Developer Interview with Gustav Seymore from Lost Goblin – Goblins of Elderstone

Goblins of Elderstone

Goblins of Elderstone is a sandbox tribe management city building game with some light RPG and strategy elements. It is filled with adorable chaotic goblins that will kill each other and burn down the village if they don’t like how you rule them. The game is being developed by Lost Goblin – a small indie studio based in New Zealand – and will hopefully be coming to PC some time later this year via Steam.

Goblins of Elderstone

Gustav Seymore and Vaughan Sanders founded Lost Goblin in 2014 with the dream of making small, high quality, independent games and have over 20 years of game industry experience. Their first game MonsterMaze, a 2D tower defence game, released in February 2015 and the team have quickly moved on to this next exciting looking project.

Goblins of Elderstone is, essentially, a village building simulation game. Set in the procedurally generated fantasy world of Elderstone, you take on the role of the first king of a small tribe of goblins and have to fight, raid, trade and divine your clan to greater prosperity. The team spent almost a year in concept and pre-production stage, building a design and prototype to look for funding and, after having secured that funding, have been building the game full time for almost another year

Goblins of Elderstone

Some key features of the game are:

Free form city building – Not grid based city building. Buildings connect to each other with pathways and bridges to create great looking goblin style villages.
Large resource and crafting tree – Over 30 different resources that need to be gathered and crafted.
Clan, world and divine politics – Create your unique goblin tribe and its clans then see the tribe grow when new clans form. Later protect clans from murdering each other and try prevent them from killing the King or burning down the entire village.
War, Trade or Faith – Chose to play as either a warlord conquering the world, an industrious trader that rules the world through wealth or as a powerful avatar to the gods or a combination of all.
Scout, Raid, Trade or Pilgrimage – Scout other regions, Raid NPC locations or dungeons, Trade with other cities or send Spirit Treks to holy sites to gain favour with your gods.
RPG Story Moments – Generated text based story moments with meaningful consequences. Deal with traveling strangers, evil Overlords, cunning Dragons or benevolent gods.
Defend your tribe – Defend the tribe from roaming worgs and monsters or Adventuring Parties. Fight off enemy raid parties.

We spoke to Gustav – the design “goblin” – to find out a bit more about the game, the studio and the future.
So Gustav thanks for talking to us! Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your studio etc? Lost Goblin, Goblins of Elderstone…you guys really do like Goblins huh?

Haha yeah we really do! Hey no problem, thanks for reaching out to us. I started my game dev career about 11 years ago in South Africa at a time where there was barely an industry there. A friend started a studio called Avonstorm and asked me to join as creative director – we knew very little but had a lot of passion and worked really hard and made games for about 6 years for clients and tried to develop our own stuff in between, it was a really good time and I learnt so much.

Then in 2011 I followed the same friend to New Zealand to join Gameloft in their new Auckland office. I was the principle producer there and made a lot of games in my 3.5 years there. At gameloft I met and worked with some incredible people and one of those people was Vaughan Sanders who has been in the games industry as a programmer for over 10 years now.

We were leads on the flagship project and while working together became friends and decided to form our own studio – Lost Goblin [yes we both really love goblins]! We first made a very small mobile game in our spare time just to go through the motions of setting up a company and all the things that go with that – bank accounts, contracts, website, social media etc – the life of an indiedev! Completing that project and shipping it proved we could do something together and so we started designing our first REAL game – the PC game that we have been working on for the better part of the last 2 years

Goblins of Elderstone looks absolutely fantastic. Cute characters, vibrant, low-poly art style, packed with features; I realise there is plenty of detail on your site but how do you describe your game? Any particular influences? I think I can see a bit of Black and White in there?

Thank you so much, thats very nice of you to say. In a nutshell our game is really a tribe simulator – you not only have to build the buildings and gather and craft the resources needed to make a village but you need to manage the internal needs of our goblins and the clans they belong to as well as the politics between the different clans that can make up your village. Then you will also have to negotiate and trade with NPC factions and races on the region map in a light grand strategy style of gameplay. There are also gods and monsters involved and you can hire heroes from the tavern to lead your raids and trek parties – there are a lot of elements to it.

I loved Black and White, especially the concept of it and those are certainly the type of game we like playing most but our direct influences are a bit more recent. We are very inspired by some indie village sim games such as Banished, Stonehearth and Rimworld and and we also have some elements from games such as the Anno series and of course Settlers series.

Goblins of Elderstone
Most of us will have played RTS, RPG and God Sim games but your game is attempting to cross pollinate all of those elements into one experience; the RPG Story moments are a feature that stood out to me in particular. Are there specific challenges in bringing those narrative, consequence driven features into a builder game which are usually so nonlinear?

Great question! We are very excited about the story moments system and content and I might add that the writer for us is Edwin McRae who was the writer on Path of Exile (among other things)- so you can expect some really well written great stories! Our story moments are still very nonlinear. Think of them more like FTL events. As you play certain things will trigger these random story events and you will have to make some interesting choices that will sometimes have real consequences to your tribe or your raid party. These can happen at different levels of the game – your raid party might be on the way to a nearby human farming village and a story moment gets triggered where your party discover a cave – Enter it? Leave it be? or send some scouts in to investigate? All these will have different outcomes and rewards from your entire party being eaten by a dragon or finding a magical weapon! These story moments will just be that – a moment that influences your game but does not push you down a linear path and therefore I think it fits really well into the nonlinear gameplay experience. We have plans later to potentially string some of them together to create short story lines, but that’s much further down the road.

I noticed on a forum somewhere (I think) someone asked you about your human characters – specifically a design feature – which you explained was a way to dehumanise them as an effort to point out they aren’t always the “good guys.” Does that mean the goblins are, by default, the good guys? Or are you trying to move away from any kind of gaming/fantasy stereotypes?

The goblins are the main characters and the playable race but not defined as good (or evil) by us, the player will get the choice when they start a new tribe to choose their gods through a creation story and then decide if they want to be good or evil or more likely a bit of both. In the game the other races will be your enemies or allies but we didn’t want any of them to be relate-able.

We have tried a few things to make the humans (and other races) not feel immediately relate-able. The problem with making a game that is essentially about monsters, that we want to player to care about, is making the player feel they can identify with them, if we make the humans too “human” then the player will subconsciously identify with them too much, so we are trying to show the humans slightly alien to show how the goblins might see them – it’s a work in progress but I’m happy with the direction we are going with it.

I know you’ve been using UE4 to make the game; why that particular engine? What other tools do you guys use?

Well we really love UE4 and the Unreal development community and we met the Epic team at GDC and they were really kind and great to us, so we are very happy with our decision. We have all used most other engines and their fine if you have to use them, but the primary reason choosing Unreal was having access to source code, Vaughan is a seasoned C++ programmer and so we knew that control was important for us. Our new programmers are also C++ guys and have UE4 experience, so it’s working out really great. The art pipeline and level editing is also just really cool and easy and I love working in it as a designer and artist. It’s really great. We also use Blender3D for all our 3D art, our super talented Art Goblin Moritz is a Blender evangelist and I fell in love with blender since picking it up again about 2.5 years ago.

Goblins of Elderstone
Your previous game MonsterMaze was a 2D classic maze style tower defence game for mobile; with the greatest respect to that title, Goblins of Elderstone looks like a much more ambitious game and is coming to PC. What is it like going from making a mobile game to a feature rich PC game? Was this the game you always wanted to make?

MonsterMaze really was just a small project we decided to work on to see if we could finish something together and allow us to create the company around. We both (myself and Vaughan) like tower defence games and we had been working on mobile at the time at Gameloft, so it was a simple choice and the game is really basic and simple. Its amazing how much work goes into starting an indie studio that is not actually making games – everything from legal and admin stuff to social media and websites, forum posts and marketing, – so I’m glad we set up all those things with our first little project, so we had a good healthy set up going into making Goblins of Elderstone. We always intended to make this kind of game and this is where our love lies yes! PC simulation games, so we hope to deliver a really great game this time and build on that to make more games in this genre 😀

Both yourself and Vaughan have a wealth of experience in the gaming industry and have worked on some pretty big projects; how do you compare that with working in the indie “space” and being your own bosses?

I love it, both myself and Vaughan have had our own small companies before so we are not new to it, but this is our first studio together. I love working in the games industry and have had the good fortune of working with some amazing people but in the end I love working on my own ideas and games the most and being able to shape those directly without the bureaucracy that a large publisher or studio brings. Of course there is a lot of different kinds of stress and you sometimes miss the support teams and systems that exist at a big company but the reward of making your own stuff and getting to talk to players and fans directly is irreplaceable.

As a follow on to that; I notice with GofE your team has grown a bit, can you see the team – and your projects – growing further? By which I mean would you have ambitions to become a major studio in the Triple A sector or would you prefer the variety and flexibility your current setup affords?

We added a few amazing people along the way yes. We are currently 4 full (mostly) time team members Vaughan and myself and then Roy who was our first full time programmer to join us and of course our talented artist Moritz. Then we have a few people chipping in part time and we are working with Edwin the writer I mentioned as well as the award winning audio team Hyperduck who are based in the UK. I don’t think I’d ever want to grow beyond a core team of 8-10 experienced people, but who knows! Making games is a hard and expensive endeavour and there is a reason some games are made by over 400 people, but those are not really the kind of games I’m interested in making. There is a lot more creativity in a small team I find and I’m going to try keep it that way!

Goblins of Elderstone
You are releasing the game on PC via Steam; your previous game was a mobile game and you have a team that has worked on many platforms; there is an increasing emphasis on indie games on home consoles these days – can you see yourselves porting GofE? Or even making console games in the future?

That decision is certainly a lot easier these days using an engine like Unreal but it really comes down to the game and what we want to make. Goblins of Elderstone is obviously a very PC suited game. If we decided to make a platformer next then it would make sense to design it for controller and release on consoles as well as PC. If there is a high demand for Goblins to go to console then we’d look into designing the UI and control scheme for a controller sure, but at the moment we are squarely focused on getting the game done for PC.

Finally, are there any other games in development you are excited to play? What other games do you guys play?

Some games I’ve been following and play that are still in early access are Stonehearth and Rimworld – I’m a big fan of those! Otherwise we play a lot of grand strategy and sim games but I also play too much Dota 2 where Vaughan plays almost every JRPG that comes out! The rest of the team; Roy is a Path of Exile hardcore player and Moritz favours Rocket League and Overwatch, so a diverse taste of games 😀

Games that I’m really excited about coming out soon is No Mans Sky and some Kickstarters I backed called For the King! (great low poly art!) and Epic Tavern which looks like it will be good fun. We are games and game devs, so we play everything really!

Talker, unrepentant chancer and self-confessed geek, Stephen has been a gamer for nearly 30 years. You might think he’d have outgrown comics, movies and games but you’d be very wrong. Having worked in PR and marketing, games retail etc he is now trying his hand at game development and writing and (in a completely unrelated area) property development.

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