Here’s a quick fact about me, I love cozy games. Heck, just about everyone these days does. Hence why they had their own wholesome showcase this year. I’ve played more hours in Stardew Valley than I care to count, I’ve searched aimlessly for diamonds in Minecraft for what felt like days, and I’ve waved goodbye to all my beloved spirits at the Everdoor in Spiritfarer. However, I also like my cozy games with a little bit of bite too. Games like Terraria, Darkest Dungeon, or Rogue Legacy, for example, that add in a little combat to make things interesting. Well, when I heard that there was a game on the horizon that takes aspects from practically every game that I have just mentioned and smushes them together to form an incredible hybrid, you can bet I was overjoyed. I am, of course, talking about Core Keeper.
Core Keeper is a co-op mining adventure that sees players work together to mine pathways and explore the depths below, craft items to fend off the creatures that lurk in the mineshafts, farm crops, build intricate bases, defeat behemoth bosses that dominate each distinct biome. Plus, as you explore, you’ll witness a charming story unravel as you begin to understand what the function of The Core is, and begin to make sense of this mysterious ancient world.
This new and exciting mining adventure comes from developers Pugstorm, and is only their second game, following the successful release of Radical Rabbit Stew, and even with the game still in early access, it’s clear that this game is set to be a very popular title. The game already has a strong player base, has seen multiple sizable updates, and, if I do say so myself, plays like the finished article at the time of writing. However, many are still unaware of this title on the horizon, so I had the pleasure of sitting down with Fredrik Präntare, the creative director of Core Keeper, to dig deep into this game and hopefully mine some secrets for our readers ahead of release. So without further delay, here is our Pugstrom Interview; enjoy!
Introducing Fredrik Präntare – Chief Pug
Question 1: Hey Fredrik, thanks for sitting down with Indie Game Culture today. We here have all been enamored with Core Keeper, and I can’t wait to dive deeper into its background and development. But before all that, the team had a quick little icebreaker question to ask. The pug in Pugstorm, is there a story behind the name? Is it modeled after one of your dogs? We need to know!
Answer: Hey, and thank you for inviting me!
Haha, well, yes, there is a story behind the name. But it might not be what you would expect. Essentially, I proposed the name Pugstorm as a weird attempt to make us not take ourselves too seriously, and I couldn’t help but smile when I thought about happy pugs raining down from the sky. We also have several “dog lovers” on the team, so it fits well in that sense too.
Question 2: Okay, so let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this chat, Core Keeper. Many have compared this game to Minecraft, Terraria, Stardew Valley, and a handful of other indies. Was there a game that served as this game’s inspiration, or was this a project dreamt up without looking to others for inspiration?
Answer: Core Keeper was indeed inspired by a variety of games, and we wanted to create something that would feel familiar to them, but also offer something new and exciting. We borrow a lot of ideas from Minecraft, Terraria, Valheim, and Stardew Valley, as well as from some classic games like The Legend of Zelda, Goof Troop, and Dungeon Keeper. Ultimately, though, I think the combinations and synergies between the different inspirations and systems in Core Keeper are what make it an interesting and unique experience. For this reason, I sometimes use the phrase “combinatorial design” to emphasize our deliberate approach to combining ideas while making games.
Question 3: So before Core Keeper, there was a title called Radical Rabbit Stew. From the outside looking in, it shares the same top-down pixel art style and similarly includes bosses and puzzles. So my question is, did this game serve as a starting blueprint for Core Keeper?
Answer: Absolutely, in many ways, really. Firstly, and perhaps most concretely, we built Core Keeper on top of the Radical Rabbit Stew codebase. The first prototype even used a wooden spoon (Radical Rabbit Stew’s main weapon) as a placeholder for the mining pick. In fact, there are still assets and code snippets from Radical Rabbit Stew that are being used in Core Keeper, even though most of the assets have been replaced by now.
Also, as developers, we took everything we had learned from making Radical Rabbit Stew and applied it to refine the development of Core Keeper. Finally, when I crafted the initial Core Keeper pitch, I did so with the team that had been making Radical Rabbit Stew in mind. So, as you can see, the two games are inherently and closely connected in many different ways.
Question 4: Many would say that even ahead of a full launch, Core Keeper is a much more refined and fleshed-out experience by comparison. Have you noticed a huge step up in quality within the team? How have you managed to keep raising the bar, and how has the developmental process differed this time around?
Answer: We work iteratively at Pugstorm for everything we do, from improving internal processes to building our games and recruiting new team members. Our goal is to continuously improve the game in an incremental manner. We are also developing Core Keeper with a long-term focus, which means that improving and extending existing parts of the game is a top priority for us. In ten years’ time, we want the game to still be played and enjoyed by our community.
Question 5: Core Keeper is a rare example of an indie co-op title, as we seem to see fewer and fewer of these games as the modern gaming landscape becomes more technologically advanced. How important was it for you guys to make this game a co-op adventure, and do you have hopes to make this a couch-co-op title when the game hits other platforms?
Answer: It was absolutely essential for us to make it into a multiplayer cooperative adventure. I personally believe this was one of the most significant design decisions that we made for the game. Of course, it added another layer of complexity to the game’s development, and it was something we discussed extensively, but incentivizing co-op play and being able to share your adventures with your friends is undoubtedly one of the reasons the game became such an early-access success.
Including couch co-op in the game would be fantastic, but I cannot say more about that at this point.
Question 6: Speaking of the Co-op, your game can host up to eight players in one unique gaming session, which is double the standard 4-player format of most titles. Was this an important feature the team wanted, and what added considerations have you had to bear in mind when implementing this?
Answer: You are correct. There are many reasons why we capped the game at eight people. One of our main game pillars is to maximize player autonomy and the way that players can express themselves, so we wanted to remove any constraining limits. Therefore, it may not come as a surprise that we have discussed increasing the player cap even further on multiple occasions.
Moreover, eight is a relatively comfortable number for us to work with. Interestingly, we were five people on the team when we started making the game, so I guess that could have subconsciously influenced us to make it possible for more players to play the game simultaneously.
Question 7: With Sandbox games like this, players are effectively dropped into a huge world, and in the case of Core Keeper, it seems like one of those, learn as you go sorts of adventures. Which can often be pretty overwhelming to new players. Has player retention been a struggle for you guys throughout early access, and if not, what has been the biggest problem to overcome during development?
Answer: We actually have great player retention. I believe this is partly due to the game’s design, which encourages exploration and experimentation without overwhelming the player at first. For instance, you start in a dark cave room with not much visible due to the darkness, and almost all players instinctively try to find a way to light up the room so they can see their surroundings.
If we had included a tutorial early on in the game, or given the player clear directions on what to do, they would not learn that it is safe and part of the game to explore and experiment and set up their own goals. We are essentially teaching the player this. I think this sheds some light (no pun intended) on how one can introduce players to games where experimentation and creativity are key parts of the experience without hand-holding them.
Question 8: One thing I have noticed this year with the rise of ‘Cozy Gaming’ is that there is a real saturation of crafting/farming simulator games on the market. Off the top of my head Dinkum, Coral Island, Ooblets, Potion Permit, and Harvestella spring to mind. Was this something you were mindful of, and what do you believe sets your game apart from all those listed?
Answer: It was certainly something we were aware of. I haven’t played all those games, so I can’t say what sets Core Keeper apart from all of them. However, in general, I believe Core Keeper is not only visually and aesthetically unique due to its lighting, but also because of the way it combines different systems from other games in a novel way.
Question 9: There are so many cool features within the game, such as the intricate crafting system, the tunneling, which gets more elaborate with time, the boss battles, and the multiplayer chaos, to name a few. What aspect of the game are you guys most proud of at this moment?
Answer: Oh, depending on who you ask in the team, you’ll get different answers for sure. Personally, I am very proud of how a number of exciting tried-and-tested ideas have been combined to create an even greater whole.
Question 10: Obviously, there is a roadmap laid out for the rest of this year, promising a holiday event, and a new crystal biome. Beyond that, though, what are your hopes for this game? Do you have any grand plans that you can’t hint at? A proposed release date, perhaps? No pressure!
Answer: We certainly have some exciting plans for the game. Unfortunately, I cannot divulge any details at this time, but we will be sure to keep you informed of our progress in the coming months.
Question 11: Then, on that note, comparing your game to Stardew valley again, Eric Barone has stuck with that game for over seven years, expanding, tweaking, and making additions over time. Is that approach something you see Core Keeper adopting, or will this game reach a ‘finished state’ upon launch, and you’ll move on to new projects?
Answer: The current roadmap is just the beginning! We have ambitious long-term plans for the game, and I would be surprised if we aren’t still working on Core Keeper in seven years’ time.
Question 12: Speaking of making additions as you go, you guys recently dropped the Desert of beginnings update; what has the response to that been like?
Answer: It has been fantastic! We have achieved 96% of recent positive reviews on Steam, and we have welcomed thousands of new players to our community. This is incredibly exciting for us, as it gives us even more motivation to deliver upcoming updates with great content and quality-of-life improvements for our players.
Question 13: Then, to wrap things up, how about some quick-fire questions on the indie landscape and beyond? Feel free to be as brief or as detailed as you like!
- Your Indie of the Year: Vampire Survivors
- Your Fondest Childhood Gaming Memory: Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
- A Developer That Deserves A Shoutout: Re-Logic
- Graphics or Performance?: Both
- Someone who Inspires you: Jonathan Blow
- And lastly, the top reason why our readers should play Core Keeper: “Be part of an amazing community, explore a thrilling sandbox experience, and create unforgettable memories with your friends—that’s why you should play Core Keeper!”
And That’s a Wrap
So there you have it, our conversation with Pugstorm Creative Director, Fredrik Präntare. From that chat alone, you should immediately be able to see the sheer quality of the title they ar creating, the love and care that is going into every minute detail, and the commitment the team has to make this game a long-term success. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this game became the next Terraria, and gamers end up playing this for years to come. I hope that this interview has cast a spotlight on what is sure to be a smash hit upon launch, and I wish Fredrik and the rest of the team every success when the game does hop out of early access. As always, folks, thanks for reading Indie Game Culture!
Question: Is Core Keeper on Console?
Answer: Not yet; the game is currently only on PC due to its Early Access status. However, when the game is set for launch, the plan is to have this game launch on all major platforms, including Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch.
Question: What is The Desert of Beginnings?
Answer: This is the most recent update launched by the team for Core Keeper. This introduced a brand new biome to the game, as well as unique items, ore, resources, and bosses too. We don’t want to give too much away, but trust us, new areas like The Molten Quarry make this well worth checking out. Just note that you will need to have unlocked the Core to access this content.
Question: What is The Goal of Core Keeper?
Answer: As you would imagine, as a sandbox title, the game never truly ends, and you can continue indefinitely. However, to complete the storyline of this game, the player will need to unlock the Core that players will find right as they begin the game. This means you’ll need to create resources, tools, farm crops, and kill bosses to progress.
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