RPGamer Feature - Steven Universe: Save the Light Interview
Steven Universe: Save the Light
Platform: PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Grumpyface Studios
Publisher: Cartoon Network
Release Date: Fall 2017

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Cartoon Network's Steven Universe has won fans at RPGamer thanks to its RPG-inspired scenarios, earnest characters, and memorable songs. In 2015, Grumpyface Studios brought the show to Android and iOS with the short-and-sweet Attack the Light; Save the Light, the sequel, is a full-sized release for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Ever since Chris Privitere played the demo at E3, we've been curious to know more.

Fortunately, Chris Graham, founder and Creative Direactor of Grumpyface Studios, was happy to answer a few questions about Save the Light's mechanics and the nature of working on licensed properties.

Zach Welhouse (RPGamer): First off, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Who are you and what do you do at Grumpyface Studios?
Chris Graham: Hi! My name is Chris Graham and I'm the founder and Creative Director here at Grumpyface!

ZW: What's it like working with the Cartoon Network team on a game based on a television series? What is the design process like compared to a game with original characters?
CI: One of the greatest joys of working on Attack the Light and now Save the Light has been collaborating with [showrunner] Rebecca Sugar and the Steven Universe crew, who've always amazed us with their incredible talent and generosity. We also work closely with our friends and producers at CN Games in Atlanta, so it's essentially a lot of talented and passionate people coming together to make these games happen. That's an aspect of working on this type of project that we really value.

Games based on a TV series tend to get a bad rap, but the creative challenges that come with it can be really exciting. It's a different experience than working with your own characters. You can step into a world that's already fully realized and mine your favorite elements to focus on and explore, and we're also very excited by the opportunity to reimagine some things from our own lens or put forward our own interpretation. We try to approach that with care and stay true to the voice of the show (and always with the blessing of the creators), but it's a very rewarding and unique aspect of working on an established property.

Not to mention that we have SO much love and respect for this show in particular! Being huge Steven fans ourselves makes the job so easy and exciting.

ZW: In Polygon's article on Save the Light, you explain one of your conditions for creating Attack the Light was it had to be an RPG. What made Steven Universe uniquely suited to be an RPG rather than, say, a visual novel or an open world rhythm-brawler with a cooking minigame?
CG: Steven Universe is bursting at the seams with potential for adaptation into all sorts of genres and styles, and I want to play every game you listed! Speaking strictly for our team, RPG was always at the top of our list and luckily this ended up being the case for Rebecca too! When we first screened the show's pilot back in 2013, right before entering pre-production on Attack the Light, our immediate reaction was a desire to see what other adventures Steven and the Crystal Gems might go on — we wanted to experience more of their world, and also see all these great characters working together.

Another big take-away was the show's core themes of family, inclusiveness, and emotional support. Those elements really resonated and we knew could translate nicely into an RPG adventure. The final motivating factor was our background of loving RPGs growing up, as did Rebecca, and also thinking it was the type of game that Steven himself might want to play most!

ZW: What RPGs influenced the design of Save the Light? Any non-RPGs?
CG: Our biggest goal was to approach a Steven Universe RPG in a way that'd be accessible to newcomers of the genre while also retaining the gameplay depth classic gamers appreciate. Marrying those aspects together conjured up memories of Mario RPG and Paper Mario — which felt perfect for Steven Universe right away, especially considering the many Nintendo design influences in the show itself.

Save the Light's battle system features many unique and fresh elements that mix things up, including a new take on merging turn-based and active-time components, though we did incorporate interactive battle elements that will be quite familiar to fans of the Paper Mario games.

As for non-RPGs, I think we try to take a little bit of influence from everything — both games we enjoyed growing up, as well as everything the team's playing currently and throughout development.

ZW: There will be eight playable characters in Save the Light, including fan-favorite Greg Universe (as well as non-Greg characters Steven, Connie, Pearl, Garnet, Peridot, and Amethyst). Since you're working with a series where even the side characters have devoted fans (Kevin excluded), what was process for deciding which characters would be playable?
CG: It was a multi-faceted approach: which characters lend themselves to interesting gameplay and mechanics, which characters would the fan community get the most hyped about, and of course our own favoritism came into play a bit too (such as with Greg, who was chosen immediately because he's one of our faves!)

For the new characters this time around we really wanted to ensure they brought unique strategies and playstyles that felt fresh and very different from anything we did in the first game. Greg uses his music in battle as a bard would — players can switch between songs on the fly without spending resource points, and each song has a different effect or bonus that persist in real-time — unless Greg is damaged, causing his jamming to be interrupted!

Another exciting aspect of Save the Light is the party customization. Players can, at any time, choose or swap which three characters they want to accompany Steven, creating a lot of variety in strategy, synergy opportunity with abilities, and even changes to the dialogue and story sequences throughout the game!

ZW: Music is an instrumental part of Steven Universe. What sort of jams can a fans of pulse-pounding boss battle music expect in Save the Light?
CG: We love the music of Steven Universe! It's brilliant, and so perfectly suited for an RPG.

There's a few musical surprises in STL that we're super excited for people to experience. One fun tidbit: when Greg plays his guitar or Steven uses his ukulele in battle, it actually changes the background battle music!

ZW: How long is Save the Light? The optional quests and exploration elements make it seem like it will be substantially longer than Attack the Light.
CG: Save the Light will take approximately 10-15 hours to complete, possibly more for players wanting to achieve 100%. The game tracks the completion of both the main adventure and also secret areas and secret loot — and there's a lot to seek out if you're going for that 100%! STL also features character upgrade trees the player can tinker with or re-roll to experiment with new setups, a simple crafting system, and even multiple endings!

ZW: The Save the Light demo suggests characters build relationships between one another during combat by healing and assisting one another. When their relationship bar fills, which is impacted by their Teamwork stats, they can fuse into a new character for the combat. Do character relationships have any other impact on gameplay? I noticed Steven had dialogue options that appealed to different party members.
CG: There's both in-battle and out-of-battle elements to the relationship system in Save the Light. As you mention, we were very interested in having this system react to the ways the characters might support one another in battle. If Connie saves Greg from an enemy, or when Steven heals an ally, these things improve relationships between those pairings and ultimately lead to activating team attacks or fusions. This feature adds some interesting new tactics that require the player to think about combat in a different way.

Outside of battle, players can make dialogue selections to influence relationships and generate extra bonuses like XP rewards. When the player makes choices that result in the characters supporting each other or improving their moods, this contributes to the same relationship meter that carries into battle. There's even items that can be gifted between characters, as well as badges and upgrades that can improve their relationships and unlock those fusions!

Speaking of fusions, we're really excited about what they bring to the game. Each fusion is treated as an entirely new character in battle with multiple abilities and their own benefits and vulnerabilities. Rather than being a traditional "summon ability" that is unleashed in a fleeting manner, fusions actually remain in your party throughout a battle and can synergize with the rest of your team. Players will see many of their favorites from Stevonnie to Opal and Sardonyx, and more! And they all play differently.

ZW: Is there anything else I should be asking that you're waiting to reveal?
CG: There's a lot of other surprises in store with Save the Light. At San Diego Comic-Con we just announced Squaridot, a new villainous Peridot Gem making her debut in the game! There's also much more to be revealed about the game's story and how it all ties into the lore of SU, including another important mystery character. We can't wait to see the fan reactions to what's coming up!

RPGamer would like to thank Chris Graham for setting aside time to answer our questions about Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl... and Steven! Steven Universe: Save the Light will be available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in fall 2017.

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