Game Front 1-on-1: ‘Telepath Tactics’ Creator Craig Stern
As I mentioned previously, the Kickstarter looked a little touch-and-go for a while, but you managed to pull the project through. Would you use Kickstarter again, for a future title?
Absolutely! It’s tough to run a campaign, but it’s still the easiest way to fund a game’s development without selling your soul to a publisher. Besides, it’s a great way to engage with your existing fans and attract new ones.
Where do you see game development (especially in regards to Kickstarter-funded games) in the next few years?
I think that depends on how various Kickstarted games turn out. If high-profile projects like Broken Age, Wasteland 2, Planetary Annihilation and Project Eternity all turn out amazing, I think we’ll continue to see Kickstarter thrive. If they don’t, things could get a little rocky. It’s to everyone’s benefit that these games turn out well.
Fire Emblem is as serious as stories get, while Disgaea is quite the opposite. Telepath Tactics has been compared favorably to both games, so where on the spectrum would you place the game’s setting?
The Telepath setting is serious and bound up in political struggles, so it’s definitely more on the Fire Emblem side of things. That said, it’s also more contemporary than Fire Emblem.
My personal view is that if you’re going to create a fantasy world with analogs to the real world, then you have a responsibility to craft the message in a way that shows you’re actually thinking critically about those analogs. In the Telepath series, I make an effort to address current issues like sexism, the exploitation of labor, the corrupting influence of money in politics, and the consequences of commingling church and state.
Fire Emblem is pretty retrograde, in that you’re nearly always playing as a prince fighting to save his kingdom from an external threat. While most Fire Emblem characters belong to classes relating to their battlefield roles, the main character belongs to the “Lord” class. He’s the only character whose class relates to his socioeconomic status, and he’s the only character whose death triggers a game over. Literally everyone is expendable except for the rich guy. It’s weirdly archaic and classist if you think about it.
That said, Intelligent Systems do manage to slip in some good social commentary here and there: I particularly liked the commentary on racism in Path of Radiance.
Games like Fire Emblem and Tactics Ogre boast campaigns that offer a variety of variables—characters can die and the entire outcome of the game can be altered based on the choices players make. Similarly, are there actual choices to be made in Telepath Tactics?
Yes. As in those games, Telepath Tactics features permadeath; and as in Tactics Ogre, Telepath Tactics supports dialog trees. Your choices will impact which characters join you, and the campaign can branch based on your decisions.
Have you any plans to crowdsource any part of the game’s development? Other Kickstarters, including Wasteland 2, have found some success with inviting the community to develop art assets.
I definitely do not have any plans like that. I want to make sure that I only use assets of professional quality, which means hiring professionals. Besides: from an ethical standpoint, I don’t want to use free labor and undercut the market for those professionals–not when I clearly have the money to hire them. That was the main point of the Kickstarter, after all.
Sexism is currently a hot topic in video games, and with good reason—women are woefully under-represented due to the way they’re portrayed in games. Do you have any plans to address this in your game?
Numerically speaking, women are actually pretty well-represented in strategy RPGs compared to other game genres. Qualitatively, though, the picture is less rosy: these games tend to make female characters weaker than their male counterparts.
Just in the Fire Emblem series, for instance: compare Eirika and Ephraim, Jill and Haar, Brom and Meg, or pegasus knights versus wyvern riders (which are all-female and all-male respectively in most FE titles). The female equivalents are weaker almost across the board. Disgaea is a little more balanced, but also more essentialist: it actually systematizes the differences between characters of different sexes!
It’s a problem, and it’s one I don’t intend to have in Telepath Tactics. Notably, the two main characters in Telepath Tactics are sisters, both of them highly competent front-line fighters.