The evolution of Secrets of Grindea - Interview

We recently had a chance to talk with Vilya Svensson from Pixel Ferrets about their Early Access title, Secrets of Grindea. Recently Pierre-Yves had a chance to preview and write up an article about the game for our Better With a Partner series, and he thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Now we get a chance to discuss how Secrets of Grindea has evolved since its inception back in 2011. Vilya is the artist behind the backgrounds, UI, character portraits and more. For our last question, we are also briefly joined by the other two members of the team: Teddy Sjöström - developer, and Fred Ström - animator and creator of the character sprites.


Chalgyr's Game Room:
You've been developing Secrets of Grindea for a long time now, since the summer of 2011, how do you feel things have progressed since then? Is Secrets of Grindea still the same game now as it was back then?
Vilya:
It's definitely been in development for a long time, right? Time sure flies when you have fun though, and working on SoG has been a blast so far!

The game is essentially the same today as it was when we first dreamed of making it - the core elements are pretty much what we envisioned from the start, and other than minor visual improvements, the early stages have remained exactly the same as when they first were added. Of course, the gameplay has undergone a few revisions here and there. Spells worked differently in the beginning, and believe it or not, we had health pots and healing once!

I think what has changed the most, though, is our estimate of how long it'll take to finish the game. In the beginning, we felt certain we'd be done in a year or two, but now we've realized we need a lot more than that for Grindea to be the game we really want it to be in the end!

Chalgyr's Game Room:
You've mentioned that your work is a tribute to the SNES era of gaming. Seeing it for the first time on Steam's Early Access page the first thing I did was yell at Breanna down the hall that I needed to get this! Personally I am reminded a lot of Seiken Densetsu 3 (um... Secret of Mana 3?) that was only ever fan translated but thankfully had its multiplayer through LAN intact.

Did you have any one source in particular that served as inspiration or is it just the love of that era that spawned this amazing creation?
Vilya:
We've had plenty of inspirations for Secrets of Grindea, both from the 16-bit era as well as later games! All of us absolutely adored the SNES as we grew up, and Fred and Vilya (our graphics artists) enjoy creating pixel art graphics a lot, so making this kind of game in terms of the art style was kind of a natural decision.

When it comes to the overall gameplay, we were definitely inspired by the Secret of Mana series, but also the Zelda games (especially A Link to the Past) and, perhaps surprisingly, Ragnarok Online, an old PC mmorpg!


Chalgyr's Game Room:
Secrets of Gindea offers a lot of freedom with its classless system. These are not common place and the ability to do so was awesome! What drove this idea forward? Where there originally class choices?
Vilya:
I think this decision was born from annoyance with the fact that, when playing games with class systems, you're often forced into picking skills you aren't super interested in just so you can get to the cool ones deeper in the skill tree. With our system you are free to cherry-pick your favorites from level one, without having to buy into a complete package with skills you wouldn't enjoy as much. Also it removes the tough decision for those of us out there who constantly have to pick between melee damage and magic spells - now we can do both!

Chalgyr's Game Room:
You have what is probably one of the better ideas for a multiplayer system out there. A party member can't just rush ahead or skip through all the text because they read faster or that they just want to keep going. How did you land upon this idea? Did one of you simply skip over the text while the other was still reading? I'm guessing that the same reason would apply to the gameplay as well?
Vilya:
This system was born for a variety of reasons! For one, we were all over the spectrum in terms of how much we read. Vilya, for instance, enjoys a good story, so she was pretty annoyed in games where one party member can listen to and accept/turn in an entire quest without her even having a chance to talk to the NPC. We wanted to make sure that people who enjoy reading at least get the chance to do so!

Secondly, in many cases it's important that the characters are at the same place for certain cutscenes. For instance, what would happen if a cutscene closes off a doorway, when your friend is on the other side? In this case we felt we had two options, either we'd force teleport everyone to the cutscene location once someone triggered it, or we'd ask the players to gather by themselves before it could trigger. In this case, we went for the latter, as we believe it'd be more annoying to be forced into something by the game rather than doing it out of your own free will (or after being nagged into it by impatient friends)!


Chalgyr's Game Room:
Death. While I may not have died first, I did die more often being in melee with my shield breaking as I took on way more than I should have while Breanna was busy. Any party member that dies becomes a ghost that awaits for their teammates to resurrect them while having fun with different emotes from getting angry to outright crying. How did this end up as it is?
Vilya:
When we designed the whole death system in co-op, we figured that we had two options – either you'd respawn on your own after a while or (in boss fights in particular) you'd just sit and wait until your friend(s) finished the battle or died themselves. Both of those left the player idle, waiting either for your friends or a timer to stop ticking, and we felt that your time could probably be spent in more interesting ways!

While you can't do a whole lot as a ghost, we figured it'd be more fun to be able to control your character a little bit, moving around and/or cheering on your friends with emotes, rather than being completely idle. The fact that you need to be resurrected also allows us to create more challenging boss encounters than an automatic respawn feature would, as you can't simply run around dodging damage while waiting for your friend to come back to support you. Most boss fights won't give you enough time to resurrect your party members (and when they come back they don't get that much health back), so you typically have to finish the boss fight in one go or try again! :)

Chalgyr's Game Room:
Having been working on Secrets of Grindea for this amount of time much have seen its fair share of challenges. Are there any in particular that stand out that you would be willing to share?
Vilya:
The biggest challenge so far has definitely been time. We're only 3 people, so it takes a loooot of time to create a game of this scale. In the beginning we had to juggle schoolwork and extra jobs as well, which meant we had even less time to spend on developing Grindea.

That has changed since last year when we launched pre-orders and got some real funds, as we can now lay all our energy on game development - but it still takes a long time between updates sometimes.

We're always scared that people will get impatient because we don't update the game often enough, but it would be difficult to go much faster than we currently are. However, we try to keep everyone up to date by showing some of our progress in our devblog every Monday, and it has definitely helped reassuring people that we're still working on the game and that it'll be finished sooner or later.


Chalgyr's Game Room:
While you are still working on Secrets of Grindea and bringing it ever closer to being finished, did you have any particular plans in the up-coming year?
Vilya:
Well, I think the next ? year(s) we'll continue working full time on Grindea, to make sure it's the best game it can be! Our next step on that journey is to finish another dungeon, this one a bit more story-oriented than the previous two. It's actually more of a town than a typical dungeon, so we're taking a bit of a risk there, but we hope it'll pay off in the end!

Chalgyr's Game Room:
This one is a little further out there, but once you are finished or even before then, have you thought about maybe releasing Secrets of Grindea onto consoles? The PSN, The Xbox Live Marketplace, the Nintendo eShop? With how well everything plays with the controller support, this would be an awesome title to see outside of the PC realm.
Vilya:
We are interested in porting it to a variety of platforms, but it'll all depend on how well things go once the game is released! If it's popular enough, we'll look into it, but for now we're just gonna focus on making sure the PC version gets as good as we can make it!

Chalgyr's Game Room:
Because we can't spend ALL of our time working, what do you all play in your free time?
Vilya, Fred and Teddy:
Aside from old SNES classics and Ragnarok Online, which we all played together back in the day, we do like a variety of different games!

Vilya loves story-driven RPGs such as the Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age series. Her latest favorites are the new (old-school) kids on the block Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin, while her all-time favorite remains the classic Baldurs Gate.

Teddy is more of a connoisseur of difficult action packed indie games. Cave Story, Super Meat Boy, Guacamelee - that sort of thing! He used to body scrubs in Street Fighter 4 back in the day, but no longer has the time to put in the Training Mode hours.

For Fred it is a mixed bag, but anything that is difficult piques his interest! A few “recent” favorites includes the Hotline Miami series, FTL and the brilliant Darkest Dungeon. Counter-Strike will always have a special place in his heart, as will going buster only in Megaman 10!


We sincerely want to thank the team at Pixel Ferrets as a whole and Vilya in particular for taking the time to talk with us. Good luck with the upcoming release of Secrets of Grindea.

Article by Pierre-Yves
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