Planning your course and determining to go for it is not an easy decision to make, especially in the world of video game development. Games come and go by the thousands, their success decided by seemingly arbitrary measures; Kickstarter campaigns win or fail as if by whim, and developers are left wondering what they did wrong. Luckily, even in this climate, there are those brave souls that decide to bite the bullet and work to make their dream come true. Enter Esoter Studio (http://esoterstudio.net/), a small team based in Novi Sad, Serbia, who are looking to face the odds and emerge triumphant! Today, we sat down with Suzana Savanović, CEO and founder, Darko Subotin, lead character artist and animator, as well as Danilo Radojčin, lead game designer and producer, to talk about their debut project, Children of Lir. The game will be a turn based tactical RPG with awesome art and a moving soundtrack (from what we’ve seen and heard so far, at least!) that will hopefully hit the screens soon.
How did you decide to come together and form a game studio?
Suzana: We all worked together at one point in our lives, and we all knew quite a lot about each other, even before we’ve started working together. The one thing we always wanted from a game studio was to be able to create the things we love without limitations, and forming Esoter was the only logical solution.
Danilo: We had a lot of game development experience before we decided to start working together, and we wanted to form a strong team, so we can unlock our creativity and create the games in the way we want.
Darko: The problem with big game developers is that it’s hard for a big company to approach any video game as an art piece because it is financially risky. When you have a small team and you get to make your first game, it needs to stand out. Here you have to experiment and find a solution, and that is why, in the indie community, I think video games are treated more like a true art form rather than simple entertainment.
What was the inspiration behind the name for your studio, Esoter?
Suzana: We wanted to use a name that’s short and yet recognizable. We did a bit of research, and we’ve found out that the term Esoteric means – understandable to a very small, enlightened group of people. Knowing what our goals and aspirations are, this made perfect sense, so we became Esoter Studio.
What made you fall in love with electronic entertainment and how has it impacted your personal lives in the past and now?
Suzana: There are many things that influenced my affection towards the electronic entertainment and arts, but the turning point for me was definitely when I discovered World of Warcraft when I was 12 years old. The amazing lore that game had, and the way it was thought out simply dragged me in, and even back then I knew I wanted to get involved in game development.
Danilo: Since my earliest childhood, I remember playing some type of video games. Whether they were some old 8-bit games for Commodore 128, or some recently published titles for consoles – I loved them all. To be perfectly honest, I still do, and I’m still in love with gaming, as much as I was when I was a kid. If I had to pick a turning point, it would probably be somewhere around the time I got myself the first gaming console. I never watched video games with the same eyes again.
Darko: Well there are many TV shows and movies that influenced me, but as for the games and other media, The Half-Life story and universe for its really authentic take on an alien invasion mixed with a very personal touch. I loved the fact that the main character never talks, which makes it much more immersive. Also, Max Payne series really blew my mind, as I really love detective stories, especially the gritty detective types. The Last of Us game also had a really big impact on me for its really intimate storytelling, All games from Tell Tale, Life Is Strange, some indie titles like Gone Home, and Limbo. I can say that electronic entertainment made me fall in love with it.
What media has influenced your creative thinking the most? What are your favorite books, comics, tv shows, movies, games?
Suzana: I find inspiration all around me. Whether it’s from literature, music, popular culture, TV shows, movies or video games, but I try to find something interesting and attention-grabbing in everything I do and watch. If I had to specify I would definitely mention World of Warcraft, any book by Stephen King, Star Wars, both movies and books, and generally everything from Blizzard.
Danilo: I’m also a great fan of Stephen King and his work, I love science fiction but I also appreciate fantasy stories. If there are some specific titles I had to single out, I would say Star Wars, Pulp Fiction, and The Fall are some of my favorite movies, while I spend quite a lot of time watching TV shows with my wife. TV shows like Breaking Bad, Expanse, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and similar ones are probably the main source of inspiration for me.
Darko: I find my inspiration in various media, but what I find most important in any media is a good, solid, and engaging storyline. The stories that influenced me the most are from movies like Blade Runner, Terminator 2, Back to the future series, Shutter Island, from series, Breaking Bad, Westworld, and The Walking Dead. When it comes to comic books, my favorite is Dylan Dog for its strange mix of supernatural, melancholy, philosophy and humor.
Do video games deserve to be called art? Why or why not?
Suzana: Of course they should be considered an art form. When you stop and think about all of the elements that go into even a single game, it would be wrong not to perceive games as complex art pieces.
Danilo: With so many different artistic elements combined together, it simply wouldn’t make any sense not to think about games as an art form. When you combine so many art forms into one functional game, that game is basically an art vessel – for me one of the most perfect ways to deliver any kind of art.
Darko: As I have said before, I consider video games a true art form because I believe they can offer us incredible and impossible-to-live experiences in a way that no other media can. Even the best series or the best movies cannot hold our focused attention like a video game. With the rise of more and more indie developers, and with the availability of commercial game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine 4, games are definitely starting to get appreciated as an art form
Games have been shifting between focusing on story and focusing on gameplay since forever. You can’t have one without the other, but which do you think is more important? Why?
Suzana: There is no simple answer to this question. You can create an interactive story where players get to do minimum action, and yet, when they are finished with the story, they feel like they’ve just completed the game. For me personally, the best possible practice is to try and combine these elements in such a way that players don’t notice the difference. Making the gameplay as immersive as possible, while keeping the story clear and concise is what we’re trying to do, so – to put it shortly – I think the story and the gameplay are equally important for a successful game.
Your game, Children of Lir, is a turn-based RPG. How did you settle on that combination? What were your influences?
Danilo: Yes, Children of Lir should be a party-based, turn-based RPG, with somewhat standard battle mechanics. We were influenced a lot by the old turn-based games like Heroes of Might and Magic III, but we also focused on some newer games like Darkest Dungeon and Pyre. These games served as the main reference for what we want to achieve.
Children of Lir will be based in Celtic mythology. What prompted that decision? Would you be open to making a game drawing influences from Slavic mythology, considering your heritage?
Darko: All of us at Esoter enjoy obscure stories and somewhat forgotten myths. Such stories have all the necessary elements to make it out and become an amazing game, but only if you know what you want to achieve with it.
Suzana: We talked a lot about making a game based on Slavic mythology, but for the time being, we are focusing on Children of Lir. It is possible that we will tackle a project based on our own mythology, but we don’t have any specific plans. We would certainly like to do something like that in the future.
The art style on your website and facebook page looks awesome, kind of like a dark cartoon or a graphic novel. What were your influences? Is the in-game art going to look like that?
Suzana: Thanks, we really wanted to make Children of Lir stand out. All of us at Esoter really like that type of dark-ish art, so deciding on the art style was not a challenge at all. I draw my inspiration for this specific art style from the everyday life, but I have to say that the famous “Upside Down” from the acclaimed TV show Stranger Things had a lot of influence on how everything turned out. Also, the cover art from A Day To Remember’s album “Homesick” affected our art style as well.
Danilo: We’re really glad you liked the art. We’re really trying to show as much of the game to our fans, without spoiling their experience, so most of the art you’ve seen on our social media and on our website will be in the game.
Four characters from Children of Lir are showcased on your page. Will these be playable, or are they characters driving the story?
Suzana: All of the characters displayed on our website are playable characters. They are essential to the storyline, but they are also very important for the gameplay, as players will have to decide which of those characters will suit specific obstacles.
Darko: And for the characters displayed on our Facebook page, three of those are playable characters, while one belongs to our opponents. We will have a variety of characters our players can choose to form a party, and there will be quite a lot of other characters who will drive the story.
As an aspiring writer, I’m intrigued by other people’s creative flow and story-building. What were the biggest challenges you faced, or continue to face, while constructing the narrative for Children of Lir?
Danilo: The biggest obstacle I face every time I’m writing any game material is to make it short and concise. I’m one of those writers who love going into details, but sometimes I tend to overdo it. Once I do, I have to figure out how to deal with excess narrative, and what the best way to cut it shorter is, so we can keep our gameplay clear and interesting.
Are you going to play a single character in Children of Lir, or rather a company of heroes?
Suzana: The game is going to be party-based, and players will be able to change characters they take in the party. Throughout the game, players will get to learn the stories of their party members, as they learn about what happened to their beloved Emerald Isle.
Children of Lir is set to be crowd-founded. What can pledges expect to gain? Are you (and if yes, how) planning to encourage fan engagement in the creative process, or will it be more of a closed deal?
Suzana: We’re still working on our Kickstarter campaign, and we’re also reviewing some other crowdfunding platforms, but we’re planning to keep our fans and supporters engaged throughout the campaign in various ways.
Danilo: Yes, we have a number of digital and physical pledge rewards for our supporters, things like wallpapers, posters, t-shirts, and even some 3D printed game figurines. We’re also planning to engage our audience through social media. We’ll probably organize a few giveaways and social media contests during the campaign, so follow us to keep a close eye on those.
Will Children of Lir be a one-of-a-kind project or do you expect to expand it in the future with DLC’s and sequels?
Suzana: For now, we’re working on it as a stand-alone mobile game, but with the option to use this world and this setting in the future. If some of our higher stretch goals are met, we will probably develop an origin story comic book, and quite possibly a board game with this theme. We would really love to develop this world even further, but it all depends on how successful our Kickstarter campaign will be.
If you were, for any reason, forbidden by the Gods of gaming to produce RPG’s, what is the next genre you’d like to create games in? Why?
Danilo: To be perfectly honest – I’m quite certain our next game won’t be an RPG. The logistics and the amount of hard work necessary for creating a solid RPG are extreme. I think that we will try something completely different for our next title. We won’t give up on RPGs, but we will try our best to explore some new ideas and game types. I would personally enjoy focusing on some kind of point-and-click adventure in the future, but we’ll see.
Where do you see the studio in 5, 10, 20 years?
Suzana: Tough question, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t see that much of a change, in a sense that we want to remain a creative space where innovative things and thinking outside the box is welcomed. We are a small team, almost like a family, and we are independent. Those are the two most important things for us, and we’re planning on keeping it this way, we of course plan to expand our team within a reasonable scale though. In the distant future I can imagine we will be working on a number of interesting titles, trying out new things and expanding our game worlds, we will stay true to our fans, and we will try to become a recognizable brand in the world of gaming.
Thanks, Esoter. We hope your vision comes true and that one day we will be able to say: “Of course we know Esoter, we did an interview with them before they became famous!” Children of Lir definitely looks promising and we’re eagerly awaiting launch day so that we can play it! Until then, if you’re filled with anticipation like we are, you can follow the game’s progress and get more news at http://childrenoflir.com/ or at the Facebook page