Snowcastle Games has been busy improving their classic-style RPG since its debut in 2016. So, I'm happy that I had the opportunity to ask Nikola Kuresevic (one of Earthlock's game designers) a few questions about its evolution as well as some fun tidbits.
[A.J.] Hello, Nikola. Thank you for this opportunity to ask you a few questions about Earthlock. As someone who has played through it last year, I'm very interested in trying out the new version. Anyway, as I played, I was reminded of RPGs from the original PlayStation era. Were there any games in particular that inspired the world and gameplay systems of Earthlock?
[Nikola] One of the great things about working for such a small studio with such a flat hierarchy is that literally anyone at the office has the ability to influence any part of the game. As such, it's quite hard to pinpoint all of the different games that have influenced the project over the years. We've also got a good mix of industry veterans and newcomers to the industry, so there's a lot of different (for the lack of a better term) gaming baggage that comes with that. Final Fantasy 7 and 9 are definitely big contributors though, as almost everyone at the office have played through them at some point in our lives, and (in our minds) are just a couple of the great RPGs that came out during that golden era.
[A.J.] I remember playing through those when I was younger. Good times! Speaking of classic games in the genre, many developers enjoy putting in Easter eggs as a nod to games from the past. Are there any references in Earthlock that you're particularly proud of?
[Nikola] Ooh! This is a hard one! I'm not even sure we have a full overview of them all as at least 85% of us are all working directly in the engine implementing stuff. I don't want to spoil any of them, but there are two in particular (that I didn't put in myself) that caught my eye as I was playing through the game. They don't reference pop-culture in any way but rather our team or events that transpired during the development of Earthlock.
Dev Names: Our writer managed to sneak in the names of all the devs in a small tidbit of lore hidden somewhere in the world. Some minor modifications have been made to obscure them slightly, but they're definitely there.
2219: I'm going to get chewed out for this as we're all trying to forget the infamous 2219. The number refers to a commit to our servers in 2015 that would break all animations in the game and wasn't reversible. We had to painstakingly go back and manually hook everything up again in order for things to work again... I'll just leave it at that. There's only one place this number appears, and is mostly for our own enjoyment. Not even sure that the poor guy, who shall remain unnamed, is even aware we put it in there! *Cue evil laughter*
[A.J.] Haha, that's great. This new iteration of Earthlock simply dropped the "Festival of Magic" subtitle from the original version. Is there a specific reason that this was done as opposed to naming it something like "Earthlock: Enhanced Edition"?
[Nikola] "Festival of Magic" turned out to be a relic from what we thought the game was going to be and what we still thought it was when we did the original launch. But, as many developers can testify to, there comes a point where the scope needs to be reworked which ultimately meant that we had to make cuts to the story and world of Earthlock. Cuts we thought didn't affect the "Festival of Magic", but as it turns out, did. We then made the difficult decision to set out on a 13 month journey to rework Earthlock into what it is today. Finally we took into account the story that was cut out and the scenes that we felt were missing in addition to internal and player feedback. We therefore took a step back and looked at the bigger picture - rewrote parts of the story and made some of the existing scenes serve us better, as well as added new ones to further flesh out the story arc.
Internally, we referred to the new version as "Earthlock: Should Have Been Edition" as this was the version we should have released. It was also a testimony to our fans, backers, and community that we wanted them to experience Earthlock the way it was designed, not the way it turned out. Ultimately, the reworked "Enhanced" edition was named just "Earthlock" to signify that we don't just want to make one game. We want to create an IP. We needed a strong foundation to build on which is why we reworked Earthlock to begin with. It also serves as a promise to our community that although we're still a young company (compared to the genre's other giants), we're in it for the long haul.
[A.J.] Now, that's commitment! Although I enjoyed Earthlock: Festival of Magic and it made me nostalgic for my teenage years when I played a ton of PlayStation RPGs, I wished the gameplay evolved more than it did. Are there any enhancements or additions in this new version that offer more variety to help keep the player engaged?
[Nikola] Earthlock is very much a love letter to the 3D RPGs of the 90's. As years have passed since that era, a lot of new elements, mechanics, and expectations have been introduced to the genre that we had to make really hard decisions to either implement or leave out. We've still stayed true to the original vision for Earthlock but we've added more content such as side quests and overworld abilities to help flesh out the world of Umbra. Now that we've become more acquainted with developing for this genre, we can play around more loosely with new features and expectations both within and outside of the genre for our next game, whatever that might be.
[A.J.] Whatever it is, I'm looking forward to it. Are there any other changes that you'd like to highlight?
[Nikola] A lot of changes have gone into Earthlock over the last 13 months. The most visible might be that since the original launch of Earthlock, we finally have an in-house animator who has done wonders for the game! (i.e. my favourite single character animation has to be the Temple Guardian's death animation). But for the sake of keeping this point short, here's a list of all the notable changes:
Craftable weapons (Oh yes! We finally have them!), selling items (because why else be the hoarding, adventuring Hero that you are if you can't sell it all off?), overworld abilities unique to every playable character, treasure hunting, numerous sidequests, and new environments, cutscenes, creatures, and NPCs as well as loads of new animations, story additions, improved NPC AI, and tweaks of every kind to make the game more engrossing, enjoyable, and replayable! In addition to all the strange plants you could grow to begin with in Earthlock, we've also now introduced the ability to grow kittens and other cute critters... just because. And last but not least; optimization!
[A.J.] Wow, that's a lot of changes! For those who already played through and enjoyed Earthlock: Festival of Magic, what aspects can they look forward to in this new version that will entice them to play through it again?
[Nikola] Well, if the list in the previous question doesn't answer this one, there's always the fact that we're also working on getting Earthlock localized into multiple new languages for everyone to enjoy. Currently, the languages are going through QA but we hope to have more news on an actual patch soon.
Since Earthlock is a separate title in its own right, players also get a new trophy/achievement list to try their hand at. Some of the trophies/achievements will be familiar, others are new in order to reflect the changes that have gone into the game.
There you have it; Earthlock is better than ever so if you haven't played it yet then now's a great time to pick it up. Earthlock is currently available for Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC.