Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar on creating console game Save the Light

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Jun 1, 2017

Earlier this year, fans of Cartoon Network's hit animated series Steven Universe learned that the program was making the leap from TV to video game consoles with a sequel to the 2015 mobile game Attack the Light.

Details about the new game, Save the Light, were shared at PAX East in April, where Cartoon Network Games and developer Grumpyface Studios spoke to Syfy Wire about the upcoming release.

Now we know even more about Save the Light ... and from what we've seen so far, it looks like it's going to be a fun addition to the Steven Universe mythos.

Save the Light will see Steven protecting "the Prism (from Attack the Light) against a new foe with the help of the Crystal Gems, Greg and Connie." There will be eight playable characters, with seven available at the game's launch and one available in a later DLC. According to Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar, the team was really excited to build off of what they started in the first game. They wanted people to be able to explore Beach City and move around the space, making a world players felt like they could live in while also creating a way for players to explore more fully the relationships between characters.

"One of the earliest exciting things was that you could actually choose your team. With the first game, we were kind of experimenting with just very little things, like you can sort of choose who you're talking to. You can make a joke that Amethyst will like but Pearl might not like it, or you can correct someone in a way that Pearl would really like and really make Amethyst mad," Sugar told Syfy Wire at a May press event in New York City. "It was the first time you actually got to make that kind of choice as Steven. He makes it in the show all the time, but we decided that you get to decide it. In this game, we got to take that to a whole other level, where you can actually decide who you’re supporting, who you’re even exploring with."

After trying a demo of the game, I can say Save the Light does a great job of capturing the style of Steven Universe with its environments and characters. While running around Beach City it was fun seeing so many familiar faces from the show and talking to them. The dialogue I was able to try between characters and the few quips I heard from characters during combat really felt like they fit the personalities of the characters from the series.

Translating the characters and their relationships into video games has been more fun than challenging for Sugar, since they're video-game-inspired to begin with. She explained that it was intuitive to explore them in the language of a game.

"Even just the nature of choosing your party in like an RPG format is so what the show is. I'm really excited that you can play as Greg and Connie and everyone has their own sort of things that they're contributing," she said. "One thing that really excites me about the game also is that the show so often implies that there are many action adventures happening that you don't see, because I like to focus on the character stories, but the game is perfect because you can just go fight stuff, which they always do, but this time you get to see it and participate in it. That's certainly always going on ... I think the other thing that's exciting is by giving you the sort of choice of how you're relating to all the characters, the kind of stories we get to tell on the show become a story you get to tell by playing. I'm lucky that Grumpyface is really interested in finding mechanics that will support the kind of stories I like to tell."

When working on the first game, they didn't know they'd get the chance to work on a sequel, but Sugar said the timing is excellent.

"We wrote the first one when the world was a lot smaller in the show. It was always huge, but we didn't get to explore it yet, so as the world of the show has become bigger and we've gotten to explore it, the world of the game is also going to get bigger and we're going to get to explore it," she said. "It kind of worked out very naturally. I remember early on it was sort of like, ‘Oh, this game, what could it be about?’ at that stage, and that felt right, and now it’s like, ‘Oh there’s a game. What can it be about?’ and at this stage it’s like, well, it’s going to be huge, because everything on the show is huge."

Sugar confirmed that there’s a very specific spot where the story takes place in the Steven Universe universe and that there are enough clues that people can figure out when it’s happening. As for working with Grumpyface on the game, Sugar said she went to them with the general concept. She thought it would be exciting to flip everything they’d started and talked early on with them about it, working together on new characters and ways to expand the world that could only work as an expansion of the story seen in Attack the Light. Sugar was involved in the whole process and met with them every week to see what they had so far.

"We worked really hard on first game in getting the style down, and now it's been established, so they really built on the aesthetic of the first game and expanded that, which was awesome, so I was mostly focusing on the story aspect of it, because the design we invented together," she said.

Grumpyface Studios founder Chris Graham told Syfy Wire that working with Sugar is amazing.

"You can either have her in a mode where she's willing to listen and take your ideas and run with them or, if you're stuck or confused, she always has a vision. She has such a clear view of what happens in her world and what she can do with the show, and working with her is really a delight. She’s very open-minded," he said.

Graham and Grumpyface worked directly with Sugar to create a new character for the game, which will be revealed soon and according to Graham is "very rooted in the show." He teased that there may have even already been hints about this character in the show. Graham said Sugar had great ideas that they were able to use in design and story, and he can't wait for everyone to see the result.

According to Graham, one of Sugar's requests from the first game, for a relationship system with a gameplay component, was finally made a reality in Save the Light as well. They didn't have time to fulfill it in Attack the Light, so they knew they wanted to do it in this sequel from the beginning.

"It really kind of speaks to the core message of the show. You get these interpersonal relationships and such positive energy between characters. That element of teamwork and positivity, we wanted to take it and not only make it a key element of the story and the dialogue interactions, but it's also a game component,” he said. "In battle when your characters work together, that's actually improving your effects on the battle, so you’ve got those relationship meters. If Steven heals another character, if Garnet defeats a character that was about to attack Connie, those things will improve the character relationships in battle, unlock fusions and teamwork abilities. We’re really excited about that element. It’s really present throughout the whole game."

In the demo, each character’s abilities really seemed to work with their personalities and the skills you might think of them having from the series. Impressively, the combos between characters felt the same way, making each battle a lot of fun and giving you some interesting ways to strategize with these abilities and relationships. These relationships lead not only to great combos, but fusions, as Graham mentioned. Seeing Stevonnie in action during the demo was amazing, and it’s very exciting to think about what the other fusions can do in game.

Graham said when thinking about the moves and combos for characters, they had so many options they had to restrain themselves. There are a lot of references they can make, and so the team tried to walk a line between those and including new things, as well as looking at things like what characters you don’t usually see fight, like Greg, would do in combat. Player choice was also something important to Graham to include. He wanted characters to look and feel different at the end of one person’s game versus another, and that’s possible through different paths you can choose in the more RPG leveling-up system here, where you can customize characters.

Games will also differ based on the dialogue and choices people make as Steven in the game. I saw this happen early on in the demo, where I had to choose a gem Steven would meet. This choice then changed who the next gem I ran into would be, and according to Graham those changes continue throughout the game. Even choosing who you have in your party will impact dialogue. Another choice I saw in the demo was Steven naming a boss the group fights. Giving the boss a rather unique name and seeing it labeled as such was a fun addition to the battle.

With its bigger world, Graham said in Save the Light they want you to talk to the people in Beach City to get side quests and get "that RPG feel in the full Steven Universe world," which includes other locations beyond Beach City as well. Helping it really feel like it's in that universe is the full voice cast from the show in the game, which includes some fully voiced scenes, according to Graham.

"We got scenes that we tried to set up as close to the show as we could. Really make it feel like you're experiencing an episode of the show. The actors were so much fun, they did a little bit of ad-libbing and put their own personality into everything. There’s actually two surprises as far as actors that we'll be announcing later in the game, as well for new characters," he said.

Sugar couldn't reveal how the game, its story and new characters might connect with the larger world of the show. It's all secret right now, though she said she was very hands-on with it. That in itself should excite fans for the game, but frankly so should the rest. While the demo still had some small glitches and aspects that they said they were working on, it overall was a fun, colorful experience that felt like a great fit for Steven Universe. It's on track to be an impressive debut for the series on consoles that fans can look forward to this year.

Save the Light will be released this summer for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.