When it comes to “runners”, most think of the endless runner genre and the multitude of games that clutter the App Store and Play Store. With that in mind, it can be easy to overlook or outright dismiss a game just by catching a few seconds og gameplay footage and assuming, “Oh, it’s just another one of those.” However, in the case of Once Upon a Runner, the upcoming fairytale-themed runner developed by SaltyPepper Games, mistaking it for any ordinary runner would do the project, and team, a disservice. I got the chance to speak to Lead Designer Jasmine Greene about the game, their soon-ending Kickstarter campaign – which is in dire need of support – and her new role that’s seeing her work with a team, as opposed to developing solo, for the first time.
Indie Game Magazine: Your Kickstarter bio says you dabbled in game design on a 1990’s Mac. What sort of software were you working with back then?
Jasmine Greene: Oh man, it was just the basic editor on Mac where I was able to animate a ball across the screen. I don’t even remember what it was called, but you could click the ball and move it around the screen and avoid obstacles. You could also add Venetian blind effects!
IGM: This is your first group project, right? How has the experience differed from developing solo?
Jasmine: When working in a group you can get feedback. So if something sucks, the group will speak up. Which is great because you don’t really get that working solo, you get so involved in what you’re doing that you forget what other people might think about it.
As the lead designer it’s also been interesting, as I’ve had to direct other people below me. Sometimes it’s harder since you have to deal with so many other people and keep them moving forward.
IGM: is it difficult to explain your vision to other team members? or has everyone been on the same page for the most part?
Jasmine: For the most part people have more or less been on the same page. I create pretty detailed Game Design Documents, and for the artists I try to pull up as many reference images as possible to make it easier for them. Of course, things might still get lost in translation, but generally speaking we’re all pretty good about asking questions and clarifying things that might not be too clear.
IGM: that’s good. Okay so getting into the game itself: What separates Once Upon a Runner from the other sidescrolling runners out there on a mechanics level?
Jasmine: Well there are a couple things: Traditionally in runners you just well…run and avoid obstacles. Here, since Ella is a fire mage, we give her the ability to shoot fireballs. This leads into the other difference, which is the boss fights. In later fights you’ll need the fireballs in order to defeat the bosses.
IGM: How do the boss battles play out, if they differ from the traditional gameplay?
Jasmine: They all play a little differently. So the earlier levels you will have to survive and avoid some kind of obstacle. In later ones, you will not only have to avoid obstacles but also figure out how to bring down the bosses’ HP. There’s a bit of a ‘puzzle’ element to it.
IGM: Are there other power ups or abilities that Ella acquires during runs?
Jasmine: Yes, she can receive a crystal magnet and a shield. She can also pick up additional hearts.
IGM: She has additional costumes too, right? Will Ella’s different outfits offer additional gameplay advantages, or are they aesthetic?
Jasmine: Yes, she has 9 different outfits and they’re purely aesthetic.
IGM: And there are 6 different fairy tale worlds to play through? Are they inspired by a particular version of these classic stories? Disney or Grimm?
Jasmine: Yes there are 6 different worlds. I would say that they’re more our personal take on the fairy tales, so there’s a little Disney in there and there’s a little from the original. We wanted to give a fresh perspective on these stories though, which is something that Ella gives us. So if anything, it’s Ella’s take on the stories.
A little spoiler, there’s also a little nod to Popeye as well.
IGM: Oh, yeah? That’s interesting. Since most of the story takes place via hand drawn comic panels, was there ever any talk about creating a tie-in comic?
Jasmine: We were actually in talks about maybe even an animated short, but nothing solidified as of yet. We definitely think there’s a lot of story that we could explore even within this small narrative though.
IGM: Looking at the kickstarter and backer rewards, one of your higher tier rewards for backers is an interview with a department head about the studio’s next game. What made
you decide to include that as a reward?
Jasmine: We wanted a way for the community to really get in on the ground floor with the developers and actually feel like they’re contributing to our game. What better way than a direct line of access to the department heads?
The reward allows you to ask us questions, try out the prototype before anyone else and give us feedback. Essentially, you’ll help shape our future game.
IGM: Community feedback is usually one of the most important aspects of crowdfunding. But in your case, most of the game was conceptualized before the campaign. Has community feedback altered the game at all, since it was already so far into development?
Jasmine: Definitely! We’ve been taking into consideration a lot of what people have told us, or that we’ve noticed while people have tried out our game; making things more easy to distinguish, adding counters, etc.
We’ve been looking at the game for so long that sometimes it’s hard to see what might be confusing for other people!
IGM: Yeah, that makes sense. In terms of future content, How would Hard Mode and Sudden Death Mode differ from the standard mode?
Jasmine: Hard mode will have several differences from standard: 1) The game will be faster. 2) Bosses will be harder. 3) Obstacles will be randomized. In Standard mode, obstacles are set in place so you can learn the board. Not so with hard mode.
In Sudden Death, you will only have one heart to get through all the levels, and if you die, then you will have to start from Level 1 again.
IGM: Are there any other future updates in the works?
Jasmine: Sure. We have several ideas that we’d like to add, maybe a memory mini-game for extra in-game crystals and some quests, there might even be an additional level.
IGM: Okay, that’s all the questions I’ve got for you. Is there anything else you’d like to add for folks interested in the project on the fence about backing?
Jasmine: Sure. The rewards listed aren’t really the only things that you get when you back us, you’ll actually be responsible for kickstarting an indie development company, and ultimately help us create more games. We’re also always open to any questions or comments you might have.