Interview with Rose Portal Games, the creators behind Unraveled: Tale of the Shipbreaker's Daughter

One of my favorite Kickstarters to learn about was Rose Portal Games’ Unraveled: Tale of the Shipbreaker’s Daughter. While it looks like an RPG during the Super Nintendo and early PlayStation 1 era, its story and setting are honestly much more interesting than most RPG settings. Instead of some generic fantasy land, the game takes place in a little girl’s imagination in Mumbai’s shipbreaking yards. Rusted ships, an unsettling atmosphere, and a touching story of the girl finding her family makes it unique. I decided to get in contact with the developer and talk to them about the game, Kickstarter, and RPGs.

Cam’s Eye View: On the Kickstarter page, you have said that the game is inspired by a documentary about Mumbai’s shipbreaking yards. What exactly about that setting screamed a roleplaying game?

Rose Portal Games: We don't really write with having a videogame in mind. Rather, we come up with a story that we believe in and adapt it to the genre. In the case of Unraveled, what spoke to us the most about shipbreaking yards is the feeling of nostalgic beauty. These ships that hold years of memories -- where people have worked and lived -- are finally taken apart. This concept of memories coming to rest -- a sort of graveyard, a ship graveyard -- really appealed to us. Then we found out about the social issues behind shipbreaking (the horrible work circumstances, etc.) and we decided it would make the perfect story! Romantic and with a meaning behind it.

Cam’s Eye View: One of the more gutsy elements of the game is the fact that outside of one or two lines, there will be no dialogue. I take it that you want to go with a more emotional “show don’t tell”-style story. How do you plan on making sure the emotions and the story aren’t lost on the player?

Rose Portal Games: It's definitely a risky approach we're taking. Some people simply prefer chunks of dialogue. They prefer a clear "this is how it's happening" story. But for a lot of people, the lack of dialogue allows them to fill in the gaps themselves. They can form a bond with the story that is personal to them. We've watched a lot of Let's Play videos and live streams, and the theories people come up with are amazing!

Of course, we take great care in working out the many little cutscenes in the game. It involves a lot of detail work. There's this one flashback in which hardly anything happens, but it took a week of 24/7 work to make. Because when you work with these tiny sprites and you need to show tiny movement, everything has to be perfect. It's a lot more work than action scenes.

Cam’s Eye View: Was there a reason why you took the game in a sprite/SNES/Early PlayStation 1 era-style RPG instead of something 3D-oriented? Are all the sprites handmade?

Rose Portal Games: Definitely! 95% of the art is hand-drawn by me personally. I use a not-exactly-pixel-art-but-similar-to-it style, where I draw with the brush tool instead of the pencil tool. It gives everything a slightly more blurry but realistic look. I really love it. 2D has always been my specialty. I really don't like 3D, because it's so difficult to make it look charming. It looks too technical. Too polished. With 2D you can go in any direction. If I ever make a 3D game, it will involve 2D sprites, for sure!

As for why we decided to go for PS1-era style, it's because this whole game revolves around nostalgia, and it really adds to that feeling.

Cam’s Eye View: Where did the idea of the emotion-oriented combat come from?

Rose Portal Games: Originally it was called Focus and Rage, but we changed it into Calm and Anger respectively to be more appropriate. My partner, Chancler, renamed a lot of my "typical fantasy RPG" stuff to be more unique. "Lightning" became "Pew Pew!", "Fireball" became "Whoosh", etc. He's really good at that!

The combat system was actually developed prior to the game. It's something I've been working on for a while and we decided to finally use it. So far it's gotten amazing feedback! I am extremely picky when it comes to videogames, and this battle system can have me hooked for hours on end!

Cam’s Eye View: Where did the inspiration for the stuffed animal guardian come from?

Rose Portal Games: When people ask what inspired us with the game, it's a bit like asking "what did you copy?". But really, we didn't copy anything. There's no direct inspiration. We just took our basic story concept and worked that out to make the player feel what we want them to feel. The little girl has a great imagination, which is the focus of the story, so naturally she would imagine her stuffed animal to come alive. In fact, she gives the stuffed animal the personality of a person close to her who has passed away recently.

It might be similar to Where The Wild Things Are and Labyrinth (1986), but I didn't even think of those two movies until someone else pointed it out.

However, in terms of design, he was inspired by My Pet Monster, a stuffed animal published in 1986. Purely because we wanted her toy to be based on something realistic and really play with that feeling of nostalgia.

Cam’s Eye View: Since this is a sprite-based RPG, do you have an opinion on developers using RPG Maker?

Rose Portal Games: I do, indeed! RPG Maker is a great engine. It's easy to use but difficult to master (I've been working with it for over 7 years). The downside to this is that everyone and their mother can release an RPG Maker game, and the market gets saturated with "low quality" hobby games. This creates a prejudice against anything made with RPG Maker. It's a shame, because there are plenty of amazing games made with it. It's the developer who determines the quality, not the engine. Although I have to add, the current versions of RPG Maker are rather limiting, and it's the reason why for our next project we're switching to Unity.

Cam’s Eye View: Since this is the second time you have launched this Kickstarter, what would you say didn’t work the first time?

Rose Portal Games: Our first Kickstarter got delayed and delayed until the launch date was a week before my 1-month trip to China. So basically, I could do nothing during this campaign. My partner had to do all the work. Also, the campaign lacked complete focus. We had stretch goals all over the place, a Unity video, a "maybe this", a "maybe that", a billion physical rewards.

This time we really just cut down and focused on the main goal, and it's worked! We're already doing much better than last time, though we only have 5 days left.

Cam’s Eye View: We have seen a lot of RPGs on Kickstarter, from the PC-inspired RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin, to the JRPG-inspired RPGs like Edge of Eternity. Why do you think there is this sudden surge of more traditional RPGs?

Rose Portal Games: I personally haven't followed Kickstarter before March this year, so I can't speak of that specifically, but I think people are craving more traditional quality RPGs because the big companies are no longer making them. Take Final Fantasy, for example. Their games used to be fantastic, perfect JRPGs with large worlds, lots of side-quests, a beautiful story. The last few years Square Enix has just been releasing mediocre sequels and boring straightforward RPGs like FFXIII where basically the entire game is running down a hallway.

Cam’s Eye View: Was there any concern about getting funded due to the recent controversies/Kickstarter development issues like Godus, CLANG, and Hero U?

Rose Portal Games: Kickstarter controversies go all the way back to Echoes of Eternea. We've released 4 commercial games already; we have a clean track record. My main concern is direct competition... A certain Kickstarter that is also running at the moment but doesn't even really need funding; they just want to "test the waters for interest".

Cam’s Eye View: Due to Kickstarter-funding/indie games becoming a much bigger force, what do you think needs to change about how indie developers and Kickstarter are run?

Rose Portal Games: I honestly can't give you a proper answer on this, because I'm still fairly new to the whole Kickstarter system. One thing that really needs to change about Kickstarter is the way they allow large companies to use Kickstarter for funding a "concept". I'd say there should at least be a playable demo or beta available and an actual need for funding. It's not fair that Kickstarter is being used as a platform for mere income when it's not really required.

Cam’s Eye View: In your opinion, what do you think needs to change about RPGs?

Rose Portal Games: RPGs vary wildly, so I can't specify what I would like to change about the genre entirely. Just recently, RPGs have not been very appealing to me. The stories are a bit cliched, freedom is limited and RPGs are turning more and more into action-hybrids. I still prefer a nice classic turn-based system like Chrono Trigger.

Cam’s Eye View: Are there any RPGs that you love from the last generation of consoles that you wish were more successful?

Rose Portal Games: Can I say Final Fantasy XI? Best game I ever played, but I don't think it can be considered successful. No one I personally know has ever played it.

Cam’s Eye View: If you could change one negative aspect of an RPG that was released during the last generation of consoles, which RPG would it be, and how would you change it?

Rose Portal Games: Final Fantasy XIII and its terrible hallway-storytelling where you can just travel in one direction and the gameplay is fight-fight-fight-cutscene-boss-repeat.

Cam’s Eye View: Any Kickstarter-funded games you are looking forward to?

Rose Portal Games: I'm actually really looking forward to Power Drive 2000, a futuristic racing game. I normally don't enjoy racing games, but this one looks really awesome. It hasn't been funded yet, though... As for already funded games, I'd like to see Echoes of Eternea completed. One day, haha.