Today we met Scott Brodie, Game Designer and founder of Heart Shaped Games. One of the most talented studios on the indie scene. Our interest is obviously focused on their new and original project: We are the Caretakers.
We are the Caretakers is a strategic one with lots of original elements but what fascinates us most is its Afrofuturist set. Without wasting any more time let’s start with the interview.
Hi Scott, thank you so much for giving us this interview, it’s a great honor.
For those who do not yet know We are the Caretakers, could you introduce it?
Of course! We Are The Caretakers is an Afrofuturist squad management wildlife RPG. You’re the leader of a secret organization called The Caretakers. After the energy barrier that protects your home mysteriously falls, you must unite people from across an unknown planet to protect your way of life and endangered animals (giant, energy-charged creatures called the ‘Raun”).
We Are The Caretakers is an Afrofuturist squad management wildlife RPG.
The game has you forming a huge cast of recruited characters into squads in your Headquarters. You then send them into the field to explore and hunt down intruders before they can harm the Raun. So a typical mission takes you from a very high-level command layer all the way down to direct turn-based confrontations.
We are the Caretakers takes you from a very high-level command layer all the way down to direct turn-based confrontations.
You have a significant past in video games world, having worked for Microsoft on Xbox Live Arcade Games and co-working with many independent studios on successful projects. After all, what convinced you to start your own studio?
I always had the desire to make my own games, and the timing just worked out to be right. I learned a lot while at Microsoft, working primarily on Xbox LIVE Arcade games, and helping indie studios big and small bring their games to the console. Ultimately I wanted to be more hands-on with design and programming, and work on more personal, original games that could have a deeper impact on players.
Heart Shaped Games has been around now for over 8 years, and We Are The Caretakers is our best attempt yet at being able to make a deep and exciting strategy game that can also explore some more complex themes under the surface.
You are just back from PAX East this year, how did it go?
It honestly went better than I could have ever expected. This was our first time getting our own booth at a major show, and we chose to announce We are the Caretakers at the same time. It was quite an exhausting weekend, but we managed to have our booth full with players the entire show. It was great to get the word out about the game and get some important early feedback on our demo.
Let’s start talking about the game. We are The Caretakers (from now on WATC) presents a very original Afrofuturist set, how did this idea come about?
The inspiration for the aesthetic came largely from the concept art and world building done by our artist Anthony Jones and Narrative Lead Xalavier Nelson Jr.
We wanted to create an exciting sci-fi world that fit our gameplay and themes of animal conservation, and could stand out as unique and exciting for players. We pulled inspiration from our experiences on a research trip to Nepal, as well as from popular Afrofuturist works such as Black Panther and the novel Who Fears Death.
We’re really happy that people seem to like the world we’ve built, and are so excited to contribute to the growing list of afrofuturist canon!
We pulled inspiration from our experiences on a research trip to Nepal, as well as from popular Afrofuturist works such as Black Panther and the novel Who Fears Death.
WATC takes elements from different genres like 4X, strategic and RPGs. In particular, what are the games that inspired your project? If there are any?
WATC combines elements of management, simulation, RPG, and strategy gameplay, so we did draw from many inspirations during the design phase.
Recent squad/army building games like XCOM, Darkest Dungeon, and Into The Breach were helpful in helping us find a structure we could execute on as an indie. There are also some lesser-known RTS games, such as Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen and Northgard, that were also useful guides as we built our field exploration gameplay.
WATC takes inspiration from games like XCOM, Darkest Dungeon, Into The Breach and RTS games such as Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen and Northgard.
We wanted to give players the experience of building a movement from the high-level strategy down to the most intimate face-to-face encounters, and I think we’ve been able to successfully blend a number of genres together to give players the right feeling.
We are very curious to know more details about the combat system, can you tell us something about it?
We’re not ready to share everything about the system just yet, but what sets the encounter system apart is its focus on finding a balance between forceful and supportive actions in order to resolve the conflict.
You’ll be dealing with many unique personalities both within The Caretakers and in the invading forces, and you’ll have to take into account how your actions affect the reputation of your movement as you progress in the campaign.
Compared to your past games, can you say that WATC is the most ambitious one?
Absolutely. Though we’re not a giant team, this is definitely the biggest team we’ve had on a project (6 people on average). Beyond just scope, I think we’re taking on a lot of very difficult design and technical challenges that we just haven’t been able to tackle until now. But I’m lucky to have a lot of talented folks on the team to help bring this ambitious design to life.
At what point is the development and what are the plans regarding the release and are there any other platforms besides the PC?
We’ve just announced the game, and are still in an alpha stage. We’re hoping to release into Early Access sometime later this year on Steam. Our store page is up where you can wishlist it, and we’re working with our community on Discord throughout development.
We’re hoping to release into Early Access sometime later this year on Steam.
Thanks to your experience as founder of an Indie studio, what can you recommend to those who want to take this path?
Honestly, it’s really hard to recommend the indie studio path right now. It is much more challenging to find ways to stand out and find an audience with so many other great games being released. If you’re experienced and have a financial runway that allows you to make some mistakes along the way, that’s a good start.
From there I’d spend a lot of time thinking about ways to create something truly unique and compelling that can attract attention and a community. That could be a unique design idea, or technology, or business partnership.
The thing that remains constant for us is working directly with players early and getting feedback. I think there are a lot of examples of other relatively unknown studios that have made successful games by iterating in concert with a core base of players.
Before leaving you, just a bonus question, the latest turn-based game you’ve played or still playing?
I continue to come back to Into The Breach and Slay The Spire. Both games have an elegance and simplicity to them that I admire as a designer, while continually presenting something new in each playthrough. They are good examples of what we’re striving to achieve with We Are The Caretakers.
Thank you so much for the time you have dedicated us, Scott. We will continue to follow your project hoping to get our hands on it as soon as possible.
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