Monster Breeding, Pokémon, and Nostalgia – Monster Crown Interview

monster crown

Monster Crown is not the typical addition to the monster-collecting genre of games. Unlike games such as Pokémon, lead developer Jason Walsh is proud to share that Monster Crown will be a unique experience based on an involved breeding system that rivals Persona’s popular combining system. I got the chance to talk with the game’s developer about his excitement for players to experience the game and its abundant features, ahead of their Kickstarter that just launched today.

Can you describe your history with RPGs, specifically the monster-collecting genre of games (whether it’s other games you’ve made or your favorite RPGs)?

When I was eight years old, Pokémon had just debuted in North America. I remember waking up each morning and seeing it on TV before I went off to school. I think the first episode I ever saw was the one with Clefairy on Mt. Moon (sorry for the spoiler, those of you that haven’t kept up on Pokémon since 98’). Instantly I wanted the Gameboy games and got Blue Version.

I played Blue Version to the ends of the earth and back. It fascinated me, I dreamt about the games regularly. It was fantastic. Shortly after I moved onto the second generation, and then I started branching out. I distinctly remember picking up Dragon Quest Monsters 2: Cobi’s Journey and spending most of sixth grade playing it. I was always fascinated by the monster taming genre, I connected with it instantly. Those worlds hold so much mystery.

As for my own games, this is the only RPG I’ve ever developed.

What’s your “elevator pitch” for Monster Crown?

Great question. Imagine if breeding your favorite monsters created combinations that went beyond the surface-level? Imagine if every fiber of the monster’s being was made up of the generations that came before it? When you create a monster in Monster Crown, it’s a new species. The move-set, learn-set, appearance, stats, etc. are all a true, hybrid combination – and you get to name it.

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And then you get to journey with them across a dark world filled to the brim with content.

Since it is likely this game will be compared to popular games in the genre, how would you say this game sets itself apart from those games in the public eye?

Of course, the monster taming genre is an old one. It stretches way back, through Dragon Quest Monsters, Pokémon, all the way back to Shin Megami Tensei.

I’m definitely not afraid to say those games have been a huge inspiration to me. They’ve shaped who I am today and played a huge role in my childhood. Monster Crown, from the start, was meant to pay tribute to this fantastic genre, but it evolved into a project that intrigues us on a different level.

Certain things, static worlds, strictly defined species, limitations – those are all things we’re asking ourselves – does it have to be this way? We’ve found unique ways to subvert so many expectations.

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The breeding system is a great example, those hybrids. But you’ll see that approach of “Why not?” crawling into our online battle system, how we approach continuing bringing new content totally free long after release, etc.

To give you a specific example, the world of Monster Crown is large. Even places in the mountains, the deep forests that lie beyond the reach of normal gameplay, they exist, they’ve been modelled. That was necessary for us to truly believe the world. We approach all mechanics this way.

The earlier Pokémon games have a much more open form of progression from one area to the next, while the later Pokémon games have more tutorials and more linear areas. Does the progression through Monster Crown’s story more closely reflect the earlier or later Pokémon titles? What are the challenges that come with designing a game world that players will want to explore?

The world of Monster Crown is wide open. You’ll learn through the story what town to head to next or what your goal is. You’ll never have to wonder “what you should I do now?”.

However, you’re free to ignore it. You’re free to get in over your head against strong, vicious monsters that you aren’t prepared for yet. You’re free to see if you can navigate the distant reaches of the land.

About 25% of the way in the world really opens up, allowing you to play the rest of the game in whatever order you wish. There’s also a big decision that will drastically change the ending of the game, so there’s a lot of choice available for players.

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Designing the world with knowledge that an ambitious player may find themselves in locations early is an interesting challenge! Personally, I was always the type of gamer that would be a bit of a punk and buck the natural order of the progression. So, in a way I feel like I’m trying to anticipate myself!

Much like in real life, there are dangerous places, and there are more easy-going places. The real limit becomes how strong the monsters you fight are. The appeal of exploration is to discover more lore, story, but most of all more Monsters. It sort of comes with the territory that while going off the beaten path you might find the absolute coolest monsters, however, they’ll never consider joining you if you aren’t strong enough.

In that way you have to worry about being unable to reap the benefits of your exploration, and also that your entire team will get wiped out in a moment.

No doubt there will be those that go to all sorts of effort to level up and become powerful long before the story demands it. Those players will definitely be able to gather the fruits of their labor early – there’s no broken bridge!

What made you want to focus on the cross-breeding of monster collecting, and how did you make the mechanic that much more different than other games?

I’ve always been a completionist. Pokémon, Dragon Quest Monsters, I want to complete the quest, then I want to explore dangerous areas and really complete my collection of rare and intimidating beasts.

Unfortunately, as I got older I got pretty good at succeeding. And you know, when I finally got them all I sort of felt sad. The journey was over! There were no more mysterious beasts to learn of and then capture.

So, I set out to find a game that would offer me a huge, HUGE number of monsters to collect. As a kid I always wondered why true crossbreeds didn’t exist in monster games, so the initial concept really grew from those wants. If I found a game that answered all those questions, I’d probably be logging my 2000th hour in it right now instead of standing here!

As I mentioned, breeding and fusion are really in-depth. Say you have two champion monsters that you’ve brought through the game with you. They’re very powerful and are both the result of a few generations of breeding and fusion. If you go online, or show your friends, they won’t know how you made it, where it came from, etc. They’ll want an egg, they’ll want to add it to their collection. I can definitely see very talented players becoming mini-celebrities in our community, everyone waiting to see what unique new species they create next.

Previously, the game was known as Crowns, what sparked the name change?

Crowns was a name that I thought of very early on. The monsters in Monster Crown all vie to be the best; they want to be the alpha. The story is also wrapped around a few power-hungry characters all seeking to become king. Crowns felt like a great fit.

People asked me over and over, “Why Crowns?” They thought it might be a medieval game, maybe like Civilization. If you searched online you’d find the TV Show, The Crown. It really was time for a name change.

So many people knew us as Crowns though, so we didn’t want to leave that behind. Monster Crown evolved quite naturally from there!

How difficult was the process of creating concepts and then the final designs for the variety of monsters? Are all designs final or is it still an evolving process? Where do you draw inspiration from for your monster designs?

Designing monsters is pretty tough! The original monsters I made within the first month of starting the project – Laz, Primigon, Pursuit, they came out pretty easily as I thought up a dark world. Everyone carries ideas with them, concepts they like.

Once you work through those though – things get hard!

I had never been an artist, just a programmer, so I was learning pixel art specifically for Monster Crown. If you’ve ever decided to “learn art” like I did, after no history of it, you can find a world of difference between your good and bad days. I’d make many throwaway designs before finally having a “good day” where I made two or three I really loved.

To this day I still have good days and bad days – Saturday mornings when the caffeine hits are starting to feel like the best days. I spend a lot more time now meditating on concepts for a week or so before I touch pencil to paper, so I usually find the design I’m looking for within two or three stabs at it.

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Shad, my team-mate and champ monster designer has also brought a wealth of incredible monsters to the project. We both draw inspiration from real life animals first, then myths and legends, and then other media.

All designs that have made it into our weekly Monster of the Week are final and will appear in game as you know them. We may redo the sprites if we feel they could benefit from a different pose, but the designs won’t change.

Are there monsters that you are particularly fond of? Are there any areas you’re excited about players exploring?

I’m so proud of so many of our monsters – especially Shad’s designs. A few of my favorites are Thallox, Tanukrook, Guallop, Epheal and Igrawn.

I’m really looking forward to hearing how people respond to a certain underwater path that connects two cities, how they enjoy exploring the Duchess’s Secret Garden – which contains a tribute to some of our most devoted fans – and finally, I’m most excited to see how everyone reacts to a certain post-game area that is shrouded in mystery. I’ve actually been biting my nails about that one since I wrote the first line of code! Finding that area will be one of the defining moments of Monster Crown and how you remember your experience with it.

Will there be monsters that are more rare and desired than others? If so, how did you go about designing and designating these monsters as such?

Absolutely. In Monster Crown you’ll be able to get monsters through so many different methods. There’ll be gifts, ones you win in battle, monsters tucked away in the farthest reaches of the land and unique monsters that come about through using an item on your monster.

As you can see in the trailer, one such item is the Atomic Clock, it ages Dracoyle into a much older dragon. There’ll be a single ancient Dracoyle to find, hidden away in a secret location, or, you could track down the elusive Atomic Clock and age your own Dracoyle.

The rarest type of monster is a gift from a Mirage Beast. Mirage Beasts are very rare themselves, and seemingly wander into the game’s world from beyond. They are hundreds of feet high and cannot be tamed. However, if you encounter one and prove to it that you are a very powerful Tamer, they will entrust you with a special Egg. When it hatches, you’ll have an incredibly rare monster with distinctive powers.

We design hundreds of monsters that fit into the world in various ways. Once every few months we find ourselves with something truly special. Those are the monsters that you’ll have the most fun tracking down in Monster Crown.

What inspired the Gameboy-esque art style? Why did your team decide to go with this style?

I grew up with a Game Boy in my hands most of the time! I loved monster sprites, especially the dark and dangerous looking ones. Low res pixel art, when done right has, this grit and detail to it that speaks to a larger, mysterious world.

I struck out to chase that, and my teammate Shad can channel it even better than I. If we couldn’t achieve the specific look I had in mind, we would’ve ceased development after just a few months.

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Higher color depth, higher resolution, actual hand drawn art – all of that is very cool stuff. So many beautiful games out there use those mediums, but for me, this was always going to be the game 10-year-old me dreamed of, and pixel monsters is what I’ve always been about!

How would you describe the game’s battle mechanics? Would you say this is a game for newcomers to the monster-collecting genre?

Great question. We knew we were onto something with the breeding system and the world – people seemed to really enjoy imagining what life was like in that universe, and they enjoyed imagining what new crossbreed they’d encounter next.

But we knew that if we couldn’t put a new spin on the monster RPG battle system, we wouldn’t be doing the idea justice. I actually thought a lot about how in games like Pokémon or Final Fantasy you may have a party member that is ideal for the foe at hand but isn’t on the field, so you swap to it.

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But what is swapping? How does that work in-universe? Do they clap hands and tag out like in wrestling? Obviously if your opponent is willing to let you take time to switch that works, but when fighting wild monsters that only care to tear you apart, things aren’t that simple.

So, what if a tamer could choreograph and train their monsters so excellently that they could seamlessly swap in a real-life battle? That tamer would be a true master, and his team would have amazing synergy as they all hit the same wavelength and resonated.

Monster Crown’s battle system is all about building that synergy and being a true master of your beasts. You build up stock as you swap monsters and unleash it when you finally attack. Depending on how much energy you’ve built you get various buffs, increased damage, and the chance to inflict status effects.

We also have in-battle transformations, like what you saw in the trailer with Dracoyle. Juveneel is another monster that will be affected by the Atomic Clock. Your opponent might see your small Dracoyle and Juveneel and underestimate you – however, when you activate the atomic clock they may realize that they are the ones cornered!

I do think this game will also be great for newcomers. At its core the monster RPG battle system is simple to use. Advanced tactics like building up synergy and mid-battle transformations are entirely optional. If you’d rather keep things simple and spend time grinding like in the old school titles, that’s absolutely your choice to make.

Given Unity’s support for Nintendo Switch, how likely is it that Monster Crown will release on the platform? What are the hurdles you’ll need to overcome to accomplish this?

Unity’s wide platform support was definitely something I considered right from the start. I’m a Nintendo lover, and a Linux lover so the ability to port the game to various devices and operating systems was really important to me.

I will say right now that I am absolutely targeting the Switch. The idea of playing our game on a Nintendo system? That blows my mind completely. I think at heart I still am that 10-year-old holding his Gameboy, so it almost seems unbelievable!

In preparation I’ve registered as a Nintendo developer, and I’ve spoken with a few other devs that have ported to the Switch. Ultimately, it’s up to Nintendo and if they’ll have us. That being said, I’m not above applying and re-applying every two business days until they say yes or block my me!

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I have a really crappy phone. It’s the most basic model they had. I’ve been making builds for android and getting things up and running at a level of quality I’m happy with. It hasn’t been easy and has required a lot of optimization already. My hope is that now that I can run Monster Crown smoothly on my old phone, porting to the Switch will be a breeze!

I feel like the Karate Kid. I’m not at the big tournament yet but I’m practicing the crane technique constantly.

Is there any message you would like to give to fans of this genre and those that are anticipating Monster Crown’s release?

If you’ve grown up with monster-taming/-catching/-breeding games and want to test your skill, your expectations and even see how far your imagination can take you, check out Monster Crown.

We’ve designed every system in the game to give you options – are you the meticulous breeder that wants control? Or are you the speedster that will fuse two powerful monsters and move forward with the story? Either way you’ll find your groove here.

And if you play all the way to the end? Well you might just have some of your assumptions about this genre changed in a surprising way.


You can support Monster Crown on Kickstarter by following this link.

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