Americana Dawn is an unusual JRPG in that it takes place across significant moments in American history. In it, you play as a spirit of the ocean called Foster, who joins the American militia as the American and Indian war, as well as the American Revolution, takes place. It’s an adventure that stretches across two centuries.
It has been in development for at least three years now, and has an interesting history in that it was originally being made as a freeware RPG Maker game meant to be released in 2013, but that didn’t happen. Instead, it has become bigger and since been realized, at least visually, to rival RPGs of the PlayStation One era.
After lots of work, developer Bit Bonton has turned to Kickstarter to fund the game and finish it. It’s also on Steam Greenlight. Siliconera spoke to Maxwell K. Lam, otherwise known as seltaire, who leads the project and is its progenitor.
She tells us about how moments and influences in her life all led up to the creation of Americana Dawn, what she has had to go through over the past few years to keep the project alive, and also explains why the Genso Suikoden series means so much to her and why it’s one of her main influences.
Bit Bonton is said to be spread across America and Japan. What is the team set-up like? And is there noticeable influence from the cultures of both countries in Americana Dawn?
Maxwell K. Lam, Producer: Our programmers are local; it would be pretty hard to communicate the intricacies of design and mechanics efficiently through the internet, though all of our artists and musicians telecommute.
Americana Dawn‘s narrative and humor is heavily influenced by Mark Twain’s down to earth writing and emphasis on everyday folks. However, its theme, the idea of a long, epic journey to find inner peace, is heavily influenced by Buddhist culture and legends like Journey to the West.
It’s unusual for a JRPG to take place across American history. So what is the lure here for you—why did you choose the setting and time periods that you have for Americana Dawn?
I grew up consuming Asian media, so all the different cultures in 18th Century America are pretty exotic to me. I was probably first introduced to the ‘cravat’ (the best article of male clothing) by the anime, Rose of Versailles, before I saw a painting.
On a more serious note, I felt drawn by the stories and struggles of the people. From the slaves bidding for their freedom, the Amerindians struggling to maintain relevance and land and the colonists trying to find their place in the world. It is interesting to me to see so many different narratives intersect in a single place.
Why did you decide to introduce a fantasy element to this historical interest in Americana Dawn with Foster and the other spirits? Why extrapolate beyond the historical facts?
I once climbed mountains in a remote place off the coast of California called Santa Cruz Islands and while waiting for the ferry, I read of a great civil war that took place. Though when I arrived at the island, I saw there was nothing left but aging arrowheads beneath the grass and shrubs. I wondered about the combatants, at the end of their life what did they think about this bloodshed? Was it worth it?
As I looked out at the sea, I wondered if the ocean had a soul, what would it think about seeing all these wars and human struggles century after century? I wanted to imagine what a character would think about all of that.
You say that Americana Dawn is inspired by the Genso Suikoden series, but what about that series in particular have to taken from when designing Americana Dawn?
Genso Suikoden was a very special game for me as a little girl growing up. During a time where nearly all JRPGs were about slaying doomsday demon, Genso Suikoden had a very character-oriented plotline about a band of normal people standing up for themselves. It really resonated with me, and I wanted to carry that spirit over to Americana Dawn.
How big is Americana Dawn? You say it’s set across two centuries, but how is the game divided across this time period, and how much is there to do at each stop?
Most of Americana Dawn is set during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Though it has a prologue in the 1600s in Jamestown, one of the first settlements in America.
It seems like there’s more than one battle system in Americana Dawn, is that the case? And if so, could you explain how they each work?
The first system is called Microbattles, which are hand-to-hand combat. In these the player controls up to three characters who have a range of abilities based on weapon skill trees with 15 levels of mastery. The player is able to see the current turn order and will often have to use attacks to delay the actions of enemies in order to survive, as single attacks can be devastating, though of course taking damage can’t always be avoided.
For those who want an extra challenge and a secret reward, there is an option to pardon enemies but it requires knocking them all out simultaneously without killing them. Knocked out enemies revive after three turns so this requires extra precision and planning, though the payoff will be worth the effort.
Secondly are the Macrobattles where the player matches an entire army of troops against those of the opponent, maneuvering small brigades of various unit classes strategically to overcome often superior numbers.
You had a Kickstarter for Americana Dawn a couple of years ago and planned to release it as freeware in 2013. Why did that not happen and what about the game has changed since then?
After our previous fundraiser we had a budget of $4,000. Originally, it was supposed to be made with RPG Maker using many free resources. However, the original team disbanded due to various reasons. It was a struggle, but I could not give up. I took up jobs working in the afternoons and late evenings and used most of my income to keep the project alive.
I remember one of my jobs involved canvassing in the rough, downtown area of my city, which ranks among the most crime-ridden and impoverished cities in California. I was repeatedly harassed each night, and was even assaulted by a drunkard. My boss had pulled me aside and said he understood if I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t, because that would mean the end of Americana Dawn.
Each night during my breaks, I would always sit on the corner of the sidewalks and flip through pictures that my concept artist, Juri, drew, while listening to music my composers, Sam and Soshiro, wrote. Despite how hard the day was, I would always smile and remember what it was all about.
Since then, we have built an entire game engine from the ground up, custom art that rivals games from the early PlayStation era and beautiful music with its own custom sound font. I look at everything I have now, and know every drop of tears and sweat has been worth it.
If the Continental Army, a band of ragtag farmers and tradesman, can win against the strongest empire on Earth, I can get this game made.
What are you looking to use the funding for if your Kickstarter succeeds this time around?
A large portion of it would be used to create the graphical assets, then compensate my programmer, localizer and musicians for their time. If we are fortunate enough to exceed our baseline asking price, we are interested in ports and adding live music in the second half of the game.
And what platforms might those ports be?
If we are fortunate enough in our fundraiser campaign to reach stretch goals, we would love to port Americana Dawn to the PS4.