Elysian Shadows, Preview of 2D Paradise

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You backed it on Kickstarter and now it’s happening.  We were excited about the mechanics, but what about the elements we’ll all fall in love with?  Who are the characters? What are their struggles?  What is their world like?  I wanted to know, and Falco Girgis and the Elysian Shadows Team agreed to tell me.  So what’s behind the game?  Find out with the Crotchety Old Gamer!

I am excited as anyone about playing this game, but who will be our window into the world?  Who is the main character of Elysian Shadows, and what drives him?

“The main protagonist of ES is named Julien. He is the son of two famous “diggers” who were well known for their research of the ancient ruins scattered throughout the land of Elysian Shadows. Julien grew up traveling with them on numerous expeditions and learning about the different ancient cultures of the past. He was well on his way to following in their footsteps as an accomplished digger, when the two mysteriously wound up missing during an expedition. An adolescent Julien was then sent to live with a family friend, the local museum owner, where he grew up despising the ruins that claimed his parents. Rather than exploring them with a passion and thirst for understanding as he had in his youth, he now scours them for a means to survival, plundering and looting their treasures just to make ends meet. 
Julien has virtually no motivation to take part in the party’s quest in the beginning. He is thrust into the action by necessity rather than choice, and it’s initially the other party members who drag him along on the journey. For Julien, this is a quest of personal growth. It’s him having to come to terms with his traumatic past and face the ruins that caused him so much pain, and his struggle to reignite a long-lost passion that died along with his parents. Julien’s character represents crawling back up and trying again after suffering an extreme loss or emotional defeat. Whether this be a metaphor for learning to love again after heartbreak or learning to try again after seeing your dream project crushed on Kickstarter. Heh heh.”
Julien and the other diggers have to rely on physical weapons when excavating ruins because magic is a power reserved exclusively for the religious. While the technology for Julien’s time is not particularly advanced by today’s standards, many of the weapons and artifacts the player encounters within the ruins from civilizations long past are far more advanced than those found in his own time. The diggers and the scientific communities rely on these kinds of manufactured and uncovered weapons for combat while the religious are strictly magic-users. But what if Julien and his friends somehow discovered a way to use magic as well?”
Dark, mysterious caverns where treasures and danger abound...

Dark, mysterious caverns where treasures and danger abound…

Julien, like most people, is dealing with a  secret pain.  His struggle might be unique to himself, but each of us has our own climb from the bottom.  Each of us has a cave of terrible darkness and untold treasures unique to our souls that we must brave before we are free to be who we are.  Joseph Campbell wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces, which concerned itself with the way characters like these resonate in each of us.  What about the world, though?  What is the story told by the world Julien and his people will inhabit?
“Elysian Shadows is a world caught in constant conflict between magic and technology. Magic is associated with faith and the religious. Technology is associated with scholars, scientists, and explorers who have turned away from The Creator’s divine gifts in an attempt to better understand the world around them. The technologists are seen as heretics, while the religious are seen as sheep, following blindly. Julien and Eryn, who both work for a museum, are sent on an expedition to uncover a valuable artifact for a new exhibit. The two quickly find more than they bargained for in the ruins. They stumble upon a discovery that thrusts them into the middle of this mounting conflict between magic and technology, forcing them to unlock the mysteries of ancient civilizations and prevent their own people from sharing this fate.
The storyline of Elysian Shadows was heavily influenced by the moral dilemmas of our own technologically advanced society, especially with recent advances in bio-engineering. With stem cell research, cloning and the human genome sequence, science challenges religion on a fundamental philosophical level. Science is beginning to encroach upon powers that many people argue are reserved exclusively for God. Do we have any business modifying our genetic make-up? Is it moral to alter a fetus before its birth? Is it wrong to artificially produce life in a laboratory? Science claims that these advances could drastically benefit all of humanity, while religion claims that we are meddling with things that we have mo business meddling with. We wanted to create a story that was more than just a superfluous JRPG experience. We wanted something that would make the player think; something that would engage them intellectually and emotionally.”
Lovely vistas!

Lovely vistas!

Elysian Shadows seems like it will strike a chord that resonates with our own lives, possibly even a few nerves, but who would we be if art never asked hard questions?  And how we answer these questions are part of what make us individual from one another.  Our varied ways of thinking and how those come together for a common goal are part of what has made America what it is today: a center for all people to share ideas freely, and sometimes those ideas reach back out to the people that created them.  So how will the characters accompanying Julien contribute to the game?
“Julien is initially accompanied by the lead female protagonist, Eryn, who is a tech-savvy university student. Eryn helps her father run the local museum, showcasing various exotic and mysterious artifacts from the surrounding ruins. While Julien’s past has rendered him jaded and disinterested in discovering the secrets of these ruins, Eryn explores them passionately in hopes of uncovering their secrets often dragging Julien along for the ride. She is a strong-willed tomboy and often the most level-headed and responsible member of the party with a ruthless pragmatism. 
The two adventurers find themselves in the company of one of Eryn’s professors after his lab is ransacked and his research is destroyed ( presumably because he was getting too close to a breakthrough with his work ). While Professor Rand is brilliant, he’s also infamous for dysfunctional antics and living a life of excess. His peers in academia generally disapprove of his hedonism, but they are often forced to concede to his genius and gift for piecing together puzzles. Rand serves as a non-traditional guide for the party, and he is well-versed in the ancient ruins and their technology. Unfortunately Eryn finds herself having to guide Rand just as much throughout their journey, keeping his arrogance in check and ensuring that his decadence doesn’t get the party deeper into trouble along the way.”
...And when you look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaide.

There is a big adventure out there for us

Allies and enemies and what separates the two is a major point of reference in how each of us live our lives.  It says something about who we are and what we want.  Note that Julien is already surrounding himself with those that spend their time largely concerned with the ruins, the very thing that he blames for the loss of his parents.  This means that, despite his feelings on them, somewhere they are still very much a part of him, maybe even one he wants to love again as it would be the only emotional link back to those happy days of youth exploring with Mom and Dad?  Eventually he will have to face those emotions, and his friends will be the ones to help.  So, what about the game itself?  How will each of these characters actually work together?  I was allured by the claims to an inventive new system for skills and jobs – How will these systems work and how will they be reflected in each character?
“It’s actually a mixture of two different systems. We ran into a kind of design dilemma early on when we were dreaming up skills and abilities for characters. On one hand, we wanted each character to have their own unique feel and play style. We didn’t want every character to feel completely interchangeable, and we wanted to give each their own innate strengths and abilities. But on the other hand, we are huge fans of job and class systems, and party customization is something we very much wanted to do with Elysian Shadows. We really wanted to give the player the freedom to customize their party as they see fit.
So we wound up with a hybrid system where each party member learns their own unique set of skills and abilities during combat and storyline progression. They each have their own unique skill trees and pools that are independent of the other characters, which is how we intend to make our characters unique and interesting. Then  each party member can be assigned to a certain class wherein they unlock class-specific skills and abilities. This allows the player to really fine-tune their party, offering a considerable amount of strategic freedom within the combat system, while still allowing us to create unique and interesting characters.”
Giant swords and power help, too!

Giant swords and power help, too!

This means the class you choose for each character determines what role they will play, and allows you to dictate how the party reacts to challenges.  Alongside this, one character might have access to certain elements within there skill tree that other characters simply cannot get to – the same way Falco and myself might both become developers, but we would end up using those skills to completely different ends and learn different, though equally useful, methods of making games.  Well, damn, I am glad I contributed to the Elysian Shadows Kickstarter!  Of course, there are still 5 days left to contribute to the ES Kickstarter, but what about those that miss the opportunity?  How much will they have to pay and what outlets will the game be available on?
“Since we’re targeting so many different platforms with completely different indie markets and economies, we can’t really set a fixed price point across each. The price of ES will most likely be adjusted so it’s comparable to other indie games available on each platform. Currently, digital copies of ES for Steam and OUYA can be preordered for $15 through our Kickstarter. This also includes our development tools, ESTk and ESGamma. The standard edition of Elysian Shadows for the Dreamcast will be $49, which includes a professionally produced jewel case, color instruction manual, and pressed disc thanks to our publishers at Watermelon Corp. The game will look like a 100% legit Dreamcast release picked up from a commercial retailer back in 1999. You will also be able to choose between PAL, US, and JAP style packaging so ES will match the rest of your DC collection no matter what region you’re in!”
Painstaking attention to detail, thorough skills and class systems, complex characters and a complex storyline balancing the the beliefs of a world against the pain of one kid: Elysian Shadows is going to have something for everyone, and a little extra to boot.  I have never been this excited for another modern retro game; not Shovel Knight or any other mainstream title.  Elysian Shadows, however, is more than just a modern retro 2D RPG: it is our modern 2D RPG.  More than just this game, I look forward to the ripple effect that this game will create and how that will resonate across the industry.  Here’s to hoping it contributes to some interesting developments all the way around.  But whether or not it does, either way, it’s going to be an awesome game!  As always, you can check the Elysian Shadows website for more about the game!
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How Elysian Shadows Team Plans to Revive The 2D RPG

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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 look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaide.

…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 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

Falco Girgis

 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

Tyler Rogers

 

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

Daniel Tindall

 

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.

 

Patryk Kowalick

Patryk Kowalick

Leandro

Leandro Tokarevski

 

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

Connor Linning

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

Eddie Ringle

 

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.