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We Are the Caretakers is one of those games that intrigues you after reading its description. It’s a strategy-RPG that blends mechanics from the likes of Ogre Battle and XCOM, looking at them through the lenses of Afrofuturism and conservation. It takes on issues such as poaching, examining not just the effects it has on living creatures but also the “whys” behind it.

It’s not just intriguing: It’s inspiring as well.

When I first learned about this project from Heart Shaped Games midway through 2020, I wanted to learn more about this game. Over the summer, I interviewed creative director and founder Scott Brodie, narrative lead Xalavier Nelson, Jr., and Sherveen Uduwana. This ranks among my favorite interviews of the year. I learned a great deal about what it takes to put together a narrative that fits these themes around a strategy-RPG package.

We Are the Caretakers hits Steam Early Access on April 22. This is an edited transcript of our interview.

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Caretaking background

GamesBeat: Xalavier and Sherveen, is this your first game with Heart Shaped, or have you worked on other games here?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.: This is my first Heart Shaped game, but hopefully not the last.

Sherveen Uduwana: This is also my first time with Heart Shaped Games.

GamesBeat: When did you found the studio?

Scott Brodie: Heart Shaped Games was founded in 2010. In October it’ll be 10 years. I left Microsoft Game Studios. Prior to that I was an Xbox Live Arcade producer. I decided to do my own thing. I’ve slowly worked on smaller projects. We had a Kickstarter with Hero Generations, and then eventually we were able to grow and build a larger team for We Are the Caretakers.

GamesBeat: Your first two games are Hero Generations and Brave Hand. Brave Hand is a card game, and Hero Generations is a strategy game.

Brodie: Yeah. I can briefly talk about those games. Hero Generations is a roguelike 4X strategy game where every step is one year of your life. You have this generational component to it. That game is on Steam and mobile platforms. Brave Hand was a smaller individual project I’d made that was combining solitaire and Stratego, more of a casual game that I’d been batting around for a while as a physical prototype. I had quite a bit of experience releasing games that are smaller strategy games, and now we’re doing more of a grand strategy.

Above: Heart Shaped Games includes (among others) Kate Brodie, Xalavier Nelson, Jr. (center), and Scott Brodie.

Image Credit: Hearth Shaped Games

GamesBeat: Both of those games seem like the progression leads into what you’re doing with We Are the Caretakers: playing around with RPG ideas, strategy ideas. Is that what Heart Shaped is about?

Brodie: If there’s a through line to the games we’ve been making, it’s been mechanically driven, design-driven strategy games that deal with some form of real-world inspiration to them, and building a metaphor around those things. With my earlier games I was trying to do these things, having more of a personal touch to the games. I think We Are the Caretakers is the best example of that, where we’ve done deep research and tried to bring real world personal experiences and convert them into a fun commercial game.

GamesBeat: What would be your 30-second encapsulation of We Are the Caretakers?

Brodie: We’ve been workshopping a description, but it’s a squad management RPG set in an Afrofuturist world, where you’re trying to protect your animals, your resources, from sci-fi poachers, and eventually, you find out, aliens. You build squads in a Darkest Dungeon, XCOM-like way, where you have an ensemble cast of different classes. You form them into multiple squads, send them out into an RTS with pause field, and when one of your squads encounters a poaching squad, it goes into a unique RPG turn-based combat system.

GamesBeat: How did these ideas come about for one game?

Brodie: I can speak a bit to the formation of the project. Xalavier can hop in, since he was there with me from the start. James Pita is a friend of mine, who’s part of the folks who helped kickstart the inspiration. He had this idea to work with real world rangers who are doing this kind of anti-poaching work. How could we take a cause like that, or a real world idea, and convert that into a game? Since I have a background in that strategy thing, he brought the idea to me, and we quickly figured out how we could take something based in this real world idea and create an entire world that fit it, that was still an exciting commercial indie game.

Nelson Jr.: I met Scott at GDC in I believe 2018. He told me about this project he was pulling together, inspired by the work of real life conservationists. I was sort of stunned by this overall vision and how that might work or what would occur. We kept in touch, and the next thing I knew, he was bringing me on to create a fictional world that could carry forward these real-life inspirations and conflicts that are so outside of the daily concerns a lot of folks have in the West. To meaningfully handle that in a fictional setting that was nuanced, but also allowed us to handle that material in a way that put it a bit outside of some of the major real world issues and controversies that are associated with that.

Pulling together a whole bunch of influences and inspirations with a lot of deep collaboration between the team, we came upon this world of Shadra, where the Caretakers, the group of conservationists and peacekeepers that you play as in the game, are working on a local and increasingly international scale to pull together the world to confront something much larger than itself. And I feel that placement comes directly from the process that the team had making the game.

As soon as we were doing this research, as soon as we began to become more exposed to the real-life issues behind poaching, and around the contexts in which other people live, where “wild” animals form part of their daily life or conflicts, it expanded the way in which we saw the world. Giving players the ability to have the same journey, while also fulfilling this fantastic mix of tactical combat and conflict resolution and strategy, honestly it’s a golden opportunity. It’s something that I’m deeply glad to have worked on.

The draw of We Are the Caretakers

Above: Folks take a look at We Are the Caretakers at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Arcade Indie Developer Showcase.

Image Credit: Hearth Shaped Games

GamesBeat: What was it that attracted you to this project?

Nelson Jr.: Honestly, the setting was the big thing. Afrofuturism, or the consideration of non-Western strategy settings that are not deeply stereotypical — like, let’s do a Japan-inspired cyberpunk thing again. Those are very hard to find. When I first spoke with Scott about his vision for a game that handled, in a nuanced and very intentional way, a lot of real-world issues in settings entirely outside of what you usually get inside of games, it did honestly captivate me. It’s difficult. It has required a lot of intentional perspective on how we construct the world, so we can acknowledge the things that we don’t know.

As much research as we do, we can never fully embody or encapsulate the lived experience of those who tackle the task of wildlife conservation every day, or of those who actually live in settings alongside animals like rhinos, tigers, and so on. But by acknowledging that, by doing the research, doing the legwork, and listening, we can get a hell of a lot closer to building a genuinely exciting, original world that meaningfully captures the mindsets that are so important to understanding something outside of yourself. It’s a major reason why — I’m a better person for having worked on this game, having to go through this process.

GamesBeat: There’s a lot to unpack with what you just said. What was it that you didn’t understand about these topics?

Nelson Jr.: Speaking personally, one big thing I didn’t understand, and that I had to wrestle with working on We Are the Caretakers, was my own relationship with race. As an African American, I have seen most depictions of Africa in American media and in American comedies as deeply offensive, as off-putting, as othering. It’s something I wanted to go away from. Working on an Afrofuturist game, on a setting that was increasingly original but definitely had a root in African culture and considerations, I had to confront a bunch of learned self-hatred that had been embedded in me for these visuals and this setting. Coming to terms with the beauty of the setting, of this world and language and mindsets that have been separated from my own, intentionally, making me think of it as something to be avoided — that in itself was a huge journey of both self-discovery and of iteration on making the original world you see in the game now.

GamesBeat: When you talk about self-hatred, can you offer an example of that?

Nelson Jr.: After we were creating the world of the game, I saw Black Panther for the first time. And at first, seeing the visual language of that world, seeing these characters, larger than life, on the screen — I felt very cold. At the start of the movie I felt very cold, and I didn’t know why. I’m seeing a big-budget Marvel movie, and yet I’m feeling very detached and a little bit upset at what I’m seeing on screen. And what I realized halfway through the movie is, oh shoot, it’s because every other time I’ve seen spear-wielding warriors, it’s been a joke. It’s been an insult. It’s been a reminder of institutionalized injuries not only against African Americans, but Africans in general.

Above: We Are the Caretakers will address poaching.

Image Credit: Hearth Shaped Games

By confronting that mid-Marvel movie, and by the end, seeing an entirely different vision of what a hero can be, I came away from that with a deep understanding of what we were building in We Are the Caretakers: a setting for people who, whether they come from a marginalized background or not, can see themselves, see an entirely different world, and discover an opportunity to engage with a totally different universe of considerations that make them — that they come away with being more, more of a person, more of a full human being.

That’s a very high-minded thing to say in terms of — it feels a bit pretentious to say that in terms of what a video game can do. But simply being presented with a deeply original and nuanced and ambiguous sci-fi world that does reflect heroism with African settings, in itself it’s — it could be a real game changer for a lot of people, because I know it already has been for me.

Digging into Afrofuturism

GB: When you define what Afrofuturism is, how does We Are the Caretakers represent that?

Nelson Jr.: I think Scott can speak really well to, even before I joined the team, the desire to build an original take for an Afrofuturist world.

Brodie: It’s a question we’ve discussed with the team like, OK, where do we fit in — Afrofuturism as a genre seems to describe what we’re making and our goals, the shared goals of what that is. What it comes down to for us is we wanted to create an authentic setting that spoke to the real-world analogues that were doing work and the landscapes they were operating in. Finding a way to have those be true, but also have the appropriate, I guess, distance from real-world places and peoples. Because we don’t want to trivialize those things either. It was us finding that balance between telling truthful stories, but in a way where we could — I’m trying to find the right description of it. Being able to tell the story we want without having to step on anything or take on any of the challenges that come with representing a real place or specific people.

As far as how our Afrofuturist approach relates to other universes, I think our angling toward a specific vision of Afrofuturism is a bit different from things that at least I’ve seen before, because so much of this does lean on the real world inspiration of the rangers and peoples who find a way to coexist with animals and with each other every single day. Looking at the documents that define the pillars of our world, some of our inherent principles are, we’re united by our need for animals and each other. People are not inherently good, but the best try.

Creating a setting that could acknowledge, for example, the reasons why people want to poach in real life, how those are valid and how there are ways — what motivates that poaching in the first place. So that you can, on a pretty structural level, go against that power structure and find a better way forward on a general scale, on a global scale. Leaning so hard into looking specifically into how our relationship to animals forces us to clarify our relationship with each other, I think separates our Afrofuturist world in terms of its focus from a lot of the other inspirations I’ve seen, even if there are things you can recognize in terms of other Afrofuturist media like Nnedi Okorafor’s.

Above: The Raun are megafauna play a significant role in We Are the Caretakers.

GamesBeat: It’s interesting that you bring it up, because that was what I was going to ask about next, the reasons people get into poaching.

Nelson Jr.: That’s one of the most compelling pieces. The reasons for poaching are as diverse as the poachers themselves. When you examine the subject deeply and speak to people who are actively engaged with these conflicts and landscapes, you realize how much of that is externally motivated. How people from thousands of miles away can create an artificial demand, which leads to a ripple effect that can cross peoples, languages, and continents. One of the big things I learned coming away from poaching is that even what we define as poaching is heavily centered in our world view.

What we see as, oh, killing a tiger, you’ve done a horrible thing in taking this beautiful mountain cat out of the world, for someone else — one of the real life stories we heard was, a tiger had crept into a village and had eaten a baby. It had tasted human flesh. And not only did the tiger have to be put down for that reason, among others, it’s also the very human relatability of, how do you look someone in the eyes and tell them, this beautiful mountain cat belongs in a zoo and shouldn’t be harmed, when it’s destroyed someone that you love?

In We Are the Caretakers, much like considerations with real megafauna in real life, sometimes megafauna encroach on farming territory. That’s a genuine consideration for everyone involved, from the people who are doing animal conservation to the farmer to the animals themselves. Handling those types of conflicts with empathy and nuance is super damn hard. But it’s also a perspective well worth engaging with and tackling.

Brodie: The game definitely deals with all these from a narrative perspective, but also mechanically. The key piece that ties all these things together is you have a reputation that you’re managing throughout the game, and so you have the ability to make these choices about how to deal with situations like Xalavier described, and that reputation has ripple effects within how your Caretakers react to you, who wants to join you, how local populations, when you get into the field, support or potentially work against you. All of these things are a core part of our game and what makes We Are the Caretakers different from some other strategy-RPGs.

GamesBeat: Is it hard to deal with questions about what Afrofuturism means to you, because it’s not a concept that our culture knows a lot about? Or is it a case of something — other games need to define their universe, so it’s not a problem to do that?

Nelson Jr.: One of the reasons why it is difficult creating new media in landscapes that are not traditionally depicted in what we consider the mainstream, it’s that every project bears the burden of explaining an entire genre. There’s a lot of reasons why, to go back to why things like Binti and Black Panther are so meaningful, one of them being that every single project not only has to be a compelling story, but has to explain its existence and why this thing should exist in a given medium. Why there should be more of it, what it is, let alone differentiating from other pieces of art in its genre.

For We Are the Caretakers, part of our challenge is developing a very good game, but part of our wider consideration, and part of why it’s so important for us to even, with the early access release of the game, continue to listen to our community and the wider culture and make sure we get this right, is because we do know that, fairly or not, we have a burden of being one of the first Afrofuturist games, particularly of our scale. That means we are going to get questions about why Afrofuturism, what is it, how are we different. Confronting those questions, dealing with them honestly in as nuanced a manner as possible, and continuing to find better ways of answering that question are critical pieces of making the game itself.

Brodie: I would just add that I share the sentiment that it doesn’t frustrate me at all to talk about it. If anything, it’s great that our game can start that conversation and get people interested in the genre that we’ve come to love throughout the years we’ve been making the game.

The caretaking part

GamesBeat: Do animals play more than an ecological role in the world? Is that why people want to care for them? Or is it just about preserving ecology?

Brodie: This is something we talked a lot about throughout development. I’ll let Xalavier speak to where we ultimately ended up. It’s definitely, in our world, part of the fiction that there’s a deeper connection than simply just the animals as resources or something like that. It’s interesting, as the game opens up, to see the various perspectives and what they think the Raun mean, having not seen them as much as the Caretakers have. And tying in to those similar nuances of the real world poaching situation, where there’s a lot of misconceptions around the power, whether it be feeling it’s medicinal or what have you, of the animals. That’s definitely a subject we address in the game, in the design of the game, thinking about how sci-fi or unrealistic, so to speak, we go with the power of the animals.

Nelson Jr.: Where we landed was a very intentional compromise between representing animals accurately, representing them meaningfully in a sci-fi world, and also not gamifying their importance. On one hand, a big debate early on in development was, should the Raun have an influence on the world that goes beyond the actual influence that megafauna have on their ecology? Because rhinos, elephants, tigers, basically anything we would classify as megafauna, are hugely important to their environment. If they disappear, the entire ecology changes, if not comes to pieces. But for someone playing an RTS game with tactical combat, grand strategy, RPG elements, why would they care about how a fictional ecology is impacted, unless that impacts their actual gameplay? That’s a real big consideration. It’s one that every developer has to make in terms of centering an element that’s somewhat outside the player’s direct control or considerations.

Above: Heart Shaped Games shows what some of its environments look like.

Image Credit: Hearth Shaped Games

But where we eventually landed was, by, yes, having some sci-fi shenanigans, but on a deep level making the animals the focus of the world itself — the Caretakers, what they do for their universe, the most important role they fulfill, is that their job, their purpose for existence, is to preserve these animals. If these animals die out, your reason for being dies out. This is the priority. Defining a role for the animals in the world that was sci-fi inspired and a bit fantastical, in a cool way, while also not trivializing the real life impact, and trying to have the analogue be direct enough that you could still build empathy for the real world inspirations for these animals, the rhinos. It’s a tough balance, and we’re probably going to be thinking about the decisions we made coming to the end of the project, but I’m proud of where we are now in terms of saying, on a very objective level, the animals are the point, because what we do with these creatures that contribute to our world says everything about who we are as human beings.

Brodie: A quick tag to that, the reason we thought so hard about it is that we didn’t want to objectify the animals as just their resource value. We wanted you to care about animals because they’re living things. We thought a lot about that as well. We didn’t want to reduce them to just resources. We wanted them to have gameplay impact and value, but still keep that emotional connection.

GamesBeat: Is this game just about looking after megafauna?

Nelson Jr.: For lots of reasons, the game focuses on a single species at the moment, at least as we get into early access. They’re called the Raun … they take elements of behavior and look from rhinos, elephants, and tigers primarily. But we would love, through early access, to potentially look at expanding that, and in general just adding different challenges there. But currently we have a single species that we focus the game around.

GamesBeat: Why did you come up with that intentional mixture of elements?

Brodie: Originally the idea was that we wanted a fictional species that was analogous to these larger animals, that present the same sort of management challenges. You can’t just go up and grab them and control them. There’s a lot more to that. Also, we started with — let’s focus on a prey animal, because it removes some of the ethical mental gymnastics you have to deal with. This animal eats other animals, so how do I feel about that? This is something we’ll be talking about more as we get closer to early access. But some of the research we did, talking to real individuals doing this work, they helped us realize there’s just as much value to the ecosystem in a predator as in the prey animals. It’s all about balance. Long story short, we wanted to create a large animal that wasn’t totally friendly. It’s not going to attack you, but it can do damage if you irritate it. That plays into a lot of the human-animal conflict scenarios we have in the game as well. The visual development was just done by Anthony Jones, our great art director. He came up with a lot of inventive concepts in how to combine these physical and behavioral characteristics we wanted.

Strategic thinking

GamesBeat: You talk about this being a take on Ogre Battle, rather than XCOM.

Brodie: It’s very core to my inspirations from a gameplay side. This is fundamentally, from a game design perspective, a dream project for me, because Ogre Battle is a game I spent countless hours on and really influenced me as a designer. This is in some ways a way to take elements of a design that happened to map well this real world scenario we have, and then trying to modernize those ideas. Ogre Battle specifically was a bit ahead of its time. It has a very PC-centric design. It has a cursor that you’re using on the Super Nintendo, trying to do that. It felt like there was a lot of room to expand on that concept, and no one really did for 25, 26 years. The world has lived on with Tactics Ogre, and Matsuno went on to work on Final Fantasy Tactics and lots of really cool games, but they kind of left out the ensemble cast, squad building component that was the draw for me. I enjoyed this experience of constantly getting new recruits and special characters, trying to grow this organization. In that game it’s a rebellion.

In We Are the Caretakers it’s this kind of resistance force you’re creating to protect these animals and the environment. As you get further into the game you meet other groups, and it fits into this idea of, how do different groups of people come together for a common cause, even if they have differences, and trying to literally fit them together. Mechanically, the systems Ogre Battle had, and how we’ve modified them, connect the dots between the narrative, world, and gameplay.

GamesBeat: And that’s where your reputation and diplomacy systems come in?

Brodie: One-hundred percent. The simplicity of that system and how effective it was, even in the ’90s, was ahead of its time, and we’re excited to expand on it here. Each of your choices — in this game, it’s very easy to look at, say, a particular encounter or mission and say, that’s mechanically, or as an idea, very simple, but it’s about the preparation and the overall management of all these pieces and how your decisions play out. The reputation system is the thing that ties it together and makes all these seemingly simple decisions carry more weight as they fit into the overall campaign.

Above: The Poachers pose a problem for the Caretakers.

Image Credit: Hearth Shaped Games

GamesBeat: What’s an example of a choice you make that influences reputation?

Uduwana: The thing that we really wanted to do with the reputation system is allow the player to make hard choices. A big difference about We Are the Caretakers compared to other strategy or tactics games is that focus on, you’re dealing with an existing community that has its own value systems that might differ from yours. Dealing with poachers, for example, if you deal with them aggressively, you can neutralize them very quickly, but in the context of the game, many of the poachers are members of the community that you’re protecting and interacting with day to day while conserving the Raun. You tend to have negative reputation hits when you’re needlessly violent or extrajudicial with enemies. That can lead to more established enemy presence in your commissions. We’re currently working on a thing where the ways that the poachers or these communities — the characters you run into are different based on whether you’re being aggressive, whether you’re taking hard stances on things, or whether you’re being more diplomatic in your treatment of people. It’s very Ogre Battle.

Brodie: It’s very Ogre Battle, but the things we’ve layered on to it are more of a mechanically interesting headquarters. We have something called the Atrium where the Conductor, your main character, either meets new recruits, takes audiences with community members — also, in the game, when you “finish” encounters, they’re brought back to this Atrium and you can deal with them. You can try to retain, or try to reform them and recruit them. You might take a reputation hit when you do that. We have a lot of these layers that affect the Atrium. Those are more interesting one-offs, but fundamentally your reputation affects the list of recruits that appear in the Atrium that you can then use to build your squads. That includes basic characters as well as special characters that have more of an explicit personality, versus your basic Ogre Battle class units.

Uduwana: In a lot of ways the reputation system works like goodwill. You build this resource, working with people to have a good enough rapport with them that you can make some unpopular decisions, and they aren’t antagonized afterward. They can trust your intentions, because they’ve seen how you’ve behaved through the rest of the game.

GamesBeat: Does reputation influence the quality of recruits you attract?

Brodie: It’s a combination. “Quality” is relative depending on what you look for. It may influence the character class, the level of the character, and the — we call it faction internally, but the group of people that the characters associate with, which may give you special classes, that sort of thing. It also affects — there’s a sort of trait system, where characters will have various buffs, but also debuffs. Certain traits are more associated with more reputation.

Fight night

GamesBeat: Could you please walk me through how combat happens and the decisions you face in combat.

Brodie: Encounters are, again, very similar to Ogre Battle as a model. If one of your teams runs into a poaching team, it will go into a sort of JRPG encounter system. It’s set up to be auto-battle in a way, where you set your stance, either aggressive, diplomatic, friendly, or neutral. And then you also set a targeting type. Based on the composition of your characters, those strategy decisions will be more effective or not. Most character classes have some combination of diplomatic and aggressive abilities. Those will be used differently. The overall goal is to wear down an opposing character, whether it’s their stamina, their physical health, or will, their mental health. You have different vectors of breaking them down. Certain units are strong against physical attacks or weak against mental attacks. You have to make sure you bring the right squad with the right makeup to deal with that.

As we mentioned, characters have different finishing moves. Some will detain them. Some will wound them. Some will do special things like try to bribe them to run away. There are lots of ways to end an encounter. It fundamentally plays like a traditional RPG system, but with a different bent, where your goal is to defuse and defend rather than going in and bashing everything.

GB: Do the animals fight with you?

Brodie: One particular one does … one of the first incidents in the game is you find an orphaned baby, and your Conductor takes it on as a personal goal or mission, as a companion. It does go along with you, and you can level it up and raise it. One thing I should say is that the campaign is structured so that your primary goal is to maintain the population and avoid extinction. If you ever get to zero, your campaign is over. You are incentivized to protect them in these missions, because it’s tied to your success in the campaign.

GamesBeat: Do they multiply? Is there a set number you have to protect?

Brodie: To start. Our campaign is structured in eras, which are collections of missions. In between eras, more time can pass and special events can happen, and one of those things is how your actions affect the population. They can increase if you do well, and potentially decrease based on events. It’s a replenishment phase, if you want to think about it mechanically, in between eras.

Uduwana: Speaking of dealing with conflicts in multiple ways, do we still have the thing where they can be a potential threat?

Brodie: Yeah, but later in the game. There are Raun units that are neutral units on the field. That’s what you’re protecting. Poachers are trying to get to those units to poach them. But one of the many ways that Raun can become a detriment to you is that they can maybe go to a territory they’re not supposed to. It might belong to a community member. They might trample their farms, or get lost and get hit by a trap, or they could even just be really agitated and try to affect you. But yes, they definitely become an obstacle you can’t quite control throughout the game. The way you deal with them had to be nuanced as well.

GB: When it comes to the poachers, are they more independent, or are they organized? Is there somebody organizing them?

Nelson Jr.: It depends on the poachers, but there are certainly some external influences that we can’t fully talk about yet which may be motivating more than is immediately apparent.

Megafauna like the Raun play huge roles in ecosystems.

Above: Megafauna like the Raun play huge roles in ecosystems.

Image Credit: Hearth Shaped Games

GamesBeat: Are the Raun a food source?

Nelson Jr.: We don’t eat Raun here. But again, talking about the array of reasons for poaching — if the environment in which you’re trying to grow crops is not adapted to those crops, and you suddenly have a gigantic source of hamburgers walking through, building up the goodwill with those communities so you do have the authority to say, hey, these Raun should be preserved, they are useful for more than a food source — you have to be able to have almost the investment in the community for them to believe you.

GamesBeat: Is there anything I’m missing that’s important to the game, that we haven’t talked about yet?

Uduwana: One thing that we maybe haven’t necessarily touched on — when I joined the team, one thing I was very interested in about this was the ways in which anti-poaching initiatives and the high-minded idealism, that we have to conserve animals, can be affected by your region being destabilized. I grew up in Sri Lanka, which was in a civil war until I was 13 or 14. Anti-poaching is a huge part of our culture. We have large nature reserves, particularly for elephants. And I also grew up in Vietnam, which has similar things with rhinos. But the interesting thing is, when you’re in the middle of a civil war, you don’t make these sweeping anti-poaching initiatives, because that’s not at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The very interesting thing about this narrative is that you see this world go from, oh, the Caretakers are this important, respected, even if grudgingly respected group, and then you’re throwing them into this chaos and seeing, where is everything going to shake out? Will people still care about protecting the environment when their concerns are elsewhere? That’s an important perspective that spoke to me personally.

As we mentioned, aliens are a component of the game, and while there are people in the local communities that do create antagonism and chaos and destabilizing areas, the aliens are the big upset to the status quo of the game. People don’t know what they want, what their agenda is. It creates a new playing field for the various factions and characters in the world.

GamesBeat: Are the aliens essentially colonizers?

Brodie: That’s kind of where we’d stop and say, play the game to figure it out. They’re present and what their purpose and motivations are, that’s a core driving interest in the narrative and gameplay. Part of the interest in the game is the discovery process around all the motivations in all the people you meet.

Nelson Jr.: I wouldn’t relate the aliens to colonizers. At least the initial way in which you experience their influence in the world, it’s a destabilizing element. Which colonizers certainly do. But the things the aliens want potentially have even more dangerous consequences for the world as it is. In general, one thing that we specifically use as an element to keep the player on their toes as they go through the eras of the game, these various ways of looking at the perspectives of the world and ways in which that is bent on in terms of every piece of the game structure — in pretty much every era or act, we’re finding a new way of destabilizing the world. What destabilizes the world is hoaxes and conspiracies that are spread on such a wide scale that they convince people to act against their own interests. What destabilizes the world is foreign military intervention wrecking the way in which you see the world, and in which you get to move through it peacefully with the people you love. What destabilizes the world is the business of the Caretakers. Not to uphold the status quo, but to ensure that as the world is destabilized, the version it becomes as threats are handled in the way that the player chooses is the best version of the world possible.

GamesBeat: When people play this We Are the Caretakers and finish it, is there any particular takeaway you want them to have?

Brodie: If nothing else, that they have been brought to think about a subject matter that they haven’t really considered before. Broadly, that’s the goal. We hope that this exciting Afrofuturist world with aliens and all these things is enough to get them excited to want to play through and experience the nuance that we started this conversation talking about. Broadly, the theme of the game is about unity. If people come together to put themselves, potentially, in harm’s way, and come together to protect something they care about, that will be a great takeaway. Our narrative, and hopefully the game, will be able to the game.

Nelson Jr.: A Caretakeaway, if you will.

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