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Black Geyser Interview

by Couchpotato, 2022-08-08

Welcome one and all to another interview from your lazy Couchpotato on RPGWatch. You may remember that back in 2009-2012 I used to do monthly interviews, but took a long hiatus for burnout.

Well I decided to pick up the mantle again, and the first developer will be GrapeOcean Technologies, the developer of Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness. They agreed and some of you sent in your own questions.

Our site did another interview when the game was on Kickstarter by Farflame, and recently we had a positive review done by Lackblogger.

So without further delay here are the questions and answers:

RPGWatch: Thank you for agreeing to another interview. Can you give a brief introduction for any new visitors to the site?

GrapeOcean: Thank you for the possibility. We are truly grateful to the RPGWatch community for their continuous feedback and support of the game. GrapeOcean Technologies is a very small studio founded in 2014. Our center and most of the team is in Hungary, but we have team members in Austria and United States as well. Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness is our only released videogame so far. Currently, the team has a core part, and there are also enthusiastic subcontractors who work depending on the actual budget.

RPGWatch: Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness has been out for six months now and sits at a 6.7 from user reviews, and is currently mixed on Steam. Was the feedback given after its release surprising?

GrapeOcean: First of all, we want to emphasize that we are grateful for feedback, and most of the negative reviews have very good points; so they are very useful to us. Regarding the score, the game's rating has been Mostly Positive (71%) on Steam for some time. The Most Recent (30 days) Steam rating is indeed mixed at the moment, usually this seems to vary between 60% and 85%. While we appreciate every review, we consider the Steam and GOG ratings as the most credible. The 6.7 you mention is a user based score in Metacritic, but their user ratings are unverified and have no prerequisites (such as the requirement of owning the game at all), so any random internet user can vote there. As far as critique reviews are concerned, the sites that published a review seemed to give a score between 6.5 and 8.0. Our internal opinion is that 7.0 or anything above is a fair rating, and Steam seems to reflect this.

GOG is even better; it's 3.9 out of 5 (and 4.1 from their verified owners). This reflects that GOG players are more niche-focused. Correct representation of target audience would be crucial in reviews, considering a person who dislikes (for example) RTwPs and still forces themselves to play it (yes, this happens) will obviously not give better than a 5/10. If you dislike wine, you shouldn't be a judge in a wine competition.

Regarding your question, most of the feedback wasn't surprising, but we have been sad a bit that many people who enjoy the game don't really post positive reviews. Sure, it is a known fact in marketing that unhappy customers will raise their voice and happy customers usually forget to say anything. The problem is, if genre fans cannot be mobilized, it is nearly fatal for a small studio. This is because the lack of positive reviews extremely reduces the sales. Revenue of bigger studios, on the other hand, are much less affected by the distortion caused by negative reviews. E.g. some people down voted Elden Ring because it was too hard for them, while others down voted it because they found it too easy. As another example, Inevitable Excess (Pathfinder WoTR's DLC) is currently rated 38% (Mostly Negative) on Steam.

RPGWatch: Would it be possible to get accurate sale numbers, and ask if you have any future DLC planned? We know you keep adding new content in patches.

GrapeOcean: Monthly sales allow a limited operation of the team, and are (at least) an order of magnitude smaller than titles such as Pillars of Eternity 2. For some reason, the wishlist is very big and fresh though, and it keeps growing but without producing big sales. This is a mystery to us. Sure, there are numerous reasons why someone doesn't buy it yet: waiting for a discount, playing another game, waiting for more content and polishing, waiting for "Totally finished game" including the DLC. Yes, the DLC is planned, but this is currently a Catch 22 situation. The lack of sales prevents the team not only from implementing long-requested features (such as full party creation for Icewind Dale fans) but also makes the DLC distant.

Without more polishing and content, wishlisters won't buy the game, but without people buying it, it's impossible to polish/extend it further at an acceptable speed. Some people suggested that we should stop adding new stuff and say, "Hey, the game is finished. Done" and then more people would buy it instead of waiting. But there is no proof to this, so it is risky. It's also against our principles. We want to make it as good as possible and still reasonable. Sure, if you don't like the story/writing, you won't like it later either, as it won't be replaced (but we have important lessons learned here too, so for a sequel, we will take into account these lessons with the game story as well). On the other hand, there are just so many things to improve.

A modding toolkit and Steam Workshop support are planned too. For those who wonder if this money and effort should be spent on a sequel instead, we can assure you that a decent sequel will (unfortunately) cost much much more than the amount of money we spend on maintenance and improvements now. We prefer sincere and honest communication, but we also ask everyone who believed in the project to keep believing in it. We can assure you that we are doing our best, but the lack of positive reviews (and thus lower sales) makes our work very slow. So we are going to add all the promised stuff as soon as we can, but there is no ETA for most.

RPGWatch: You mentioned the company started out in the tech industry and you decided to branch out and develop your first game. Was there any hurdles to overcome, and what lessons have been learned?

GrapeOcean: There were hurdles all the time to overcome. Our team didn't throw a single party to celebrate anything, not even the release, because we were happy to get some sleep finally. We brought a lot of experience from tech industry, but the limited resources (money) we have had for the project prevented us from using some efficient methods we wanted to use (such as model-driven engineering or formal verification to prevent bugs). Of course, many lessons have been learned as well that were not a question of resources, so if we ever get a chance for a sequel, it will be much better in all aspects. Even though we made several mistakes that we won't do again, the most important general lesson is still a cliché: having the professional competence and skills to do something doesn't matter as long as you don't have the money to actually do it (e.g. deep and complex side quests). About 85% of issues present in critical reviews (such as too many fetch-quests, lack of depth in some aspects, too simple AI etc.) had purely financial reasons.

Only 15% were caused by mistakes or lack of experience. It's a zero-sum game, because if you spend on area art, you can't spend on character depth and vice versa. If you save money on scope ("Why didn't you make a smaller game?"), you would get lower sales and even more complaints that "the game is way too short" (true story, this is a negative Steam review). The RTwP games Black Geyser is currently compared to had about 10-15 times bigger budget. It's like you (as a private person) would have to make a living from 10 times less money per month than what you currently earn. People who claim that "Black Geyser team is wrong, it's possible to make an indie RPG from very little money, just look at X or Y" are not familiar with game industry or coding (programming). An RTwP engine is extremely complex, and contrary to the common misbelief, nothing in Black Geyser is licensed or affiliated with the Pillars of Eternity engine. We created our engine from scratch (based on Unity), and it took several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars (the engine alone, without the content and other stuff).

Another lesson is that it's impossible to execute a long-term plan (that would ensure uniform game quality and seamless source code) if you are running after the money as a small and new studio. So we had to update our plans way too often, which had a negative impact on game quality. Even Brian Fargo himself (whose studio is neither small nor new) claimed: "I spent 50% of my time raising money." -> Article

RPGWatch: What part of the game do you think came out the best?

GrapeOcean: Overall, the old-school feel in a modern presentation. We are proud of the beautiful portraits, item icons (they are hand-made, not 3D generated), item description illustrations and a particular complex side quest as well. Also, we like the subtle humor present in many dialogues, and the fact you can summon the undead form of a most despised NPC as your combat servant (if you play very greedy).

RPGWatch: What else, if anything, do xou still have on your road map for the game, excluding translations?

GrapeOcean: Here is a list that isn't complete but gives an idea about the plans:

  • DLC (including a very unique new class, kind of a distant relative of a Necromancer)
  • Customizable ability bar by player
  • Item descriptions will list the classes that can use the item
  • Pets
  • Strongholds
  • More spells
  • More love for unarmed combat (such as items giving a bonus)
  • Two-weapon style (dual wield)
  • Flails
  • Animal companions for classes where it makes sense
  • Shapeshifting
  • Deluxe Edition
  • Game OST as an independent asset
  • Monster respawn when returning to already explored wilderness areas
  • More interesting Random Encounters 
  • Revising many fetch-quests to make them more complex and interesting
  • Additional, complex side quests
  • Additional music (game songs)
  • Making Greed consequences (even) more conspicuous as it grows in the world
  • The option to create a full party during character creation
  • Modding support (including the possibility to lift class restrictions of races)
  • Improved quality for movement and fight swing animations
  • Savegame file compression to reduce disk space usage

RPGWatch: Which side quests do you think came out the coolest?

GrapeOcean: We have some favorites, but there is only one side quest in the game that we consider deep enough and good in every aspect: the Trapped under the Surface quest. It has a huge complexity mathematically so we had no time to apply all planned refinements on it, but it's still a side quest of its own right. By the way, it was the very first quest created for the game, and initially we planned 90% of side quests of the game to be like this. For a sequel, we want most side quests to be as deep and engaging as Trapped Under the Surface.

RPGWatch: Do you have any good tips for playing a rogue style class?

GrapeOcean: Thieves and Swindlers access a set of important class skills and a pair of damage dealing mechanics that can be built upon. Attributes-wise, a decent amount of Physique is advised for Health and damage dealing, then as many points as possible for Dexterity and Focus. For a Face-style character, Charisma should be emphasized instead of Focus. Class skills for Outlaw characters provide a lot of utility: picking locks unseen and disarming traps give many options to the character. While Stealing and Planting items also provides such utility, it also has a use for combat that ties into the Outlaw's increased damage dealt against targets with Status Effects on them. Using this skill to plant various powders to unsuspecting targets, then using a backstab to initiate combat gives a nice burst of damage. Backstab damage scales off the Outlaw's Hide and Sneak skill, so for a combat focused character this one is important.

To make the most use of the Outlaw's damage bonuses against Status-afflicted targets, look for weapons and items with high Status Effect chance bonuses, or ones that have a decent chance of applying additional effects when striking an enemy or being striked by one. The Outlaw skills "For the Eyes" and "Dirty Blow" can also be used to inflict such effects on demand. The Outlaw will pair well with any other character with their class-skill utility. For multiclassing, Outlaws pair well with magic-wielding classes, especially those that are able to inflict status effects through spells.

As a final note, three of our attributes - Charisma, Focus and Dexterity - are under rework for a future update (no ETA yet, it should be released before October though). This will better balance their usefulness, giving more options for building Outlaw characters. Charisma especially will become more important for their mechanics.

RPGWatch: What did you have to cut from the game that you wish you could have kept?

GrapeOcean: Like cutting unfinished things? There were some (such as the Mage Stronghold area, or flail icons), but the real problem is that there are tons of things we had no time (= money) to implement at all. Most things you can see in roadmaps we published were meant to be in the original game, including Strongholds.

For example, a beautiful and huge underground area for Mage Stronghold was completely finished ages ago, but its content (writing, NPCs, containers etc.) is missing, and of course the Stronghold system itself is unfinished too. The most painful thing, however, was the lack of time for implementing more much depth to the concept of Greed, making it much more conspicuous, including the depth of what and how you can do when playing greedy vs. generous. Altogether, the concept of greed was not exploited at all to the extent we initially dreamed. Maybe someday in a future update.

RPGWatch: Do you have plans for any further games - either in the same setting or something new?

GrapeOcean: We are planning a sequel. It won't be released before 2024 or 2025 though. Besides Black Geyser 2, we would love to create a unique post-apocalyptic style RPG.

RPGWatch: Will there be any more updates to companions and party banter?

GrapeOcean: They are planned, but there is no ETA yet. 

RPGWatch: There is some rumor that few quests are not properly developed or finished, like they ended too soon. Is it something you would like to correct later, or is it already corrected? Or maybe this rumor is not true?

GrapeOcean: While Arvex just received his full questline in the most recent update, Helgenhar's personal questline indeed doesn't conclude story-wise. Technically, the quest you can fully complete is only the first stage of his questline. There are plans to finish Helgenhar's companion quest but there is no ETA currently. Regarding side quests in general, we really want to improve/extend the fetch-quests by adding complexity and depth into them. Additionally, we have a plan for an interesting and complex quest that would involve a lot of commoner houses in cities. There are currently no resources to do these though.

RPGWatch: I assume you would like to create another isometric CRPG using your assets and tools. Can you try to compare the amount of work needed to do another fantasy CRPG vs work needed for CRPG in different settings like sci-fi or cyberpunk? For example ca. 2-3 years for another fantasy Geyser vs 3-4 years for "Neon Geyser" :)?

GrapeOcean: There should be no substantial difference. The budget doesn't depend on the setting; it depends on the scope and complexity. We could re-use some barrels or candles for another medieval RPG but that's it. Of course, for the sequel (Black Geyser 2) itself, somewhat less work is required because many fundamentals (lore, world map etc.) are given already.

RPGWatch: Is Kickstarter an option for next CRPG or is it harder to have successful Kickstarter nowadays?

GrapeOcean: Everything is harder nowadays (no kidding). The world is getting darker and the media just made 95% of people blind, so people aren't aware of what is truly happening around them. Instead, they are kept in delusion by alternating sequences of powerful Charm and Fear spells. This makes the situation of Kickstarters and credible games harder too, because less and less people are interested in serious genres. It is a Catch 22. Media influences people over the years, and then people will demand whatever they were influenced for, causing any classic providers to shut down who would not fulfill the new demand. The entire UI of certain mainstream RPGs is apparently modeled after kindergarten toys, yet people purchase these games in big quantities.

Another example of how people are deluded nowadays is Black Geyser itself: some players who posted negative reviews complain that they start as a servant and then a dominant crone gives them instructions. 20 years ago, this was no reason to dislike a game. Having said that, Kickstarter is an option for us, but we will have to make an extensive research whether it would be successful and provide enough funding for a sequel. Obviously, many of the initial Kickstarter backers were lost because of disappointment or other reasons, and at the same time, there are new potential backers among the players who now enjoy Black Geyser.

RPGWatch: Can I also ask was the game inspired by Baldur's Gate, or Pillars of Eternity. It's a hot topic of debate here on RPGWatch.

GrapeOcean: It is inspired by both (plus Icewind Dale), but the influence of Baldur's Gate and D&D 2.0 is stronger. For the sequel, we want to take a slightly more modern route and will also relax some old-school restrictions (for example, all classes will be available to all races). Don't worry about "modern route" though, we won't give up the old-school values but (for example) will probably introduce a stash instead of limited per-character inventories. Merely because most players nowadays expect this as a fundamental quality-of-life feature.

RPGWatch: Thank you for your time. Do you have anything you would like to add? 

GrapeOcean: We want to express again our heartfelt gratitude to the RPGWatch community for supporting this project throughout the years. And the RPG Codex gets a hug too for their very useful and diverse feedback. They are not bad people after all.

That concludes the interview; you can check out and buy the game on Steam or GOG, if you’re interested. We wish GrapeOcean success in any future project. Look forward to more interviews in the future.

Box Art

Information about

Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness

Developer: GrapeOcean Technologies

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: RPG
Combat: Pausable Real-time
Play-time: Over 60 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released: 2022-03-17
· Publisher: Unknown

More information

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