[romance video games]Laxidaze Dev Discusses Mass Effect and Pokemon Influences, Inclusivity, and Romance
Laxidaze is a new game from Machine Elf Studios that is ambitious and very unique, and Game Rant spoke to Andrew Vigueras about it.
By Andrea Trama
Published Jun 19, 2021
Andrew Vigueras and Michael Riera of Machine Elf Studios have been close friends for years now, and they bonded over video games in their childhood, only to end up developing their own now. Their work is inspired by many of those titles they played years back, and Laxidaze does shine its own light in a way that makes it rather unique and also very inclusive. Game Rant spoke to Vigueras about the influences on their work, how important to them it was to have an expansive story and world that meet the monster-taming archetype of game, how romance pans out in Laxidaze, and much more.
Romance is quite important in Laxidaze, and it allows players to befriend and start relationships with their teammates through branching dialogue options, and it is inspired both by Mass Effect and Persona. The game’s combat system also has plenty of options, including a little something that sort of transforms the real-time aspect of it almost into turn-based actions, empowering Laxidaze with strategic depth. The Kickstarter campaign has now ended, and it gathered over $93,000 out of the desired initial goal of $25,000. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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GR: How does the character creation process pan out in Laxidaze?
That’s an awesome question. So, at least for the character creation, each player will be able to create their own Hunter that they’ll play the game as, and it won’t really ask you if you’re male or female or anything like that. It will just allow you to choose a preferred body type, so there would be maybe a feminine body type, a masculine body type, and then just a neutral body type and whatnot. Then, you just choose your preferred pronoun to be referred to, and then you just put your name in. At least in that regard, we wanted to make it inclusive because many games focus too much on the female-male aspect of things. We didn’t really want to muddle with that.
In terms of physical looks, we haven’t decided if we want body sculpting to allow players to create whichever body type they want, or like set body types that you can choose from. In terms of resources that would be easier for us to do, but I’m not sure we have the resources right now. In terms of what people can wear, every item of clothing would be customizable, and there are two types of clothing: casual and Hunter clothing. Casual clothing is what you would wear in Hammocks City hanging out with friends, or something like that. Hunter outfits would be more armor or specialized outfits, and you won’t be restricted to where you can wear either of them.
If you want to wear your armor in a diner you’re free to do that, or if you want to go in a dungeon with a t-shirt and shorts you’re free to do that. Roleplaying is really important to the game, so we want people to get in the role that they want to play the game as, whichever role they could think of. You can change your outfit whenever you want, even the color too because some people don’t like certain colors with outfits, and you can change them. It won’t be hard for us from a developing standpoint.
GR: Can you customize Nanims too?
So far we do have one customizable Nanim, Kapoki. Kapoki likes to wear a little poncho over its neck, so you can swap it for a t-shirt, a necklace or anything. We don’t know if we can promise all of them will be customizable, but there are certain Nanims who prefer to wear things. One of the Nanims we have is a giant, who is a monstrous creature and wouldn’t want to wear anything. But a smaller Nanim like a dog or something could have a collar on it. Right now, Kapoki is able to switch in and out of its poncho for a t-shirt or the like. So, we’re definitely thinking of a level of customization for Nanims, but depending on how much we have it’s going to be hard to promise for all of them.
GR: What about Cascadia? Is it inspired by Miami, where you guys are from?
It takes place on the Pacific coast of the United States, in the Pacific Northwest, around like Oregon, Washington, and then Vancouver. The thing is, we chose Cascadia ’cause we like the general location and the nature surrounding it, but the general look of it will change considering it’s going to take place 1000 years in the future. A lot of different things have happened in that time, plus some Nanims, especially the legendary ones, can create their own sort of weather systems, like storms.
This in itself can change the landscape. You were right because a lot of the look is inspired by Miami since me and my friend, the developers, grew up there. You will see palm trees, which aren’t native to Cascadia, but considering there is a lake in the game that isn’t near Cascadia that was man-made, which has weird natural phenomena surrounding it. This in turn would allow for the lake to have different climates, like tropical climates or desert climates, glaciers, and such.
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GR: What about dialogue options and social simulation aspects? Do players have some form of agency over what happens in the story?
That’s an awesome question! If you’re familiar with the series Mass Effect, well, we are super big fans of Mass Effect and loved how the dialogue system and character interaction have always worked in the games. We are pretty much trying to mirror that aspect of it, the whole dialogue system and choices. Now, we don’t know if we’ll be able to do huge choices, switching the entire ending of the game and such, but for smaller side missions we definitely want to include a lot of that. I guess character agency regarding dialogue choices.
One of the missions we have right now is to infiltrate a huge factory, and there’s a speech check at the beginning of the factory that will allow you to forego any combat you would have to do if your speech is high enough because we’ve always enjoyed that kind of interaction in RPGs where your actual speech stat or your stand allow you to avoid certain interactions or have a better outcome with them. New Vegas does that pretty nicely, for example.
GR: Speaking of dialogue, especially since you brought up Mass Effect, how does romance work in Laxidaze? Can you walk me through a possible scenario of the sort?
Yeah, sure. In regards to romance, we’re sort of taking cues from the Persona series, specifically Persona 5. Each of your Hunter teammates that you can recruit in the game will have their social level that the higher it goes the more likely they are to enjoy your company, like you, or do missions with you and such. A lot of the characters that you can recruit will be romanceable, and the more you interact with them, sometimes they like gifts you can give them. Like, if you do some research to a certain level they will tell you if they like roses or they like this sort of book, which you can go buy and then give it to them to increase their level. You can the Hunters on a mission, and just being with them will passively increase their social link, and leveling them up will increase their social link, leveling up their armor will increase it.
As long as you’re doing something with them, with this teammate, if you have a specific teammate that you really like and take them everywhere and stuff, they will just passively get more accustomed to you. Teammates will have their own attitudes and personalities. Some of your dialogue choices they might not entirely enjoy, and if you make a poor dialogue choice and your teammate is going to hate it, their friendship level might go a little down.
So, in regards to romance, there’s a threshold that if you get high enough the romance threshold will be hit, and you’ll be able to ask them directly if they would be interested in romance, and the answer will usually be a yes if you get them to that threshold. At that point, we haven’t really planned out exactly how intense we want to go with romance, but it is high on our list because we do really like that aspect of Persona and Mass Effect where you can get really close to your characters and form bonds with them.
GR: Since you can romance teammates and Hunters, can you romance regular NPCs too?
Certain NPCs, yes. There are two types of NPCs you can recruit, Hunters and normal people that don’t really have powers and can’t fight with you. A lot of those normal NPCs will hang around your community, the one that you’re building for your island. We won’t be able to make every NPC fully fleshed out, but there will be a couple that will have their own personalities and such. A lot of those will be romanceable, so yeah, most Hunters and those special NPCs will definitely be romanceable. We just don’t know how in-depth we’ll be able to take it.
GR: There’s something similar to Fallout I noticed, which is the Tactical Mode you have in Laxidaze. How does it work? Can it be activated at any given time? Are there requirements?
So, the Tactical Mode in the game is similar to that, but probably more similar to the new Final Fantasy 7 remake’s combat system, and that’s pretty much where I’ve got the idea from. In Tactical Mode you can pause everything and think. So, in the game your combat is ability-based and you have your weapon that allows you to do basic attacks and a couple of combos with it. Then you have your four abilities, three normal abilities and then one ultimate. Those abilities you can all use if you charge up your Nano-meter, which charges if you get some basic attacks in and if you get hit yourself, and even if you wait in the battle it will charge up. As long as you have one Nano-meter or a couple of it you can use your abilities or click the Tactical Mode at any moment.
Like, no matter what the moment is, you can click that and it will pause time completely, and it will bring up your abilities for you, your health or your summons. It will give you a screen that will pretty much tell you “What do you want to do next? Do you want to use an ability? Do you want to summon summons? Do you want to heal up? Do you want to switch to another character?.” And wherever you click, if it’s an ability, depending on what ability it is, if it’s a ranged one, if it’s self one, it’ll do that ability right on the spot on whoever you’re aiming at. So, if you’re aiming and you’re doing a ranged ability and you’re aiming at one character, it will let you choose who you want to do use that ability on from the surrounding characters. Also summoning, you can click the Tactical Mode and summon directly from that or you can summon in real-time if you’d like.
It’s pretty much a way to bridge the gap between turn-based combat and real-time since I know a lot of people who are Pokemon or Persona fans like turn-based combat more and I guess they don’t really like real-time combat as much because they like to take things slow. So, this was a way to give those people breathing room to play the game and be comfortable with it, so they don’t have to get over the real-time combat and can choose what to do next.
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GR: How do you feel about the Kickstarter campaign?
I think it’s going pretty well so far. Starting it off, we really did not know how much we’d be able to make. We didn’t want to promise too much to ourselves or set the bar too high because we were afraid we wouldn’t hit it. So, we set the goal to around 25000 dollars thinking it was all we could get, but since we were able to hit that goal pretty quickly we’re sort of blown away by how many people are interested in this game. We’re really appreciative of it because it’s honestly awesome. Our plans for Kickstarter were to gauge the community and stuff to see just how many people were really interested in Laxidaze.
Right now we’re on seventy [thousand dollars], and it’s a really great amount of money because already it made Kickstarter upgrade all of our hard assets that were pretty lacking. We’re looking for funding elsewhere, like publishers, a publisher kind of deal. The more funds that we can get, the more the systems in Laxidaze can be fully fleshed out, and make the game bigger as a whole. In terms of the Kickstarter, I’m feeling pretty good about it, honestly because I didn’t even think we would hit 50 [thousand dollars], but the fact that we’re already at 70 [thousand dollars] is kind of insane.
GR: You and Michael basically grew up together, but which were the video games that fostered your friendship? Are they part of the influences for Laxidaze?
That’s an awesome question! I and Michael met in fourth grade, so pretty much even before stuff like Call of Duty came out, Halo and stuff. Back then we were fans of first-person shooters, roleplaying games and, though we never really got into too many RPGs until Mass Effect came out and that changed our view of what an RPG can be. Mass Effect [games] are a huge inspiration for Laxidaze, and that was our favorite trilogy in regards to RPGs for the longest time. We are taking so much inspiration from it that we are glad the Legendary Edition came out right now since it seems that people who have never played it are liking it so they’re getting more into the idea of expansive social-simulating RPGs out there. There aren’t a lot of them.
The only ones I can think of right now are Persona, Dragon Age, the Mass Effect?series, but nothing with monster taming. Another game we were big fans of as kids was Pokemon, but Pokemon never really had a story or role-playing elements to it. It was just more collecting monsters and battling them and so, growing up, we thought that mixing those two ideas would be incredible. Having a Pokemon-like game where it also has the expansive story and world of Mass Effect and Persona. So, to answer your question, those games we grew up with 100% inspired us, the likes of Pokemon, Persona, and Mass Effect were the ones we grew up with and have been huge fans of since we were kids.
GR: Yeah, it’s really cool that Laxidaze does this. Pokemon games are always fun, always incredible to play even 25 years later, but they never really evolved and they never had a profound, compelling story.
Exactly what you said, 100%. They stagnated and didn’t mature with their audience. Everyone who loved them as kids evolved over time and the games that they have been playing have evolved, so they kind of expected Pokemon to evolve, at least a little bit. It’s a little disappointing to see that they didn’t.
GR: We spoke earlier about the Hunters, but how many Hunter classes are there? Which one is your favorite?
So, in terms of numbers, I don’t know how many numbers. We have the Protean, which is just a jack of all trades, which is the main character’s Hunter class, and we made it so that players could choose whatever the heck they wanted to do. They can be good at anything, so if they [the players] like they can specialize in one Hunter class. The next class is the Nanomancer, which is a sort of mage Hunter that uses nanobytes for its powerful spells, like shoot lightning out of its fingers and such, more of an AoE damager. The next Hunter class would be the Engineer, which is very tech-focused. It’s going to set traps on the battlefield, it’s going to summon drones to shoot out and scout, it’ll probably have grenades and stuff that have different abilities.
The next Hunter class is a Phantom, which is stealth-focused, I would say, and single-target damage-focused. Pretty much going invisible and looking at the strongest enemies on the field and taking them out, since they know they can do that to one person at least. Then the next Hunter class is the Panzer, which is more like a tank-support kind of hybrid that still does a lot of damage, but is mostly there to take the aggro from the weaker?teammates or Nanims. The Beast Master class specializes in befriending and training Nanims. Since Beast Masters focus on their bond with their Nanims, they benefit from more summon charges, more summon slots, and special perks to Nanims, with extra buffs per Nanim summoned, easier time recruiting, etc. Nanim Master armor and weapons are focused on supporting their Nanim summons.
As for what my favorite class is, I would probably say the Panzer since it’s a good support class. I typically play support characters in games because I really enjoy having complete control over the battlefield and always being in the front lines of battle. There’s just something satisfying about shrugging off tons of damage while simultaneously dealing tons of damage. It’s also really nice being able to help out your teammates and support classes typically do that best!
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GR: Is there any sort of reward for collecting all the Nanims in the game, like completing the Pokedex in Pokemon games, for example?
You know, I didn’t really think about that, but that’s a really good idea. That would be a really cool thing to implement. I wouldn’t know what kind of reward to give, but yeah, if you can collect and recruit all the Hunters and Nanims there definitely should be a huge reward, since it’s a hard thing to do. I would love to put something like that in there, thank you for the idea!
GR: How many Nanims are in the game?
Base, we had a plan for around 30, 30+, but we just hit the Kickstarter stretch goal to add 10 more Nanims, so right now we’re thinking 40+, like 45-50. We don’t really want to promise too much because we want to make our Nanims a lot more interactive than some other monster taming games where you can’t really do much with them. But at least with our Nanims, we would like to give them some unique abilities, unique animations.
It just costs a large amount of money and it takes development time away from it so we wouldn’t be able to promise 150 or something like Pokemon, since at least a lot of these Nanims you can ride do various things with them, but at the very least we’re thinking 40+ now. Then, if we’re hitting another stretch goal, I think that’s the 100000 dollars stretch goal, that’s 10 more, but then we would probably add 20 with that stretch goal because we could manage it.
GR: How many of these Nanims are legendary?
Well, for now, we have a legendary tier and a mystical tier, kind of like Pokemon, and the mystical tier are the rarer ones. For mysticals we’re planning on around 3 right now, and for legendaries, we are planning anywhere from 5 to 10. The thing would be, with mystical Nanims there’s so little of them because each of them has its own dungeon that you have to go to, and that dungeon is catered to them. Once you beat it, you have the chance of befriending them. So, the legendary Nanims are less powerful than the mystical ones, but there will be something like 10 of them. This will give people more of an idea of the power levels on them.
GR: So, there are dungeons too, what else is there in terms of endgame content?
Dungeons are pretty much our way to have combat, exploration, and such. Each dungeon will basically be repeatable and you can go, like in Monster Hunter, repeatedly in these areas and explore them further. The way the Nanims will spawn in the game is dictated by the dungeon itself, like this dungeon or certain area will have a chance to spawn these Nanims there. If you’re somebody who likes to catch every single Nanim, then you’re going to be heading to these dungeons quite frequently, which can have some in-game replayability. There is also the Cascadia Hunter League, which is sort of like the Pokemon League in which you have to rise up in the ranks and do tournaments that eventually declare you the best.
A lot of that will be post-game content since it will be cured towards the harder side of battles. So, after you beat the game, and you got the team that you want, and your Hunter teams and your Nanims, you’ll be taken to Hunters that are around your level as well in the Cascadia Hunter League. All these matches are scheduled in tournament styles so if you face this person and you beat them you go up in rank and face this other person and if you beat them then you go up in the rank until it’s just you and one other Hunter who’s at the top. We’re saving that for a lot of the endgame content that will be more focused on just battling.
GR: Like the Hunter classes, is there a favorite Nanim of yours?
We don’t have a lot of them right now, but I think the one I like the most is Landskipper because it’s a massive whale creature that is very very friendly. I typically like giant, very powerful creatures that are more friendly than me.
GR: When are you planning on releasing the game, give or take?
So, it depends if what we have raised right now would just stay there, then our roadmap would pretty much stay the same. We want to have a playable alpha coming out next fall so that people can get a good taste of what the game has to offer, and it will help us solve any combat issues, anybody thinks something’s not fun we can fix it. In terms of the main game coming out, we’re thinking fall 2023 so it’ll give us two years to iron everything out and use the funding we got to update all of our assets, get some voice acting, and stuff like that.
Hopefully, we’ll get more funding via a publisher. Right now we can pretty much say 2023 for the full game release, but next year the alpha release. Probably a beta too because they are super useful to get community feedback on certain things and mechanics, so I think that could happen.
GR: Is there anything you want to add that I didn’t ask with my previous questions?
I guess if anybody has any idea how to make the game better we’d love to hear that. Actually, we got a comment on YouTube about making the game more inclusive for people who are non-neurotypical, like people with autism, Asperger’s, and stuff like that. That kind of comment helps us out a lot. There’s just some stuff that flies over our heads or that we don’t really think about when we try to make the game more inclusive, so if anyone has any other ideas and any kind of suggestion about inclusivity that we can add into the game we’d love to hear it, honestly. That’s really important to us.
Laxidaze is in development and will release in 2023.
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