Indie Games Plus had a chat with Shepple, Lead Developer of HEARTBEAT, to learn about the warm and fuzzy inspirations behind the cute RPG of making monster pals.
IGP – What was the inspiration for HEARTBEAT? What made you want to create this world of humans and monsters?
Shepple, Lead Developer of HEARTBEAT – Hi, I’m Shepple, the lead dev. I just generally like drawing monsters/creatures.
As for HEARTBEAT actually taking off as a project, it was around the time I was dealing with a few personal obstacles and issues in my life, but then, I suddenly acquired a small kitten out of the blue, which helped a lot with said personal strife. Thus, I wanted to make a mascot based on her. Even as I’m typing this, she sits on my lap, purring away into slumber. The sense of urgency and responsibility she gave me allowed me to get the courage to tackle story-telling.
While I love general monster-catching games, I didn’t want HEARTBEAT to be that. A lot of folks seem to get this wrong, but I understand that folks like having a frame of reference. Monsters play a part in this world, and just like humans, I wanted to give them certain rules to follow. Most importantly, I wanted HEARTBEAT‘s world to be more than what’s seen on the surface.
Besides the monsters, truthfully told, and I want to mention this since I’m always questioned about it, I mostly just wanted to draw scruffy girls and pretty girls which explains the majority of the cast. I have very specific tastes when it comes to the aesthetic, and I hardly see the specific “type” I like in games. And, of course, when you’re making something, why not make something that you like? And so, HEARTBEAT was born.
What drew you to explore friendship with the game? Why was that important to you?
Creating bonds is a pretty general aspect of many games. HEARTBEAT mostly focuses on the theme of being an adult, but still able to enjoy things despite age. People I’ve met, as do I, have issues with societal pressures to immediately drop all things we enjoy, and focus on ‘adult’ matters.
I wanted a game, and especially a protagonist, who exhibited a desire and a need to ‘just be yourself and not compare yourself to others.’ As a generation growing up on social media and quick information sharing, this is something a lot of folks fall prey to, and it’s good to remember that you are the only one who can ever be you.
Working on the game with this in mind helped me grow a lot as a person, and hearing other players point it out and how it’s helped them has been very surprising, but delightful.
How did you come up with the cute, pixellated, cartoonish visual style for the game? What was it about this look that made it feel right?
My team and I have always been a fan of the GBC/GBA/DS era specifically. One of the devs, Sil, has already been spriting for a while, and I’d only just begun dabbling in it seriously a few months prior to working on HEARTBEAT. It was around this time that I wanted to make something that’s reminiscent of being a kid and going home, excited just to get your hands on your GBA for hours. I wanted to recreate that feeling.
Besides our love for nostalgia, which I’m sure many folks share, we just really like cute things and we share similar interests when it comes to visual aesthetics.
How did you design the monsters of HEARTBEAT? What thoughts would go into designing them? Into creating their attacks and abilities?
Our team is very fond of monster lore, so lot of HEARTBEAT‘s monsters are based on various mythos and legends, which were incorporated into the game as simplified monster designs. We tried to tie some of the mythological stories of particular creatures into their attacks.
For example, the Jinwu is a three-legged crow that represents the sun. While giving it three legs looked bizarre, I opted to give it a large prehensile tail which I believe could act as an extra limb. Due to its association with the sun, we turned it into a fire-element monster with sun-related move names.
We just take the original creature, draw our own interpretation of it, and go from there. It’s not too different from how cryptids differ in various designs based on the artist or story-teller.
HEARTBEAT features a vast, complex card game. What thoughts went into designing it, and why did you add such a large extra element into the game?
Originally, we wanted to do a monster book, but we ended up turning this into a card collecting mini-game instead. The card system is actually not complex – it’s just a way for the player to gather information on creatures they’ve met, or have yet to meet, at various points in the game. Not only that, it also contains small bits of information on notable characters or pictures of areas. It really was just for fun.
Gambling is just addicting in general, but it can lead to some moral questions. However, we thought it would be okay here since it’s simple enough, and doesn’t require the use of microtransactions. So we shouldn’t get into too much trouble with it [Laughs].
You also implemented many sidequests, alternate endings, and extra things to do. What do you feel this adds to the player’s experience with HEARTBEAT?
Just like the cards, I wanted players to have a way to access lore behind the game’s world itself. As this game is a medium-sized RPG, with most players clocking in at 25 hours on average for the main story, certain questions and curiosities would definitely arise from playing the game long enough. I have always had this same experience playing RPGs as a kid, which made me dive more into the game just to get some questions answered.
However, I didn’t want the sidequests to be something mandatory (although most players eventually do them anyway) because I didn’t want them to be forced on the player. Everyone has a different play style, and everyone has different interests. We have a quest that rewards the player with lore, and we have some that satiate the need for harder battles.
There’s only one quest that seems like a sidequest that is necessary to getting the true ending, but the majority of it is fighting. However, upon doing so, the player will gets some information – information that’s not experienced by any other character you can meet – that explains why HEARTBEAT‘s world is the way it is. This quest continuously gives rewards for each action fulfilled, and I wanted to show that going out of your way to do quests will always net you a reward.
How do you design a world that feels welcoming and fleshed out? How do HEARTBEAT‘s various elements come together to make a fully-realized world?
I just have a huge love for world-building. HEARTBEAT is the first time I actually dove into it. While a lot of visual design choices are “free for all,” I wanted there to be rules set in place in this world. I’ve always loved when games have their own culture, so to speak, because it’s something alien and different from what we see day to day. And, most importantly, I wanted to create a world that’s fun but full of intrigue.
Every little sidequest, every notable character, and every area gives insight into lore and the norms of HEARTBEAT‘s world. I was very particular about this aspect. It’s something I love in games I’ve played, and I wanted to recreate that feeling of curiosity. I wanted a world more inquisitive players can dabble in.
We’ve even noticed a lot of folks that normally don’t play RPGs, either due to their battle systems or preconceived notions about settings and plot, end up playing this game and creating simple strategies to beat hard enemies, sharing said strategies with other players, and pushing on to uncover more information about the game’s world. RPGs can still be fun for those who don’t normally play them, and I wanted HEARTBEAT to show that.
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