This week we sat down with Toronto-based Golden Gear Games, creators of recently released Fate Tectonics, a slightly confusing, albeit compelling title that mixes puzzle gameplay with real-time strategy god games like Populous.
In Fate Tectonics players build a world piece-by-piece, matching various forms of terrain with the help of “Fates,” god like creatures that either aide in the development of the player’s world or hinder it (and sometimes even completed destroying it).
Like all good video games, Fate Tectonics is easy to pick up and play, but also unfortunately has a level of depth to it that’s at times confusing, although this is an issue Golden Gear Games plans to address in the near future.
Question: Can you tell me a little bit about Golden Gear Games? How did the studio come to be? My understanding is that Fate Tectonics is your first title. How long did it take to develop and is there anything specific you struggled with during the development process?
Alex Bethke: Golden Gear Games is a 5-year-old Toronto based game development studio that does a mix of game development for ourselves and for clients. Most notably we provided the programming team for the controversial Pipe Trouble iOS/Android game and the engine/programming support for Long Story. We’ve released some of our jam games over the years but Fate Tectonics is really our first fully produced game.
Rosemary Brennan: Fate Tectonics has been in development for roughly two years, in-between other contract work we’ve had to do in order to pay our bills. That was something we struggled with, actually. How much time do we devote to Fate Tectonics and how much do we devote to work that’s bringing in money? Sometimes we had to tighten our belts, but we made it though.
Question: Fate Tectonics is a really unique game. To me it seems like part puzzle, part real-time strategy. Where did the inspiration for Fate Tectonics come from? It also shares a lot in common with the Civilization series in terms of basic fundamentals (is this true or am I totally off with that statement)?
Andrew Traviss: Real-time and turn-based strategy games are both genres that I love and their fingerprints are definitely on anything I make, but Fate Tectonics has more of a lineage through god games. I’ve always had a great appreciation for games with systems you have only indirect control over.
The followers in Populous, for example, mostly do their own thing. You don’t order them not to settle in one place or to settle in another, you just create environmental conditions that guide them in that direction. Most god games have some element of this, and Fate Tectonics is no different. You don’t get to explicitly control the Fates or Penelope’s followers; they follow their own rules. If you want to direct their behavior, you need to learn and exploit those rules.
Rosemary Brennan: In our original elevator pitch we likened the game to Carcasone and Populous, which are two major influences on the game. Sometimes we have to use the comparison of Tetris crossed with Sim City, because those are titles the majority of people are more familiar with. The second description isn’t as exact, but it tends to get a greater reaction.
Question: When it comes to visuals, why did you decide to give the game a retro look and feel?
Andrew Traviss: When I chose pixel art, before we had even hired Rosemary to do the art, it wasn’t really out of a desire to appeal to a retro aesthetic at all. A large part of the decision was to support the game’s central visual matching puzzle mechanic. It’s much easier to match up pieces with iconic and consistent visual patterns.
3D camera perspectives all interfere with this, so from the beginning I decided against using any kind of 3D art. From there, pixel art made more sense than other art styles mainly because I knew more pixel artists who I could work with and had enough basic skills to work on pixel art myself that would at least be passable for prototyping.
Rosemary Brennan: When I was brought on to the project, I was asked to provide pixel art for the visuals; Andrew had already set that standard during his ‘one game a month’ build of the game. Luckily, I was given free reign to the details of how the pixel art looked and moved.
So I went with a classic 16-bit style reminiscent of JRPGs from the mid 90s. Games like Final Fantasy IV and VI, Breath of Fire and Secret of Mana were all huge inspirations. If nothing else, I wanted the visuals of Fate Tectonics to be a love letter to the video games of my childhood.
Question: One of my biggest issues so far with the game is I’m not always entirely sure what’s going on. I’m having fun with it, but at times I’m totally lost. I don’t know why pieces of tile are disappearing or who these floating gods are in my world. Have you given any thought to creating a more extensive tutorial for the game? (as a side note, I don’t think I’m alone with this thought, a few other early impressions I’ve read indicated the same thing)
Andrew Traviss: We’ve heard this feedback loud and clear. Our intent all along has been to favor exploration and experimentation over explicitly teaching the player how everything works, but it’s very clear at this point that we’re losing people too early in that process. We’re currently working on a much more heavily guided tutorial that should guarantee that players understand the basic grammar of the game before they move on to figuring out how the rest of it works.
Question: Is Fate Tectonics officially out now? Do you have plans to port it to other platforms in the future?
Alex Bethke: Yes to all of that. We never stay idle and multiple platform development is something our studio has specialized in over the last years targeting desktop, mobile, and web. We’d love to move into the console market with Fate Tectonics and are scheming away on a number of potential next steps for us and the game.
Question: What has the fan response been like so far for the game? Is there any specific feedback you intend to use to improve Fate Tectonics?
Alex Bethke: Fan response has been super positive so far. Most of the issues users ran into with the launch build have been resolved with emails of complaint turning into praise by the end of the interaction. Now the biggest thing we’re focused on is making it easier for users to understand the game in regards to some of the things about which you already asked.
Question: Is there anything else you’d like to mention about the game that you feel I’ve missed?
Andrew Traviss: Fate Tectonics owes a great deal to the wonderful indie community in Toronto and especially co-working space Bento Miso and its members. There’s no way would have made it this far without their support and encouragement. “It takes a village” applies to making indie games just as much as it does to raising kids.