After releasing their love letter to the Game Boy Color in the form of a highly ambitious action-adventure game called Two Brothers last year, Brian and Andrew Allanson—collectively known as Ackk Studios—have been steadily working on their next big game.
It’s called Y2K, which is an RPG inspired by the Mother series among other games, and is set amid the tech fears of the late ‘90s. These were brought on with the encroaching millennium and the so-called “millennium bug” that the media informed everyone could corrupt computers, which might have a devastating roll-on effect. The game follows Alex Eggleston as he chases down a mysterious vehicle that the internet has deemed the “Death Van,” leading him onto a multidimensional adventure.
For this second game, the Allanson brothers seem to have been a little more cautious during production. Y2K doesn’t seem to be any smaller in scope and ambition than Two Brothers, but it has a publisher in the form of Ysbryd Games, who also published bar sim VA-11 HALL-A, so there is no Kickstarter effort this time around as there was with Two Brothers.
Siliconera spoke to the Allanson brothers about this change up in an interview. They told us why they accept Y2K’s comparison to Mother but also why they want to distance themselves from it, how their own memories of the ‘90s inform Y2K, explain why they have the “Mind Dungeon” specifically for grinding, and briefly touch upon the differences Y2K will have across PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U and PC.
Y2K is inspired by the Mother series, and citing it as an influence has attracted people to the game, but you seem to also want to distance Y2K from Mother at the same time. Why is that?
Brian and Andrew Allanson, developers: That’s a great question. I think there is a bit of a fear that people might think we’re trying to make a Mother 4, or a game that is just an homage to Mother. Mother is on a short list of games that inspired us to work in video games in general. There is Mother influence in everything we do.
I’m happy when people see the Mother influence themselves from playing it or seeing it for the first time… but at the same time, I wouldn’t want someone going in and expect one thing (because of what they know Mother to be from experience) and be shocked when they find it very much is its own thing.
I guess it’s about me trying to manage expectations. We’re not Nintendo, so we couldn’t ever make something exactly like Earthbound. Nor would we want to! That’s their thing. It’s almost sacred to me…
Why are you making a game set during a particular moment of the 1990s – what makes it interesting? Do you have fond memories of your own to input? What signposts of that era can we expect to find in Y2K?
My first experiences with computers, programming, stuff like that, are all from ’98. My brother and I had an old computer that my grand father was getting rid of. My uncle was a programmer, and he gave us some programming books. I have these fond memories of the ugly 90s colors on the C and Quick Basic books. To me, those books were the 90s… although looking back it’s likely they were really from the late 80s.
I remember waking up really early, before school… maybe four of five, so I could get some work done on the computer. I remember cringing at how loud the modem was when it was connecting… being afraid it would wake someone up.
There are two things about the 90s I find interesting for a story setting. The first is how different communication is now. Back in the 90s you could use a pay phone, call from a house phone, or if you were a rich get make a cell phone call in SOME parts of the country. Imagine how many old stories would have happy endings if we had the access we have today to communication. Seinfeld episodes would disappear.
So the primitive tech is pretty awesome. I loved the vibe the 90s internet gave off. It was mysterious in a way. You could learn pretty much anything, but you needed to know where to look. There were also strange creepy stories that were impossible to fact check back then… now all creepy pasta is debunked in a few minutes.
The game centers upon a creepy 4chan-esque message forum about conspiracies and the occult… so I’d say text-based websites are one staple of the era you’ll find. Lack of cell phones. Weird choker necklaces. Some NPCs in silly 90s clothing. Big hair… stuff like that…
The second thing about ’99 I like is the feeling that things are about to change. Sure, this was the 90s, but now we’re going into the 2000s! THINGS ARE GOING TO GET EVEN BETTER… or maybe not. Maybe the world will end. What’s going to happen!?
Do you feel that the technology-based fear of 1999—the millennium bug —has relevance to us today?
No. Not really… which is mainly why I wouldn’t want to set Y2K in 2014.
In Y2K, once an enemy is defeated in the world they don’t come back. This gives the impression that it was designed to avoid the grinding often found in RPGs. But then you have the Mind Dungeon specifically for grinding. Are these two design choices as contradictory as they seem?
The mind dungeon is something like the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X, except each node is a room. If you’re looking for a health upgrade (and you spend you Mind Dungeon keys enter that over say, a +10 attack room) you’ll go in and solve a puzzle relating to that upgrade… once you do it, you get the experience.
Some rooms that offer strength require you to hunt and kill strong enemies, resulting in a strange upgrade. The mind dungeon is a place that prepares the heroes for the real world. A temple inside of their own minds.
Picture the gameplay flow like this: Enter dungeon, you’re on level 10. Defeat all the enemies along the way (hunting them down to kill every last one) and you’ll be level 13 by the end of the dungeon. Only problem is, you’re still not prepared for the enemy that is level 20 waiting for you at the end of the dungeon. You go inside the mind dungeon, and search for whatever moves you need to be able to defeat him. Say he’s a fire based monster: go look for some water rooms and look for aqua skills.
The dungeons themselves aren’t anti-grinding. It’s just that we want the player to play the Mind Dungeon in parallel with the “story dungeon” they’re currently playing. It’s about balancing what you need to accomplish with what your own abilities are. It’s all rather fast paced too… and a bit less convoluted when you play it I think.
I’ve seen a few people across various websites say that the characters in Y2K are “hipsters,” referring to the plaid shirt, glasses, and beard of main character Alex Eggleston, and have even asked you if there are other playable characters. What’s your response to this? And will there will be other playable characters?
Haha… there really is a lot of hipster hate out in the world isn’t there…? But yeah, there are a wide variety of characters you play as… none of which are quite as hip as Alex. In fact, when the game opens you don’t even play as Alex. We just like to keep those sorts of things a surprise. In fact, I feel like we’ve successfully said very little about the true nature of the story and characters in the game!
Could you explain how you’ve approached the turn-based battles in Y2K? As far as I know, you’ve mixed in a way for players to slow down and speed the fights up, as well as incorporated real-time actions too?
Sure! The battle mode is turn based. Turn orders are based on how fast each character is. So lets pretend you’re fighting a Bat Rat. (a Rat with a Baseball Bat) This rodent is pretty quick, so he’ll likely get the first turn. So Bat Rat Goes, then Michael (naturally the fastest party member) then Alex’s turn, then a Metal Skull (slow enemy) has his turn. So you see the turn order as you play, so you can plan ahead.
When it’s your turn to attack you have a few options. There are general melee attacks. These attacks work a bit like Shadow Hearts. You have a meter where you can land critical hits, and get in multiple combos depending on how good you are. There are also traps. Let’s say you have a mouse trap. You can lay this down, and whenever a Rodent-based monster has a turn, they’re trapped in the device and you get to take their turn (they also take a bit of damage.)
Then there are magic-based spells (we don’t call it magic in the game). Things like LP Toss, where the player gets to throw a bunch of records at various enemies. This requires some skill to hit more than one. Works a little bit like Dance Dance Revolution. Buttons come across the screen and the more you land the more enemies get injured.
When it’s the enemies turn you get a chance to dodge, or counter, based on what skills you’ve unlocked in the Mind Dungeon. This uses a timing-based input.
So obviously there are a lot of battles in this game, as it’s an RPG. Sometimes people want to get through a battle quickly… That’s where the speed up mechanic comes in. However, speeding up the battle (using the R2 button on PS4) will also increase the speed of the dodging/attack prompts. So the player needs to be prepared to slow down for those, or just get really good at doing them quickly. When you’ve taken a LOT of damage you fill up a slow down meter, which allows you to slow down combat so you can better dodge strong attacks. It’s a good idea to save this for bosses!!
You’ve mentioned that you have a 400-page script for Y2K. Are you planning to get all of this across in a single playthrough of the game? Or does the script account for different paths in the narrative?
You’ll see at least 285 pages of this on your first playthrough. Depending on the choices you make you’ll get majorly different outcome to some scenarios… some get you a different sort of party for the end of the game. All of your choices throughout directly relate to the ending boss you face as well.
You funded Two Brothers on Kickstarter and, as far as I know, published it yourself. So why did you decide to work with a publisher on Y2K?
With Two Brothers we didn’t get paid to work on the game in any capacity. Any money we made was made after release. If you look at what we used Kickstarter for was mainly promotion and new hardware. That game was a labor of love, and insanity. We were making it on nights and weekends, while working full time jobs. Bit of a difficult time in my life to say the least.
So we released Two Brothers and we had some options… We want to make a larger and very polished game. To do this, we needed more than a two-man core development team. Sadly, no one wants to work for free… so if we wanted to expand we either needed to finance it ourselves (which wouldn’t have been possible) or find a publisher or go through Kickstarter again.
The reason Kickstarter scared us the second time around is because we needed a larger sum of money than we had gotten for Two Brothers… especially since we wanted to do this full time. The second reason is Kickstarter rewards are hard to fill! They take up as much time (if not more) than the actual game development process. There are lots of questions to be constantly responding to in emails… and the whole thing is a LOT to manage, and something we didn’t feel prepared to do again.
We spent 52 days preparing a prototype build of Y2K. We showed it at PAX East 2014. We got quite a bit of offers that convention!!! It was really encouraging. Out of all the major, and tiny, publishers we spoke with, Ysbryd Games had the best vision that lined up with our own. They really got the game. Things worked out really well. They’ve been really easy to work with, and they’ve been a great addition to the creative process.
Are you doing anything special that will be exclusive to certain platforms that Y2K is coming to? Perhaps for Wii U or Vita? Or are you trying to create the same experience across all platforms?
We’re reworking controls for each system. Wii U and Vita both have touch screens, so we’re doing some custom controls there. No exclusive dungeons or anything like that… it will be a similar experience on each platform, although each one will be tailored to the console so it makes sense.