Crest is a god simulator game that is currently in Early Access on Steam. Developed by indie studio Eat Create Sleep, it has you writing commandments rather than directly controlling your worshippers. This is my interview with Martin Greip, the Art Director of Eat Create Sleep.
What have you guys been playing recently?
“Since we’re a pretty varied team (of eight people) here’s a slew of stuff we’ve played recently: Pokemon X, Murdered: Soul Suspect, Gilbert Goodmate, Mario Kart 8, Stardew Valley and the DLC for The Witcher 3 (Hearts of Stone to be specific).”
What are your favourite god games of all time?
The first Populous from 1989 was my first PC game so that certainly has some nostalgic factor for me, but I think From Dust is the game that made me really feel like a god or deity. Sure, I love Dungeon Keeper, Populous: The Beginning and a lot of the Bullfrog games that took a stab at being god, but I remember them more as solid management games rather than giving me a feeling of being god. I guess it boils down to what you define as playing as a god, personally I’m less interested about feeling omniscient and all powerful but rather a parent taking care of people, and yeah, I think From Dust is the only game that made me feel that. Though, I love most god games in some way or another for what they tried to do, even games like Doshin the Giant for the GameCube.
What is your game, Crest, about and what makes it unique? What’s a compelling reason for someone to try out Crest?
Crest tries to explore the concept of faith, and how religions develop. In Crest you write commandments which the people then reinterpret and fight over. In a sense it’s a historical religion simulator, but that’s not a sexy way of selling it. I think you should try Crest if you think it’s interesting to think about why people have different ideas about faith, religion and what the good life looks like. In Crest you can decide for yourself what is right or wrong.
Tell us a little bit about your studio, Eat Sleep Create. How many people are there and what are their roles?
Eat Create Sleep is a Swedish studio located on the island of Gotland, we’ve been around since 2013, Crest is our second game, Among Ripples being our first (available on Steam and other places). Currently we’re eight people, 3 programmers, 2 artists (one of them being me), 1 producer, 1 audio designer, 1 lead designer (everyone collaborates on the design, so we need a lead in this area).
Where did the idea/inspiration come from?
I was studying a course about Ancient Mesopotamia and read about the god kings from Sumer. I was fascinated with how human ambitions gradually made themselves grander. In the beginning the gods or high priests were merely shepherds of a city state for their patron god, but as time went on some of the kinds became “saints” (or a concept similar to that) after death. After awhile the kings realised that they could proclaim godhood while they still lived! I found this piece of history fascinating, that humans can grow from humble to boasting in just a few generations, it’s all a matter of interpretation, really. I wanted to make a game about the inner conflict of people; to serve god and to serve their own ambitions at the same time.
With the god game genre, how did you start developing Crest? What features/mechanics/elements was deemed essential to start with and how did you come to that decision?
We looked at other god games and realised that this notion of direct influence, as in ordering people around like an army, shaping land etc. makes you a very literal god. Faith doesn’t always deal in absolutes, what I mean is that why do you need faith when you can see the results of a manifested god? Ursula K. Le Guin said it best in her book The Left Hand of Darkness I think:
“[…]the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the base of thought. Unproof is the base of action. If it were proven that there is no god there would be no religion. […]But also if it were proven that there is a god, there would be no religion…”
What I think Ursula hits home is that you need uncertainty to believe, otherwise you know. To fulfill this need of uncertainty we had to have an indirect god that didn’t manipulate the world directly, but indirectly. As such the commandment system was needed where the player wrote rules to shape the behaviour.
How did you scope for Crest and how different is it compared to the original idea?
Initially we thought of making the game in 2d, but felt that it wasn’t enough for our ambitions, and luckily we could grow our team with 3d savvy programmers so that’s why we went with that. Personally I think 3d is easier to iterate with than 2d (but I love both as mediums for expression). Otherwise I don’t think we’ve changed a lot, maybe the release date, but we never commited to one strong deadline publicly, but I think we thought we’d be done by now, but yeah, we still have a few months left.
Your game is about writing commandments and not having direct control of your worshippers and how your followers react to commandment is not static. What and how did you create this mechanic?
We started with charting out ideas about what people need, what people want etc. and just tried out different mechanics on simulating follower behaviour, after we’d built a simple simulation we started to add words to affect them. So in general when we add new modules or expansions to the development we start with simulation and finish off with player input, it’s the only way we know.
Was there a worry that since the player is to take a passive role that the game will not be engaging enough to have players coming back for more? If yes, what were your strategies in avoiding that?
For sure, and it’s still something we’re keeping a close eye on. I’d say we still haven’t found the perfect balance yet, but that’s the nice thing of Early Access that we get all of this great feedback from the community. Generally though we try to focus on making Crest a story experience where you craft a story rather than win (you can’t win by the way), so we want people to feel like it’s an experience rather than a competition of figuring out the systems and beating them.
What have been an invaluable lesson that you’ve learned by releasing Crest as an Early Access title?
That this kind of iterative and open development is crucial if you’re making experimental titles. We’ve also learned that releasing the game too early can be more harmful than we’d anticipated.
Did Early Access have an effect on your scope and schedule for Crest? If yes, then in what way?
Communicating the different systems as clear as possible has been the biggest eye opener, so that has certainly prolonged development, because if people can’t understand our game in a decent amount of time then we’ve failed.
What have been your strengths and areas to improve in regards to getting the word out about this game?
To distinguish ourselves from other games in the god game genre is pretty hard we’ve found out, not because we don’t have an unusual idea (because I think we do) but rather the best way of explaining of what we do differently. But I think it’s a common problem when you’re making games in a genre that is percieved as small, and the expectations on originality are high, take games such as Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide that came out recently, some called that “Left 4 Skaven” or a Left 4 Dead clone, and although I find them very similar I think calling it a clone is too harsh. We’ve very few 4 co-op action games of that style so I think it’s quite understandable that the few games that exist in that style will feel similar.
I think no one ever said that Bioshock ripped off Half-Life 2, yet people apparently used to call games such as Half-Life a “Doom clone”. I mean, the FPS genre is so diverse and saturated today that you can’t keep track of all of them. And people saying that someone ripped off Doom today would feel very archaic I’d imagine. I think we’d have a different discussion if Crest was a mainstream game, but yeah, just realising to deal with this has been interesting, and we’re still trying to figure out the best way.
So how does the roadmap look like? Is there a target date to get out of Early Access?
We’re releasing modules or expansions every other month more or less, the next one up is the “Ancestor Worship” module that comes out in late September, our current plan for full launch is December, 2016, but we’ll see when we get closer. We’ve been at it since 2013 so we don’t want to release something unfinished!
You can get Crest now on Steam Early Access