One of the games that really stood out to me at Indie Arena Booth 2020 was Bravery Network Online, a charming mash-up of influences and genres with a competitive wrap. I sat down with GLOAM’s Damian Sommer after playing through the demo of Bravery Network Online to discuss what went into the game to make it stand out.
Steve: How long has Bravery Network Online been in development?
Damian: We’ve been working on the game in some manner for five years now, since the summer of 2015.
GLOAM won the 2019 Ubisoft Indie Series grand prize. How did that play into the development? What sorts of takeaways did the studio have after winning?
It was absolutely a reaffirmation of our goals. We started making the game because we were playing this Pokémon simulator called Pokémon Showdown, a very popular offshoot.
I wanted to play a game that’s exactly like this, but not Pokémon. Every other Pokémon knock-off takes the Pokémon formula and tries to make it it’s own. They focus on the collection aspect very heavily, almost exclusively. They focus on the creatures. While I enjoy that part of Pokémon, that is not the part that really compels me to play it. And so I was like: “Why doesn’t this exist right?” I looked it up and there’s a couple. But those still were not what I wanted.
Winning the Ubisoft prize definitely helped. Honestly, if we didn’t get that prize money we would be in so much trouble right now. Game development is constant trouble, but the prize money has definitely saved us because of stuff like COVID. Money has definitely been a nice cushion to make sure we can pay people to do the things we need them to do, and that kind of thing.
I had the chance to play the demo, which by all accounts was a substantial tutorial. It gave me a taste of the characters, gameplay mechanics, and setting. In terms of the overall experience, is the demo a well-rounded account of what to expect from the core game?
Yeah, we wanted to make a bite-sized version of how the full game works. What happens in the demo is you go through a couple of stories and you acquire some characters. It eventually leads up to your first full match.
Then it opens into online play. If you want to play against people, you can do so. In the demo, a bunch of stuff is unlocked. I would say we gave you about 40% of the mechanics that are in Bravery. There’s a lot of stuff outside of that really changes things up in a significant way.
I don’t know if you clicked around in the demo, but there’s a bunch of NPC characters all over the place. They all have their own stories to unlock as well. Euler has a whole storyline where he’ll explain to you what necklaces do and how they work. It gives you a glimpse into that character and their dynamics with everyone else.
Some of them are just more for flavor. Basically, every little aspect of unlocking a character has a story attached to it. Vignettes are what we call them in the studio. They give you a little snapshot of life in this world that we’ve created. By doing so, you are unlocking mechanics that you can then use for the full game, like the online battling.
Bravery Network Online features characters that possess unique offensive, defensive, and passive abilities, and each has a unique twist on them. How do these continue to play off one another as you progress in the game?
The leveling up is not a traditional level system because that’s not conducive to a good competitive space. You don’t want people who played longer to be objectively better than people who haven’t. But at the same time, we want people to have goals that they can set themselves that they can work towards.
The system for how unlocking works is every character will start with anywhere between 3 and 5 moves that the character is “comfortable” with. But they have move pools of 14 moves, sometimes even more. You can equip one “uncomfortable” move at any time. Also, every character has a trait that is a passive ability.
All you’re doing is unlocking flexibility, but it gives you goals. As they progress through either single or multiplayer story battles, you’ll get more “comfortable” with the moves that you have equipped.
I was really delighted to see the game has a diverse cast of characters. Molly, for instance, is a standout for me. What can you tell us about the development of the characters?
The mechanics of the characters are inspired by different Pokémon. If you know the competitive Pokémon space, you can look at some fighters and say it feels exactly like this Pokémon or that.
For the actual character designs, we knew right off the bat that we wanted a diverse cast. We live in Toronto, one of the most diverse cities in the world. The team is super diverse. We have team members from all around the world with different sexualities and gender identities and all of that. We want people to feel represented in this game.
Usually, it’s the stat spreads that come first. So I’ll come up with a character that I really want. For instance, a fighter with physical and digital defense, but no emotional defense. So, we make them look either overconfident, or we would want them to look a little nervous. Because then emotional attacks will hit way harder.
As indicated by the name, Bravery Network Online has an online component that’s seemingly geared towards a more competitive audience. Can you talk about the ongoing support planned for the online component?
We’re going to be releasing content overtime. There will be new stuff pretty consistently. We’re going to have ranked and all of that. There will be tournaments. We’re still working out how we’re going to be doing prizes.
Playing competitive is actually the quickest way to level up your characters. It gets you the in-game currency Sway, which allows you to customize more stuff. There won’t be microtransactions or anything. It is just an in-game currency. We will also be doing balance updates. We are listening to players already with their feedback.
Bravery Network Online is said to take place in a Cyberpunk version of Toronto. Are there any Easter Eggs or direct references a resident such as myself should keep an eye out for?
Bravery takes place 5000 years in the future. You are not going to recognize a lot of the stuff. But there are little Easter Eggs, too. One that isn’t in the game yet, but we hope to add is, is inspired by the Battle Tree in Pokémon, if you know it? The Bravery version of that will take place in The Path. The tower the game actually takes place in is called Tower Six. The game has little nods like that.
[This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.]
I would like to thank Damian Sommer for taking the time to chat with me! Bravery Network Online is expected to release on Steam sometime later in 2020. You can sign up for a chance to participate in the beta right now.