Interview by Lindsay M.
Happy Canada Day to all our Canadian readers, and all those Canadian at heart. To celebrate, we’ve got a great interview with a developer from Canada’s capital: Paige Marincak, the creator and developer of Gataela, a four-part RPG with Victorian Steampunk flare.
Marincak is a University of Ottawa graduate (much like myself – hello to all my fellow U of O alumni out there!), with a degree in Computer Science. She is the sole developer for Gataela — she writes the scripts and does all the programming while hiring others to assist with in-game portraits, logos, music, effects, maps, and translation. In 2014 the game was successfully funded on KickStarter, earning a few hundred dollars more than the $5,000 target.
I was lucky enough to learn about Gataela at a local Game Art show this spring — how I love living in a world where that is a thing! — and briefly met Marincak. I was drawn to the game for its graphics and general style, and after playing long enough for a short line to form behind me I knew I needed to learn more. After playing more of the game in my own home, I knew Marincak was onto something. Gataela is absolutely engrossing, despite still being in its beta phase. Marincak was kind enough to take the time to speak with us about the development process, her inspiration, the game’s debate system, and loads more.
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Digitally Downloaded (DD): What inspired you to create Gataela?
Paige Marincak (PM): When I was younger I often made simple one-offs or worked on fan-games, and wanted to create something original. At the time, my father had suggested to make to make a mobile game since they were growing in popularity, and with my love of JRPGs, I decided to make Gataela.
A lot of game design aspects of Gataela are directly inspired from games such as Tales of Symphonia, Illusion of Gaia, Pokemon and Eternal Sonata.
DD: The country of Gataela has a massive backstory, and the website for the game showcases parts of it, such as military rankings and family naming conventions. Was the story something you came up with before the game? If so, to what extent?
PM: The story is something that I came up specifically for the game, although, I worked on it for quite a few months before I did any programming or game design work. Some elements of it, for instance names and places, were carried over from older ideas and stories. Otherwise, everything has been created over the course of the past four years.
DD: How much has the story changed as you progress through development?
PM: The story has gone through quite a few big changes throughout development, but it also hasn’t deviated all that much from the initial outline. Gataela is a four part series, but originally it was only meant to be two. I received some very helpful feedback from a good friend of mine who pointed out some flaws, and in order to correct them, I needed to extend the story out further. In this way, it’s changed a lot.
However, the outline of the first two parts of the series hasn’t changed much at all. If anything, I’m adding more details, doing rewrites, and trying to improve relationships and characterization. I’m also trying to put in enough foreshadowing for the future segments in the story.
DD: Two years ago you used Kickstarter as a source of funding. Why did you choose to go this route?
PM: The main reason I chose this route, is that up until that point I was self-funding the game. It worked fairly well, but it was also limiting, and I wanted to improve the visuals. I had the option of working full-time, and continuing to fund it that way, but I had also been developing it part-time throughout university and knew that I might never finish it at that rate. Going with Kickstarter helped to allow me to work on it for the past year or so without needing to go that route.
DD: Tell me about the debate system, something not normally encountered in traditional JRPGs. How do you feel it enhances the game?
PM: The debate system is a type of battle system where you have to convince your opponents to reveal information to you, or to become your allies. You can use previous information from debates within them, or information you’ve gathered by talking to NPCs.
I find it enhances the game in the fact that it can be used to create branching storylines depending on the options you picked, it gives a purpose to the NPCs besides usually only being for flavour text and world-building, and rewards the player for speaking to them.
I typically find that things like negotiations with NPCs or having them change alliances are hastily done through cutscenes, and by moving it to a gameplay element, it gives more of a sense that “I was the one who convinced them”.
In a more meta way, the debate system is a reminder that many of the opponents the player is facing are your own country men, and that violence isn’t necessarily the path to change.
The debate system, and the typical battle system, will both play equally important parts in the game.
DD: You are extremely active on social media, often streaming your progress and consistency posting updates. What is the reason behind the complete transparency? Has this helped increased Gataela’s visibility?
PM: The reason for the transparency is pretty simple: it’s what I would want. If I was excited for a game and was following along with its progress, I would want to hear regularly about it. If I was a Kickstarter backer, I would want the project creator to be transparent.
Back when I first started development, Kickstarter was fairly new, but it didn’t take too long for reports of project creators going silent to get out. There were cases of the project creators running into issues and not saying anything only to show up and announce the project was cancelled, and other cases where the creators just took the money and disappeared. These things don’t really inspire confidence in Kickstarter or in supporting indie games. It’s also something I would be pretty livid about if it happened to me.
Another thing is people start a game project and it looks really cool. The people working on it are being productive and they have stuff to show and then everything starts to slow down. For whatever reason, no more updates are really posted about the project except the sporadic update that says “hey we’re still here” and then eventually nothing. I think that’s disappointing to people, and it makes people wary to support projects.
Because of all of this, I wanted to say “hey I’m basically a nobody and development takes a long time but I promise to keep you up to date” and I think it’s worked so far. I think its improved visibility of Gataela, but more important than that, it’s kept people around and interested in the project.
DD: What’s up next for yourself and Gataela?
PM: There is working on regular beta testing releases, but I hope to run a steam greenlight campaign sometime in the future.
DD: What game are you playing in your spare time right now?
PM: Right now I’m splitting my spare time between bouts of Xenoblade Chronicles X, Final Fantasy XIV, and Stardew Valley. I want to get back into playing Wurm more, but it’s too time consuming for me at the moment.
– Lindsay M.