Demonschool Interview: Practical Effects Take Flight In This Tactical RPG

During the PC gaming show 2022, we got a fantastic surprise of seeing a trailer for Demonschool, A game that feels like it was made specifically for me. So, of course, I immediately ran into the other room, pulled the trailer up on YouTube, and made my wife watch it while we simultaneously awwed over how amazing it looked. So, of course, I was ecstatic to sit down with Brandon Sheffield, Creative Director over at Necrosoft Games, to talk about Demonschool and learn more about it.

Justin: So Demonschool was announced during the PC Gaming Show of 2022. And it had a bombastic trailer with fantastic music and visuals. How have you found the reaction to Demonschool so far?

Brandon Sheffield: It’s better than I expected. Which is nice. People seem to be pretty into it. They’re picking up on things that we were trying to do. And then they were picking up on things we weren’t trying to do and running with them, but being excited about it. So people are excited to see a game like this coming around. So yeah, I am pleased we got 15,000 wish lists in the day and a half since the announcement. So I think for us That’s good.

Justin: Yeah, that’s awesome! So I do have to ask then. How long has Demonschool been in development?

Sheffield:We started probably in 2016. But we haven’t been working on it for six years in total. So it’s been off and on since then. Full-time, probably for three years, though. But we’re a small team. When we started Demonschool, there were only four of us. It just takes a long time to get the look right to get the sound where we want it and to get the battle system running properly because we do many complicated things that can break the game.  Like fast forward and rewind time in the planning phase of the battle. It can mess up like the targeting of how demons want to go and things like that.

Justin: So how far along into development would you say Demonschool is?

Sheffield: It’s probably about 75% completed. We built this game by first starting with the systems and frameworks. Now we’re at the stage where we have to implement everything. So cutscenes and storylines and things in there. And that’ll be the remainder of the work is doing polished and things like that.

Justin:  Hey, that’s, that’s good to hear. I’m just happy I saw 2023 as a release window.

Sheffield: Yeah, I mean, you know, we said it, so we got to stick to it.

Justin: So, what has been your biggest inspiration for Demonschool?

Sheffield: Yeah, well, I came up with the name first. I think I was just sitting in a hotel room. And I was like, What’s Demonschool? Is that something I just did a word search? I was like, There’s nothing called that. Now there is, there’s like a manga and anime called that. But at the time, there wasn’t. I was like, I wonder if that URL is available. And demonschool.com was available. And I was like, well, now we’re gonna come up with something called Demonschool. But after that, I was thinking about what the team is good at and what things we like. And so I kind of came up with a tactics game vaguely out of that, and then who was trying to think of what sort of tactics game I personally would like to make, and I love tactics, games that remove busy work from what you’re doing.

And so, like when Jeanne D’Arc on the PSP came out, I was impressed with how even though it’s a traditional tactics game, they streamlined many things like how crafting works. There was Valkyria Chronicles, in which you have these two phases: the phase where you’re running and the phase where you’re shooting. And the shooting phase is where your dice rolls come in. But the running is like entirely under your control. So I was kind of putting these things together and thinking about how we could make more moving and planning more efficient, but also still fun, and really streamline it. And that was where the battle system came from, thinking about all of that stuff. And then, we needed to develop an overarching framework for how the game progresses. And I like how time moves forward in Devil Survivor, but also in the Yakuza series, where you have specific things that are big events that move time forward. But then you have other events that don’t do that. And so, like in Yakuza, you can run around, chasing hair pieces, or whatever. I guess that was Judgment, but you can run around doing whatever,

Justin: Warming up baby bottles for the diaper man!

Sheffield: Exactly. Yeah, you can get with those diaper bros. And then when you want to do the main quest. So we wanted to do something like that. So we have three times of day, morning, evening, and night. There’ll be side quests that you can optionally engage with each of those blocks. It can make your game three times as long or really short if you want it to be, I say, short, but it’ll still be like ten to twelve hours, even if you only do the main stuff. We think.. we’ll see if it’s not done yet.

Justin: You’ve mentioned friendships in the game and being able to like to build a stronger bond. I have to ask because it’s gonna get asked eventually. Have there been any talks about like romancing your friends?

Sheffield: So there’s a little bit of that. I think that I will be leaving it a little more ambiguous and giving players a choice in that regard, whether it becomes romantic or friendship. I think there will be some people. I’m not 100% on all of it yet, but there will be some characters that you can’t simply romance because it’s important to my story, that they are your friend only. But I know that when I think about this kind of stuff, video games are, they’re about fantasy. So it’s not going to be a lot of making out, and nobody will be undressing. But there’ll be flirtation that you can then push in one direction or another. Yeah. And to some extent, I find that when you let players leave it to their imagination a little more fun for them because they can imagine the spaces between.

Justin: You’ve also mentioned that we’re going to be like building up skills in class and school. Is this like, a very involved process? Like, are we going to be taking tests? Is it going to be like a mini-games kind of thing? Or how is that going to kind of come across,

Sheffield: It’s less test-oriented. I hope this isn’t too revealing, but the point we came from was more like an RTS. It doesn’t play like an RTS, so make no mistake about that. But the idea is that you have more granular control over the main character, Faye, and what she studies daily, and then the other characters, you kind of send them off to study one thing for a week. And that’s where the strategy is like you’re sending your units off to go do something and level up or learn something. So it’s not super complicated. The schedule is something that you interact with at the top of the week.

Justin: The music we got in the trailer was amazing. Is that kind of the vibe of the music and like throughout the entire game? Or is that more like a combat theme?

Sheffield: No, that’s kind of a vibe that we’re going for. Our musician, Kurt Feldman, is in the band Ice Choir. It’s very much informed by the 70s Italian horror soundtracks and the specific synthesizer sounds they used at that time. So he worked hard to get those kinds of 70s chorus sounds and the fretless bass and the style of mixing of it as well. So we’re trying to get all that to be in that zone. And I feel like it gives a different vibe when put in a video game context. I haven’t really heard a lot of that in games. And so we’re using it similarly to how horror movies did where there’ll be something horrific on-screen or gross or weird. And then there’s kind of like, beautiful or classical tinge to music playing along with it, that gives it this kind of like, off-putting, but at the same time, a little friendlier vibe to it. So yeah, we’re definitely pursuing that angle. We’ve got only eight songs written so far, but there’s gonna be a lot more. There’s going to be at least one album worth.

Justin: Would you consider releasing an album of the game’s music?

Sheffield: Certain would be the plan. Or the hope? We’ll see how we’ll put it on Bandcamp and stuff. But we’ll see how the vinyl pandemic-related backlog is by then.

Demonschool chat

Justin: So have you found the pandemic like, has it like, severely impacted you guys as the studio? Or were you mostly remote before?

Sheffield: We were always remote. We’re half based in the US and half based in Europe. But it’s still affected us anyway. There’s also a war in Europe that has affected our team. So yeah, I would say we’re probably working at about 60% efficient tendency.

Justin: It’s really horrible what’s happening over there. If you don’t mind me asking if there is a charity, any of the readers can go donate to help out in any way?

Sheffield: Oh yes! We like the international medical corps! Thanks for asking! https://internationalmedicalcorps.org/country/ukraine/

Justin: Awesome! What would it be if there was one thing you hope people took away from watching the trailer?

Sheffield: I hope that it inspires or sparks people’s imagination a little bit. inspires them to think about what the game might be. Because games on the Saturn were really hard to make. And so when you see something that looks good, it’s like wow, when you look at a game like Grandia on the Saturn, for example, where they have 2d sprites on 3d backgrounds, but the sprites can interact with so many things in the background make like a broom fall over or spin a pot around, or all these cute little things. So it just gives you a sense of physicality and makes you feel like you’re in a real place. And I hope that people can see some of that in what we’re doing. Because we, for example, have with all of our magic effects and stuff, because they’re actually polygonal effects that we’ve colored and things so they, they have a physical presence in the space, which feels neat to me. And so, yeah, I don’t know if that’s the one thing I would want them to take away. But one of the things, probably the one thing I want them to take away, is I need to wish list this on Steam right now.

Demonschool library

Justin: I mean, the visuals alone, like, I struggled to find the words. But the diorama style, specifically with the boat that the trailer opens up on and stuff like you can tell, there’s a lot of love, passion, and detail in those scenes. It’s honestly quite surprising. Like it looks terrific.

Sheffield: Thanks. Yeah, it feels like you want to be able to look around the corner, but you can’t. And I love that kind of thing.

Justin: I was so excited to talk to you about this game that I completely forgot. What are some of your horror recommendations? You know, be it movies, games, or whatever books.

Sheffield: Well, for horror movies, I really like Lucio Fulci and Fabio Frizzi. He was a big influence on our soundtrack. But then, like horror in general, I like really goofy trash nonsense. Where there’s a lot of effects, and maybe the plot isn’t that good, but there’s something about it that really kind of grabs you like death spa and Wishmaster was one of those for me, because it’s just like, just you can imagine the filmmakers going What if we did this in every scene? It’s just it’s so stupid. I highly recommend Wishmaster. It’s dumb as heck. Anyway, I could keep talking about these forever.

Demonschool fight

Justin:  I just, you know, thank you for coming and talking to me. I’m excited to see what becomes of Demonschool, and I’m super excited to play.

Sheffield: Thank you. Yeah, we’re excited to see what comes of it, too. We got to finish this thing now. Meet everyone’s expectations, hopefully.

And that’s it! Brandon was super friendly and a genuine pleasure to talk with. You can tell he’s got a passion for Demonschool, and don’t forget to wishlist it on Steam!

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