At PAX West, I was waiting in the Indie Minibooth for another interview when I spotted a strange RTS-looking game with a bunch of funky icons. I started watching someone play through the tutorial and asked someone what was happening in that game. He responded: "Oh, you play a god that makes commandments that your followers might misinterpret." I needed to know more.
So I chatted with Erik Johnson from Eat Create Sleep at the Crest booth to find out more about the game. It was such an interesting concept that builds on the concepts of other god games, but does it with a unique commandment system that I really enjoyed.
Erik echoed the notion that the idea Crest can be a little hard to nail down:
It's been hard to figure out the elevator pitch perfectly. So we decided to go with the idea of describing it as a religion simulator, and that means that - it is a god game, but it's different than normal god games where you would have more direct influence over your followers or your worshipers. In Crest, you have a simple iconic language that you can issue commandments to your worshipers, but you have no direct control on whether or not they follow those to the letter you are trying to explain to them or if they will reinterpret or re-purpose that to what makes sense to them within a space. I think the whole concept is that faith and freewill are two core concepts and the idea that a god can give a certain commandment but it is up to people to interpret it as such and where they go from there is - its not something that god can control.
I first actually thought it was like the progenitor of god games, Populus, but Erik was quick to point out that Dwarf Fortress, Civilization, and especially Black and White are big influences. You can definitely see some Dwarf Fortress DNA in there with the commandment system substituting for a queue or job functions.
What is really intriguing is starting a religion as the deity and influencing your followers, but never being fully in control. You can exert a lot of influence, but you will have to still understand who your followers are and issue commandments that gel with your needs and sensibilities.
I asked what the origins of the ideas behind Crest, and Erik has a really interesting answer:
We are all agnostic - the team I think. I don't think I'm speaking for anybody by saying that. I believe that we came into this...when I was younger the whole idea of religious studies was, uh, you know, I was young enough to bounce off that in a way that I was like "Oh, I'm agnostic. What would religious studies...that would be very interesting to me.
Getting older, we all realized that the study is really fascinating and religion is history. There's a lot of history to look into when you talk about religion.
And what we wanted to do was - come up with...an idea of a god game with that idea of faith and belief and the ability to say that "If god exists, why does evil exist in the world". Well, there obviously has to be some sort of design choice there by god, and that design choice is freewill, which might cause a headache to that god if you were the player. You know, you can kind of think about how that would cause a headache. The mechanics are all pretty novel, like what we are trying to do. The concept is pretty novel, and its just a big experiment to us. We're a developer that's really just into experimentation, and this just seemed like a really cool space to explore that a lot of us really haven't yet - and so, this was in 2013 and now we find ourselves like three years later.
I bought the game that night and have been playing it on Steam a bit. It is a solid concept and Early Access Steam game. Erik had said that the release is planned in 1st Quarter 2017. I do wonder what the mid or end game would be like.
I asked the same question at PAX and Erik had some interesting ideas:
The middle or the late game is something that between now and 1.0 is really what we are looking to address. We find that players are having a great time in the first few hours - what to do after that? Some of the thoughts that we've I bought had - um, we've starting implementing city-states where that kind of can create conflicts between different groups of worshipers, the idea of multiple islands - so that you can essentially get your worshipers to the point were they can build boats and travel and then that introduces that concept of coming across potentially "savages" that don't know about religion yet or other religions. I don't want to commit to saying we're gonna do that. But those are some of the ideas that we have in mind is that - where can you guys go from there? And some people have talked about - what about technology
I think we hit the simulation niche really well. People who are into simulation games are getting this, and really enjoying it. But we do need to find that "rubber meets the road" for the middle to late games and stuff. That's why we are looking into more meaningful complexities, right - not to bulk it down.
After playing the Early Access version of Crest, I can honestly say the idea is really unique and interesting. The commandment system is fascinating and I would love to play around with it more. I had a city misinterpret my command to produce children as "overfed people should produce offspring". This meant only the real privileged people with too much food would have children and that caused quite a population drop. One of my cities quickly turned into a husk of its former glory. The cool thing is that commandment was one of the first I ever issued. After quite a bit of time, the idea and wording of the commandment became skewed and it led to this weird stratification of my followers.
I think Crest has some great ideas and I want to see what the full release is like. It is currently in Steam Early Access for $9.99. I don't think this is a game for everyone. It occupies that simulation niche, but I need more things to dig into. If you are willing to play around with a cool concept, check out some video or gameplay. Crest is unique and I am looking forward to more updates.
If you would like to listen to the entire 11-min interview, I posted it on SoundCloud.