Playdek On Unsung Story, PC Ports, And DRM Concerns

By Nathan Grayson on January 28th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

Unsung Story: Tale of the Guardians is an intriguing prospect despite its name also functioning as a dictionary of cliche fantasy words. It’s the vision of Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre creator Yasumi Matsuno, who played a huge role in popularizing turn-based tactics RPGs on consoles. Its Kickstarter has already soared to nearly $500,000 of its $600,000 goal, so things are looking up. However, developer Playdek has provided depressingly little concrete information, and a cursory reading of the Kickstarter gives the impression that Unsung Story will be a mobile game first and foremost. I got in touch with Playdek CEO Joel Goodman to find out whether or not the PC version will be a port, how the Kickstarter plays into that, how much Matsuno will be involved in actual development, and whether or not we need to worry about DRM. His answers could’ve been a bit more detailed, but oh well. Early days and all that. Go below for more. 

RPS: To what degree will Matsuno be involved on the project on a day-to-day basis? Will he be working out of Playdek’s California-based office? Also, will it be his full-time job, or will he be pursuing other projects as well?

Goodman: Matsuno will remain based out of Tokyo, while Playdek will develop from our California office. In addition to providing the story, game play and scenario direction for the game, Matsuno will review the development of the game throughout its cycle, and provide guidance and approval of all aspects of the game.

We don’t really look at our current development target as a PC port.

RPS: Is this all Matsuno’s design/story? Is Playdek mostly following Matsuno’s lead, or is this just as much Playdek’s world/set of systems as it is Matsuno’s?

Goodman: The story and design has been created by Matsuno, and Playdek is developing the game based on his game design. As we develop, we will have insights and thoughts into how the various features should work and be implemented, and will discuss this with Matsuno as we go.

RPS: Is the Kickstarter largely an effort to bolster the game and bring it to other platforms? If the Kickstarter doesn’t succeed, is a PC version off the table?

Goodman: The KS is intended to allow us to bring the game to platforms that we would be unable to do so, and to provide world class talent that Matsuno has worked for in the past. If the KS is not successful, we will have to evaluate all of the intended platforms that the KS is funding.

RPS: What’s the primary development platform – not just in terms of hardware, but also in terms of gameplay mechanics and similar considerations? Is it iOS/Android like many of Playdek’s previous games?

Goodman: For Unsung, we are leading with development platforms that require various controller type inputs, and then will plan for touch controls. We also are targeting higher end graphics specs, to ensure we have a very rich graphical experience for all users.

RPS: Will the PC version launch at the same time as others, or will it come later? Will anything extra be added to the PC version since it’s a very different sort of platform? How much will you be taking control types, optimization for various system specs, and other concerns that can make or break a PC game into consideration?

Goodman: We don’t really look at our current development target as a PC port. All of the things you mention that are critical to PC development need to be considered upfront in development, and we are taking that approach. As of now, we don’t have an exact platform road map for launch, but it is our early intention to try and have as many platforms available as possible at launch.

For Unsung, we are targeting a core gaming audience that enjoys tactics RPGs, and will reach that audience on their platform of choice. We are not taking any so called “mobile game” design directions, and intend for this to be a very full and rich gaming experience.

RPS: Playdek’s history is largely in less grandiose (at least, relative to Matsuno’s previous works) sorts of games on non-PC platforms. This is a big step in a very different direction. What makes Playdek qualified to handle it?

Goodman: The core of Playdek’s team has a long development history together, going back over a decade, and we have made many console games together, for multiple platforms from the previous generation of consoles. The digital board games that we have been making at Playdek have been awarded for their high quality, and are actually very complex in their details. Tactics type games have an inherent board game quality to them that we believe fits our strengths very well.

RPS: Will the game be DRM-free on PC?

Goodman: We hope to deliver a DRM free version of the game.

RPS: How many episodes will initial funding provide? Is there any chance that you’ll ever have to seek additional funding for more?

Goodman: We are still determining the number of episodes for launch, but that number will be high enough to ensure a complete experience is delivered, with deep game play lasting many hours, and good replay value. Playdek will take care of the content scope of the game internally.

RPS: How long will each episode be, roughly? How far apart do you expect each release to be? How many episodes are you planning?

Goodman: Each episode will have somewhere between 5-10 stages, or scenarios, and we are planning for at least 5-10 episodes at launch. We still need to determine the DLC plan for episode expansion.

RPS: One of the big appeals of this genre is building a consistent team of characters over the course of many, many battles and unlocking new skills/classes along the way. It sounds like there will be a lot of perspective switching in Unsung Story, though. How will that affect party building?

Goodman: Players will still be able to build their team of characters, and unlock more skills and classes for them. Characters will be available to play in different episodes, as the timeline is very diverse in its history.

RPS: Will there be player choices in the story, along the lines of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together or other genre standouts?

Goodman: There will at least be player choices in each episode, and those choices will affect that episode’s outcome, and therefore its part in the history of the Seventy Seven Year’s War.

RPS: Thank you for your time.

, , , , , .

40 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Premium User Badge

    Cinek says:

    Sounds really good :) Even if guy shamelessly avoided some questions ;)

    • Waterpoet says:

      Does it sound good to you? After reading the interview I don’t know anything about the game other than it’s a tactical RPG. But I’ve played enough terrible tactical RPGs to not get excited. And since the guy doesn’t seem to want to answer anything… No money from me!

      • MrTPittiesFools says:

        Well, It’s a tactical RPG with a World, Story, and Gameplay developed by Yasumi Matsuno. They also have Akihiko Yoshida on board. Given their history, I think it’s pretty safe to say this will be a pretty good game.

    • Peterious says:

      FYI: For anyone who has further questions/doubts there is a ustream Q&A scheduled for today at 11am PST (2pm EST)

      Here is the link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/unsung-story

  2. Emeraude says:

    I think the decision of using what some potential backers are going to think of as key personnel (Alexander O. Smith, Hitoshi Sakimoto) as a stretch goal is a strategy that they’ll come to regret.

    A lot of people I talk to are having cold feet, fearing of pledging to the project only to see it not hit a stretch they consider as indispensable to their enjoyment. And by waiting for the Kickstarter to reach that goal before getting involved, they’re keeping it below said goal.

    Add to that the fact that Playdeck as a developer doesn’t have any reputation to speak of – for good or bad they only have Matsuno’s to ride on here – and I can see things getting really difficult for them. Even seems to me like they actually lost some money over the week-end.

    • SgtStens says:

      Playdek, AFAIK, as the interview stated, is largely known for its boardgame conversions such as Lords of Waterdeep and Summoner Wars (there are a whole bunch more, but I’m too lazy to look them up). The ones that I’ve played have been excellent. Adapting a boardgame for PC/mobile use is more complicated than it sounds, and Playdek’s games are very high quality and true to their original content. Though LoW had some issues on launch, they were patched rather quickly. I think their previous experience matches well with this kind of strategy game.

      • Emeraude says:

        I’m not in any way trying to disparage their merits, but it remains a fact that for the vast majority of people, they have no reputation to speak of, no game their own to flaunt their skills that would immediately come to mind of most fans of the genre.

        It does seem from their catalog that they have the skill set needed for the endeavor, but how many people are going to bother going past the initial dubitative impression and check those ?

        • SgtStens says:

          A fair comment, but the question is: Are we debating Playdek’s ability to make a good game, or their ability to use their name recognition to publicize the game? I believe the former is more important, and that is what I was referring to. If the game is good, the publicity will come.

  3. yogibbear says:

    Waaaay to respond in the most generalized way possible. It sounds like they are making a game, maybe? And it’s coming out on PLATFORMS! and stuff…. TOUCHY! CORE GAMERS! UNLOCKS!

  4. RProxyOnly says:

    Has anyone made the backers, on the KS forum/comments, aware of this interview.. seems to me it would change a few minds.

    I don’t like the fact that the biggest draw, Matsuno, won’t even be in the same country as the development team.. that would anger me if I was a backer. His role, to me seems more supervisory than I would wish for a project entirely based on his reputation.

    “We’re aiming for touch controls [paraphrased]” just SCREAMS mobile.

    • Philomelle says:

      Matsuno being in another country doesn’t bother me as a backer. Traveling expenses are, well, expensive and not everyone can magically be in the same country for a project. My current project has me in Russia, the chief programmer in Greece, the character designer in Philippines and who the hell knows where the composer and animators will be from. What do you expect us, to toss all our savings into the boiling pot so we can converge in a single location just because it makes you more comfortable?

      No, that really isn’t the problem. The problem is that it’s halfway into the project’s lifespan and while they’ve been rambling about all those stretch goals and pledge rewards, they have yet to provide any actual information about the game’s world, its story, characters, gameplay and classes. All we know is that it’s going to be a tactical RPG with some of the classes changing depending on which faction they belong to, not nearly enough to provide a hook.

      The lack of actual information about the game is murdering this Kickstarter and is the primary reason why people are getting cold feet. People simply don’t want to pledge toward the game when the developer refuses to reveal anything about it.

      • RProxyOnly says:

        Well coming from a dev who does the same thing I’d hardly expect you to agree.

        “What do you expect us, to toss all our savings into the boiling pot so we can converge in a single location just because it makes you more comfortable?”

        No.. I would expect the headrunner to be there to earn his money, and to contribute/design/oversee as is necessary and not just as is convenient to his schedule, otherwise they aren’t doing the job they are advertising that they are doing.

        ..and that goes for you too… I don’t give a shit how ‘hands on’ you think you are… If you’re the head of a project, you better fucking be there.

        Good now that that’s over.. how was my tone?.. did I return enough in kind?

        • Philomelle says:

          Your tone, with all due respect and condolences, makes you sound retarded. I’m sorry I would rather spend my money on the project rather than force my team to blow a huge chunk of our savings so we can all converge on a single location just to act like having an office makes us more efficient. It doesn’t. We can achieve the same thing by holding chatrooms several times a week, constantly sharing the assets we prepared for the project and synchronizing everyone’s efforts.

          For someone who is complaining about poor budget management in the Broken Age article, you sure are obsessed with expecting developers to waste money on stupid shit that would only hold the project back.

        • MrTPittiesFools says:

          “No.. I would expect the headrunner to be there to earn his money, and to contribute/design/oversee as is necessary and not just as is convenient to his schedule, otherwise they aren’t doing the job they are advertising that they are doing.”

          But why does he HAVE to be in the same room to do these things. In the interview it is stated: ” Matsuno will review the development of the game throughout its cycle, and provide guidance and approval of all aspects of the game.”

          Seems pretty clear that nothing will be finalized without the approval of Matsuno. Being offsite might be a little less time efficient, but it shouldn’t have any effect on the final quality of the game.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Wow, you weren’t kidding about cold feet. It actually had a negative fundraising day three days ago. That happens, but fairly rarely.

        • Philomelle says:

          If you read the comments, you’ll find that a lot of people made it very clear that they’re pulling out if there won’t be any gameplay/story discussion within updates 7 & 8. Well, what do you know, those updates came and there still wasn’t any information on the actual game.

          They did finally produce some information about the project in Update 9, but it’s very uninspiring so far and sounds too much like FFT. I suppose that much like with previous Matsuno titles, it’s characters who will make or break the story.

        • MrTPittiesFools says:

          They had one $5000 backer pull out.

      • killias2 says:

        Like I say below, I think Kickstarter projects are fueled by ideas and personalities. This project has virtually no ideas to run on, and there’s precious little involvement from the only personality of note. I’m less concerned about him being in a different country (though I do think that matters) than about the fact that he has barely even gotten involved with this Kickstarter. Unless things change on either or both fronts, I will be passing.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Xantonze says:

    Maybe this doesn’t sound to good here, but Playdek released truly excellent boardgame ports on mobile platforms (see Agricola and Ascension), and Tactical RPG’s are actually very close to boardgames in terms of mechanics and “sets”.
    No wonder Archipelago’s Christophe Boelinger is involved (even if it’s only to design a digital card game spin of).

    I think the game will be designed in english anyway, so I don’t really care if Smith and Reeder aren’t involved. As for Sakimoto, I don’t care either but I can understand some players getting cold feet as he’s a big part of the “wonderteam” behind Matsuno’s older tactical games.

    As a sidenote, I played FFT and Tactics Ogre on PSP, so I don’t even care if they tailor the game for mobile devices… I’m pretty sure I’ll end up playing on a tablet or smartphone rather than PC (PS Vita would be nice, but I guess it won’t happen…)

  6. Premium User Badge

    amateurviking says:

    Seriously, if you like turn based tactics, play FF: Tactics. I mean it. Yes it’s got ‘Final Fantasy’ in the title and I know that’s an immediate ‘no’ for some people.

    Fuck that. It’s exceptional. Systemically, narratively, graphically exceptional.

    The PSP version has a better translation so is probably definitive. So if you have a Vita go for it (there is an android port too but beware squeenix and their mobile price gouging). I hear wild talk that these things are emulatable too but couldn’t possibly comment.

    Do it. I take full responsibility.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      And then you can play Tactics Ogre, Let Us Cling Together, which is the perfection of everything FFT and the original Tactics Ogre (which FFT is a more direct successor to than any Final Fantasy game, really) did well, and has mechanics that should have been stolen by everyone.

      If only it would come to something besides the goddamn PSP.

    • Eldiran says:

      Contrasting opinion: play the PSX version. The PSP translation is a bunch of faux-Shakespearean nonsense that is totally soulless. The PSX version is filled with emotion and deeply memorable quotes.

      Besides that: 100% agreement. Even all this time later FFT is still the best Tactical RPG ever made.

      • Philomelle says:

        By emotion and deeply memorable quotes, you mean the biggest hack in the history of English localization whipping out his Babelfish translator and vomiting Engrish all over the text files?

        • Eldiran says:

          No, a bigger hack job would be FF7 :P

          I’ll leave these here for anyone who wants to compare and contrast:
          PSX Script
          PSP Script

          In one script all the characters sound like foppish idiots. In the other they sound like actual human beings. I’ll let the reader decide which is which :P

  7. killias2 says:

    I am a huge fan of Matsuno. FF Tactics is easily one of my top strategy RPGs (alongside the Langrisser series), and I also loves me some Ogre. When I heard he was Kickstarting a new strategy RPG, I damn near started jumping up and down with enthusiasm.

    ..And then the revelations hit. His involvement seems minimal. I know they keep emphasizing that it’s his design and world, but I have yet to hear him talk about this project at all. Jesus, he’s the heart of the pitch, and it appears that he couldn’t give a good God damn about the project.

    Playdek has no history with this genre or with the PC platform. The game is a mobile game that they’re looking to up-port (regardless of what they say in the interview, that’s the truth). The other high level talent is only going to be involved if high stretch goals are reached, which is looking unlikely. On top of all of this, virtually nothing of the game has been shown in any way, shape or form. I’m also highly skeptical of the episodic format.

    Frankly, I’m staying out of this. I hope it turns out well, but I really don’t expect it to. This has shady business written all over it. I’m not sure anything can change my mind at this point. Too many problems and red flags. I hope Matsuno makes a real FF Tactics/Tactics Ogre successor at some point, but I’m not at all convinced this is it.

    • Philomelle says:

      For what it’s worth, there is a 50-second video message from him on the latest Kickstarter update. It doesn’t have him say anything especially interesting, but I’ve grown to expect that with him. Matsuno seems to be pretty reclusive. He’s not as bad as the director of Drakengard/Nier, who’s been wearing a creepy skull mask for the vast majority of his interviews, but he doesn’t seem to enjoy giving interviews or showing himself in front of the public.

      That said, I’m not sure why you’re panicking so much about him not being on the directorial duties. Have you forgotten the last time they let him direct a large project?

      • killias2 says:

        I think there are two primary forms of gaming Kickstarters: 1. Idea-based pitches, 2. Personality-based pitches

        Idea-based pitches draw attention by doing something cool, interesting, new, unique, etc. They emphasize the new ideas and draw attention to what sets their project apart from others.

        Personality-based pitches draw attention by focusing on the individuals involved. Think about the Double Fine Kickstarter, with Tim Schafer. Or the Wasteland pitch, with all the enthusiasm from the original creators, as well as add-ons like Chris Avellone.

        The problem here is that.. you have neither. There’s not enough info about the game (contrast with, say, Banner Saga) to be idea-based. Matsuno is supposed to be the draw, but there doesn’t seem to be any enthusiasm or passion from him. I’ll watch the new video with him and hope it changes my perspective, but, thus far, it’s pretty absurd how little he’s been involved. Imagine if the Double Fine adventure pitch was just some intern. Sure, he promises that Tim Schafer will be involved, but Schafer will be out of the country during development.. and has decided not to be in the pitch video or say much of anything else regarding the project. Can you imagine how differently that would’ve gone?

        “Have you forgotten the last time they let him direct a large project?” – I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. FF12, when he got sick and had to bow out?

        Edit: I watched the video. Though it was nice to see him do -anything- for this project, it was still about as minimal as it could’ve been.

        • Philomelle says:

          I am referring to FF12, but saying he got sick and bowed up is a bit of a short version. He got sick and bowed out because he stressed himself out working on the project so incredibly badly. Matsuno has a notoriously hands-on approach to directing and while that can mean a lot of good for small projects, it rapidly escalates into disaster on big ones because the whole thing ends up hinging on one person.

          The Matsuno personality cult is more from his fans than from Matsuno himself. A lot of people love his work, but you can count the number of interviews and public appearances on one hand. While I understand your worry about him having little visible presence in the project, I don’t think it’s an issue because Matsuno always kept to himself on every project he had so far.

          The biggest issue is, again, Playdek not being very good at revealing Matsuno’s ideas to the public. People need way more than they’re being given in order to make an educated decision.

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        A creepy skull mask sounds about right for the director of those games.

        I pitched in $20 because I wanted to see if the game will live up to its pedigree. I don’t really want to know much about it before release, because I don’t want to be sick of it before I can even play it. As for Matsuno, I think gaming would be better with fewer Peter Molyneaux-like individuals ceaselessly running their mouths.

        • killias2 says:

          I think that’s sort of a disingenuous comparison. I’m not looking for Matsuno to make any sky-high promises. In a project whose primary draw is a personality, I’d just like some evidence that said personality actually gives a crap.

          To put it another way: I’d gladly give 20-25 bucks if it means giving Matsuno the chance to work on his dream project. I might even give more. However, I won’t give away my money just to make sure Matsuno gets a paycheck. So far, that’s all that this seems to be for Matsuno.

          Of course, I’d also consider giving 20-25 bucks to kickstart a strategy RPG with interesting ideas (like.. Banner Saga). but we’re also quite short on that. All I can see is that it’s episodic and originally designed for phones.

          • Emeraude says:

            One problem I see here is that Matsuno from past history does seem to me like someone very introverted. Even if it was his dream project, I’m not certain there’d be much of a display from him.

  8. pepperfez says:

    “We hope to deliver a DRM free version of the game” sets off some warning bells for me, but at least they’re gesturing at doing the right thing.

    • imagine says:

      Personally, I don’t think is enough (and this is not the only answer that I find less than satisfactory). No matter how cool a Kickstarter project may be, I can’t see myself pledging money without a DRM-free option guaranteed from the developer. Otherwise, it’s like paying them so that they can annoy you later and make you jump through hoops to play a game that would not even exist (at least, not in that form) if it were not for you.

      • MrTPittiesFools says:

        From the FAQ at the bottom of the kickstarter page, they state this:

        Will the PC/Mac/Linux be distributed through Steam, or will it be DRM free?

        We will provide a DRM Free copy of the game for those of you who would prefer that. We also intend to pursue Steam Greenlight when the project is close to completion, so you will be able to choose the best method of distribution for you.

        I think Mr. Goodman being a CEO is just not willing to speak in Absolutes. However I will request clarification from Playdek.

  9. Randomer says:

    Kickstarters really should put the “Game + Soundtrack” tier at a lower price mark. I’m generally pretty reluctant to fork over a $15 or $20 for the game by itself, but I would be much more likely to buy in if I could get Game + OST for just ten bucks more. Charging an extra $30 for a soundtrack just doesn’t do it for me.

    Hell, they could even have a standalone OST tier for $5-$10. That would be awesome.

  10. fdisk says:

    After this interview I am definitely going to wait until the game is out and on sale before I try it; or at least until some reviews are in.

    This guy was very dodgy in nearly every question and that gives me zero confidence in him, his team, or this project.

    As always, kudos to RPS for asking solid questions we all had on our mind!

  11. Premium User Badge

    draglikepull says:

    The fact that they haven’t even *scoped* the game is a huge warning bell for me. How can they target a release date without even knowing what the game entails? Scheduling and budgeting are both huge potential pitfalls in game development; how can they possibly do either until they’ve at least tentatively fixed the game’s scope? This really seems like the kind of thing that can run into development difficulties and garner a ton of bad press down the line.

  12. Baines says:

    a cursory reading of the Kickstarter gives the impression that Unsung Story will be a mobile game first and foremost

    From what I recall, when the game was first announced back in September of last year, it was only confirmed for mobile devices. The Kickstarter itself admits that the base goal is for funding a PC version. And it is being developed by a company that makes mobile games.

  13. Guggenheimlich says:

    Questionable psychoanalysis:

    When Matsuno announced he was making a game for Level 5, he described it very vaguely and implied it would be a small game that was “something for everyone” and that he was sick of making dark tactics games. Then the game, Crimson Shroud, came out, and it was a (really good!) dark tactics game.

    Then he quit Level 5.

    Then he announced a dark tactics game with Playdek.

    So it makes total sense for him to be hands off, given his conflicting feelings, not just because of Playdek poor management.

    Other Matsuno freelancing: He wrote a pretty good script (not concept) for Mad World (the not dumb-announcer-banter parts), which is a feat, given it was a really dumb story concept, even by Platinum standards. So Unsung Story will at least be a fun book.

    I will pay $20 for a Matsuno book with interesting but potentially poorly implemented game mechanics, but I realize that’s not enough for most people.