Who doesn’t like a good God game? Swedish developers Eat, Create, Sleep have taken a unique look at the genre, in their latest title Crest, by casting you in the role of an actual God; asking the question did God shape mankind? Or did mankind shape God? You take on a parental role rather than an omnipotent player guiding your followers, rather than telling them, and allowing them to shape their legacies. We caught up with Eat, Create, Sleep’s Art Director Martin Griep to talk about this unique philosophical take on the game, and the trials of crowdfunding a project.
Can you tell us something about your studio? How did you guys get started?
Two game design students with big dreams met in a corridor on a Swedish campus in 2012, one overheard the other talking about Fallout 2, they struck up conversation and realised that they had much more in common than just what Fallout game is the most enjoyable. I was one of them, and the lead designer Oskar was the other one.
During the first half of 2013 we started on Among Ripples as our final student project, to show the world what we could achieve with small means. During autumn, 2013 Crest was proposed as our next game and after assembling the rest of our dedicated team we were on our way! We’ve been working full-time on the game since our crowdfunding was completed in September, 2014.
Crest is rather unique among God games, how did you get the idea for it? How did it come together to make the game available now?
I think we live in an age where there is not really a lot of interesting conversations going on about religion and faith, at least not in Sweden. And it’s a shame, I mean I’m agnostic and I don’t really believe in any deities but religion has been hugely important for humanity for a long time, and pivotal for our social evolution. I believe we need to acknowledge and discuss our heritage, we need to understand why people were, and still are religious. And how that evolves over time.
I’m a big fan of history and when we were thinking about our next game after Among Ripples I was briefly reading about Sumerian kings in Mesopotamia. The first kings were high priests and seen as stewards of the gods. After a time they were elevated to gods after death themselves. It didn’t take long before their descendants started proclaiming that they were in fact divine themselves. This inspired the idea that it would be fascinating for a partly impartial observer (the player) to look at that evolution of religious dogma. Observe how religious truth will adapt over time, and that it can be fuelled by human ambition alone.
But I also think there’s something deeply comical to explore as well, as seen in Terry Pratchett’s book Small Gods where a god called Om finds itself surrounded and buried in a church no longer interested in what their god thinks of them. The people no longer believe in the god, but in the church itself.
Where did you get the idea for your followers to discard your commandments and follow their own ideals? Could this result in an entire city that potentially doesn’t listen to your instructions?
When I pitched the idea to Oskar we played with the idea of a god that is not omnipotent but rather a god that influence its people. We realised quickly that this is like a human parent. So we took inspiration from the dynamic between parent and child, that many children likes to try the patience of their parents (since they don’t really know any better and wants to explore the world).
Just as it can be fatal for children to ignore their parents it’s fatal in our game world as well. However, sometimes they do just fine without the player, but they might disappoint the player, since they wanted them to become doctors, and not some fancy dancer!
And yes, since the first word in the commandment chain is the “listener” of it they might just stop listening to them. For example, if you only have commandments targeted to young followers they won’t listen to any of them when they grow old.
We felt that telling them to be greedy or chaste was a too direct approach and didn’t amount to a huge possibility space for the player, so we decided to “hide” their deeper personality inside the game, where the player couldn’t affect it directly. So yes, it was downplayed.
However, If we get around to make an expansion for Crest we’d like to implement something we call “ideology”, which is sort of similar to how it was before. But, they would rather form their ideology from how they were influenced, so if they get a lot of commandments they’d interpret as greedy they could potentially develop a greedy streak and promote that quality.
Does your society advance in anyway? E.g. in Age of Empires you can advance through learning technologies which allow new buildings. In Crest there are no technologies but is there still a means of advancement?
We purposefully aimed to design our game as an antithesis to many other historical games which, in our opinion exaggerates the importance of technology. In our opinion social evolution is just as important as technology. So we felt that it was an underexplored area that we wanted to focus on. It also ties in better with how we build commandments.
Though, when we’ve implemented several islands the followers will learn new words as they explore the world. So in the beginning you will only have a limited amount of words to choose from. And as your people discover the world you will gain more words to write for them. So for example you can’t order them to eat antelopes before they’ve seen one.
Is there an endgame to Crest? i.e. is there a specific point that you have to reach?
No. We thought long and hard about having a victory condition and concluded that it goes against our aim to make an expressive game. We thought that if we gave the player a reason to win the game they would find the best strategy to win, instead of trying out an interesting path. However, we felt that we needed a lose condition to make the player think hard on every choice they make, they can’t win but they can lose everything they’ve built. I think it creates a closer relationship with your people, since they’re fragile.
There are several reasons, really. Minimalism is one, it’s good for an effective production pipeline for Indies (we can make a lot of content without having huge resources). The symbolic graphics of our game also assures that we can abstract the simulation as well (so the programmers don’t need to spend months on perfecting a realistic river).
Another more inspiring reason is that since we wanted the game world to take place in humanity’s ancient cradle (which anthropologists believe is South Africa) we wanted to take some cues from some ancient civilizations in Africa. We also wanted to make an inclusive game and give some space to cultures that are seldom represented fairly in western games or media. Also during the research phase I realised that some cultures in Africa have a fascinating angular style in their sculptures and masks. We could very effectively translate that into our low-poly game.
What developments can we expect in future builds?
We’re updating the game once a week, but the next big update (which will arrive in June) will finally give support to saving and loading the game and implement animals, such as antelopes and lions (which will create all kinds of consequences for the poor followers).
How close to completion is the game? How different will the current Early Access build be to the finished product?
We’ve a planned release this summer. The full release will include associations; the people will associate commandments with other things in the world and in the process rewriting them. This is a core feature which we’re very keen to implement since it feeds back into the whole back and forth dynamic between the player and the followers. We will also add more symbols, make the world more dynamic and bigger and add different animals (such as antelopes and lions). But as I said earlier we’ve plans to expand on Crest for the foreseeable future, so the full release on Steam is not the end of Crest’s development.
I found it a very stressful way to find funds, and in this connected age it’s hard to ignore when you go home from work. So basically we spent two months where we had to refresh the crowdfunding page constantly (and of course sent out an email or two to the world). It’s also really hard to find an audience if you don’t already have one, since few let’s play-ers or websites are willing to cover an idea that might turn out to be vaporware. I think we’ve all grown a bit jaded, which is understandable.
Why did you decide to use crowdfunding?
We didn’t see many viable avenues beside it for an Indie studio to find funds. We’ve been doing odd jobs last year and also acquiring some municipality funds, but it’s all meagre. So yeah, if you’re in the middle of a project and need to work full-time you can’t really find that many avenues.
Were there any particular problems that arose unique to using crowdfunding?
I guess it would be the aforementioned visibility and credibility; that you’re easily seen as a charlatan if you try to promise anything different in this day and age. But having a prototype certainly helped somewhat, you could show and talk about something tangible.
Would you use crowdfunding for future projects?
Probably, but not Indiegogo. It’s a well-designed site with a good staff. But the computer game audience wasn’t there, as far as we know. So we’ll probably do it again, but on Kickstarter now that Sweden is eligible for the platform. I think that most people who pick Indiegogo for digital games choose it because they’re not allowed to register on Kickstarter since their own country isn’t on the guest list yet. Board games is another matter though, If we’d ever make a board game I think Indiegogo is a fine platform that.
Speaking of future projects have you got any ideas that you’d be looking to make?
I think it’s easy to say that we enjoy procedural games heavy on mechanics creating the experience. Making them procedural creates a bigger game space where you can focus on creating interesting interaction instead of linear content. So yeah, a procedural game.
What changes did you make between the Indie GoGo prototype and the Early Access version?
Most of the stuff, really. We revised most of our mechanics, changed the commandment system, the way cities are structured, some of the visual style (especially the interface) and the island generation.
Your previous game Among Ripples focuses on observing consequences to create a balanced eco-system. Crest is a God game focusing on your role as God rather than player. You certainly have a unique way of looking at genres, are there any genres in particular you would like to develop in the future?
We prefer to look at genres as only ways to market a game (or a shorthand when you discuss it), and not as a template to work from. When we make games we simply start with the general feeling and piece together an experience from that. So, our main intention is never to expand a genre, but rather to expand what our own games can be.
We’ve been talking about making a procedural game focused on a personal narrative, so in a sense what you call a RPG. But it won’t be dialogue trees, arbitrary moral choices or killing clowns with god complexes.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Martin for speaking with us. Crest is currently available on Steam in Early Access for £3.99. Stay tuned for our preview of Crest later in the week.