Headquartered in Lille, France indie game development group Too Kind Studio has announced their first title on Kickstarter named, Pankapu: The Dreamkeeper. The game draws inspiration from the mythologies and culture of the Lakota, a group of indigenous people in North America, and is focused on delivering the narrative in a style similar to children’s bed-time stories. With a couple weeks left remaining in their campaign, the project has managed to raise more than $30,000 of their $44,130 goal, to help fund the release of the first chapter.
Players fight against the forces of nightmare as the guardian of hopes and dreams, Pankapu. Gamers will have the chance to master three unique Aegis forms of Pankapu, in order to successfully overcome the obstacles presented by the vivid dream worlds encountered in this action/platformer title. While this traditional narrative is nothing new in terms of storytelling, Too Kind Studio hopes to add a bit more robustness to the story with the inclusion of their main character, a young child named Djaha’Rell. His father is the one telling him this fantastical story to try and lull the boy to sleep one night. However, those who follow closely may quickly discover that not everything is as it seems, and Djaha’Rell’s tragic past may slowly come to light through the “imagined” adventure of Pankapu. Jimmy Kalhart of Too Kind Studio sat down with us to discuss a bit more about how this project started, and explain some of the reasoning behind certain design choices.
Jesse Tannous: Your team has worked on games like Drakerz, Wakfu, and the MMO Ryzom. In what capacity did you work on these games, and how have those experiences prepared you for the creation of Pankapu?
Jimmy Kalhart: I personally worked on the 3 games. I was level designer on Ryzom, level designer and storyteller on Wakfu, and I assisted the producer on Drakerz. I met the 2 other co-founders during those past experiences. Jérôme was FX designer and digital painter on Wakfu and Jérémie was developer on Drakerz.
Jérôme and I worked for several years on a universe of our own (code name TEOC), based on fantasy and magic (we’re both real fans of Square Enix games, especially the Final Fantasy series). The idea grew and in late 2013 we decided to become independent in order to make our own games based on TEOC. As we lacked some technical skills, Jérémie joined the team some time later. Now we’re 3 complementary profiles and we’re able to produce the games we want.
In our past experiences we worked on big online games, with large teams (we came to more than 50 people working at the same time on Wakfu). It was really exciting, but it was also a little bit exhausting. To tell the truth, when I was student, I dreamt of working on an MMORPG game. It was my absolute objective and I thought it would take years for me to get there. Ironically, my first two jobs were on MMORPGs… It was really interesting and pleasant, but it was also kind of heavy and stressful. Working on online games means a lot more confines because of all the players discovering the world at the same time. The narration and level design are more limited and it’s a little bit frustrating as a creative. It’s the reason why, when the time came for us to work on our own project, we decided to come back the good old school offline games like the ones we had when we were children.
Anyway, beyond the fact that the games are different, these experiences taught us teamwork and some of the traps of creating video games. Of course we still have a lot to learn, and if there’s only one thing that we have to remember, it’s that in the video game industry nothing is fixed. You can’t really know what will work or not unless your audience tells you it’s ok. So the playtest phase is really important, and the earlier you start the playtest, the more you’ll be able to adjust your game to the public you want to reach.
JT: You’ve stated that Pankapu was at least partially inspired by the Lakota people. What about Lakota culture inspired this game? How will that be reflected in the final piece?
JK: The Lakota inspiration came for us by chance, at the beginning it was not a purpose at all. I was working on a scenario and I wanted a boss to be a trickster archetype (inspired by familiar characters like the Joker or Kefka from FFVI). I had no idea for a name or a background, I just wanted to have a trickster (one of my storyteller OCD). So I looked for inspiration on the internet, and I found a reference about a Lakota spirit: Iktomi, the spider-trickster.
I didn’t know about the Lakota culture at that time and I have to say I really liked the way this character was portrayed. So we decided to base our own character on this mythic spirit, and with time, he evolved and it is now one of our main characters: Iketomi, the Hymn of Dreams. As we discovered the Lakota culture, it totally spoke to us. As it’s not a mainstream mythological reference as Greek or Nordic, Lakota is original and seems more mystic to us. So now, when we need some inspiration for names, characters or concepts, we take a look at the Lakota to find some ideas. We totally fell in love with this culture.
JT: You took part in the Square Enix Collective program not too long ago. What were the results of your campaign? What main factors do you think contributed to that result?
JK: The Square Enix Collective was a real good opportunity to make Pankapu known by the public, especially in North America (as we’re French it’s a little bit more difficult for us to reach the US market). The feedback was very interesting and useful. During this time, we had one of our best comments ever: a dad saying that his daughter said she wanted to make video games while seeing our Collective page. It was quite touching and it made us feel proud.
As result, we had 92% of “Yes” votes, raising us to the 4th best score of the site. We were so proud. It seems that the thing that worked the best were the graphics. The fact that we answered every comment on the page may also have played a role in that result. After a few months of discussions (SE Collective was quite busy at the moment we ended our campaign) they finally decided to support us for the phase 2 of their program.
The first step consisted of a Skype interview with one of their production team members in order for them to fully understand the project, and gauge if the team could handle the production of the game. After this interview, they wrote a Team Assessment with the positive and negative points that they felt about the project. That helped us to realize the risks and challenges of the project and focus on what was needed. After this step, Square Enix Collective decided to help us with the Kickstarter campaign. This support was primary to give us advice on how to create the page, and then to communicate through their own channels during the campaign itself. It was really helpful (and it continues as the KS campaign is not over yet!)
JT: The current plan seems to be that Pankapu will be released in episodes with season passes potentially available. This seems like an odd choice for this particular type of offline action platformer game, where episode releases are somewhat typical for more narrative heavy games, or games that emphasize multiplayer. Why did you decide on this format?
JK: Yeah we know it’s not a classic choice for an action/platformer game but we like making things a little bit different than others. In fact, it was quite a logical choice for us. Pankapu is above all a tale told to a child. As every tale, it has chapters, and from the beginning I wrote the story in that way. So when we started the production of the game, the idea of releasing it in episodes came to us. The scenario was already written that way, and the “episodes business model” offers some production advantages.
As an indie studio, money is quite an issue (moreover for our first game), and the episodes allow us to make some money a little bit earlier. You would say we could do an “early access” system. That’s right, but we see this system to be quite different. With early access, the game is not finished. Nothing is really finished and the user experience can be sometimes unpleasant. With the episodes system, when you buy a chapter everything (should) work. The quality is the one we must expect for a gold version. You have just a part of the story and the levels, but what you have is finished, polished and, we hope, good and fun to play.
Finally, the last reason for us to make an episodic game is that we’re not well known everywhere right now. It’s difficult to be and stay in the mind of gamers. If we release our game at once, we just have one chance to be seen by our public. After the launch, the communication could be harder if we don’t have more content to show. With episodes, we will have content that people could speak of regularly and a constant communication during months. It’s an audacious choice but it’s our hope it will be rewarding. Fingers crossed!
JT: How far along is development of Pankapu, and what should players be on the look-out for to show their support?
JK: The game is in Alpha phase right now. Some people were able to test it during the Paris Games Week (the first French video games event) and the feedback was really cool. The visitors seemed to really like the game, and the main concern was that the demo was too short. If players want to show us their support it’s the perfect moment: we launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and it will last until the 27th of November. It will help us to properly finish the first chapter and start the second more easily. As the name suggests, it won’t finance the whole project (it would be too much money), but it will help us launch. The more people we get to help us during this campaign, the better the game should be at release.
For additional information make sure to check out the official Pankapu Kickstarter campaign and website.