Cartoon Network is taking steps into the larger video game world this year by leaping from mobile to consoles with one of their most popular properties: Steven Universe. The animated series features fascinating characters and compelling stories that have appealed to an audience beyond kids since its premiere. It inspired a well-received role-playing mobile game, Attack the Light, in 2015 and now Steven, the Crystal Gems and other residents of Beach City will star in a brand-new console game called Save the Light.
Save the Light was announced last month ahead of gaming convention PAX East, along with the news that it would be joined on console with a game inspired by Cartoon Network's new animated TV series OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes. These two titles will mark the first attempt by Cartoon Network to create games for consoles. Save the Light will be a direct sequel to Attack the Light and is being developed by the same indie developer, Grumpyface Studios. It's an RPG and features eight playable characters in a story co-written by Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar. A brief description of the story was shared on the Playstation blog:
"Save the Light begins when a mysterious warrior arrives in Beach City and steals a powerful weapon, and then it's up to the Crystal Gems to embark on the magical mission to end all magical missions. Steven and the Gems must travel far beyond Beach City, battle an army of creepy creatures and stop a no-good Prism-snatcher in order to Save the Light!"
The Playstation 4 is the only console we know Save the Light will be available on so far, but additional consoles will be announced in the future.
To find out more about this new Steven Universe adventure, we spoke with creative director and founder of Grumpyface Chris Graham and vice president at Cartoon Network Digital Chris Waldron at PAX East about creating Save the Light and what fans can expect from the game.
How long has the game been in development?
Chris Graham: It's been about a year. We did the first game and it went over really well and was really popular. So many people asked us to keep going and make a sequel. We actually took a little bit of a hiatus. We were working on some other projects. When we were finally able to go back to it, it was really nice because the show team actually wanted to work with us again, and we loved collaborating with them so it was really kind of multiple different angles. We wanted to do it, the show team wanted to do it, and the fans were looking forward to it. Everything kind of came together in a really nice way.
Chris Waldron: We knew we also wanted to get to console. We knew that game was so amazing, it could be even bigger and better. At Cartoon Network Games, we knew we needed to start trying out things on console, and this was the obvious answer to that question because of the fanbase, because of how great Grumpy is, and because of how great Attack the Light was.
Can you talk a little bit about deciding to expand to consoles?
Waldron: A lot of it is the maturity of the console cycle right now. I think you're going to have more families playing on consoles, and so for us that's a big part of it. While we're not just kids, we are focused on kids. Ultimately what I like about this stage and what consoles offer is you have kids, but you have the ability to make a game, just like our shows, that expands beyond just that kid demographic. You can make something that's more fun, more layered, more textured, that a larger audience, a broader audience, will enjoy.
How do games fit into the Cartoon Network brand?
Waldron: My group has just focused on games for the past decade and a half. I've been at Cartoon for 17 years sort of making games for Cartoon. It's been in the past four or five years that I've shifted to be a part of the content team. So I report to Rob Sorcher, who runs Cartoon Network Studios, the guy who makes all the shows. In this past couple of years working with him we've made sure that any shows we put in development like OK K.O.!, the other game we're announcing here, has from the very beginning discussion about how games interact with that. We have game developers inside that process so that there's a back-and-forth between the game developers as well as the show creators so that they each influence one another and that really shows in Save the Light. Chris mentioned how much Rebecca [Sugar] and he are involved together writing the story, working on concepts for the story, bringing things from the show that haven't been out yet in public into the game and likewise having things from the game sort of influence the show. No other time I've been at Cartoon Network has there been more interplay between video games and cartoon creation.
What was the process like working with series creator Rebecca Sugar?
Graham: It's excellent. Both Rebecca and a lot of people on the team are big gamers themselves, so this type of collaboration is something they wanted to do just as much as we wanted to do. Not only that, but as far as what is needed for the game and then the different kind of approach to the game, they're already familiar with. They already have some opinions on those matters so when we come in we're not really trying to approach it as we're the experts and we're going to tell you what we need, it's just a full collaboration. What's also nice as far as the story of the game goes, it's not just a side story that Steven and everyone goes on. It's more also digging into the lore of the show, the backstory of the show, kind of giving fans something new that will connect some dots that they haven't seen before, so that's a really exciting opportunity.
This is the first console game for Grumpyface too. What challenges did you come across as you were making it?
Graham: I do believe so much can be done on mobile, but when you do make mobile you make certain design decisions that are suited for that platform both with the controls and the pacing and a lot of these different elements, such as shorter play sessions. With console, we kind of really approached it saying not only can we do a lot more on the technical end as far as the environments being 3D now, a lot more bigger animations on the screen, but also as far as the pacing and how people are going to digest it. It's done in a way where you're expecting longer play sessions and people kind of go a little deeper with the mechanics and the way they interact with the game. Challenges as far as the technical side are definitely there, but as developers we like challenges. We kind of embrace that and we are always learning and getting better.
What are some other differences fans will discover between this sequel and the first game, Attack the Light?
Graham: It's much, much bigger than the first game. The first game was very focused on going to just the dungeons. In this game people will be able to explore Beach City, take on side quests from the different residents there that they'll know from the show, and then, as I mentioned earlier, you're going to find out more about the Steven Universe lore.
Waldron: I think the main thing to take away there is that Rebecca was involved in this so it is coming from her brain as well as Chris' brain to make it. So if you know that you know there's going to be surprises in store for fans of the show because she's not going to let you down.
Graham: And it's not segregated. That's the really exciting thing.
What makes Steven Universe a show that translates well to games?
Graham: I think we saw these things in Steven right from when we first got to view the pilot. Years and years ago my team got to go out to Atlanta, see the pilot, and right away we knew that not only does he go on fun adventures but you've got an art aesthetic that we think is just beautiful and it actually does pull a lot from both Mario games and Zelda and there's that entry point for us as developers. There's so much influence from games, but then on top of that there's so much more. There's the lore and the backstories and the mysteries that people get really engrossed in. The characters, there's a lot of positivity to the characters. The show's also progressive in a way that makes us very proud to be involved with it. The different types of themes that you see in the show. We're not just developers on this game, we're big fans honestly. Everything they're doing we love.
Waldron: What's interesting is that the creators of the show are also video game players. Talk about Ian [Jones-Quartey] who was on Steven [and] he also created OK K.O.! and he can go really deep into classic games and mechanics and understands it and you can feel that throughout Steven. You can feel that throughout OK K.O.! where that game language is brought into the cartoons. It's kind of a no-brainer. It makes it easy for us to say "Yeah this obviously could be a game" so now it's "How do we make it even better?"
How will the game appeal to hardcore fans of the show and people who haven't seen it at all?
Waldron: When I think of Attack the Light, we got so many people reviewing it that didn't know the show but were interested in the show. It's made very accessible. These guys do a phenomenal job designing that first user experience where you're brought into the game, you're given a really interesting story and world to immerse yourself in and it's gorgeous, but it's not too hard. It builds and scaffolds up as you continue to go, and then you get to the point where it's easy at first and then starts getting much more complex as they introduce more mechanics and introduce more combos and better strategy that you can bring in. So even the more hardcore gamers can enjoy the variety of strategy that they can use. I think that just made it a great RPG for 2015 period, irrespective of a kid's game or a game based on a show. It was just a phenomenal RPG.
Graham: For Save the Light the story right at the beginning is set up to not only introduce people to Steven Universe but also introduce people to what happened in the first game. Then also there's so much there for the biggest fans of the show to dive into the lore and learn new things so we're trying to really kind of pull in everyone. I think my favorite part about Steven Universe is the world feels so big that there's so much of it that you want to explore and I think that that's going to appeal to both fans of the show and nonfans to want to go on this adventure with Steven.
Save the Light will be released this summer.