In 1998 I spent my time roaming the castles of Thief: The Dark Project and watching The Matrix, but I also have a strong memory of hearing about this mythical console set to ride an eastern wind to our shores. Its name was the Dreamcast and it was Sega’s final all-or-nothing bid to take the game console market by storm. It had numerous features that were well ahead of its time. Unfortunately, it was too far ahead, like trying to explain electricity to cavemen. By the time the Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube were released, it was just a shadow of a memory from a glossy magazine page. After the Dreamcast, Sega didn’t die, it just slid out of the limelight and settled for publishing games instead of consoles.
Many did not get to experience the Dreamcast, but for those that did, it was more than just a console, it was a lost piece of gaming history. Even today, developers are putting out titles for Sega’s last console, and the Elysian Shadows Team proudly stand among their number. Falco Girgis is the Engine Architect and Team lead, and he explained his motivation to me when I asked why develop a game for the Dreamcast in 2014?
” I found my way into the Dreamcast scene at around the age of 14. I had always loved video games, and I had done a little bit of programming, but when I discovered there was an entire community of crazy fuckers out there developing their own apps, emulators, and games for the console, and I had the opportunity to also do that without being part of a huge studio, I fell in love immediately. You have to realize this was before Steam, smart phones, or any kind of indie support on consoles. The Dreamcast allowed the average guy with a dream to develop for a platform. I taught myself to code just for that little white box. I fell in love with it, and what it represented as Sega’s last console.”
So, it was a console Falco loved immensely as a teenager and he learned to hone his craft on it. That just means it has a special sheen, right? It’s a dead console, though. So what? I was still wondering if there was even still an audience for the console as Mr. Girgis continued.
“It’s so underappreciated, and it innovated so much in gaming–poly counts in the millions, hardware support for bump mapping (PS2 can’t do that), memory cards with screens, online gaming. It also had an insane amount of AAA titles for a console with such a short lifespan. It really felt like Sega knew it was their last chance in the hardware market, and they poured their hearts and souls into it. For those of us who were able to experience the Dreamcast, it’s kind of an immortal thing, and it shows. Most of our money from our Kickstarter is from Dreamcast sales. There are still gamers everywhere who have not forgotten the Dream, and I have made it my personal quest to realize my childhood dream of releasing a game for the console.”
Honestly, I was taken aback. Jump over to their Kickstarter and tell me what you see. As of right now, I see 90,448$ with 760 backers. Doing the math, that would have to be about 119$ from each backer, and considering only 182 backers pledged 100$+, that means there is a formidable Dreamcast audience. Granted, some of those backers gave 1k$ – 5k$, so this game has a spirited group of supporters…
…And when you really look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaid.
Everything I see on their page makes me flash back to the numerous hours I had when I discovered Chronotrigger, Secret of Mana 1 – 3 and (US) Final Fantasy 6 on emulators. There is a lot on that kickstarter page, but seeing everything made me wonder, what are they really trying to accomplish?
“Our overall goal is pretty multi-layered, haha! The biggest thing we wanted to achieve with Elysian Shadows itself was to reinvent the traditional 2D RPG formula in a manner that makes it new, exciting and relevant by today’s standards. We don’t want games like Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana to be a thing of the past, and we certainly have not been too thrilled with the slow demise of the JRPG itself. Most of our team members can be quoted saying that they want to create the game they wanted to play most as a young gamer, including aspects of games that they grew up loving as children, and trying to use them to create a unique RPG experience that could appeal to an audience beyond just RPG players.”
“I have found myself,Falco, really wanting to make an emotional connection with our audience through ES. I want to create a game whose story and characters are relatable, and whose struggles are relevant to the lives of our players. I feel like this connection is really the ultimate goal of any form of art, and this is especially true for video games as they’re an aggregate of every other art form: writing, art, music, etc. I’m really an introverted guy who loves to play the outgoing extrovert, but I have very few close friends and I tend to not have much in common with most people. The older I get the more I feel like my contributions to ES artistically are some kind of attempt to connect with players and fans on a deeper level. I’m sure Freud would have a field day psychoanalyzing that.”
That really explains everything. Elysian Shadows is a collaborative piece of art interpreted through the hearts and souls of its creators. Each of them has something unique to put in and being indie developers lets them do this the best they can. And when you look at what it adds up to, you can’t help but feel the passion and love there. You can’t helped but be awed. Personally, I think it’s moving.
I love the shadows and how the game looks like pixelated life.
I really enjoyed taking in everything that Falco and the team were telling me, but what is the rest of the team like? What do they do and who are they?
“We have 7 team members total:
Falco Girgis is our engine and toolkit developer, and he’s also the one who developed the framework, allowing us to target so many platforms (including the Sega Dreamcast). He’s basically the team mad scientist. Falco loves the Zelda franchise, pretty much anything on the Dreamcast, and obviously all of the 16-bit JRPG classics.
Tyler Rogers is the gameplay engineer, who basically takes the art, music, and levels then puts everything together into a cohesive gameplay experience. Tyler is very into Legends of Dragoon, Castlevania, and Final Fantasy tactics.
Daniel Tindall is our web developer and level designer, and he has been very much a secret weapon for creating our Kickstarter and Steam pages. Dan’s favorite series is Metal Gear Solid.
Patrick Kowalik and Leandro Tokarevski are our two pixel artists, both self-taught and classically trained traditional artists who decided to get into game development to broaden their horizons through pixel art.
Connor Linning is our team rock star and audio composer, bringing with him a background in rock, metal, electronica, and survival horror music influencing his musical direction with Elysian Shadows. Connor is obsessed with the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series.
Eddie Ringle is the team mobile developer, who has been the guy working on the OUYA, Droid, and even Google Glass builds of Elysian Shadows.
We aren’t just retro gamers either. Falco is totally into the new adventure-style games: Uncharted, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us. So good.”
It feels like I just put up a description of the A-Team, or something. Hopefully each of these pictures gives you an idea who we’re dealing with here. Each of these guys is immensely talented and putting everything they have to make something amazing. I hope Ebert is rolling in his grave because if this isn’t art, nothing is. Of course with the influence each of these games has had on the Team, what games have a direct influence on Elysian Shadows?
“There really is no single inspiration behind Elysian Shadows, and I kind of feel like that’s why it’s so special. It’s why our team is so emotionally invested in the project. We have all found our own ways to endow Elysian Shadows with a piece of what we like best in gaming, each of us growing up with different backgrounds and inspirations. Obviously games like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star have deeply inspired our direction, but there are quite a few more inspirations that aren’t even from the RPG genre. Falco and Tyler grew up loving the Megaman Legends series, and it has influenced their direction with the whole “ruins” concept. Even portions of the storyline. Connor is a huge survival horror fanatic and, oddly enough, he’s found ways to endow ES with that kind of emotional tension through dynamic lighting. Once we added jumping (initially inspired by Mario RPG), we quickly found ourselves able to design levels with influences from games like Super Mario and add combat moves from games like Megaman X. I feel like there’s little pieces of numerous games influencing what we do with ES.”
So Elysian Shadows, almost literally, draws its lineage from the DNA of a widely-ranging gamut of games without any single influence dominating completely. The more I hear about it, the more excited I get. This isn’t just a game, it’s a love letter. The kickstarter page has an amazing set of features. Elysian Shadows Team has partnered with Pixellamp, which allows for impressive pixelated shadows. The combat is set to be real-time and the gameplay will have a strong feeling of freedom. Splicing 2D RPG and platformer elements, this game will go boldly where other games are limited from going. There will also be a complete class or “job” system where characters’ innate strengths, weaknesses and gameplay styles can be augmented through a wide array of job-specific abilities and talent trees. A lot of this is straight off the Kickstarter page, so you can go there and get the complete feeling for what backers are getting out of this. They have samples of the music, the art and descriptions of various details planned for the game up there, too. The initial goal is to reach 150,000$ with stretch goals all the way up to 800,000$. And considering that last one would make this into an MMORPG, I hope we get as many additional backers as humanly possible. They also have an entry on Steam Greenlight, so if you can’t put any money in, vote them up on Steam! This is one vision that is extremely close to meeting its funding, and it threatens to shake the boundaries of games as we understand them.
A lot of this article has been lightly edited to flow as neatly as possible. The message conveyed has been kept the same in all respects.