Crea - The Hidden Gem
There are few things that give me more pleasure than finding a new game by a very small studio. Indie projects are the best because that’s where developers have no one to tell them no. They fail often because that lack of boundaries puts them into dangerous, and often eventually fatal, territory, but it’s also where we get to see incredible new ideas take shape and be tested for the first time.
A video popped up in my Youtube feed for a game called Crea the other day, and it was enough to renew my interested in the game. After looking into it more, I eventually bought a copy and then later a four-pack to share it out between several kids in the family. The game has definitely been fun and I’ll admit that I made a mistake ignoring it the first time I’d heard about it.
Crea initially popped on my radar during a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, but because it was around the same time that I was already looking into games like Star Citizen and Shroud of the Avatar, I ended up missing it. The game raised a very modest $27k in crowdfunding, entered the Steam Greenlight program not long after, graduated to Early Access in 2014, and made it to a version 1.0 release on Steam in the Summer of 2016.
This article will explore some of the things I’ve found that I like about Crea. I’ll also note the differences between the game and most other games in the genre. I’ve also had a chance to speak with the developer and can detail a few near-term goals for the game moving forward. There’s a lot I enjoy about this game and I’m hoping to give you all a sense of why.
The team developed a system that uses both skill advancement and research to unlock new items, and that means the advancement in Crea plays a lot more like a traditional RPG in many ways, rather than the normal Minecraft-style tiered advancement. This was one of the main design choices that appealed to me.
Players gain experience in crafting, gathering, magic (called “Syle” in the game), arms, and exploration by using those skills. Players can then invest the knowledge gained using those skills into the 80-plus talents available under the skill-specific tabs. The result is a much more RPG feel to the game than other similar ones, which I really enjoyed a lot.
I also like that new recipes are unlocked through researching materials, which is a little different than what you normally see. Each new set of recipes are locked behind a research option that requires a set amount of multiple types of material. It’s a system that feels a lot more active to me than the normal straight-tiered system and it also provides a good in-game reason for collecting tons of resources in chests and holding on to even outdated ones. Additional recipes can also unlocked through scrolls discovered throughout the world, so there’s some additional element of chance involved to a minor degree.
I also thought the crafting system was made more interesting by introducing something called “chaos crafting.” It’s a mini-game the player can engage in to improve the stats on a crafted item. You can just click a button and create something using the recipe, but using chaos gives you a chance to either make more for the same amount of used resources or to improve the end result with bonus attributes.
I did find myself a little frustrated at the lack of information on how precisely this system works, but the idea of it is very appealing to me. I expect I’ll be spending a little more time playing with the game to see if I can understand the system a little better. Additionally, I may even just reach out to the developer for a quick interview on it.
That brings me to another thing I really liked about this game. The developer responds to bug reports and debugs the game live on Twitch. When I was in channel the other night, he was very responsive to chat and kept up a running monologue on what he was attempting to do on the screen.
I love stuff like this because I feel it’s both inspiring and helpful to new creators in the industry. It’s especially helpful when someone troubleshoots their code live and answers questions, and it even seemed that the code was fairly well documented from what I saw of it. Not great, but no developer really documents their code well if no one is standing over their shoulder forcing them to do so.
The guts of the game are in Python, which is easy to read and should be very approachable for those who want to learn how to build a video game. I just find this is a situation that should be promoted and appreciated because it doesn’t happen often enough. I feel it also supports STEM education directly, and that’s something I care deeply about.
I’ve really enjoyed games like Starbound and Terraria over the years. They’re simple, developed by a small team, and are very replayable due to the dynamically generated world designs. They’re also kid-friendly and I’ve had a lot of fun with the kids in my family over the last decade playing games like that. Crea is in the same vein as those games, but with some very unique twists on the idea.
One key difference is the advancement system. It’s not the normal survival mechanic of sequential tiers of gear created as the player gains access to each new tier of resources. I like that normal system and it clearly works, but Siege Games went down a different path with Crea.
As I mentioned above, the system focuses on experience gain in specific skill sets and unlocks bonuses and abilities based on experience gained while engaged in the relevant activity. It’s a cool twist on the typical survival progression, and I like the doors it opens for future modding.
Allowing for mods was a specific goal in the game’s design, and that’s another thing that I think separates it from contemporary games. Not that others don’t have mods, but the way Jasson McMorris specifically supports and encourages modding is more active than other developers, from what I’ve seen. The result is a number of good mods for the game, including several for Twitch integration, which I think is a very big plus.
I believe the use of instanced dungeons is also relatively unique to Crea, at least compared to other games in the same genre. It was a smart design decision that creates some needed dynamic content in the game. These dungeons can be accessed via crystals that occasionally drop after killing the randomly spawning monster lairs. It’s an interesting and scalable way to introduce more content that could easily be expanded later.
While I was looking into this game, I happened to come across Jasson McMorris in the Siege Games channel on Twitch. He was running down some bugs posted to the Steam forum and I had a chance to ask him a few questions about what’s next for the game.
Immediately on the horizon is to modernize the game engine to support 4k and update the graphics. Crea is written in Python 2.7 and will be reaching end of life soon, so that needs to be converted to Python 3. That should help a lot to extend the game’s viability in the market.
Also, new talent is being added to the team in order to improve on some of the game design. New developers often have great new ideas that push the industry with their innovation, but there’s still a need for experience and knowing what works well and what doesn’t. The new team member is expected to smooth out some of the rougher design issues.
Whatever Siege Games decides to do moving forward, this is a pretty good game. It’s from a small studio, so it’s not as complex as other games. That said, it is fun and does have a number of very interesting design choices that have kept me more interested in the game than I might have been. I also haven’t played it with any of my nieces or nephews yet, which I suspect could make me feel even happier with it as being another great kid-friendly game to share with the youth in my family.
I did like the game enough to buy a four pack after playing my own copy for a while, and I’ll be sending those out to some of my favorite nieces and nephews (if you didn’t get a copy, you need to be stepping up your game, kids). I’m looking forward to trying it out with them.
Whether you should buy it or not is going to be a little harder to answer. This style is a little dated, so those who prefer new and shiny are unlikely to enjoy it as much. Also, while the art style is very attractive and shows great skill and decision making on the part of the artist, it isn’t cutting edge graphically.
On the other hand, if you’re like me and find yourself reinstalling Starbound periodically and starting a new game with friends or family, this could be a really fun alternative. Additionally, if you’re new to programming and would like a really great way to see how a game is developed and maintained, this is probably a must-buy for you. I think you’ll get a ton of educational value out of watching McMorris support the game live, and it’s a great chance to cut your teeth on modding.
Either way, I’m not really sure what Siege Games has planned for their next title, but I’m excited to see how they grow from this successful experience. Whether it’s expansions for Crea or whatever other game I’m sure McMorris has kicking around in his head, I’m planning to be there to see it happen.