Currently, Cloud Runner Studios is having a second go at running a Kickstarter campaign to fund Melancholy Republic. Described as a 16-bit JRPG-inspired, story-driven game, Melancholy Republic focuses on a land at the brink of turmoil and a well-intentioned politician, Claire C. Lockridge. Cloud Runner also promises plenty of exploration, a beautiful original soundtrack, and decision-based storytelling. So, it has my attention. As a result, I decided to interview the creator, Nicholas Spargo, to ask for an analysis of almost every word his team uses in their pitch.
R: When did you get the idea for Melancholy Republic?
Nicholas: About eighteen months ago, I thought of a concept for a game based on a politician’s story and her struggles within a large, powerful state. It excited me as it was an idea I would love to see in a video game story and it’s something that has never been done before. The concept of an epic game set within one city, exploring the story of that city and its people. This developed to become the story of one politician’s tragic tale to save her city. I began scripting the story more and I wanted to avoid the things I hated in most stories, things like clichés and predictable characters. The theme of tragedy really stood out as something avoided in video game stories and the heartbreaking nature of Melancholy Republic‘s story came from these aspirations.
R: Can you introduce the team and give us an idea of the experience they have both as players of games and their roles?
Nicholas: Our core team is small with other roles being taken by freelancers. There is myself; I grew up in Zimbabwe and used to be a physics teacher. I am the writer, designer, and level designer. I play pretty much all games and love classic JRPGs. Kelly McGuire, a University of Oxford MSc student, is the co-writer and editor for the story. Her favorite games are The Last of Us and Lost Odyssey. Our two Manchester-based musicians, Alastair Adams and Max McGuire, are in charge of our beautiful soundtrack. They aren’t massive gamers but love and respect video game music a tremendous amount.
R: Tell us a little bit about where the game is set and who will be the major characters in the story.
Nicholas: Melancholy Republic is set in Lorna, a sprawling city state republic struggling with the scars left by a recent political coup d’état and increasing technological change. Claire C. Lockridge is a newly elected senator; she is to hold office and a seat within the Central Parliament of Lorna, taking her place as representative of the prosperous timber town of Dallena. With her two aides and the unlikely love story she forms with the ‘Armoured Princess’ Marianne, Claire seeks to end the corruption and sadness that ravages the heart of her country. Little does she know the lives she affects and people she meets along the way will forever change the course of history.
R: You describe the game as a “political tragedy.” Political how? Do you intend for the game to be particularly topical or for it to be an abstract exploration of political themes? Or, you know, both/neither?
Nicholas: The idea of ‘political tragedy’ combines our two main aims for our game. It is a story embedded in the tragedy genre, but with deeply political themes. History has many tragic stories and a political tragedy is usually the story of a hero struggling to overcome and eventually succumbing to the very obstacles they are fighting to remove. So this can be within any institute with chains of command and systems in place, not necessarily always about politicians.
As our story is about a politician and her heroic struggle, we use the political theme broadly, but it may be topical in certain areas of the world. The game will explore critiques of political systems such as: is a democratic society necessarily better than an autocratic society? Is religion always a force for good? These questions as well as other interesting moral questions in relation to democratic systems are things we want people to think about. However, this is a subtlety; we don’t want to hammer politics and religion into the experience. At its core, Melancholy Republic is about the characters and their stories.
R: The game will be presented in stand-alone chapters. Will it be released episodically? What is the link between these chapters?
Nicholas: The use of chapters is to separate the smaller stories that Claire Lockridge comes across. Each chapter introduces a new character that Claire becomes involved with, and will tell its own heartfelt story in addition to contributing to Claire’s development and her own tale. The link between these chapters is Claire and her story revolving around changing her country. It is not an episodic game; all chapters are included in the game.
R: In your campaign information, you say that the decisions players will make will be more in the vein of Final Fantasy 7 than Dragon Age. What does this mean, for people who are unfamiliar with FFVII?
Nicholas: What this means is the decisions you can make will not alter the ending. To keep an impactful and powerful story, I didn’t want to weaken it with multiple customized endings. The decisions can impact the player’s experience and journey to the ending. Your choices change how characters speak back to you and the outcomes of some situations and missions you might undertake. It will also influence the love story between the two main characters. Players can pursue the personal bond between Claire and Marianne or not.
R: Words are ambiguous things, so when you say that there will be a love story between Claire and Marianne, will it be a completely platonic one or not?
Nicholas: The love story is either genuine or platonic ‘deep friendship and respect,’ dependent on the choices the player makes. So if the player chooses it, Claire and Marianne’s love story is the real deal. It is also what I hope players will choose as it is intended and enhances the story in my opinion.
R: In what specific ways have JRPGs inspired this game?
Nicholas: The two things I love most from JRPGs are the beautifully realized fantasy worlds and exploring. It is these two aspects that I wanted to bring into Melancholy Republic. The art and city have a unique fantasy-republic art style which is inspired from some JRPG cities such as Lindblum from Final Fantasy IX and Zeal from Chrono Trigger. Exploring is a huge part of the game, too; talking to NPCs and finding hidden corners of the city, learning its history and lore.
R: How long do you think the game will take to complete for the average player?
Honestly, it is hard to gauge at this early point. Our aim is a similar length as To the Moon, another fantastic story-based indie game. So around four to five hours.
R: Your first Kickstarter missed the mark by about 50% of the overall funding goal. What will be different this time around?
Nicholas: Unfortunately, we flew under many people’s radar. As with the amount of Kickstarter games and other indie games in general, it is hard to gain exposure to share your vision with gamers. Since we performed so well in how much we raised, I decided to invest half of our £15,000 goal personally into the development. This means in order to develop the game we will ask for half the amount we originally did. Financially, it is not an easy decision for me, but I truly believe in our game and want people to experience it, so hopefully we can hit our target of £7,500 and get Melancholy Republic made.
R: Can you give potential players an idea of the activities they’ll be most commonly engaged in whilst playing? Also, I hear there’s no combat. Are there story reasons for this?
Nicholas: Combat would weaken the story as it wouldn’t make sense for a politician to run around slaying things. In addition, it would increase the size of an already large scale game. So it is mainly a story reason for not having combat, as I want the central experience for players to be the story. Within the story, players will often get to make choices in dialogue which adds a fun and personal dimension to the game. Outside of the main story, players will be able to explore the city and different zones, do optional quests, talk to plenty of NPCs, take part in optional and story-based mini games such as sneaking, solving puzzles, collecting supporters, and persuading voters.
R: On behalf of the impatient, when do you realistically think Melancholy Republic will be released if you get the funding?
Nicholas: Our aim is early 2016. With the Kickstarter delayed, it has delayed development too, so it may be mid-2016. Our focus is to not rush it and give backers the game they deserve within the time frame. We hope that with the success of our second Kickstarter we will be able to start working on the development again full-time, as well as be able to hire more freelancers to increase the speed of our development.
R: Do you have a favorite breakfast food and to what extent will breakfast foods be featured in the game?
Nicholas: Hmmm, my favorite breakfast food is a chorizo, spring onion, and potato omelette with cheese and parsley. In terms of the game, there will be some food as we have homes, taverns, and pubs to explore so you might spot the odd breakfast item such as a bowl of oats or some fried eggs!
R: You say in another interview that you hope this game will break the heart of the player. What has the human race/general gaming population ever done to you to deserve such punishment?
Nicholas: Haha, well the human race has been very good to me, hence why I am warning them so soon that the game may break your heart. I think some people want to experience heartfelt and sad games. In my opinion, the best games I have ever played are the ones that made me cry, and therefore think about them for days after I’ve finished them. They are rare, but if a game makes you care that much about its world and characters that it can move you to tears, then I am incredibly proud and happy that the human race has the chance to experience it.
Thanks to Nicholas Spargo of Cloud Runner Studios for taking the time to answer my (many) questions. As for you, possibly dear reader, you can back them on Kickstarter, follow them on Twitter and Facebook, visit their website or listen to the soundtrack for Melancholy Republic on Soundcloud.