Crafting nature: The Deer God

The life of a deer doesn’t sound easy. All these hunters want to kill you and make you into a steak, and you’ve got this god that isn’t exactly clear on what he’s into and what he isn’t. He will give you some sweet fire powers though.

Then, because your life as a deer is constantly on the verge of peril, you have to mate so that, if you’ve been good enough, you can be reincarnated as your offspring and return to this oppressive world.

All I’m saying is that I’d be happy with coming back as a rabbit or maybe a cat. If I’m looking for deer-related thrills, I’ll play Josh Presseisen’s new game The Deer God on Kickstarter. He’s already halfway to his $26,000 goal and has 16 days left on the campaign.

We asked him how he’s making his game about being a deer and he had a lot of answers.

152 Crafting nature: The Deer God

BitPulse: Looking at your Kickstarter page and the pitch video it’s very apparent there’s an appreciation for nature and animals. Where does that come from?

Josh Presseisen, founder and creative director: I spent a good deal of my youth in the forest, building forts, camping, adventuring with friends – I believe that the love of nature stems from this time in my life.

It looks like you’re drawing from Celtic mythology and the god Cernunnos, who is known as The Stag Lord, and the idea that white stag were messengers from the otherworld. The game is also about being chased, which seems to borrow from Hungarian mythology, where hunters chasing a white stag symbolized life and seeking new experiences and happiness. Can you elaborate on why and how you’re putting these things into the game?

Presseisen: The idea of the gameplay mechanics actually originate from me wanting to do something with reincarnation and karma in a game – the idea of The Deer God in the sense of the game is actually not taken from the mythology, but from the idea of an animal god which possesses power in the animal kingdom. This god reigned influence over its people – an ancient race of intelligent deer that lived on this earth a long time ago.

You said the game is inspired by things you loved when growing up: “Being outside in the woods, building forts, seeing deer standing motionless in the forest and chasing after them.” The idea of making a game about childhood curiosity strikes me as something very Miyamoto-esque. I’m curious if this is something you feel is lost in a lot of games now or, at least, why you think childhood memories are valuable when it comes to making games.

Presseisen: Taking inner inspiration from these things certainly helps to build a game like this, where you are relying on creativity and artfulness that has to come (at least partially) from inside. There are things in the natural world that inspired this game of course. One thing I keep going back to is a park that I visited as a child that is such a grand place of inspiration – Thacher Park in Upstate New York. Beautiful, naturally carved rock faces, waterfalls, hidden pathways, all kinds of wildlife and dark secrets flow through this place.

I’ve always found the idea of reincarnation in games fascinating because most games, without realizing it, end up addressing it in some way through respawns and lives. In The Deer God, you’re directly addressing it with the ability to have checkpoints by mating and creating offspring. First, can you explain exactly how the checkpoint system works and then, talk about why you chose to do it this way.

Presseisen: This was one of those ideas that sort of popped into my head when thinking about how you could do a game based on the lives of a deer. In the game, if you die, you will become one of your offspring. If you do not have any offspring, then you have to start over. Its sort of an ‘interactive’ checkpoint system. Where the checkpoints are actually alive and active. You will want to protect them as they follow you up to a certain point.

153 Crafting nature: The Deer God

The game has a karma system where if you do enough bad things you can be reincarnated as something weak and forced to start the game over again. Will there be a sort of push and pull of you trying to figure out what the deer god likes and dislikes or how are you going to communicate that to the player?

Presseisen: The progression of the game will be partially dictated by how you are punished. If you do things that injure others of your race, or harmless animals – this will bring punishment from the deer god, but also access to these destructive powers. I wanted the game to allow people to play however they wanted – be it evil (I liken that to stealing from friendly NPC’s in The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim) or good, as in helping out or befriending other creatures. This will make for a very interesting mix of gameplay.

You will learn offensive powers throughout the game depending on your karmic standing. Can you give any examples of a good power and a bad power?

Presseisen: A destructive power – for example, is fire. If fire is used offensively in the game, it is considered on the dark side of karma, where as defensive powers will be on the light side.

Why did you choose to include combat in the game?

Presseisen: I think combat is a part of life – even for a deer – and I did want to stay true to that. You must fight to survive throughout the game.

The game will have co-op. How will that work?

Presseisen: Another player will be allowed to join your game which is in progress, so you would essentially be helping each other survive. This is the first idea we have thought of – although we are considering other modes of multiplayer as well.

Evan Gipson is doing the music for the game. Did you give him any kind of direction for the soundtrack? What was it? If not, how is he going about making the music for it?

Presseisen: Evan’s music is well suited for the atmosphere of a game like this. He also did the music for Mines of Mars, which was a dark atmospheric game as well. I did give him some direction as to the particular style – to set it apart from the Mines of Marssoundtrack – its a bit more ‘free flowing’ and ambient.

The game’s pixel art is stunning, which I’d bet is nice to have for a Kickstarter campaign. How did you come up with the game’s art style and why did you choose to go 3D?

Presseisen: I had really wanted to do something different with pixel art – which I really enjoy. I wanted to see how it would be possible to make a 2.5d game with pixel art, and the first thing that came to mind was doing it with 3d chunks. Basically I take pixel art that I have created, then extrude it in 3d with 3d studio max. Then I put these pieces together in Unity3d (the game engine that I use) and it creates a wonderful mix of pixel art and depth, which comes from the lighting and natural parallax you get from the 3d elements.

154 Crafting nature: The Deer God

Browsing the website, it seems like you’ve only made iOS games before The Deer God, which will be available on PC, Mac, and Linux. What’s it like going from developing for hardware that is mostly the same, to hardware that can vary wildly and lacks its own unified ecosystem (except maybe something like Steam, but even that isn’t a guarantee)? I assume Unity helps a lot with this too.

Presseisen: We actually did release Ravensword on Steam – an open world RPG (almost like a mini Skyrim) and it was an interesting learning experience to see the expectations of PC users. Its definitely different than developing games for mobile, as people expect certain things built in that they do not on mobile. Just like mobile though – it has its own set of nuances. The Unity engine does do a great job of allowing your game to be cross platform with a bit of work. We are tailoring the game at first to the PC, then we intend to bring it to other platforms.

The game is in pre-alpha which is further along than a lot of Kickstarter games we see. How long have you been working on the game?

Presseisen: A few months – although we did suffer a pretty big setback before the Kickstarter started. We lost the programmer, who was too busy on other projects to continue with The Deer God. I had to search around for quite awhile with The Deer Godon hold until I found someone who could handle the task. The story is quite funny actually. I was going to attempt to do some programming myself using tools available on the Unity asset store, and I sort of gave up (programming is just not my thing) but the tools I was using seemed to be great, and a way for artists to develop prototypes themselves. I contacted the company (Cinopt Studios) and asked them if they would help me out. Turns out Kyle from Cinopt is now programming The Deer God!

Is the team located in a central place or have you been developing the game from different locations?

Presseisen: Different locations. Every single person in this team is in a different place! All of the communications are via Skype or email.

Crescent Moon Games publishes games too. How do you balance development and publishing with a six person team?

Presseisen: Crescent Moon Games is actually just me, I have no full-time employees. I do use contractors here and there when needed. It is quite a job balancing development and publishing (it just means I work a lot) I really do enjoy both sides of the industry though – never a dull moment here.

When I write this, you’re halfway funded. How are you feeling about the campaign so far? Have you encountered anything you weren’t expecting?

Presseisen: Really wasn’t sure what to expect. It seems like we are on track to get funded, and we’d even love to hit the stretch goals. If not, the progress will continue, just not as fast as it has been during the Kickstarter. I have to say – one great thing about Kickstarter is it really intensifies development. I have been working hard to keep the backers and potential pledgers interested while the campaign is running. We’ve been Greenlit on Steam as well – and I have to say that is probably partly to do with the Kickstarter.