With the sudden surge in popularity lately, Pokémon seems to be impossible to miss these days. While Pokémon Go seeks to tap into that childlike zeal and urge to travel the world and catch them all, this is only one aspect that drew the awe of every plucky GameBoy wielding 90’s child. For others it was the need to breed and train the strongest monster. To understand how they work, and the world around them. Jason Walsh taps into these thoughts and more in his foray into the monster catching genre, with fledgling indie title Crowns.
Crowns takes the player into a world with a decidedly less utopian tone than the Pokémon games. The relationship between human and monster isn’t that of loving comrades and teammates, but more utilitarian in purpose. They are used to plow crops in farms, to expedite travel, and all manner of tasks. The world is stylized like any standard Gameboy Color game, though the childish aesthetic hides the grimy subtext underneath it all.
Combat in Crowns is a game of patience versus risk. The various monsters have different Types, as well as the moves, allowing for different levels of effectiveness against the substantial cast. However, should you choose to wait before delivering your attack, you can stockpile energy over an amount of turns. Though cycling your monsters in and out under fire may lead to unnecessary damage, it can be rewarded through a brutally powerful stockpiled move, capable of Crippling, Bleeding, or debuffing the enemy in other ways.
Even more so than the system of battling, mastery over the monsters of Crown Island extends even to the genetics of the creatures. Using an innovative breeding system, the player can create their own unique, one-of-a-kind monster. Taking the body shape of one parent and the color pallet and style of the other, you can build your team any way you choose. Combine this with the fact that those offspring can then be bred, you obtain a nearly infinite amount of monsters in the game to choose from. Anyone hopping into Crowns trying to truly catch ’em all might be in for quite a ride.
Crowns is built off of an idea that appeals to any fan of classic monster taming games, and naturally I was extremely interested when I first came across on a message board. Contacting Jason Walsh, the creator, we spoke about the game and even helped get his social media presence off the ground with @crowns_dev on Twitter. Recently I got the chance to touch base with Jason to see how development has been going, and what he would like people to know.
n3rdabl3: Thanks once again for joining me here. First off, tell us a bit about your experience with the genre and why you decided to make the game? How long has development been going for, and how big is the team now?
Jason: Well, like a lot of people my age, I grew up playing the Pokémon games. I was really into it, I was one of those kids going on serebii.net looking at the latest scans and leaks of, what at the time was known as Pokémon 2, and I remember being so excited. I started playing as many different games like that as I could, from Dragon Quest: Monsters 2 to whatever else, I just couldn’t get enough of it. I’m super into completionism. Y’know, complete the Pokédex, catch ’em all, as opposed to competitive battling. I just couldn’t find a game that had enough monsters in it, enough interesting breeding mechanics, which were the two things that interested me most.
Eventually I decided, why not try making my own? That’s why I decided to make Crowns. Back in January is when I made my first monster, just to see if I even could. It took a few tries, but eventually I started conceiving all of these monsters for a game. After that, solo development started around March, and the team really blew up around May. The artistic direction really started growing from there once we added GameOnion to the team. Then he recommended a few more people to help with art and music, and suddenly I’m surrounded by all these talented people who want to help me make this game.
I wanted to make a game that felt as infinite as possible. If I had found a game that had hit that mark, I’d probably be playing that instead of talking with you here today. (laughs) I’m making the game that I want to play. Once Crowns is done I’m going to spend a lot of hours playing it, getting every colour variation, every genetic variation, every mutation, every form, so basically it’s going to be pretty easy to beta test!
n3: It definitely shows how passionate you are about the idea! That’s something that I’m sure a lot of people have been waiting for, but no one else has buckled down and made a game of it yet. Now, comparisons to Pokémon are inevitable with Crowns, but I’m certain people would like to know what differences they can expect from Crowns as far as both gameplay and tone are concerned.
Jason: Gameplay-wise, you’re going to be playing a monster-taming, monster-catching RPG. While the core of RPG’s such as these remains in the battling, we are planning to diversify the gameplay throughout the story with some interesting diversions. Several puzzles are present, such as adjusting water levels in order to navigate a wharf, and using the environment to create a makeshift water turbine. This is all in an attempt to create tactile feedback to the environment, not just the creatures in it.
Any concept of fighting via effective typing will translate over, though we are trying to mix it up. We have a Stockpiling function in the game for attacking. Take Laz, the game’s mascot, who is a Magical attacker. If you switch from a Magical attacker like him to another Magical attacker, it will essentially add a charge to that Stockpile. You can spend all these charges and attack then, or keep building it up. Switching to a Physical attacker will break the chain and reset it all however, so it’s something you have to keep in mind when assembling your team. Naturally you want to charge it up all the way for maximum damage, but even if you don’t you’ll still get some nice bonuses to the attack such as inflicting various status effects.
These tie into the tone we have for the game as well. Monsters with Water attacks can cause enemies to Drown when hit by consecutive Water attacks, which is pretty dark. We have a lot of these psychological effects on your monsters, such as Reality Break, where the monster can no longer tell what is real and what is not. The result of their sanity slipping cause them to miss, doubt themselves, etc. There will be gruesomeness to all of this, and one of our focuses for the late-game is for a true sense of surreal horror in the world, so that might be important to keep in mind before giving Crowns to a younger sibling.
Jason: We’ve already gotten so much more engagement than I ever expected. I’d finished one small game before this, just to prove that I could, and it didn’t get much reception at all. There were a few comments, a few downloads, but it wasn’t a lot. I was a bit disappointed. But developing Crowns, because I’ve been making the game more for myself than anything else, it wouldn’t have really mattered in the end if anybody latched on to it. We brought on some more team members, started being more open with the community on Twitter. We hoped to maybe get a few people saying “oh hey, this looks cool” and maybe a few suggestions. But at this point we now have almost 500 followers, a good several thousand shares, and it seems clear that this is a project that appeals to a lot of people!
Considering the game is in late Alpha, we feel that is a really good number. Several months ago we ran an Art Contest, where fans could submit their monster ideas, and we’d pick one and put it in the game. We just wanted one! But instead we got all of these incredible designs, so we ended up picking a winner and bringing that artist, the dev of another game Void Zone, onto our team fully as a monster designer, but also to put every single submission into the game! As we look forward toward entering the Steam Greenlight program, we want to reach out to the people who want to catch and tame as many monsters as they can as well as trade and battle online with their friends.
n3: You mentioned the Steam Greenlight program, is there any estimated time for the game to arrive on Greenlight, or even a projected release window?
Jason: We want to hit Greenlight by September, or a little beforehand. We want to really push our social media presence at that time to make sure it doesn’t fall off there too fast. We really do hope the people in the Steam community love the game as much as people on Twitter and forums have. At the moment we are aiming for a Spring 2017 release date. We are not interested in doing Early Access, though we will be delivering a demo to our most hardcore fans to beta test.
Crowns is a perfect example of what can happen when a community of individuals unites to assemble one vision of a great game. Having been interested in the project since nearly its genesis in February, seeing it at this level is a wonderful thing and shows the strength of the indie gaming community.
If you would like to follow the development of Crowns, you can stay tuned here at n3rdabl3 for any further coverage, or find the developers at @crowns_dev on Twitter, the Crowns forums, and the Crowns subreddit.