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Indie Spotlight: Citizens of Earth

Indie Spotlight: Citizens of Earth

Written by Travis Huinker on 10/11/2013 for PC  
More On: Indie Spotlight Citizens of Earth
Indie Spotlight is a series at Gaming Nexus that explores the origin and development of unique and innovative games designed and produced by independent developers. Each article includes a developer interview that focuses on examining the concept and design processes involved with each project. Indie Spotlight strives to showcase new and upcoming games that range from a variety of genres and development studios across the world.

Eden Industries made quite the first impression with last year's release of Waveform, which is now being followed with the role-playing game Citizens of Earth. Ryan Vandendyck, Eden Industries founder and game director, discussed with us a great deal of topics from the EarthBound role-playing inspiration behind Citizens of Earth to its unique narrative and art style. The planning and creation processes detailed in the interview responses are truly a testament to the dedication of independent game development.

Interview with Ryan Vandendyck

Could you introduce yourself and talk about your various roles with the development of Citizens of Earth?
Well my name is Ryan Vandendyck and I’m the founder of Eden Industries. I created this team about three and a half years ago now since I was about a year into the development of our last game, Waveform, and realized I’d probably need an official company! As for my roles, wow, it’s a pretty long list, but here goes:
  • Game Director - In this role I co-ordinate the efforts of the team and ensure that everyone’s contributions, and the overall progress of the game, moves towards the ultimate vision that I have for the game.
  • Game Designer - This is perhaps the role that started the whole game, and involves me designing the game’s setting, story, gameplay mechanics, combat balancing, etc. Although I designed the initial concept for the game, I currently share this role with the other designer on the team, Chris Van Yperen, who helps with the design across the game, in addition to being the sole level designer.
  • Programmer - Developing a game engine from scratch is no easy task! And these days with off-the-shelf engines like Unity being all the rage, perhaps a futile task. But I find that knowing the code so well helps me develop gameplay features very quickly, which is a nice benefit.
  • Particle Effects Artist - This one might surprise you, and it surprises me too! But somehow I’m in charge of all of the particle effects in the game, which I also did on Waveform. I’m a horrible artist in general, but somehow the mathematical definition of a lot of small particles changing dynamically to develop an effect is something that fits into my brain a bit better than traditional art.
  • Marketing and Community Involvement - This one I guess involves the sort of thing I’m doing now! Getting involved with the community, reaching out to show off the game, doing interviews...I don’t know that I’m especially good at it, but in an indie team, often you have to wear a lot of hats!
  • Miscellaneous - Building the website, doing the accounting, and other business development stuff like that.

For readers unaware with Citizens of Earth, can you provide an overview of what the game is all about?
Citizens of Earth is a modern twist on the classic JRPG in which you play as the Vice President of the World! A classic bureaucrat, you’re charming and charismatic, but practically very useless. After recently winning the election, you return to your home town for some rest and relaxation, but are quickly confronted with some weird stuff happening around town. As the elected official, you feel like it’s your responsibility to do something about it...but being a politician, you don’t want to get your hands dirty!

So you use your charm to recruit regular Citizens into your party to fight your battles for you! It’s a grassroots community movement where all of the regular people in the world band together to save the day! So it combines classic turn-based JRPG gameplay with a humorous, modern setting, with plenty of unique innovation infusing each bit from beginning to end.

‚ÄčI was first struck with the game's unique narrative and setting, what were the inspirations or concepts behind their creation?
Well it was actually a pretty logical process! Perhaps not too surprising coming from the mind of a programmer. But it kind of went like this:
  • It’d be really cool to play as all of the regular characters in an RPG and have them be the heroes, instead of the usual types of cliché heroes.
  • A modern-day setting seems to be the most ripe setting for regular characters as heroes, since essentially every person in our world today is a “regular character” and the opportunities for turning those characters into heroes are pretty boundless.
  • If regular characters are heroes, it probably makes sense to have a large cast and include as many people as possible in order to create that sense of community and everyone doing their part.
  • If there’s a large cast, is there a main character? Just swapping out a group of regular characters with no main character may not be enough to drive a narrative. But if there is a main character that’s always with your party, he or she would be way higher level than the others. In that case, the main character shouldn’t fight, but rather just lead around a group of regular people and get them to fight battles in his stead. Well who would be the perfect person to lead a group of people, telling them what to do and getting them to fight his battles for him? Why, the Vice President of the World of course!
And that’s pretty much how it went! And things continued to develop out of that core process. Although I will add that very early on we were inspired by EarthBound’s modern and humorous setting, and so that certainly influenced that thought process as well.

The game utilizes a striking visual style that just isn't seen in any other games. What were the decisions for choosing such a stylized graphical approach?
Basically we felt that the retro pixilated look and the anime-look in RPGs were way over-done, especially in the realm of indie RPGs. Plus, we felt neither of those two really fit a modern setting that well. So we went with a more cartoony style that we think fits the modern, Westernized setting, as well as being something quite unique. As you may guess by the fact that I made Waveform, I like making things not seen in other games! And as soon as we saw Robin’s character designs and the characters brought to life through animation, everyone on the team was sold.

Upon playing Citizens of Earth I continually felt nostalgia of the classical role-playing games that involved a world map in which enemy encounters switched to a turn-based combat mode. Are there any gameplay features or elements in particular that were inspired by classic role-playing games?
Again due to our love and inspiration from EarthBound, a few mechanics were lifted directly from that game. Namely, that the enemies will come to join in combat if an encounter is initiated close by, and that you will automatically win battles against enemies weaker than you. This was sort of our tribute to these great mechanics from EarthBound that, despite how great they are, seem to be very rarely, if ever, utilized in other games. But in addition to that the combat system is heavily inspired by Dragon Quest and the various derivations thereof (including EarthBound), although we’ve done a lot in that area to make it unique as well.

What individual characters or groups can we expect to encounter during the game's narrative, both friendly and hostile?
The Citizens that you find and recruit are of course the main friendly characters in the game. But actually in a lot of the game, the line between friendly and hostile is not quite as clear as you might think. Many enemies will happily talk to you instead of fighting, offering hints or just interesting gossip. Of course you’re free to send your followers charging into such enemies anyway if you’d rather just crush them! And although the game features the Vice President of the World as a main character, it isn’t about politics so that certainly takes a backseat to the stronger themes of community and modernity.

Nonetheless, politics is an area ripe for parody and you’ll see that sprinkled throughout the game. It was especially our chance as Canadians to poke a bit of fun at the American political landscape. So the first enemies you fight are Protesters and Hecklers, with their leader (and the first boss of the game) being the Opposition Leader of your rival political party. When you make your way to the Capital City you’ll find Toupee Eagles running some of the bureaucracy there with Obese Tanks and Semi-Secret Service keeping the peace, or lack thereof.

In addition to that there really is a wide swath of locations you go to, that are inspired by modern-day environments, full of interesting characters. From the gluttonous patrons at the local Breakfast Bistro to the Lord of the Flies-style children running wild at Camp Koo Koo, there’s just a ton of great characters for you to meet. I could say more, but there’d be some spoilers. So I’ll save some mystery for when people actually play the game!

What type of characters, or referred to as citizens in-game, will players be able to recruit for their team? What sort of skills and powers will players be able to use against enemies?
There are a huge cast of Citizens available to recruit. Examples that show up even just in the Kickstarter video are your younger Brother, your Mom, the Baker, Police Officer, School Teacher, Handyman, Architect, Gardener, Sushi Chef, Photographer, Conspiracy Guy, Barista, Homeless Guy, Bodybuilder, Mascot, and probably a few others. Each Citizen has very unique abilities in battle, themed to the particular Citizen. So your Mom will nag the enemies and give hugs to fellow Citizens. The Barista will throw scalding hot coffee at the enemy or take a coffee break to restore Power. The Homeless Guy will beg for spare change or attract birds to attack enemies. And the list goes on and on, with every Citizen bringing unique abilities to the battle!

And in addition to battle, each Citizen has their own unique World Ability. Each World Ability is an extremely unique ability accessible on the Overworld that allows the player to access a ton of varied and unique content, and the power of the World Abilities increases as the Citizen levels up. Some Citizens run shops (like the Baker and Sushi Chef) that provide new and exclusive items as the World Ability increases, some Citizens allow access to new areas (like the Bodybuilder and Gardener), some Citizens provide new quests and experiences (like the Police Officer), and some Citizens allow access to entirely new features (like the School Teacher who provides access to the School, allowing you to passively level up Citizens that you enroll).

With the past release of Waveform, what were some elements learned during its development that you've utilized for the creation of Citizens of Earth?
Releasing Waveform was a massive learning experience. There are really so many things that happen during the development of the a game that unless you’ve been through it yourself, there’s really no way to appreciate it. Even coming from a background in the mainstream game industry didn’t prepare me for it. Things like managing and motivating a team, interacting with a community and receiving feedback, managing the scope of a game’s development so things don’t go off the rails, developing in a way that takes into account the massive difference in hardware amongst end users, etc. The list goes on and on, and it’s the kind of things that are simultaneously obvious and yet always seemed so miniscule compared to actually just making a fun game.

Also the fact that I built the engine for Waveform from scratch was a huge benefit to Citizens of Earth, since we were able to plan out exactly in code what we needed to do in order to develop systems to support an RPG. So we really did learn a ton from Waveform, ranging from the technical to the seemingly-insubstantial (yet critically important) factors that surround game development.

Is there anything we missed that you would like to mention about Citizens of Earth?
For anyone interested in playing Citizens of Earth, we have a demo freely available on our Kickstarter page! The reception so far has been amazing, so for anyone that likes EarthBound, RPGs, or just great games in general, I’d recommend giving it a try!

We'd like to thank Ryan for taking the time to answer our questions and for providing an early preview of the game. Learn more about Citizens of Earth through its Kickstarter campaign.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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I've been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2011 and focus primarily on PC games and hardware. I'm a strong advocate of independent developers and am always seeking the next genre-breaking and unique game releases. My favorite game genres are strategy, role-playing, and simulation, or any games that feature open worlds and survival elements.

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