Tail and Zeboyd's own On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4.
Boyd and Stiernberg are being very open about the development process, with regular posts on the Zeboyd blog explaining the approaches they're taking to tweaking some common RPG bugbears. Particular highlights include ponderings on how to make status ailment abilities actually useful -- when was the last time you poisoned an enemy in a JRPG? -- and the lessons learned from the team's previous games. Most notably, Boyd is keen to make a greater effort with the story than in previous games, while at the same time keeping strong gameplay with plenty of variety, minimal grinding and meaningful optional content. He's also keen to incorporate scenarios that don't involve combat, such as the classic spy scenario of infiltrating a dinner party and obtaining some information using nothing more than your own wit and charm.
Boyd is building the new game in Unity rather than the Xbox-centric XNA toolset used for the previous games. This allows him significantly greater flexibility in putting the game together -- Unity is one of the most expandable development solutions there is -- as well as making porting to other platforms relatively straightforward. To that end, the game will eventually end up not only on PC and Mac, but also PlayStation 4 and Vita. Xbox, meanwhile, isn't getting a look-in this time around, it seems; one of the big things the team learned from its previous projects was that focusing on the PC audience was significantly more profitable than dropping the game into the inky black void that is the Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace -- in fact, it was the Kickstarter-funded PC port of Cthulhu Saves the World and its subsequent success that allowed Boyd and Stiernberg to turn game development from a hobby into a full-time career.
Speaking of Kickstarter, the crowdfunding campaign for Cosmic Star Heroine has now launched. The team is looking for $100,000 in total -- certainly a far cry from the $3,000 they requested for Cthulhu Saves the World -- and notes that about 70% of this will be invested directly into active development (programming, art and audio, plus any additional hardware and software needed for development and testing) with the remainder being split between Kickstarter/Amazon fees and reward fulfillment.
Boyd, who is a keen observer and commentator on Kickstarter trends, is hopeful that he's seen enough good and bad campaigns to be able to cope with overfunding if it happens, noting that the currently proposed December 2014 fulfillment date for the project gives the team plenty of leeway to expand their vision if they do find themselves with more money than they expected. He's keen to note that he in no way wants to get overambitious and start overpromising things that the team won't be able to fulfil, however.
"We don't know about you," he writes on the Kickstarter page, "but we hate it when Kickstarters get a lot more money than they expected, drastically increase the scope of the game, and end up pushing the release date back months or even years. What's worse, some of these Kickstarters drastically underestimate how much all those new features are going to end up costing with the result that they end up running out of money before they manage to fulfil all of their promises. We don't want this to happen to us!"
Boyd notes that rather than an overfunding situation leading to a massive expansion of the game's scope, he'd rather use some of the aforementioned leeway to polish up the game, increase the audio budget and hire additional help -- and perhaps develop some free post-release DLC if there's still some money left over. He specifically cites a "mini-Roguelike mode a la Lufia 2's Ancient Cave" as a possibility.
Find out more and back the project on the official Kickstarter page.