Interview: Justin Cuff (The Meridian Shard RPG)

JustinCuff-Working on The Meridian Shard

As quoted from the Kickstarter page, The Meridian Shard RPG is “a satirical adventure RPG with unforgettable characters steeped in a supernatural tale of courage, sacrifice, secrets, and shenanigans.”

The Meridian Shard is obviously inspired by some classic games that you’ve stumbled across in your life. Are there any in particular that helped drive the creation of this RPG?

Absolutely. I think it’s impossible to create anything ‘new,’ as we will always be influenced by some past experience(s). For me it all began with the early Ultima series on C64 and then the lighter, but charmingly addictive grinder, Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior in the West) on NES.

Are there perhaps some other forms of media that also helped inspire you to make this game?

Yes. I was and still am a big fan of the Choose-your-own-adventure youth book series that were very popular when I was a lad. Not all of the stories were great, but the fact that you had the option to alter the reader experience with a few simple choices has always stuck with me. This has probably been one of the most important influence on me, as The Meridian Shard is built around similar player-choices, but without the multiple alternate endings. The game world is known as The Queen’s Realm, which is an alternate universe in the first book of a fantasy/sci-fi series that I began writing a few years ago and published in 2012, called Ultimate Fantasy – The Queen’s Realm.

“it can be quite terrifying to be wandering through a dark cave and suddenly get fang-banged by a whole team of krotch snakes”

Sometimes RPG’s of this sort can be a bit intimidating and the unfamiliarity with the style can make games difficult to play. Is The Meridian Shard easy to approach?

skeletonTMSIn every way possible, yes. I am very pleased to be making an RPG that is player-friendly, meaning that it has been streamlined and simplified to maximize the player’s time actually experiencing the story and characters as opposed to reading through a guide and investing time instead into trying to figure out where they are on a map, or what button combinations they have to master. This in no way means that my game is ‘easy.’ It just means that the level of difficulty is based rather on your choices throughout your journey, instead of how good you are at understanding maps, or how many/how big the enemies are. This is why a lot of the experience points you’ll earn in The Meridian Shard will come from interacting with other characters, and not just from winning confrontations.

What are you doing to make sure that the player’s actions and choices have meaning and make the game more of a personal experience?

I have created completely different outcomes for nearly every event and conversation, so that you, the player, can have the reward of ownership over the majority of your interactions within the game. For instance, you may meet a character in the story and have three choices of dialogue, and then at the bottom is an option to simply assassinate them and take their belongings. Of course, with every action, there is a reaction. So choose wisely! In regards to creating a more personal experience, as a writer first, I realize that you can’t make a game be just like a book, or a movie, or a great play. But what you can do is try to create the situations in your game that will lend themselves to laughter, sadness, excitement etc., and allow the player to make decisions. It really is a delicate recipe, because you can’t have it all at once and if you focus on just humor or fear for example, then that game becomes limited to just one emotional experience overall.

“…with every action, there is a reaction.”

Entrane to Hydra Ranges

I think that the idea of having so many things optional, such as the hud and even party members, helps boost the customization of the player’s personal experience. What led you to the decision to implement that into the game?

Frustration. I love all games, but I’ve also had my limits tested when it comes to feeling frustrated with forced situations. You can’t possibly make everything an option, otherwise your game will likely derail in more ways than one. However, if I can’t choose my own party members and I can’t get rid of them when I want to, and I can’t turn the darn hud off, I start getting punchy, and then I fantasize about the many ways I would murder those party members if only I could. Did I mention you can assassinate party members in The Meridian Shard? Well, depending on where and when in the game you are, you can!

“…if I can’t choose my own party members and I can’t get rid of them when I want to, and I can’t turn the darn hud off, I start getting punchy, and then I fantasize about the many ways I would murder those party members if only I could. Did I mention you can assassinate party members in The Meridian Shard?”

Many classic RPG’s can be difficult to navigate and being honest, sometimes I get lost with what I’m doing. What are you doing to prevent people like me from getting lost?

Simple maps with varying game paths that don’t lead to endlessly open areas. I enjoy different things about all games, even the bad ones, and I love classic RPG maps hanging on my wall, but I don’t personally stay too interested in some role-playing games if I’m spending any of that time playing ‘where in the world is Justin?’ Of course, that is a broad statement referring only to the games that have you googling and visiting forums to proceed in, and some people actually enjoy that type of challenge. But The Meridian Shard is all about keeping you engaged in the game and experiencing a story, not feeling confused and frustrated. Life is tough enough. Why rub your nose in it? How immersive is that?

Is there a randomization of the rewards you’ve put in the game? Or will players find what they need when they need it? Or both?

It is a little of both. There are some rewards placed where they will benefit you most, but some of the chests and sacks you may come across have randomized content. For places like dungeons or deep caves, the treasure contents will remain the same since it is unlikely that anyone has traveled these areas in a long time.treasure

Judging by the Kickstarter backer rewards, you really want to make the community happy. You’re even offering to immortalize someone by making them a character in the game. Pretty good stuff. So, I guess you believe in video game communities, huh?

Yes! I believe in community, period. I think of the Kickstarter campaign as a wonderful opportunity to not only possibly find some financial help to finish developing my game, but to attract like-minded players to come and be a part of a bigger picture. I am a big supporter of other indie developers, writers, artists, programmers and composers, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because of the inherent rewards that come with expanding your circles. I want to support my players just as much as my fellow creatives. That’s why I’ve started The Meridian Shard Steam Group to bring indie developers, freelancers and players together on the same forum. The feedback and support is invaluable. It’s all about supporting each other to achieve making better games and finding players who will enjoy them.

“I am a big supporter of other indie developers, writers, artists, programmers and composers”

If everything goes as planned, when do you think this game will be available?

There are two paths that I have set-out for myself. If the Kickstarter campaign, which ends on Sunday, February 16th 2014, succeeds in raising the modest $6500, then I will be able to afford some of the final costs and work full-time towards reaching the beta-testing phase by late autumn this year. Otherwise, I’ll just have to take on other work outside of development to cover those costs, which will then take me away from the game during the week. In that case, I would hope to be able to have it ready sometime later into 2015. Either way, Kickstarter has been a great tool for connecting with potential players around the world.

Seriously, what is a krotch snake?

The funniest part about that question is that you are actually the very first person to ask it. Krotch snakes are formidable predators in The Queen’s Realm. What makes them so deadly is not their venom, as it is only a mild toxin to humans, but the fact that they attack in groups. No other snakes do this, and it can be quite terrifying to be wandering through a dark cave and suddenly get fang-banged by a whole team of krotch snakes.

UFSiconThe Meridian Shard RPG is being developed by Ultimate Fantasy Studios which resides in Campbell River, British Columbia. There is currently a Kickstarter campaign for the project that you can contribute to by going here, or you can click the image to the right to visit their page.

Author: Darkrast

Co-Founder of Dpad Press.

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