By Operation Rainfall Contributor / April 18th, 2016
Last week the internet exploded with excitement when the announcement of a new Fear Effect sequel titled Fear Effect Sedna, which is set to take place four years after the original game. Sushee Games is the studio behind this Square Enix Collective sponsored Kickstarter and potential reboot. But who is this French developer and where did they come from? We reached out to Benjamin Anseaume, CEO of the studio and Game Director on Sedna, to ask some questions and allow fans (that have waited 15 years for a new entry in the series) to see if the franchise is in good hands.
What games other than Fear Effect 1 + 2 are you using as inspiration for Sedna?
It’s always difficult to answer this question because as soon as you give one title, everyone think you’ll make a copycat of this game. We really want to create a new experience, blending several influences, but [by] first respecting the franchise.
When we were making our pitch to Square Enix, several games came in our minds, Shadowrun, but the Lara Croft and series, too, and for several aspects, the X-Com franchise, or indies like Frozen Synapse. I even replayed Advance Wars, and some Fire Emblem episodes to get inspiration 🙂
But at the end, I’m 100% sure our game will be unique; we want to make it an unforgettable experience for fans, but for a new audience, too.
We learnt that Kickstarter is a difficult experience for game studios. No matter if your campaign goes well or not, it’s always very difficult to provide a full vision of a game in just one page, with one or two videos. But seeing a community’s birth, getting the first feedback, and observing the support of people trusting you-it’s magic. So I would say that this campaign, just like the one for Goetia, is both stressful and satisfactory.
Along with the ‘fear gauge’ that the series is known for, you’re adding a stress mechanic as well. Can you explain how that will work?
It’s going to be very important in our gameplay, and we’re totally confident that this feature fits perfectly in the franchise. The idea is that the stress will influence the fight proceedings. Not only in a bad way, it’ll be up to the players to play with their characters stressed, or to do things more slowly. Under stress, thanks to the adrenaline, the character may be more powerful but less precise or stealthy. Some skills will require to be above or under a certain amount of stress. Finally, stress will be earned and lost with certain events in the game (for example an explosion near the team will raise their stress) or [certain] actions, items or skills.
Your team is relatively new; do you see picking up the license for Fear Effect as a chance to show the game scene what Sushee Games can do?
We’re new in the indie scene, but we’ve [been] making games for 4 years. We made several big advergames for Redbull and KFC for example. We’ve earned experience this past 4 years. Our first game, Goetia, is [being] published by Square Enix Collective, and we’re really proud of that. It has been released this week and the first reviews are excellent.
So, you’re right, we’re pretty new in the indie scene but we have a skilled team and I’m totally sure we have the capacity and experience to tolerate the pressure related to an old and awaited series, and [to] make an awesome game. And at the end, we’ll have a chance to be recognized [but] only if we make a great game. So as soon as the players gave us their support, via Kickstarter, it’s up to us and I know we won’t disappoint 🙂
Did you find it difficult trying to mimic the now famous cell-shaded style of the original games?
We had the chance to meet an incredible fan of Fear Effect [who’s] famous in the community, Manuel, who’s working for us now. Te tried so hard to mimic, but also modernize, the style of Fear Effect during the past 10 years that I think he’s the best person to create a modern artistic vision of the franchise. We’re lucky we met him, and he’s French, just like us, so it’s a sign 🙂 I’m very happy with the artistic part of our pitch, and we had several questions about the story or the gameplay, but only compliments about our character design.
Have you always been a fan of the Fear Effect series? What drew your team to pitching an idea?
I played the game on my PS1, 15 years ago, and I loved it, especially the first one. I loved 2 things: [first] the cel-shaded design. As big fan of JRPG and Japanese games (especially back then), it was awesome to see a western game with a beautiful anime-inspired design. And second, Hana. [She] was, for me, the most iconic female protagonist in video game. Much more than Lara Croft, who was, at that time, not as strong and charismatic than she is today.
So when we saw the Collective’s initiative, I immediately knew I wanted to make a project in this universe. To be honest, we made our own investigations to figure out if the fan-base still exists; we quickly saw [that] it was the case. But we also decided to make a Kickstarter campaign to understand how much another – different – episode in this franchise, was awaited.
Lucie is listed as the writer for Sedna. She wrote and provided the voice for the main character in your previous game Goetia. However, prior to this most of her credits are more businesslike in nature (project manager, communications). How has she found the process of writing for video games?
Lucie is not an employee of Sushee, but we’ve [been] working [with her] since the very beginning of Goetia‘s development, so I totally consider [that] she’s part of the team. She’s incredibly skilled in writing, and it’s clearly a talent, as Goetia was her first experience. I don’t know if you played Goetia, but if you did, you certainly noticed how the text is well-written, how the characters are sort of alive. [It doesn’t] matter if they’re male, female, old, young, poor or rich: Lucie knows exactly how to give voices to them. I totally admire her for that, and we are very happy to work with her on Sedna, too. [Along] with John Zuur Platten, writer of Fear Effect 1, it’s clearly a dream team 🙂
Some of the commenters for the Kickstarter are asking for a physical release tier for Sedna. Will you be making something like a collector’s edition for the campaign? If so, how much do you see that costing?
Following our Goetia‘s campaign, we realized how hard it is to make physical reward. Especially when you are in Europe, where it’s very expensive to send rewards to the US. The physical tier seems a bit expensive to some backers, but they have to understand that less money will be used for the game development than with the Digital Collector Pack. When we create rewards we want to have top quality goods, we received the artbooks for Goetia; they are incredible, real books, magnifying the arts, but they are extremely expensive too. [It’s the] same [with] the T-Shirts, etc…
So with virtual rewards, you can definitely use more funds for the game development; that’s why there are more virtual than physical rewards in our campaign, but we really want to use the funds to improve the game as much as we can.
About a physical version of the game, it’s even more difficult, because we don’t plan to make a DRM-free version of the game currently, and a physical version would force us to add our own DRM. It’d require a lot of work and would not improve the game.
The only thing we can hope is that we’ll reach the console goal, and maybe, if the game is a huge success, Square Enix will decide to make a physical game, just like they did with Life is Strange. We never know.
You directly address many backers and potential backers’ concerns with regards to Hana and Rain’s relationship. You state in the FAQ that “Hana & Rain are in relationship, and there is no doubt about this! The only thing that we will be careful about is not to over-sexualise [sic] this love relationship.” How does your team handle the various comments from both angles of this argument (pro vs against over-sexualization) when creating your game?
That’s one of the main point we discussed internally before pitching. At Sushee, we want to be really careful not to exclude anyone of our game, and that include female gamers, of course. We really want all players, boys or girls, to feel comfortable with the game. That being said, we know that we’re working on a franchise with sexy material. Our choice is to make smart [choices]; we don’t want to hide Hana and Rain’s relationship, because it is beautiful. [It’s] probably one of the most beautiful and sincere love stories in video games, but we don’t want to use it to sell more games.
The art we showed in the campaign page are all part of our story, and will be contextualized. The hard thing is that a KS page is so short, the reader doesn’t have this context, so some players thought we were just displaying this pictures to get more backers. That’s absolutely not the case, and I personally think that, especially the artwork with Rain and Hana in their loft, shows more [complexity] than sexuality. We really want to be balanced and smart about this topic, and if we’re not, in one direction or another, we’re counting on the backers to let us know.
Sushee Games has a history of making advergames (for Red Bull and Oasis fruit drinks) and your original mission statement was ‘to fully develop appealing HTML5 and mobile games for your targeted audiences. Sushee can provide outsourcing solutions for your game projects.’ That part of your history has now been scrubbed online and I had to do some digging to uncover this information. Do you feel the studio has evolved over time from its past projects? And do you think your experiences have any impact on the development of Sedna?
As I said before, we’re totally comfortable with our previous advergames, and when I decided to make video games with the company I created, I knew it wouldn’t be a straightforward route. During three years we worked on projects for clients, not as ambitious and certainly not as appealing as Goetia and Fear Effect. It allowed us to build the awesome team we have today, while paying everyone, and to work on our first game [and] minimizing our risks. Today I can say that Sushee is a pretty solid indie game studio, and that’s something I’m very proud of. Furthermore, we didn’t build our team while making websites, or mobile applications, but we made real video games, and so we developed our skills and understanding of this industry. I’m definitely proud of this part of Sushee’s history, and we couldn’t be where we are without this past three years. But today, with Goetia‘s release and Fear Effect project, it’s clearly another chapter we’re writing and more interesting for my team. So obviously we’re enjoying every moment.
What was the atmosphere at the studio when your pitch to Square Enix was approved?
What you have to understand is that we submitted our pitch one year ago, and didn’t stop discussions with Square Enix Collective until then. We were working hard on Goetia, so it may have been a long wait for players, but for us, the timing was perfect. And we had the time to make several versions of our pitch, it is now waaaaaaaay better than it was 1 year ago!
When Phil, project manager of Collective, told us that our pitch was selected, we were both excited and really focused, because we had a lot to do before the Kickstarter launch.
The crazy day was Thursday April. 7, where we announced the game, the reactions on Twitter and the buzz was so big, it was incredible for us to see that. And as we thought the series was still in player’s memories.
Did you find it difficult to introduce a new character among the beloved two female leads, Deke, and Glas? What’s this Axel like? How does he react with the others? How does he fit into the Fear Effect universe?
Not really, just because the story we want to tell needs this new character. We will see, when the game will be released, how players react, But we worked a lot on his background and I’m confident that Axel [will be’ recognized as a real character of the franchise. Like any other character in Fear Effect, Axel will have his own motivations, not all good, and maybe not what they seemed to be at the beginning. I can’t tell more without spoiling [anything], but he will be very important in the story, and will have a special relationship both with Hana and Rain. He’s not all white, all black, like all the main characters in this franchise.
Axel is French, and it’s important because everyone know that Hana is half-Chinese, half-french, and there’s a reason for that. But no one know the french part of Hana’s story, and we will work on this with John Zuur Platten.
You mention that Sedna will be a sequel to Fear Effect 1 but that the cancelled Fear Effect Inferno is a completely separate game. Were you given access to the planned story of Inferno when you obtained the IP to make sure you weren’t repeating any of its tale?
We really want Sedna to be part of the Fear Effect “mythology”, that’s why, for us, it is clearly a sequel. And we know how much Inferno is important for fans, event if it was cancelled. So it was important for us to do as if it existed.
Gamers who played Fear Effect 1 & 2 know that the end is the same, in general things goes well, even if characters had hard times during the game, so we assume it’s the same for Inferno. The only thing players have to know, the major difference, is that Hana is freed from the Triad. This is what was supposed to happen at the end of Inferno.
In term of assets, we didn’t get much. And by the way Square Enix didn’t provide the build, we found it by ourselves, speaking with former Kronos member.
Do you think players unfamiliar with the Fear Effect franchise would be able to pick up and play Sedna and still able to understand the story and have fun? If not, what would you suggest they do to get acquainted?
It is our goal to revive the franchise, and to enlarge the audience to new players. Players who were 5 to 10 years old back then are now 20-25; we’d like to convince them that the story, the characters are still good, maybe even better. That’s one of the reason we chose to change the gameplay.
That apart, if they want to give a try to the 2 first episodes, they should! They are still excellent games, not in today’s standard in terms of difficulty and manageability, but the story remains strong and deep, even today.
If this Kickstarter goes as planned, do you plan on continuing your relationship with Square Enix Collective?
Of course! You know, working with the Collective team is an incredible experience. For me they have all the advantages of a big publisher, in terms of marketing, aura, and communication. But being a small team, they are also responsive, easy to join, ultra-motivated, so that’s really perfect for indie teams like us.
No matter what happens later, they’re part of Sushee’s history now, and we’re very proud of that. We’d love to work with them as long as they want it!
Can you explain why you went over to an isometric view as opposed to the 3rd person fixed camera angles from the original games? What do you think this new perspective will add to the series?
We saw an interview from John [Zuur Platten] recently, with a French journalist, and he was saying that one of the main reasons they chose this gameplay is that it perfectly fit with the story they wanted to tell. That’s exactly the same for us. In Sedna, we want to focus on team work, to show how these very different people work and fight together. It’s neither a default choice nor a budget question, what we show in the campaign is really the game we want to create. And if both Square Enix, and at least 3 of the former members of Kronos (John Zuur Platten, Matt Furniss and Ted Warnock: who are all supporting us) believe in our concept, I think we can’t be making a mistake. But now it’s up to the players to tell us!
A lot of the game will include elements from Inuit mythology. What inspired you to make this choice? How do you feel it will fit into the Fear Effect universe?
We didn’t feel comfortable by making another episode with Asian mythology, after all
Hana killed the God of Hell himself. moreover, we wanted to show that Hana may be traveling for job purposes. Finally, Hong-Kong and the Kowloon district is largely bound to Stanley Liu’s involvement in the game, so it was another to say: “Sedna is a new chapter in Hana and Rain’s life, but it’s not made by the same team”.
Furthermore, we did a lot of research about Inuit mythology and we really think that it’s perfectly suitable for a Fear Effect game, as it is at the same time violent, dark, and fair. [This is] a representation of our world, just like Chinese hell allegory was for the first episodes.
It’s clear that Sushee Games is passionate about the series and they feel confident that they can give the Fear Effect franchise a proper sequel. A game that works with the world and characters that so many fans hold true to their hearts. It’s up to those fans now to make their own choice: support Fear Effect Sedna or leave the franchise as is.
How do you feel about Fear Effect Sedna and Sushee Games? Let us know in the comments below.
Special thanks to staff writer Leif Conti-Groome for research assistance.
Fear Effectfear effect sednaoprainfallsedaSquare EnixSushee games