• Larry Kilgore III

PixelSmiths Ep. 7: CrossCode with Radical Fish Games Co-Founder Felix Klein



A German game developer turns his hobby project into the first full game release for his studio.



On this episode, Larry & Clinton talk with Felix Klein, co-founder of Radical Fish Games, and one of the creators of CrossCode. CrossCode is a retro-inspired 2D Action RPG that combines 16-bit SNES-style graphics with smooth physics, a fast-paced combat system, and engaging puzzle mechanics.


In this conversation, they talk with Felix about making hobby projects with RPG Maker as a teen, his path to studying computer science and programming, growing his dev team through remote work relationships, and spending almost a decade growing CrossCode from a detailed puzzle game into an in depth sci-fi RPG.


Other games/media that are discussed include: Final Fantasy, Legend of Zelda, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Terranigma, Xenoblade, Portal, Devil May Cry, Golden Sun, Ricochet Robots, Yoshi's Island, .hack, and Sword Art Online,

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Find CrossCode on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/368340/CrossCode/

Visit the Radical Fish website: https://www.radicalfishgames.com/

Follow Felix on twitter: https://twitter.com/lachsen


Transcript:


Larry Kilgore III:

Video games are an art form. From the bits and bites of the old school arcade cabinets to the technological advancement of the modern era. Video games have been a way for creators to tell their stories in an interactive environment that can be shared the world over.


Clinton Bader:

Developers, designers, visionaries and storytellers. Like the artisans of old, it's their blood, sweat, and tears that go into crafting these unique and innovative experiences for players.


Clinton Bader:

But oftentimes, the independent artists get lost in the overwhelming space that is today's hectic gaming market. On PixelSmiths, it's our goal to be a platform for those artists to celebrate their drive, their vision, and the work it takes to create their art.


Larry Kilgore III:

On this episode, we'll speak with Germany-based game dev, Felix Klein about starting his game studio Radical Fish Games and the development of CrossCode, their popular RPG.


Larry Kilgore III:

This is PixelSmiths. Hello and welcome to PixelSmiths. I'm Larry Kilgore III, podcast creator and video game enthusiast.


Clinton Bader:

And I'm Clinton "Paperthin" Bader, eSports broadcaster and commentator. We're bringing you guys some of the best and brightest in the indie gaming development sphere to really showcase their work.


Larry Kilgore III:

Today, we are talking to Felix Klein, one of the co-founders of Radical Fish Games. Creators of CrossCode, a 2D 16-bit action RPG. Felix, thank you for joining us on the show today.


Felix Klein:

Yeah. Thank you very much for having me.


Larry Kilgore III:

Felix, you started development of CrossCode in 2011. Can you give us a bit about your background and what you were doing before you started working on CrossCode?


Felix Klein:

I started off just doing hobby game development. I started around the age of 16. If you've ever heard of RPG Maker, that was the thing I started with essentially. I think even before a lot of common game engines have released ... That was one of the first things you could get.


Felix Klein:

And I just tried to make some games as an amateur without any programming knowledge, so that's what I started with. And then, some time after I studied computer science. And then, after some time I got together with several people. That's how essentially Radical Fish Games was founded. And then, we worked on CrossCode.


Clinton Bader:

I was actually playing some of the game and I was really enjoying it. But it seems like definitely CrossCode was influenced by a lot of different kinds of media.


Clinton Bader:

It's obviously 16-bit, like SNES. JRPG, like Final Fantasy kind of thing. It feels a little bit Legend of Zelda-y. Maybe Chrono Trigger. These kind of games. Can you talk about some of the influences of the look and the feel of the game?


Felix Klein:

There's a whole lot of influences. Essentially, we just took all the games that we liked to play in our childhood and put them together. You already named a few. We all grew up with the SNES era, essentially. There is a lot of Chrono Trigger in there and Secret of Mana. Just the graphic style.


Felix Klein:

Seiken Densetsu 3, which is Trials of Mana these days. That was a big influence in particular. There's also the Super Nintendo game Terranigma, which unfortunately never released in the United States, even though it's a very nice game. That was released in Germany, so that was another big influence.


Felix Klein:

Then, there's a whole bunch of games from all generations. PlayStation games. We mentioned already Kingdom Hearts. Devil May Cry. Xenoblade, in particular, was a big influence. Because that was essentially the game that I played before I started with the project. That was released 2011.


Felix Klein:

So I played Xenoblade. I was a big fan of it. It's still one of my favorites JRPGs to this day. And then, I started working on CrossCode as a hobby project. Obviously, there was a big connection there. There's a whole bunch of inspirations, really. I could talk for a good amount of time about this.


Clinton Bader:

What about Portal?


Felix Klein:

Portal? I did play Portal, so I'm pretty sure it probably had some conscious influence. I think the design, especially over the beginning of the game, is very Portal-esque because you are in a very tech-like environment.


Felix Klein:

I can see how this might seem similar. I think it wasn't that conscious. I think it just happened to seem similar. But again, I played the game. It's possible that I was inspired in a less conscious way.


Larry Kilgore III:

I know some of the SNES era JRPGs, especially the Final Fantasies and the Chrono Triggers. A lot of them are ... I guess some people will say it's slower paced. But turn-based RPGs.


Larry Kilgore III:

I know you mentioned Kingdom Hearts and I heard you mention before Devil May Cry were some of the inspirations for the battle system. What made you want to go more for a fast-paced action system as opposed to a turn-based? What elements for those games really inspired you and you brought those into CrossCode?


Felix Klein:

That's a good question. I think the main reason why it ended up as an action RPG is because the whole project actually didn't start as a RPG in the first place. It actually started as a puzzle game. We actually ... The first prototype of the game was all about throwing balls and making them ricochet. That's the core mechanic of the game more or less.


Felix Klein:

And then, we just wanted to have an RPG. This ball throwing core gameplay just mixed better with an action RPG. That's essentially why it ended up being an action RPG, which now that I think about it ... It's kind of interesting. Because that actually was my first game that I did. At least, the first longer game that I did, that had an action combat system.


Felix Klein:

I worked on a lot of hobby games before with RPG Maker, but they all were pretty much always turn-based. Because it's just very hard to make a good action combat system in RPG Maker. Actually, now that I about it, that was actually the first time I did an action combat system. A whole game with that. It just mixed better.


Felix Klein:

In the end, that was the reason we went with it. We could have done something like Golden Sun, for instance, which does have a turn-based combat system and a lot of puzzles. But this dynamic nature of, "You can throw balls in any direction," just mixed better with action combat.


Clinton Bader:

Have you ever played the board game, Ricochet Robots?


Felix Klein:

No, I don't think so. But I remember my brother has a whole bunch of board games. He played at least one where you had to shoot lasers or something like this and they actually ricocheted.


Felix Klein:

Or maybe that was Ricochet Robots? I'm not sure. But it was a lot about ricocheting things.


Clinton Bader:

Yes.


Felix Klein:

I played this and I lost against my brother. Obviously, he's very good at those games.


Clinton Bader:

You have to try to do it in as few turns and moves as possible. This game actually reminded me a bit of it as well, so I was just curious.


Felix Klein:

Actually, I think it was Ricochet ... Now that I think about it. I think it was about robots. I actually played that one. To be honest, the actual inspiration for the ricocheting is actually Yoshi's Island.


Felix Klein:

Another Super Nintendo game. That was one that you might not expect, because it's not an action RPG. Not an RPG at all. But it was one of my favorite games of the Super Nintendo era. I liked this one a lot. In particular, because of the egg throwing.


Felix Klein:

I just thought it was great that you could throw those eggs and the bones in different ways and fly through the stage in all kind of weird ways. I was really disappointed when they just didn't do this feature again in Yoshi's story after that.


Felix Klein:

And I thought, "Man, that's such a nice feature. How about we make this in top-down?" That's actually how the initial prototype of the game started. It was just this ricocheting thing. And then, the RPG and everything came later.


Larry Kilgore III:

Now that we're talking about the ball mechanic, I'd like to get into it a little bit more. For those listening, it is an interesting mechanic that you have, where the projectile can be aimed and used in a variety of ways for both combat and puzzle solving.


Larry Kilgore III:

You mentioned the Yoshi's Island influence and what you liked about that. What else about the ricocheting did you really enjoy? What do you think is different about the way you do it as opposed to Yoshi's Island?


Felix Klein:

The top-down perspective is probably the biggest difference. Yoshi's Island is a side-scrolling platformer. It's a good question. What did we make different? You can have infinite balls that you can throw. The funny story about that is ... In the beginning, the first prototype, you could just throw up to three balls. They all ricocheted and you could then throw one after the other.


Felix Klein:

Then, in the later prototype, you could just throw balls as much as you wanted. They were all ricocheting. And then, you'd just have to throw ... I don't know. Five or six balls. You'd notice there's balls flying everywhere. It's super chaotic. And then, I quickly decided to change that. That's why now you actually have to first charge up your projectile, the balls,

before you throw them. And then, they ricochet.


Felix Klein:

If you just quickly throw a ball, it will not ricochet. It will just disappear once it hits anything. That made it more balanced. Because the ricochet is a core mechanic, but you don't want to be able to just spam those balls that ricochet all over the place all the time. It's very chaotic. I think that's one thing we made sure is different.


Felix Klein:

But otherwise, I think CrossCode probably has a bigger focus on the ricochet mechanic than Yoshi's Island overall. Because we really added a lot of puzzle elements for the whole game. Most of them combined with the ricochet core mechanic. In particular, later, you actually just throw one ball and it flies through a number of puzzle elements in slow motion.


Felix Klein:

While it is flying a certain path, you have to do other things to make sure it can reach the goal ... You have a ricocheting ball flying around in slow motion, while you go around and throw around even more ricocheting balls, solving some of the other smaller puzzles that make the obstacles disappear. That's just bringing the whole concept to the max more or less.


Felix Klein:

Those puzzles were also pretty controversial. Because a lot of people loved them. A lot of people hated them, because they're very tricky to pull off. But we just went with the concept. Even though the game has a lot of other stuff in it, like the whole RPG thing ... There's a pretty heavy puzzle focus overall. And it's all around ricocheting balls.


Larry Kilgore III:

I think that's really unique that you have an RPG with a core element around those balls. I think it makes it a very interesting mechanic.


Clinton Bader:

I never played anything quite like it. It is quite fun. We've talked about some of the game mechanics inside of CrossCode itself. What about the story?


Clinton Bader:

It seems, to me, influenced by some of those animes like .hack or Sword Art Online and those kind of things. Where did some of your story ideas come from?


Felix Klein:

The story was essentially created after we already had the core gameplay mix. Since it was already more or less fixed that there will be a lot of puzzles ... The question was, how can we make a story that fits with a lot of weird puzzle solving?


Felix Klein:

For some reason, I got this idea of making this game-inside-the-game story. I thought, "Well, that actually is clever." Because then, you can just say, "It's just a weird game, but the actual story is actually you playing the game." I don't know. That was at the time ... I'd only played .hack up to this point, so I only knew about .hack.


Felix Klein:

Well, I liked the game a lot. I thought, "That has been done before. And I think it's interesting." I didn't even know about Sword Art Online. I think it actually came out around the time when the project started. That was really ... I actually, up to this day, never watched it.


Felix Klein:

I know a lot of people watching are watching anime. I know that Sword Art Online is sort of split, but I saw it at least had some very good animated scenes. From what I saw. But that wasn't really a direct inspiration. It just ended up being something similar in a way.


Felix Klein:

As we developed the game, we actually added at least one reference to it, even though that was more like a small joke that we added later in the game. We are aware of Sword Art Online. It just wasn't a big inspiration overall.


Felix Klein:

Overall, it was actually ... I think it was a good approach. A lot of people liked the setting. There was this whole isekai anime hype around that time. Our game was kind of ... Not exactly an isekai, but close. I guess it was lucky that we picked the story that mixed with the time well.


Clinton Bader:

In case the listeners are curious, an "Isekai" means "An other world." You're transported to a different world. That is something that's a little bit niche, but most people who know anime know it. Anime is pretty mainstream, but I figured I'd clarify.


Felix Klein:

If you watch anime, it's hard to avoid isekais these days, it feels. Every season, there's another one. I don't even know why.


Larry Kilgore III:

Well, Felix, it's been great talking to you about the concepts behind CrossCode and the game itself. We'd love to talk more about the development of the game and how it changed throughout the years you worked on it.


Larry Kilgore III:

We're going to take a quick break and be back with more from Felix Klein here on PixelSmiths. This is PixelSmiths. The podcast that gives a voice to today's indie game developers. I'm Larry Kilgore III.


Clinton Bader:

I'm Clinton "Paperthin" Bader. We're talking to Felix Klein, one of the creators of CrossCode. Before the break, Felix, we were talking about some of the influences and these kind of things.


Clinton Bader:

You did mention that you started in RPG Maker, but for CrossCode, you used your own custom engine. Is that correct?


Felix Klein:

That's correct. Yes.


Clinton Bader:

Can you talk to us a bit about that? Explain what's involved in that process.


Felix Klein:

Gladly. RPG Maker is essentially ... That was the thing available, even before I knew how to program. I just went on the internet. It wasn't really all that official back then, but we got our hands on the engine somehow and just developed scripted RPGs. I still think that was actually a good initial experience.


Felix Klein:

Because even though you don't really learn a lot of true programming when you work with RPG Maker, you do learn what kind of assets you have in a game. What it actually means to make a game. How much content you have to work on. How an engine can look like, that puts this content together in a way that makes the game work. That's a whole lot of good experience.


Felix Klein:

We had this hobby phase of working with RPG Maker for about three to four years. Then, I finished school and started computer science. I started computer science for a couple of years. I learned all kind of programming languages. JavaScript, C++, and also web technologies later.


Felix Klein:

I kept working with RPG Maker pretty stubbornly for the first few years. But eventually, there were a couple of reasons why I lost motivation working with it. Mostly ... Back then, it was still all hobby projects obviously. For some reason, our community never considered selling games commercially. It was all just 100% hobby.


Felix Klein:

When I was studying computer science, I realized that web technologies are actually neat. Because I actually did work with C++ in the computer graphics department. That was my Master and also my PhD topic later. We did a lot of stuff with C++ writing engines. We had the goal to get 3D graphics into the web.


Felix Klein:

And then, we modified the browser, which was really difficult with old languages. Because working with a browser code base is difficult. And then, later we realized that you can actually do all of that with JavaScript. Because there's WebGL, which is essentially how you make 3D graphics on the web these days.


Felix Klein:

Essentially, we just wrote a framework with WebGL to run this 3D technology that we've been working on at university. I realized it's so much easier and it runs much better. For whatever reason ... There were several reasons, really. But that's when I noticed that web technologies are actually quite powerful. And that's when I decided that I could try to make a game based on that.


Felix Klein:

There was actually a whole lot of hype to create games with web technologies back then. And it really died down since then. There's not a lot of people doing it. Obviously, there's still games on the web. But I think back then there was this whole idea of, "Well, maybe all the games will run on the web in the future?" It never went this way. But still, even to this day, browsers are actually pretty capable of running games.


Felix Klein:

That is exactly what CrossCode is based on. CrossCode is essentially a web game. You could theoretically run CrossCode in the browser. In fact, that's how we developed the game. It was always running in our browser, because there we have the development console.


Felix Klein:

In fact, what you get on Steam is just an HTML5 game wrapped in a compact browser, which is called Node-Webkit, that you can just download. But that is CrossCode. It's just a web game. To make that work, initially we downloaded an engine. Impact.js was the name back then. And then, we modified the engine a lot. At some point, it was 95% rewritten, because we had some very specific use cases.


Felix Klein:

The engine only supported two coordinates. We went up to three. We actually had three dimensional coordinates. Because of that, I had to rewrite a lot of stuff. Including the physics and the rendering and everything. Essentially, it was a custom engine at the end. That's what we used to create CrossCode.


Clinton Bader:

That's insane. Wow.


Felix Klein:

Usually, that's not something you would recommend for game developers. But in our team, we actually have several people who like to program. I have this programming background. I had a lot of fun actually.


Felix Klein:

I tried several times to create my own game engine. In the beginning, that was kind of the inspiration. "I want to see if I can create a neat game in web technologies." For some reason, it went so far that we actually managed to finish a whole game based on that.


Larry Kilgore III:

That is really fascinating. Some of the details kind of went over my head ... But I will say it's very interesting that you were able to see what was good about some of the different engines and things that you could work with, and were able to combine them and make your own working environment to make it work.


Felix Klein:

The thing is, it worked so well for us. There's one downside, obviously, and that downside is consoles. Because consoles don't really support HTML-5 natively. Or not in a fast way. Getting the game on consoles was pretty complicated, in fact, but we somehow managed to get it to work.


Felix Klein:

Mostly, with the help of our publisher, Deck13. They actually made the port for us. They found somebody who managed to convert the code base. We learned our lessons for that. But the lesson is not to get away from the web technologies. Because overall, it still worked pretty well.


Felix Klein:

Our next project is also based on web technologies. It's just now we are using a different language, which will hopefully make it easier to create console ports. But overall, we are not giving up on it either.


Larry Kilgore III:

When we talked before the interview, you mentioned that you guys started development in a remote work situation. You have a bunch of different people working in different cities and you guys all just interacted through the internet.


Larry Kilgore III:

Nowadays, with the post-COVID world, it's kind of a concept that we all have. But this was before COVID. Can you tell me ... What was it about the remote work that made it such an acceptable approach for you and your team?


Felix Klein:

Well, that very much is because of the way of how our team got together in the first place. Because we actually all met over the internet. Because, as I said, we started with RPG Maker. That's not only true for me, but actually for several of our team members.


Felix Klein:

I think even the majority ... At least six to seven people in our team all were in the RPG Maker community. In the German RPG Maker community. When I started, I knew most of these people. They just saw what I've been working on. I thought, "That's cool." And I thought, "Hey. Maybe we can create a team together?"


Felix Klein:

That was actually my friend Stefan who actually suggested this first. And then, I said, "Sure. I mean, why not? Let's try to make a collaboration." That grew into a whole team of people who were all distributed around Germany. It was unrealistic for most of us to move to another place, because for most of our team members, this was really something they did on the side first.


Felix Klein:

They had still had studies. Some of them even just finished school. Some started studying. Some of them had some other jobs they had to take care of. And so, it was all just a side thing for most of them. It kind of grew over time. Even for me.


Felix Klein:

I did my PhD, as I mentioned. I did the game development in parallel for several years. Only after we did our crowdfunding, that's when we decided, "Okay. Now, this is serious. Let's move to full-time." Then, me and a friend, we both went full-time essentially. And then, over time, more and more people got more involved.


Felix Klein:

But at no point have we decided, "Okay. Now, let's make a studio and all move to the city." That's still the status quo. We are all spread out in different locations. We always worked over the internet and it always worked well enough for us. That's why we are still doing it. Fortunately, it was a big advantage when COVID came around, because essentially nothing changed for us.


Felix Klein:

Except that we do have meetups. We do meet. Usually, twice a year, in something that we call the Cross Week. We have to rename this now, because CrossCode is over. But I don't know if we will. We all meet at some place and just work together on the game for a week or 10 days. That was always a great time, but that's obviously something we couldn't do now with Corona.


Felix Klein:

Or at least not as much. Maybe we will be able to do it again this year. Hopefully. That's pretty much the only thing that changed for us. We got away pretty well overall, but that's why we work online. It's just how the team was formed essentially. That's why it always felt natural for us.


Clinton Bader:

Real quick, Felix. We were just talking about your team. Maybe give us a shout out. Give some love to the team behind CrossCode.


Felix Klein:

Sure. Let me just quickly ... The team members. I'm Felix. I'm essentially the co-founder together with Stefan AKA "Regiden." We are both programmers more or less and also did a lot of the level design. Then, we have Thomas Fröse, AKA "T-Free." He's our main pixel artist.


Felix Klein:

Then, we also have Martina Brodehl, who also does a lot of great pixel art. Then, we have our concept artist "Frece" AKA Fabrice Magdanz. We have our sound designer, Flora. "Teflora." She now, in the new project, even does ... She essentially became our technical artist doing a lot of share stuff too. And then, we have "GFlügel" AKA Henning. He's essentially the one who did most of the quests in CrossCode and a lot of gameplay planning.


Felix Klein:

Of course, we have our composer, Deniz Akbulut. He's also known as "Intero." He did this great soundtrack and he actually is the only one who moved away. He's now in Japan. He's actually studying music there. That's for everybody complaining that CrossCode is not a JRPG, because it's not made in Japan.


Felix Klein:

At least our composer is in Japan now. Maybe it's a little bit of a JRPG now. And then, we have also Daniel Tillmann, who is from Vienna. He's one of another pixel artists that contributed to CrossCode. I think that's about it. Man, it's actually risky for me to always name the team members. Because I always tend to forget somebody. But I think that should be it.


Larry Kilgore III:

Let's get into some of the details of the development of the game. I know, in late 2012, you guys released your first tech demo and also began doing regular blog posts on your website. Kind of like a dev journal.


Larry Kilgore III:

Through a lot of the interviews we've done so far, we've learned how important it is to receive and pay attention to the feedback that you get from the community. What were the benefits from having this feedback so early in development? How did it change your approach to creating the game?


Felix Klein:

If I'm being honest, I don't think we really got too much feedback in the very early phase. Mostly, because the project wasn't so well known back then. We released the tech demo, we got a lot of positive feedback back then. In the communities where we posted, I don't think there was too much critical feedback back then.


Felix Klein:

I think where we got most of the important feedback was actually during Early Access. We were very open with the development, very early on. Just about the year, when the first tech demo was released, everything following that was more or less open.


Felix Klein:

We did have a prototype, another demo, before the crowdfunding. Then, we did an Early Access version. The Early Access went on for three and a half years. It was a very long Early Access. During Early Access, we did get a lot of feedback. In particular, in terms of usability. People mentioned things that were difficult to track, hard to remember.


Felix Klein:

Obviously, we got feedback for puzzles, which often were too difficult. And then, we could tweak things like this. We also added a lot of new features just to make usability better. I think that was a huge advantage overall.


Felix Klein:

I actually really do like the Early Access approach. Mostly, because it helps you to make better games. If you structure it in a good way and you collect feedback over a long time, it really helps you to optimize a product.


Clinton Bader:

Could you maybe give us a specific example of some feedback? Like in the puzzles. That's something I'm interested in. What is something maybe specifically you had to change from your Early Access to the finished product?


Felix Klein:

One of my favorite examples actually is the Quicksand Puzzle. Because we have this one puzzle, later in the game, where you had sand on the floor and sometimes there were vortexes. If you stand on those vortexes, you actually fall through the sand and land to a lower floor. The problem is there's not only those vortexes. There was just quicksand in general.


Felix Klein:

Whenever you stand on the quicksand, you fall down and then you respawn. It's kind of a bad thing, so people always try to avoid that. Because you see this regular quicksand first and those special vortexes later, people avoided them a lot. They thought, "Those are bad. Because the Quicksand is bad." They didn't use them to fall through the floor.


Felix Klein:

That was a problem. We designed this whole puzzle core mechanic all in one go. We had the quicksand. We had the vortex. We thought, "Yeah. That's cool." People were stuck on those puzzles all the time, because they just didn't want to fall down the vortex. That became very clear during Early Access.


Felix Klein:

I think I actually re-designed the puzzles multiple times trying to make it more obvious that you need to stand on those vortexes and fall through. But nothing worked until I actually went the full way and actually made the player being stuck in a very narrow space with a vortex. There's essentially nothing to do except you have to go to this vortex and fall through.


Felix Klein:

Either they're stuck forever or they go on that vortex. That ultimately solved the issue. That was one example. There were several of those. I don't know. We had this first boss fight. You may have seen that one. The crab enemy, which you have to hit for massive damage.


Clinton Bader:

Yes.


Felix Klein:

Fun story about that one. In the beginning, you actually could damage it very slightly by just hitting it. The consequence was some people just hit it without trying to hit the weak point, all the time, until it was dead. And then, complained, "Man, this boss enemy had too much HP. Why does it take so long to defeat?"


Felix Klein:

That was one thing. Another one was that people initially didn't see that you could actually walk up the ramp to hit the crystal on top. That's when I added an arrow that just is printed on the box that opens. That really points on the crystal and added a whole glow effect and everything. That ultimately helped. People got the idea that way.


Felix Klein:

It's details like this. Especially, early on, you just really need this feedback. Because we were just starting out. We had our RPG Maker experience, which was really worth something. I still believe that. But we still had a lot to learn.


Felix Klein:

Early Access and giving out games and getting feedback was just really essential to get a better feeling for what you have to be careful about. If you want to make an enemy weak point, you really have to emphasize it in a special way so people really get the idea.


Larry Kilgore III:

We were just talking about that earlier when I was playing it. I had that exact problem with that crab at the beginning, where I was like, "I don't understand how I'm supposed to do this."


Larry Kilgore III:

And then, after dying a couple of times, I was like, "Oh my God. There's an arrow pointing to the weak point."


Felix Klein:

The good thing is that's actually why I decided. Most enemies in CrossCode actually don't have this, but the crab is really invulnerable unless you hit the crystal. Because it's really important to me that people understand this.


Felix Klein:

They should rather die a couple times than being able to defeat the crab without hitting the weak point. Because that will feel not really satisfying. I think it works better that way overall.


Larry Kilgore III:

Felix, I have to ask. What is the difference between the tech demo that you guys initially released and the larger Early Access quote, unquote demo that you guys had before final release?


Felix Klein:

The tech demo was essentially just trying out the technology of the game. Just seeing if we can get a game to run in this engine that we've been working on, on the web, with a lot of stuff like the physics and the rendering. There's actually ... You can jump on stuff and fall down. There was only the ball throwing puzzles. There was actually no RPG element in the tech demo.


Felix Klein:

It was just running around, solving some puzzles and fighting enemies with the projectiles. Nothing else. The demo that we released before the Early Access, before the crowdfunding, that was more or less a vertical slice of what the game featured.


Felix Klein:

There was actually the RPG elements. There were actual cut scenes with dialogues where you see the characters talking with each others. That was all missing in the tech demo. You also got close combat. You actually had more options in combat. A lot more options. There were also special attacks added.


Felix Klein:

We even added the RPG components like the character menu. You could actually equip things. You could find items. You could consume items. I think if we didn't add it in the initial demo, we probably added it during Early Access, as far as I remember.


Felix Klein:

Essentially, we've just tried to get a more or less feature-complete overview of what the game will offer. Obviously, most of the puzzle elements were still not implemented. Just a fraction of the enemies. There were a lot of content missing, but we wanted to get the different aspects of the game, to get an overall picture of what the game will be like.


Clinton Bader:

Earlier, you had briefly mentioned that you did get funding for this project through crowdfunding. How did that affect the development process of the game itself? I'm actually curious about that.


Felix Klein:

Essentially, the crowdfunding was, for us, the point where we wanted to decide if we will really take this serious. Because up to that point, it was actually still more of a hobby project. We didn't put a lot of funds into it. It was mostly developed in our free time. I did pay some artists and other people contributed, but not a lot really.


Felix Klein:

With the crowdfunding, we essentially wanted to really find proof that this is something that people want to play. If we get money, managed to reach our goal ... There's obviously something in the game that people want to play. Obviously, we get some money, so we can actually afford to spend more time on the game.


Felix Klein:

That was, for me, the point where I decided to essentially quit my PhD. I didn't even finish it. I just put it on ice more or less. There was an option to maybe continue it later, but that never happened really. Essentially, that's when at least some of our team members went full-time game developers. That really was the big impact of the crowdfunding.


Felix Klein:

It really wasn't easy, because crowdfunding is a lot of work. Getting the word out and everything. We did a lot of trying to spread the word, let everybody know about this game. We just barely made it. It was very stressful, but luckily, it did work out. That's essentially how we really got serious about the project in the end. Thanks to crowdfunding.


Larry Kilgore III:

The game was officially released in September of 2018, but you continued to update the game and even added a DLC in February of last year. How did it feel to work on the same project for the better part of a decade?


Felix Klein:

It did feel quite long. I'm not sure how each of the team members think about it. I got the impression that some people were happy at some point that we could finally move to something new. In fact, I, myself was also very happy about it. Ultimately, because it was probably about almost 10 years we've been working on CrossCode and the DLC.


Felix Klein:

It was a lot of fun, but essentially, we also noticed some of the limitations of the story. The setting in particular. We made the story ... A lot of people like the story, like the characters. A lot of people want us to make more about those characters and that story, but we realized it's actually difficult to make a lot of more interesting stories based on the setting.


Felix Klein:

It's possible, but you have to work around a lot of constraints, so we wanted to do something new. In fact, years before CrossCode was finally wrapped up, we already had ideas for the next project. It's funny how those evolved during the final years of CrossCode development.


Felix Klein:

And so, most of our team members were already excited for the next project by the time CrossCode was over. We just immediately switched to the next project and worked on that. The thing is, I think our next game will probably also take a long time. Because it's just the way we work.


Felix Klein:

We make relatively long games for indie games and we are not a huge team. It takes time to make content like that. And it was mostly thanks to Early Access that we even could afford to work for that long. Because we had revenue during the development and that's why we could even go all that way.


Felix Klein:

The next game will probably also take maybe half a decade. That could happen again. It's likely. Hopefully, not as long as CrossCode though. We hope to be more efficient this time. It's like we are starting out being full-time game developers right away. That certainly will make a difference.


Larry Kilgore III:

Is there any more that you can share about the new game that you guys have, now that CrossCode is done?


Felix Klein:

Yes. Our new project is called Project Terra. That's not really the name, that's just the placeholder. We really have to finally decide and release the actual name of the game. We did work on a prototype essentially the last year. We were actually pretty lucky, because we got funding from the German State. For some reason, Germany decided to now help game developers.


Felix Klein:

We were right there starting something new, so we could apply to get funding. That worked out really well. The prototype is, as I mentioned before, it's again web technologies. The big difference is, it's not just purely 2D. It's actually 3D this time. I'm actually working with those WebGL technologies that I mentioned earlier.


Felix Klein:

Otherwise, the gameplay is similar to CrossCode. It's another action RPG. There will definitely be puzzles again, even though we want to optimize certain things compared to CrossCode. The graphic style will be, again, pixel art. Just with more 3D perspective.


Felix Klein:

You actually have a lot of games like these, these days. The setting will be a new one, so it will not be really related to CrossCode. It will be more like a spiritual successor, you could say. I mentioned Terranigma in the beginning. That was one of our big inspirations for CrossCode already. Project Terra will especially be inspired by Terranigma.


Felix Klein:

Just not in terms of gameplay and graphic style, but also because of the whole setting of the plot. It will be going in a similar direction actually. That's what we have right now. We will soon actually go into a production of this prototype. In the production phase of the actual game. Once we do that, we will definitely release a lot of new stuff on our blog and share more details about what this game will actually be in detail.


Clinton Bader:

Do you have any plans for Early Access eventually for this? Is that something that fans can look forward to?


Felix Klein:

As I mentioned, Early Access worked out really well for CrossCode, so yes. We will most likely also do Early Access for Project Terra. Just because of how it worked for us. People know that we can do Early Access projects that will not be abandoned. Hopefully, people will be more trustful as well.


Felix Klein:

We will do Early Access. We will probably start a little bit later. In Crosscode, we really went from crowdfunding right into Early Access just a few months later. There was barely any game. For Project Terra, we will take a bit more time, so people actually get a bit more play time right away. But we will most likely do Early Access again.


Larry Kilgore III:

Great. Well, Felix, thank you so much for allowing us to pick your brain on CrossCode. And if the history shows anything, I'm sure Project Terra will be just as good as a game.


Larry Kilgore III:

We wish you the best of luck. Thank you so much for taking your time to join us on this episode of PixelSmiths.


Felix Klein:

Thank you for having me. It was a very nice interview. Thank you.


Clinton Bader:

Thanks, Felix.


Larry Kilgore III:

The songs in this episode were composed by Deniz Akbulut and are from the CrossCode Original Soundtrack. CrossCode is now available on PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox and PlayStation platforms, and the Nintendo Switch.


Larry Kilgore III:

Follow Felix on Twitter @lachsen. That's @-L-A-C-H-S-E-N. Or visit the company website radicalfishgames.com. PixelSmiths is brought to you by Podcamp Media, where we provide branded podcast production services for businesses. Podcampmedia.com. Executive producer is Dusty Weis and I oversee editing and production.


Clinton Bader:

You can follow me Clinton "Paperthin" Bader on social media at @paperthinhere. You can also see me on Twitch, twitch.tv/paperthinhere.


Larry Kilgore III:

Thanks for tuning into PixelSmiths. I'm Larry Kilgore III.


Clinton Bader:

And I'm Clinton "Paperthin" Bader.


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