Thomas Moon Kang never expected to be standing on stage at Tokyo Game Show for the awards ceremony at Sense of Wonder Night (SOWN) 2019. When he submitted his game, One Step from Eden, for consideration in this contest highlighting innovative and experimental indie design, he thought he might make it into the indie showcase. Instead, Kang won the award for Best Game Design.
“There was a quick rehearsal the morning of the SOWN event. It reminded me of my middle school auditorium, the last I’d been on a stage like that,” said Kang. “Then (at) the actual event, walking out to a crowd that spoke mostly Japanese was extremely intimidating. I was so nervous and exhausted (that) I don’t remember much about the presentation. But when they called my name for the award, I was overjoyed.”
Planned for Nintendo Switch and PC, One Step from Eden is essentially an evolution of Capcom’s abandoned Mega Man Battle Network series, taking its grid-based action RPG combat and expanding upon it in every way. It also introduces roguelike elements for increased replayability and nine playable characters with unique styles. “The first thing I did was streamline the whole combat system,” said Kang, “making movement and combat much more fluid compared to MMBN’s clunkier (but more strategic) movement. This faster pace allowed for the field size to be expanded from 3×6 to 4×8, which in turn allowed for all sorts of new enemies and attacks patterns.”
A major difference between One Step from Eden and Mega Man Battle Network is that the action doesn’t pause for the player to load up new abilities. In this game, there is a card system that enables nonstop battling while retaining strategic decision-making. “The synergies between cards in OSFE are on another level,” said Kang, “using status effects, mechanics like catching, and even generating new spells during the battle! OSFE takes another big step away from traditional card games.”
The game will not have set selectable difficulties, but ways to manage the challenge will be embedded into the design itself. For instance, there are riskier routes to choose, boss characters that can be recruited for assistance or executed for more power, and new challenge modifiers that unlock upon finishing the game. And while Kang has done extensive game balancing through playtesting, collecting feedback on Discord, and watching others play the game, he’s not obsessing to extremes over the difficulty.
“One of the nice things about roguelikes is that they don’t have to be completely ‘fair,’” said Kang. “You have some leeway since the player can sometimes also become unfairly overpowered!”
One Step from Eden takes place in a world where technology exists that can manipulate matter, and the tech been commodified into reusable cards or “spells.” Your character — whomever you choose to play as — is on a mission to Eden, the last city. Along the way, you will run into the other selectable characters, and how you deal with them will shape the fate of the world. Ultimately, the game is “pretty light on the story” because Kang admitted he’s “not much of a writer,” but it fits the purpose.
Kang’s passion lies in the raw game design, a love affair that began in elementary school with the map editor in Age of Empires II. “I was always so interested in the freedom of being able to create anything you wanted, a world where all the rules were made by you,” he said. His appetite for design only grew more voracious, and he began experimenting with GameMaker and Unity.
Fast-forward to his senior year of college, and One Step from Eden began life. “I started participating in game jams, and I had just released a small local-multiplayer game,” said Kang. “I needed a new project to work on, so I hosted a small game jam with my friends. It was a fun time bouncing ideas off each other, and my game’s concept ended up being a roguelike with the combat style of Mega Man Battle Network, a style of combat that I had been searching for since the series ended.”
When he unleashed a demo of his game online, the response was immediate, and suddenly there was a community growing around what would become the One Step from Eden we know now. The most rewarding and surprising aspect of Kang’s development journey for him has been making so many new friends who are cheering each other on.
“There is no way I would have made it to where I was without my friends, in real life and online,” said Kang. “Since I took my first step into the online indie dev community, people were very welcoming and eager to share. I made some of my closest game dev friends via random Twitter comments. The best part is getting to meet and hang out with them at conventions. It’s so awesome to be surrounded by people as passionate as you are, and even better to cheer them on and support their dream.”
That support is crucial because independent game development can be grueling, especially for a largely solo act like Kang. But it’s not the game design that is the hard part. It’s everything else. “I’ve learned so much about just business in general (from making One Step from Eden),” said Kang. “Creating a company, making connections, running a Kickstarter by myself, setting up booths at expos, working with a publisher and artists. … It’s unbelievable how much actually goes into making a game.”
Kang quit his job as a User Interface/Experience designer at PayPal back in April, so he is all in now with One Step from Eden from his home base in Philadelphia. In fact, he is so invested in his game that, when asked what his hobbies are outside of work, he responded with pixel art. “Developing the game and slowly improving my pixel art skills from zero was a ton of fun!” he said. However, he also added of his hobbies, “I go all out when I’m playing Beat Saber, which is my only form of exercise!”
One Step from Eden has its work cut out for it, competing in a highly saturated space of indie roguelikes. Some gamers are even exhausted by the abundance of roguelikes available, but when asked about this concern, Kang’s answer was surprising. “I also feel exhausted by all the new indie roguelikes, so I completely understand that sentiment,” he said. But he continued, “As far as I know, there’s no game (like One Step from Eden) that attempts card-based combat with such an intense level of real-time action. The card system is easy enough for anyone to use but also has so much potential that you can always get better, and it feels very rewarding to do so. In fact, if you’re sick of typical roguelikes, that’s all the reason more to try One Step from Eden!”
One Step from Eden is slated to release in January 2020 for Nintendo Switch and PC. The game is currently in closed beta, and Twitter followers will have the opportunity to join later on. If Switch isn’t enough, you can also wishlist the game on Steam.