Citizens of Space Interview: Eden Industries Talks Inspiration, Partnership with Sega, & Sequel Ideas - ArticleEvan Norris , posted on 02 July 2019 / 3,531 Views
Last month, Sega and developer Eden Industries launched Citizens of Space on PC and consoles. The sequel to Citizens of Earth, Citizens of Space is a science-fiction turn-based role-playing game with provocative character designs, a large collection of recruitable everyday heroes, and some snappy mini-game combat.
To celebrate the game's launch, Ryan Vandendyck, founder of Eden Industries, was kind enough to answer my questions about the evolution of the series, Eden's publishing relationship with Sega, the game's signature art style, and where the Citizens franchise goes from here.
Q: The release of Citizens of Space suggests that its predecessor Citizens of Earth was a financial success. Can you share sales figures for the game? If not, can you talk about the business decision to launch a sequel?
Ryan Vandendyck (RV): I don't have comprehensive sales figures actually – Atlus (now Sega, after the acquisition) has all of those. But the game was financially successful enough to make them interested in a sequel at least! As I'm sure lots of readers of VGChartz know from how massively some games seem to sell and how minorly others do, it can be a really daunting prospect to carve out enough of the middle-ground where you’re able to survive in a niche even without having a massive runaway success. But, fortunately, Citizens of Earth was one such game! One of the most surprising things about the sales of Citizens of Earth was how long they persisted after launch. A lot of games have most of the sales around the launch of the game and then the sales drop off a lot after that. But Citizens of Earth sold better than expected over the course of years, and I think that was probably one of the main factors in making Atlus/Sega decide that a sequel could be a good idea.
Although one other thing to note is there was probably, at least on our end, more passion to make a sequel than business sense. By which I mean there are probably things we could've done that would've had a better shot at financial success (such as anything besides an RPG with 40+ hours of content!), but for better or worse we love RPGs so much that we just had to revisit the world of Citizens of Earth and make something even better!
Q: Speaking of Citizens of Earth, what were the most important lessons learned from the development of that game? How did those lessons texture the production of Citizens of Space?
RV: I think the biggest lesson learned from the development of Citizens of Earth was just wrapping our heads around the extent of what was involved in making such a big RPG. A lot of the team had made games previously, but never with so much content made by such a small team. The last game I personally made before quitting to make my own games full time was Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for 3DS, which was a great game. But even though working on a game like that prepared me for making games in general, it didn't necessarily prepare me for tackling the unknown of a big RPG.
And if you think about how many characters Citizens of Earth had (each Citizen even having their own battle abilities and their own Talent to utilize outside of battle) and how many environments there were, that game was a logistical nightmare in terms of arranging for all of the content to be made, especially to ensure it was on-time, on-budget, and of high quality. So, the knowledge of how to better prepare the landscape of the content for Citizens of Space in advance was hugely beneficial and made the production of a lot of things far better than it was on Citizens of Earth.
Now, having said that, I think there are still lessons to be learned from Citizens of Space to apply to the next game. We’re definitely closer to where we want to be after Citizens of Space, but I think we overshot the mark a bit in terms of how we adapted from Citizens of Earth. But the third time's the charm as they say, so I think the production of our next game will really be fantastic. And while this isn't a "lesson" per se, we all learned massively from working on Citizens of Earth just in terms of developing our own skill set and expertise. If you look at the art style of Citizens of Earth compared with Citizens of Space, for example, Citizens of Space retains the same vibe and style of Citizens of Earth but the quality is phenomenally better. So even beyond tangible lessons, we’ve been learning a ton that informs our skill and expertise for our future games.
Q: One of the most enticing parts of Citizens of Space is its large roster of collectible characters. It often feels like a spiritual successor to Suikoden, in that players can recruit many personalities to the Earth ambassador's cause. Was Suikoden an inspiration? What other games or mechanics inspired you?
RV: Being thought of as a spiritual successor to Suikoden is a pretty great compliment! And yes, in fact, Suikoden was one of the primary games whose focus on collecting a large roster of characters influenced the development of Citizens of Earth. The other one was Pokémon, especially utilizing the idea of the main character not participating directly in battle. And of course, we carried these same designs into Citizens of Space as well. Citizens of Space also has a very interactive battle system with a huge variety of minigames that can be played during battle to pump up your abilities.
We were inspired by many games with similar mechanics, most notably the variety of Mario-related RPG games (Super Mario RPG, the Paper Mario series, and the Mario and Luigi series) but a large collection of other games did inform pieces of the battle system, even if it was a single minigame, such as Bishi Bashi, Shadow Hearts, Elite Beat Agents, WarioWare, and many more!
One of the main goals for Citizens of Space was to take the core elements of Citizens of Earth that made it what it was and combine it with a new setting and a revamped battle system. So, in a way, if you imagine what it’d be like if Citizens of Earth and Paper Mario had a space-age baby, you’d basically be looking at Citizens of Space! But of course, to carry the analogy through, the influence of the grandparents (Suikoden and Pokémon) can still be felt in the heart of the game as well!
Q: Each character in the game is brought to life thanks to some very creative sci-fi designs and artwork. How important is the look of each citizen to the game's identity?
RV: The design of the Citizens is paramount to the game's identity, quite possibly more than any other artistic element! Each of the characters in the game was brought to life by the game's art director, Robin Carpenter, whose brain seems to resonate so strongly with the essence of the Citizens series that almost every character in the game is unchanged from the first rough designs. A few (like the Botanist and Astronomer) did have some revision (and you can see their old designs if you utilize the Curator's Talent from within the game!), but most of the designs elicited huge smiles and laughter from the first time anyone saw them, so we knew they were special!
Actually, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Way back when we were early in the development of Citizens of Earth (so this would've been late 2012), the intention for the Citizens was to have them intentionally generic in their appearance, befitting the idea that the heroes of that game were akin to the NPCs in any other game. However, Robin’s designs for the Citizens were so striking and lovable that the whole design of the game shifted to celebrate the fantastic uniqueness in their otherwise intentionally everyday professions. So, I’d say without question the look of the Citizens is crucial to the game’s identity – so much so, in fact, that it totally shifted the entire direction of the series!
Q: Citizens of Space doesn't shy away from commenting on modern politics, whether it's bureaucratic inefficiencies or the loquaciousness of politicians. The game even features a balding blowhard who looks conspicuously like US President Donald Trump. In an era of extreme partisanship, how do you navigate political satire?
RV: It's a bit funny actually because we’re based in Canada, where the political landscape is far gentler (though it has its own quirks too of course), so I think our blissful ignorance of the more caustic elements of political partisanship that exist elsewhere allows us to see the humor of it more readily than those embroiled in it. However, we do think there’s a lot to poke fun at in politics across the political spectrum and in all of the areas that political influence touches. And I think that’s sort of the key for us – we're not satirizing a political party, or a political ideology, or anything like that.
Rather, we're poking fun at the entire construct of politics and all of the bizarre, head-scratching elements that fall out of it. And while it may be true that one of the characters in the game bears some resemblance to President Trump, I hope people can see that the humor is all in good fun. After all, whether you like his policies or not, I think everyone can agree that President Trump is a pretty funny guy (whether you’re laughing at him or with him may depend on your political leanings, but nevertheless!) and thus is an effective caricature for the sake of comedy!
Q: How important has your relationship with Atlus and Sega been to the success and publicity of your work?
RV: It’s probably fair to say that without the involvement of Atlus and Sega, the Citizens series wouldn’t even exist, let alone have had any degree of success and publicity. Like any relationship, there have been ups and downs, but they believed in the series very early on and have supported it through funding for the games, marketing, and leveraging their brand, and so of course for that, we’re very grateful for our relationship. For both our sake and for theirs, I hope Citizens of Space is wonderfully successful, and it’d be fantastic to continue our relationship into more games in the future too, both in the Citizens series and beyond. So, we’ll see what happens!
Q: We've seen Citizens of Earth and Citizens of Space. Is another sequel on the horizon? Citizens of the Multiverse, maybe?
RV: Great question! I think we've accidentally fallen in love with the Citizens series as much as any of the most diehard fans of the games. So I’d be thrilled with making a Citizens game every few years for the rest of my life! Assuming, that is, that we have enough ideas. Luckily right now we do have several!
Actually, astute players may find a clue or two in Citizens of Space about what we have planned for the next game in the series…it's not Citizens of the Multiverse, but I kind of like that! Perhaps that’ll have to be game #4 in the series (with a Special Thanks credit to you if we do!). As to whether there will be another sequel developed, well like I said we'd sure love for it to happen. So hopefully this one sells well enough to get Sega back on board for the next one!
I'd like to thank Ryan Vandendyck of Eden Industries for his time and insight into the production of the Citizens series, and Zack Reese at Sega of America for arranging the interview. You can read more about Citizens of Space at the Sega website and the Eden Industries Twitter page.