John Smedley, former head of Sony Online Entertainment, is getting ready to ship another game. But this new game, Hero’s Song, is different because it’s coming from his year-old startup Pixelmage Games. Starting in November, the fantasy role-playing game will be available to early backers on Indiegogo.
Hero’s Song doesn’t have a specific launch date yet, but the team is putting the finishing touches on it, Smedley said in an interview with GamesBeat. The title is a 2D pixel art fantasy game where the player can customize the world and populate it with all sorts of gods and characters.
“We’re very excited about how it’s coming,” he said. “We can create a massive virtual world with a 10,000-year history. And it’s all procedurally generated.”
Still, to get to the finish line in early 2017, Smedley believes the company will tap Indiegogo’s community, running a crowdfunding campaign to raise the rest of the money to finish the game. The first people to get access to the game will be Indiegogo backers, before the Steam Early Access begins. The company hopes to raise $200,000 in the next month.
“We’ve been working hard for the past 10 months to build something incredible and we’re excited to show it to people in a meaningful way,” Smedley said. “We want to use Indiegogo to help us get over the finish line and deliver a really fun and unique game. The Indiegogo community is perfect for our game.”
As the video below shows, the player starts by creating a custom world. You pick the gods for the world. If you pick an elven goddess, you’ll have lots of water in the world and elves. If you pick a dwarf god, then you’ll have dwarves. If you elevate one of the gods in importance, you’ll have more of that type of god’s features in the world. Once you decide, the world is created and so is its 10,000-year history.
You also pick the kind of underworld god you’ll have. That’s important. Because when you die in the world, you go down to the underworld. Then you have to fight your way out of it, battling the beasts that belong to the underworld god. And if you die again, then you are permanently dead. Yes, that’s cruel, but such “permadeath” is fashionable these days.
“We put in the cities and towns, then we run the history,” Smedley said. “If elves and dwarves are close to each other, they are more likely to get into a war. If someone dies on the battlefield, then the sword is still lying around. Magic items appear in the world based on world events. We tie the world into the gameplay. If one of the gods you choose is nasty, bad things happen in the world. ”
You have to read the lore of the world in order to find out where the weapons and magical items are likely to be. You can play the game as a single player experience, or you can invite as many as 200 people into your own hosted server and play together.
“I think the day of the mini MMO is here,” Smedley said. “People want to play in smaller communities. Larger games are losing their players. We want to let users make something that they can run themselves.”
San Diego, Calif.-based PixelMage built the game with 20 people. The developers include Bill Trost, lead designer and co-creator of the EverQuest franchise, and Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind.
“I’ve been playing games forever, and I know how stories work,” said Patrick Rothfuss. “This is a unique way for me to bring all my favorite things together. I’ve never done World building as part of a team before, and it’s a lot more fun than I’d anticipated. I’m excited to be able to show people what we’ve come up with.”
A year ago, Pixelmage started a Kickstarter campaign, but then it decided to pull it and opted for $2.8 million in private funding instead. Smedley said he loved the startup life after so many years running Sony Online Entertainment.
“Here’s the reality of working in a startup,” he said. “When you don’t have a big organization, it’s amazing how efficient you can be. We have a deadline and we have to make it. The efficiency is gained by everybody doing things that directly impact the game. I’m an implementor. This took a mental adjustment. But it’s very liberating.”
There are some similar games out there, like Stardew Valley and Terraria. But there’s nothing exactly like Hero’s Song, Smedley said.
Update, 7:36 a.m.: Added new information on crowdfunding.