Lab Zero Games first put itself on the map with a brilliantly-animated fighting game called Skullgirls. The game was an enjoyable (and arguably, a heavily underappreciated) fighter that was remembered primarily for its standout characters and personalities, something that PlayStation 4 and Vita owners found out earlier this year. But after a 2nd Encore, the team is now looking to move on to its next project, an epic RPG adventure called Indivisible.
Lab Zero posted an Indiegogo campaign a couple of months ago and, while it hasn't been successful, the developer has been galvanized enough by the response to extend the campaign through December. Shacknews tried the game's playable prototype earlier this year and was impressed with what was on display. So with just over a week remaining in the campaign, Shacknews reached out to the folks at Lab Zero to ask about Indivisible, what makes the game stand out, why it's worth supporting, and particularly about the publishing deal with 505 Games and why that doesn't save the game from the noose if the Indiegogo campaign is unsuccessful.
Shacknews: Lab Zero originally put itself on the map with Skullgirls. What made you all want to go from the fighting game arena to a fantasy RPG?
Mike Zaimont, Design Director: It's what we all wanted to do - there’s no better answer.
Though we worked on Skullgirls, not very many people on the team actively play fighting games. An action RPG is something everyone could get behind, and it's a game everyone is interested in playing, not just creating. That's important, because it means everyone will be making suggestions and finding ways to make the game better. They'll also enjoy working on it! There is an abundance of plot, level design, characters to create, and locations and interactions to think about. It offers more opportunities for everyone on the team to participate than a character-by-character fighting game does.
For me personally, there are three types of games I've always wanted to make: a fighting game, a metroidvania, and a versus puzzle game. (There's another, but I’ll leave that alone for now.) So this scratches my metroidvania itch, because it lets me come up with interesting movement abilities and explore how they interact. I'm also really, really eager to make an RPG where fighting game skills, like timing and meter management, matter, and where randomness is not a factor. I think it'll be a lot of fun to make, but also lots of fun to play - and that's really the main reason to make any game!
Shacknews: So what is Indivisible about? Describe the game's story.
Alex Ahad, Creative/Art Director: The story of Indivisible is the journey of a young tomboy bumpkin named Ajna, who vows to defeat the ruthless dictator, Lord Ravannavar, after his forces wiped out her village. Ajna discovers she has strange powers, one being the ability to absorb key individuals into herself. These characters are known as the Incarnations. She uses her abilities and the help of the Incarnations in the battle against Ravannavar, even if she doesn't fully understand their true nature yet. During her journey, Ajna will come to understand who she and her Incarnations are and the reality of the world around her.
Ajna's country has been taken over by Ravannavar's forces, fueled by unholy power obtained from the dark goddess of destruction, Kala. Some years ago, Kala had appeared in the world, bringing about chaos and destruction in her wake. A legendary hero and his companions managed to seal Kala away at the base of Sumeru, the cosmic mountain at the center of the world.
The world would never be the same again. From Kala's body came corpse-controlling, parasitic monsters known as the Vetala, who roamed across all nations, spreading filth and blight.. Kala had also left behind the Sea of Milk; the "milk" could be processed into an addicting, but poisonous drug called Soma. Ravannavar had somehow gained incredible powers with a boon from Kala and used it to take over his country. Kala's shadow still covers the world, and it seems like her influence has been increasing lately...
However, Ravannavar is not the only superpower in the world. From the west approaches the Iron Kingdom and their war machines, using unification against Kala as justification for conquest. From the east is the Jade Dynasty, which trusts no other nation but itself, though wresting control of the resources in Ravannavar's nation.
Shacknews: Your games stand out for their beautiful anime art style. And while Skullgirls and other fighting games seem to focus on character models, RPGs have become more about worlds and landscapes. To you, what are the main differences between the art for Skullgirls and the art for Indivisible?
Ahad: The biggest difference between Skullgirls and Indivisible, as you said, will be in the nature of the genre. The pipeline for creating the stages is significantly more complex in a platformer action RPG, and figuring that out was a large part of making the prototype. In addition to creating set pieces that are equivalent to the stages in Skullgirls, we had to figure out tiling/modular stage design. Level design was also key part of the process that was not present in Skullgirls. Thenew pipeline process would be further refined if we were able to continue to the development of the full game.
Additionally, we'll have a lot more characters, ranging from the playable characters to enemies, bosses, and NPCs. Because this isn't a fighting game, each character only needs a fraction of the frames of animation that a character in Skullgirls would have. This means we can add additional detail to the characters in Indivisible, such as special animations for story events or possibly even different outfits in Ajna for different circumstances. Of course, what we end up adding will depend on the payoff relative to the work required.
For the art style, our goal is to have relatively simpler, but more shape-based character designs, with more variety and archetypes covered than seen in Skullgirls. We are also using using colored lines instead of the solid black ones in Skullgirls.
Shacknews: I'm fascinated by the monsters we've seen, but what are some other creatures that you have in mind for Indivisible? What are some of the cooler monster ideas we haven't seen yet?
Ahad: I really want to look into as many myths and as much folklore as possible when it comes to Indivisible. There are a lot of really freaky and cool Filipino monsters that I'd want to explore, including the Manananggal, Tikibalang, Pugot, and many others. It'd be fun to toss in some cryptids too, including the Ningen and Mongolian Death Worm. Other fantastical creatures might include things from the Book of Imaginary Beings, such as the Ass with Three Legs. It'd be cool to bring in the real version of Bahamut too, but I'm not entirely sure how to pull that off exactly yet. Expect to see Rakshasa in the story as well. Chonchons... Sundel Bolong... Douen... Grootslang... Nandopananda... there are a lot, and more to look up. It's definitely a part of the fun of this project.
Shacknews: Mechanically, what are some of the main differences between Indivisible and other RPGs? What are you looking to introduce with this game?
Zaimont: Mechanically, the game draws inspiration from Super Metroid in its platforming segments and Valkyrie Profile in its battle system, but those inspirations are blended with the precision gameplay and mechanics of a fighting game. For example, the battle system has combat similar to the ATB system in older Final Fantasy games, except the meters stack up to three times per character, letting you attack 3 times in a row for one character - or 12 times with all characters, if you wait. Similar to Valkyrie Profile, you can string these attacks together between characters and make your own combos, except unlike VP you can juggle a bunch of enemies around depending on the radius of your attack, kinda like a brawler.
A big difference in Indivisible compared to most RPGs is that battle is not random. Remember in games where you swing at an enemy and it's a 'Miss' even though it clearly hit the opponent? Not so for Indivisible - if you swing at the enemy and it looks like it's going to hit, it'll hit. If you attack while the enemy is in the air and your attack visually misses them, then you miss. Timing matters - the player matters.
Another key difference is that defense is an active part of battle. You can always defend an oncoming enemy attack as long as you have enough Iddhi meter (Indivisible's "super meter"), gaining more meter if you defend at just the right time, like a Third Strike parry. This make defense an active reaction like fighting games instead of a passive random experience, and it means you're paying attention during the entire fight.
By making systems where the player is in control at all times, combat is a skill players can develop, rather than something to simply grind for. In fact, if you're smart about meter management and careful enough in battle, it's possible to beat the prototype with only half the party! In the full game, there'd be more playable party members with different abilities, letting players assemble parties that cater to whatever playstyle they'd want: from defensive turtling with punishing status effect skills, to overblown magic assault, or all-out weapon swinging melee.
As for the platforming, I want the world to feel as interesting to explore as Super Metroid, where just running around and climbing walls to see what's beyond the next room is fun and engaging. Curiosity is encouraged - there are no instant-death pits or spikes, so there is no hesitation during exploring. Of course, backtracking (exploring previously-visited areas again with new abilities) is a central theme in this genre, and I’m excited about planning crisscrossing routes and interesting ways to make old spaces new again. Climbing out of the boss room in the prototype, and the subsequent search for the secret boss, is just a taste of what we have planned.
The final game will have five "weapons" - bare-hand stance, axe, bow, spear, and kusarigama (chain-sickle) - each with multiple upgrades. However, weapons are not useful only in battle! Just like the Axe giving you Axe Climb in the prototype, at least two upgrades per weapon will add new unique movement abilities for Ajna. As an example, well...as my favorite example of the type of thing we're considering (which may or may not make in the game, of course): perhaps you'd meet a mage who can teleport to places they've already been, and they’d serve as your fast travel to previous areas. That's pretty nice. But since you have the bow, maybe eventually they’d teach you how to teleport to arrows you shot, after they land! That's a radical new way to explore the world. There are a ton of different abilities like this planned, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how people will combine them all.
Shacknews: Alright, now I'd like to touch on the crowdfunding element. Your team has asked for $1.5M to complete Indivisible's development. Some people have pointed to the fact that 505 Games has been brought aboard as a publisher, so they've asked why the crowdfunding campaign is still a necessity. And in response, you've pointed out that if the crowdfunding goal is not met, this game does not happen. So to clarify for readers that may not understand the situation, can you explain 505's role with Indivisible? And can you explain why Indivisible is a dead project if it does not meet its crowdfunding goal?
Peter Bartholow, CEO: So, first of all, 505 Games does business a little differently than most publishers. They sort of fall somewhere between a publisher and a distributor, and most if not all of their game deals are partnerships. They prefer the devs to have some skin in the game, not only because it reduces their financial risk, they also believe that it makes the developers more invested in the game's success and engaged in pushing for quality and promoting the game. This is actually something we believe in very strongly, so it's one of the many reasons we felt 505 was a great fit with us.
The reason we went to crowdfunding is because, unlike many other developers, we don't have proceeds from past projects or investors to fund our portion the game's budget. So we turned to crowdfunding.
Additionally, we really enjoyed working with our community on Skullgirls, taking their feedback on the DLC character beta releases to make the game better. So we wanted to bring the same thing to a single player RPG, and let our community get more involved with the game's development. We also think that the transparent way we present development is educational for the general public, who don't really get to see much of the inner workings of how games are made.
And, for what it's worth, when we set all of this in motion, a $1,500,000 goal seemed reasonable at the time. We raised $830k for DLC characters for a niche fighting game, so we felt asking for less than double that for an entire game in a more accessible genre would be seen as a reasonable ask. But instead, we were mostly compared to other crowdfunding campaigns that happened between the time we signed the deal and launched the campaign. I mean, we never thought it'd be easy, but we didn't expect it would be quite as hard as it turned out to be.
Shacknews: Have you spoken to 505 about possibly funding the project themselves if the Indiegogo campaign falls short?
Bartholow: Because of how business usually works with them, I wouldn't say that's a likely solution. But they're very supportive and we're already working with them on contingency plans if the campaign fails.
Shacknews: If the Indiegogo campaign fails, what's next for Lab Zero?
Bartholow: It's too early to say. We're going to do everything we can to getting Indivisible funded for the time being, and maybe start putting feelers out about other projects.
But signing something new is a slow process. From pitch to signing, the 505 deal took about six months, and that's actually very fast for this industry. We have other pitches we can present if we need to, but keeping the team together during that time would be a challenge.
Shacknews: Looking more positively, what do you hope to add to Indivisible if the campaign succeeds?
Bartholow: Mostly we just want to make this game. We have so many ideas for great characters, monsters and environments, and everyone's really excited to work on them.
And if we get there, we have a bunch of stretch goals planned for the campaign, and I think at least one of them will get a lot of people excited. Some are general improvements, such as more music, while others would add new game modes, online co-op play, and things like that.
Fortunately, if we're successful we can continue to raise money for these after the campaign is over via Indiegogo's "InDemand' feature, which lets you keep the campaign open indefinitely for "slacker backers" without needing to build your own website. So we can try to get some of those stretch goals out that way.