Subterrestrial Creator On The Value Of Normalizing Plus-Sized Characters In Games



The creator of Subterrestrial, Tristan Barona, has yet to see one of his creations take off in the way he’d like. At first, he started with The Foolish Brave comic books, trying to appeal to peoples’ interest in anime, off-beat humor, and fun characters. Then he turned to making a game based in the same universe that, unfortunately, was not funded on Kickstarter.


But Barona hasn’t given up yet. He continued working on his game, now called Subterrestrial, and hopes that his return to Kickstarter will be more successful than last time. Subterrestrial is an action-platformer that has a focus on its characters and story, while also delivering an old-school style challenge. You can download the current beta version of Subterrestrial on its website (direct download link).


Siliconera talked to Barona to find out what he has added to and changed about Subterrestrial since the last Kickstarter effort that makes him hopeful for funding this time. This involved talking about the diversity and personality of the characters, the humor in the game, and the SNES-era style throwback in its game design.


How does The Foolish Brave relate to Subterrestrial: To Challenge A God? Are they the same game with a name change? And if so, why did you make that decision?


Tristan Barona, developer: It’s complicated, and it’s not. The Foolish Brave was a brand I wanted to start. So kind of like Star Ocean has “The Second Story” and “The Last Hope”. There were a series of comic ideas that came out and none of them took well so I ended up just focusing on the game. I felt like the whole brand at the stage it was needed a make over and I wanted to give the game a fresh start to go with its overhaul so I just took out The Foolish Brave and gave it its own independent name. The overall The Foolish Brave brand has always meant that I want these guys to have more than one adventure and be deeper than just a single game which is why it still exists!  In short, Subterrestrial is a The Foolish Brave game, hope that clarifies it!


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Could you describe the world that The Foolish Brave takes place in? And where does Subterrestrial fall into it?


The Foolish Brave takes place on the planet Vahl, a world unlike our own. It’s best to imagine it as a time without advanced digital technologies, (iPhones, flat screen TVs, etc) and exchanges them for magical advances and mythical elements. For example, Ry is a magic swordsman whodr swords harness the elements of fire and ice. We’ve got giant golems, ogres, slime queens, and a lot more that our scheduled to make an appearance in the game, and this is just one island of the world! Which is where the story takes place, Neria, an island with s quiet, modest, and self sufficient town. At this point in the story, Ozma and Ry have already had a few adventures – as depicted in the comics – when they arrive in Neria.


Why did you decide to make a platformer out of The Foolish Brave? As it is also a character-driven comic book would it not have been better served as, say, a visual novel?


It was a long process. I feel like in order for people to want to play new games, they have to care about the characters in them. So I started with the comics, but they didn’t really take off too well. I gave them a bunch of overhauls, a parody series, Ozma and Ry, and a manga style series. The amount of effort that had to go into these versus the amount of people that actually read them was almost laughable. I’m a gamer, I love games, I’ve been playing them since I was five, so I finally decided to hell with the comics, it was a nice effort but it’s time to do what I was born to do: make an epic game (but even then it took three scrapped prototypes to finally arrive where we are today).


Following that up, what different ways do you tell the story and engross the player in the characters of Subterrestrial within the platformer format?


I’m glad you asked! The story is going to unfold like an anime. You’re probably thinking, “what?” But that’s not such a stretch. Think about it: fox demons? arch mages? magic swordsman? giant beasts? It has anime written all over it. Not to mention humor. The humor is going to be a very big part of the game. Ozma and Ry have a very interesting dynamic; Ry is the stronger of the two (at the moment) but he’s always fixated on finding cute women wherever he goes so Ozma will have to drag him off by the ear. There will be cutscenes between levels, and the game isn’t designed to be linear, as it’s going to be sort of open world, and the user will find teleports throughout the game that can connect them back to town, where they’ll need to go to check in with NPCs, gather information, items, and level ups.


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You’ve included a range of body types among your characters. The topic of diverse characters has been debated a lot in the comic book and videogame spaces recently, so is this something you strived for?


I’m glad you’re asking this question. I think it’s extremely important to push the barriers in the games industry, but not to break them. I remember debating making a smash ’em up about feminism where this badass feminist would go around beating up giant waves of meninists in fedoras and tank tops, but I was almost instantly told to be wary of GamerGate aggression, if you push too hard you’ll force your audience into two warring sides. I didn’t want to piss anyone off so I decided I would try and make Subterrestrial a really diverse game. I think by incorporating cool characters that don’t generally get the spotlight like Miri, (aka plus-sized people, in this case) we can normalize it and slowly smash the idea that unorthodox characters are gimmicks and that they aren’t just a tool for parodies. I also designed Vina (the sultry archmage) because I wanted to break the notion that having a sexy character automatically means taking the low road. We all know many games have done this, but Vina is going to be a super intelligent, super powerful girl that doesn’t need a hero and can handle herself.


Have you varied up any of the typical fantasy clichés often found in games in the same way as you have with the characters? Perhaps across the bestiary or plot


I’d like to think I’m creating characters that aren’t fairly typical in games, although, it’s important to keep some of the classics (like the iconic bat) in order to make the game feel like a platformer and bring back the nostalgia. I think my plot is fairly original although the game is designed to have an epic climax so I won’t go into too much depth, but an easy hint is in the game’s subtitle, “To Challenge a God.” As an adult who still wishes he could enter a romantic relationship with the SNES era, I’ve played a lot of JRPGs and platformers, kidnappings and underground cities is one I haven’t quite come across yet, in short, I think it’ll be fresh enough.


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Moving on to the Kickstarter, how much funding are you looking for and what will this go towards if successful?


I did a lot of thinking this time around funding wise. Originally I was aiming for $20,000. But that number never seemed right to me. This is my BREAKOUT game, it needs to be amazing, not good. I want it to look better, and be better than what it is now, and for that it’s going to take wiggle room, anyone in game dev knows nothing ever goes perfectly the entire way through. So I’m going to aim for a base of 30,000, but with the hopes of course that I’ll break through on stretch goals and be able to put so much stuff in the game until I run out of ideas. Games like Pip and Chasm have raised over $50,000 for what I’d call similar experiences. My final feelings? If people want the game, they’ll make it happen, that’s the way Kickstarter has always worked.


What can backers get in return for pledging towards the Kickstarter? Anything particularly special at any tiers?


I worked really hard to generate rewards that would give people VALUE, and I think I was really successful. EVERYONE that pledges, even the base tier, will get something special that people won’t be able to get once the game is out. The baby demon fox familiar! It’s a pretty much a cool looking baby fox that will follow Ozma around, I’m not quite sure what perk it will offer of if it will, but if it does it will have to be something small like 1 extra XP per monster. The reward tier right above the base one will be two copies of the game, early access, AND the digital soundtrack, this reward tier is priced at $25, the game itself is going to priced at $15, so as you can see, I’m giving the fans value for their faith and support, and I think that will go a long way.

Chris Priestman