Secrets Of Grindea is a indie classic in the making. As both an homage and parody of classic JRPGs that packs strong mechanics and innovative ideas of its own, not to mention 4-way multiplayer and gorgeous visuals, it's easy to forget that it comes from the humblest of backgrounds. Three Swedish game design students originally designed Secrets Of Grindea as a Gotland University project, which ended up winning big at this year's Swedish Game Awards after a huge amount of hard work and sleepless nights.
Having met Pixel Ferrets at Gotland Game Conference 2012 and previewing the pre-alpha version earlier this year, I was keen to catch up with them to find out how development is progressing.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): First of all, thanks for managing to tear yourself away from development (and Halo 4) long enough to talk to us! Could you please introduce yourselves to our readers and explain your role at Pixel Ferrets?
Pixel Ferrets: We're a very small studio consisting of three Swedish game developers: Teddy the programmer, Vilya the graphics artist and Fred the animator. We met during our three years at Gotland University where we studied Game Design together. At the end of the second year, we were at a crossroads where we could join up and build something together, and since our tastes in games were so compatible we decided to go for it!
Dealspwn: For any readers just joining us, could you briefly describe Secrets Of Grindea? What's it all about?
Pixel Ferrets: Secrets of Grindea is an old-school Action RPG with co-op support for up to 4 players. It is a tribute to and sometimes a parody of the old SNES games so many of us grew up with and loved! Taking advantage of the possibilities of today, we aim to bring the genre into the next era, with online multiplayer co-op, crisp graphics and slick combat.
Dealspwn: Why did you decide to make an homage to classic RPGs in the first place? What were your inspirations?
Pixel Ferrets: We've been inspired by lots of great games from the past, mostly the Zelda series, but also modern games as well. The Korean MMORPG Ragnarok Online has inspired us quite a bit when it comes to setting and sense of discovery. We felt that combining the classic games with elements found in more recent RPGs would be pretty cool, and hadn't been done much to our knowledge, especially not with co-op support.
Dealspwn:' Grinding' is sometimes considered to be a dirty word. How have you managed to make it fun?
Pixel Ferrets: One of the most important things, especially in a non-MMO, is that the grinding should be optional. We're presenting the player with lots of distractions should he or she choose to, like fishing, catching pets, side quests, crafting, finding rare loot/cards, and graded challenges in the arena.
For those of us who don't mind staying behind in an area to find that rare hat or card, we've tried to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. This includes putting a lot of effort into polish like hit effects, death animations and fluid combat, but also stuff like increasing the enemy respawn rate the longer you camp an area. This way, you're not overwhelmed when casually fighting through a map, yet when you're actually farming specific enemies the game will adjust to avoid unnecessary downtime.
Basically, we're trying to make every aspect of the game as appealing as possible, so that even gamers who might not consider themselves to be the “grindy” type might find enjoyment in some of our bonus content. Also, completing some of our achievement will yield you hats... :)
Dealspwn: Apparently there will be plenty of gameplay diversions to enjoy on top of the story and item collecting. How will the pet and fishing systems work - and will there be any other minigames?
Pixel Ferrets: The pet system is sort of a passive buff that's also cute (or cool!). You catch a pet using certain taming items, and then succeeding in a DDR-like minigame. When it's caught, you can feed it things you've found to raise different attributes depending on what stats you want to focus on!
Fishing works similarly to Suikoden II, where the goal is to keep a moving fish inside a bar which the player controls. Depending on the rarity of the fish, the bar is smaller and the fish icon moves less predictably.
We'll throw in little minigames here and there! There's currently a chicken herding minigame as part of a quest and we're also making an archery minigame inspired by the one found in A Link to the Past.
Dealspwn: I first encountered Secrets Of Grindea at Gotland Game Conference 2012 - where it was already looking spectacular. Could you describe how long it took to get to that level?
Pixel Ferrets: At GGC, we had worked on the game just about a year. Despite advice such as “add polish last”, we're not the kind of people who can show off features we're not happy with and so we ended up with a vertical slice instead! A lot of that year went into designing and prototyping basic game systems, so the demo at GGC was very short.
Dealspwn: Secrets Of Grindea won big at the 2012 Swedish Game Awards. How much did this mean to you, and how much work did you put in to polish it up?
Pixel Ferrets: Well, the SGA deadline was only a few days after GGC, so the only thing we managed to change was stabilizing multiplayer enough for the judges to try it out! Turns out they didn't play the co-op bits, but they enjoyed the single player well enough it seems :)
Dealspwn: Did you encounter any major challenges during development? How have you circumvented them?
Pixel Ferrets: There hasn't been any specific issues that we felt was overwhelming, but making a game of this scope on a team of three people is a pretty huge challenge in itself. One thing we continuously struggle with is balancing development with community management. We'd love to spend even more time talking to fans, attending trade shows and doing interviews, but when every member of your team is a crucial part of development you can't always afford to put in as much as you want into these things. Somehow we've managed to tend to most correspondence in an acceptably timely fashion, but if our following keeps growing there will come a day when that's not possible. That day will be pretty tough, but by that point we can hopefully mobilize the community itself to help answer common questions and point people in the right direction.
Dealspwn: Do you have any idea about release date and pricing?
Pixel Ferrets: “When it's done” is in full effect, but the current hope is having it done in about a year. We'll have a better idea when we've gone into content crunch and have pieced together the first temple and all the stuff that entails. We're aiming for a price point at about 10USD.
Dealspwn: We always ask this question to developers: what, in your opinion, is the most awesome thing that players can do in Secrets Of Grindea?
Pixel Ferrets: Since enemies scale and gain new abilities with the number of players as well as difficulty setting, four player co-op in Hard Mode is pretty damn intense.
Dealspwn: I know this is a long way away, but if Grindea sells well (here's hoping!), do you plan to stick together afterwards? Any ideas for future projects?
Pixel Ferrets: We have a few ideas that contended with Grindea that we might pick up, as well as some crazy stuff we might pursuit as a sort of “in-between”. Also, if we feel there's a place for it, we might throw in some additions to Grindea itself!
Secrets Of Grindea is slated for a 2013 release on Steam, following a successful Greenlight campaign.