Pumpkin Online – A Farming/Dating Sim MMORPG
Written by Adrienne M. Roehrich, Manager of Editorial Services
While perusing my Tumblr dashboard last Saturday afternoon, I came across a post about Pumpkin Online, an Indie game being developed by seven game designers.
Frankly, I love all things pumpkin, so a game with pumpkin in the name grabbed my attention. As the title of this post suggests, it’s a farming/dating sim MMORPG for PC. On Kickstarter it is being promoted as “An MMORPG for players who love games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing! Craft items, decorate your house, date any NPCs and more!” I’m not so familiar with Harvest Moon, but I loved Animal Crossing on Nintendo GameCube and my daughter enjoys Animal Crossing on 3DS, so this sounded like a game of interest for us and the GeekGirlCon community.
What makes this game so unique? Pumpkin Online supports love equality. NPC and character gender do not matter. As a sim game that includes dating, you can form lasting friendships and relationships with any NPC through interactive rewards and questlines!
Additionally, the customization of your personal character goes beyond what is typically found in sim games. You don’t start with selecting male or female for your character, but rather start with a blank slate and non-binary options, then fill in the characterization you want without being stuck with certain hair or outfits because you selected “male” or “female” to start with. The racial identity of your character is not pigeonholed because you can select a wide range of skin tones. And finally, the body shape and size has many more options than is typically found in these games.
The players are creating the economy together, which means that your game play is fun for you and worthwhile for other players. Needed player items will not all be able to be purchased from NPCs (see the Kickstarter video “Unique Features”). Your chosen profession will matter, both to you and to other players in this player-driven economy. In order to complete quests and level up, players will need to get other player-crafted items. However, this is not only a social game. You can enjoy the game alone, without other players. And you have your own quests to go on.
In an article with Indie Game Mag, “Monique Blaize, the team leader at Pumpkin Interactive, explains that as an African-American woman, ‘I’m a double minority in the game industry and I’m hoping to get involved in it.’”
Monique Blaize, Creator and Project Lead, and Malik Gray, Lead Programmer, were generous in their time for an interview with GeekGirlCon.
We are seeing the rise of more and more Indie game developers. What brought your group of people together to start Pumpkin Interactive and develop Pumpkin Online?
[Monique]: Personally, I had just graduated with a Game Design degree and after applying for jobs for a year I had no luck because companies rarely hire without prior game experience. So while working a minimum wage job I realized the only way for me to get into the game industry was to actually make a game myself. So I called up some old classmates of mine who were stuck in a rut like I was and asked if they wanted to come onboard and at least work on a project. We did a lot of research before starting and slowly but surely we got more people to work with us.
[Malik]: I personally started the game later. I used to use Hero Engine and was around when The Repopulation (another major MMORPG made using Hero Engine with a successful Kickstarter) was just starting out. I happened to see Monique’s post in their forums that she was looking for a programmer. I was really excited about the fact that I could work on an MMORPG that was based off of the Harvest Moon series and also a game whose vision is to change the game community’s diversity which I think is long overdue.
What challenges do you face as Indie Game Developers, and specifically, what are some with Pumpkin Online?
[Monique]: There are many challenges that Indie developers face, but if I had to pick a big problem it would be the failures of other Indie projects and budget constraints. The faith in other Indie projects suffers as a result and Indie projects desperately need the support of the public. It’s the difference between having the money to spend on the best talent you can possibly have versus people driven solely on their passion and desire to make a game on a constrained budget. For Pumpkin Online, tackling a huge project like an MMORPG based on our research, with the current team we have working part time is a much higher amount than what we posted on Kickstarter. However, we’re a huge fan of the Indie community and we want to ease as much of a burden financially as possible off of their shoulders. Unfortunately, this does mean that it will take longer to complete our project.
[Malik]: I wholeheartedly agree with what Monique said. I personally have worked 30+ hours some weeks, with a full time job, just so I can get a task completed to show for our Kickstarter. To help with the budget, instead of being paid hourly, which most programmers do, I decided to work with whatever budget Monique has and just complete tasks as needed for the project. I really believe in her, this project, and the widely diverse community that we want to include in our game. I know that if we are able to get our voices heard, that we will succeed in every goal that we set forth.
How did you choose Pumpkin Interactive as a company name and why did you choose Pumpkin Online for this game title?
[Monique]: Honestly for the company name I really wanted it to be named after some kind of food. I remember, kiwis and apples were considered but I just really like the sound of the word pumpkin.
Most other farming games have Spring as their main season and color scheme, we wanted to be different and go with a Fall theme instead.
For those with little knowledge of Farming/Dating Sim MMORPGs, what is game play like for one of those and in Pumpkin Online specifically?
[Monique]: The gameplay will be relaxing and will not force players to do one particular activity or the other. After you have chosen a profession, such as farmer or chef, you can spend your game days however you wish. You can hang out with other players, you can craft as many items as you can, you can do quests for NPCs, form friendships with or date NPCs. You can fish, mine for gems, and more. We want to make a game with many mini activities you can choose from to customize your gameplay experience.
You explain in your Kickstarter videos why you are going with more diversity in your character design in terms of gender, race, and body style, but for those who haven’t had a chance to watch them, could you summarize why you made this decision and what that decision looks like?
[Monique]: Well the main reason is I’m an African American female and I’m not represented very much in games. In character creation for games, even if you have the option to play as someone with a dark skin tone, no one else in the game world has that skin tone. For gender we’re going to include and acknowledge non-binary genders. What that means is you’re not asked to select male or female at the start of the character creation, or lock certain clothes or body features based on body type.
Is it more difficult to provide that level of diversity in terms of programming and game development?
[Malik]: In terms of programming, the difficulty depends on the way things are programmed. I’ve noticed that making things easy on the programming side can sometimes make things more difficult on the artist’s side, and vice versa. When working with diversity we are going to have to create the art for every possible combination and in this sense, I’m glad that our team is heavily full of artists since it makes my programming tasks easier. The level of diversity has also added many lengthy discussions between Monique and I on what can be implemented, how long it will take, and if we should include it in the Beta or Gold release.
Your Kickstarter for reaching beta is under-way. Why did you choose Kickstarter?
[Monique]: I’ve personally used Kickstarter before and have backed projects through Kickstarter. I also appreciate that Kickstarter has stricter rules and guidelines, unlike other crowd-sourcing places where we can easily get lost. There are other means to get funding, but Kickstarter also is good for getting the word out there about your project and getting people excited about it.
For those who haven’t been to the page, Pumpkin Interactive is working towards raising $30,000 in a one-month time frame, ending September 18. As of the posting of this blog, you are about 25% to your goal about a third of the way into your time frame. Does this make you nervous? What are your hopes and expectations?
[Monique]: Oh yeah definitely, $30,000 is a hefty goal for the short period of time. But for what we’re making it’s the bare minimum to give us the kick we need. It’s not over till it’s over, and no matter what happens we can find other means and ways to keep us going. We always need to stay positive.
[Malik]: I was extremely nervous. What helped ease my nervousness a bit was when Indie Game Magazine released an article about us and one of their writers Laura Klotz had put up a Tumblr post about our game. So far it has received a whopping 10k notes and still counting. I am very impressed by how much positive reaction we have received since then and I hope that it continues to grow.
Your game is being developed on the Hero Engine. How does that help and how does that hinder game development?
[Malik]: Hero Engine has been around for a while. Star Wars: the Old Republic was built using their source code. There are many advantages to Hero Engine that far outweigh the negatives. The biggest help is that you can actively modify the world while other developers are logged in, and it updates in real time. Another benefit is that it handles full scalability for the back-end server structure. (This means I have more time to implement fun gameplay features.) Some of the problems that we have come across are that, unfortunately, there is no native support for Mac or Linux clients, and some of the features that are implemented by them are kind of glitchy. They have also been very slow to offer support to the Indie game community that uses their engine recently. Other than those few pain points, overall I am happy with this engine and there is a LOT of room for expanding and in real time, so that means easier to release updates and expansions. Imagine, being able to load those updates without any server downtime!
Is there anything else about Pumpkin Interactive and Pumpkin Online you would like to share with the GeekGirlCon community?
[Monique]: Pumpkin Online is large project; however we have been working very hard on it and we’re asking for the chance to possibly make this game a reality not only for us, but for all gamers everywhere. We’re open to any questions or concerns and anyone is free to send us a message via any of our social media. [Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, DeviantArt, YouTube]
At GeekGirlCon, we love to celebrate our various geekdoms. What geeky things do you do outside of game development?
[Monique]: Myself personally, I travel to anime and comic conventions and I do artist alley selling prints and buttons. I also have a webcomic. I love anime and playing video games. I used to play Dungeons and Dragons before I started devoting more time on my projects.
Thanks so much to Monique and Malik for taking time out of their weekend to discuss their game with me.
The developers of Pumpkin Online are located all over the United States, which means that supporting this project supports people who aren’t geographically in game industry-heavy areas.
In the Kickstarter FAQ, the possibility of the project’s flopping was addressed. We’ve all supported and been wholeheartedly behind awesome ideas that just never came to fruition. The team make-up is geared toward success, and they work with a partner who assists, but is not directly involved. The studio isn’t promising impossible deadlines, and has the mantra, “Take our time and keep working at it until it’s done.” And over half the staff have Game Design degrees, giving them a firm basis in game design.
The Kickstarter is to get the game to its beta release. In the end, Pumpkin Online is looking to release a single-purchase game in the $30 – $50 range, with further support being made by in-game purchases, and single-purchase expansions.
Monique had a few final words for our community:
“As a lady myself I just want to encourage other girls to not just take a back-seat in the games industry or the comics industry. We need to get out there and get involved.”