A few weeks ago, I was approached with a press release on iam8bit’s physical release for Eastward on the Nintendo Switch. This small game that had a big reaction from players and critics (it’s really neat, especially if you like things like Zelda and EarthBound), now has a fancy, albeit super limited, boutique release. And a Standard Edition you can theoretically find at like, Walmart and stuff.
What really caught my eye is the Eastward board game, which comes with the Collector’s Edition. There’s a whole other half to the game, which comes with a similarly limited Eastward soundtrack vinyl. The game was developed by Insomniac Games alum Erich Meyr, now of Squanch Games. I was wondering, not only how does a game like Eastward get this kind of treatment, but how does making two different sides or versions of a board game work?
So I asked! I got responses to my questions both from Mr. Meyr, and iam8bit co-founders Amanda White and Jon Gibson (who answered collectively as iam8bit). The vibes are a little weird, a little silly. That said, it’s some good stuff. Check it out below:
Lucas White, Prima Games: Generic question first: How did Eastward become a board game? How did Mr. Meyr become the designer?
Iam8bit, iam8bit: Erich has been a dear friend of ours since, well, forever. Besides being a great human, he’s also a superb game designer, with a unique knack for understanding both physical and digital game mechanics. He’s conjured magic at Insomniac Games and Squanch, and we asked him if he’d be so kind as to lend his sorcery to this Eastward tabletop exercise. It was an unusual ask – the idea to evolve the standard expectations around a physical game and a vinyl soundtrack… into a freakin’ board game! Erich is a maniac up for any challenge, so thank goodness he says, “I guess so, sure!”
Is it possible (feasibly, hypothetically, etc) the Eastward board game could be sold on its own at some point? Are there any specific strange/interesting/practical barriers to that, aside from money numbers?
iam8bit: Interesting idea. Please sign this NDA.
Related: Interview: Exploring the Sounds of Ghostwire Tokyo With Composer Masatoshi Yanagi and Director Kenji Kimura
Physical Editions of non-AAA games have become a weirdly (but cool, mind) notable niche market in recent years. How would you(anyone who can answer) describe the conditions that made that popular enough to justify the production costs?
iam8bit: Sooooooo… this is perhaps a popular opinion amongst monocle-wearing business people, but our first instinct at iam8bit is never to simply lick our thumbs and count stacks of money.
Instead, it’s idea first, yo! Do we LOVE LOVE LOVE this game and how it presents itself? Is the narrative spectacular? Are the characters sublime? Is the world something you ooze into via osmosis? Does it all coalesce into something profoundly unique and rad?
If yes, then how does that translate into something physically incarnate and PROFOUND? What could THAT transportive and elevated artifact be?
Then, yes, we make a budget and run some numbers, but that’s only after we’ve become hella excited by the notions mentioned above. Sometimes things do reveal themselves to be impractical at the budgeting phase, but that rarely wavers our ambition to at least, you know, TRY.
After 17 years, we’ve become pretty damn good at turning that TRYING into DOING and to making the impossible, possible.
However, if you’re in this business to buy a yacht, maybe start selling weed or real estate instead. Better margins 😉
I feel like one of the pieces to the above is the Nintendo Switch’s unique appeal and success. If that’s indeed a part of it, how does a publisher take that momentum and run with it, especially as the Switch gets older?
iam8bit: Nintendo is a bit of a golden goose. From the early days of Famicom to now, they’ve consistently given a warm embrace to collectors and fans. They understand the importance of practicality and physicality, and also, that if you make a brand into a lifestyle, it’s less about rendering photo-realistic hair follicles and simply about creating and ensuring fun.
There’s not really an expiration date on the experience of joy, and while there is one on technology, what Nintendo tends to prove is that they’ve got longevity in mind. The Switch isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and only continues to grow and open up new market opportunities. Just look at Nintendo’s growth in Latin America, in countries like Brazil, recently. New people are still discovering the Switch every day.
Switch is awesome, and it’s really fun to create physical things in relation to those tiny cartridges.
Related: Interview: EON Gaming Talks Nintendo Switch Online, Official Emulation Woes and HD Retro Gaming
High level, what kind of work/factors go into a company like iam8bit landing on a game for this kind of project? Who pursues who typically?
iam8bit: This is gonna sound super corny, but it’s the truth: For us, it’s simply about LOVING something enough. We absolutely adored Eastward, and have had a wonderful and mutually respectful relationship with Chucklefish for some time. We were both eager to brew some wonderment together, but didn’t know what that would be until we saw it, glistening on the horizon, like the best sunset and sunrise rolled up together into one majestic thing: It was Eastward, and holy hot damn, it was gorgeous.
Yeah, yeah, there’s business stuff and paperwork and all that, but the reality is, Pixpil and Chucklefish are awesome collaborators and while these kinds of things take quite a lot of time to sort out, as long as the spirit of creating something awesome together exists, things tend to work out in the end.
Our advice: Collaborate with great people, whom you respect and who respect you in return. It’s a pretty yummy recipe for success.
What were some of the core concepts from the videogame that informed the board game’s design the most? How tough was it to translate?
Erich Meyr, Squanch Games: One of the biggest design choices in the game was making it a cooperative experience. The videogame’s character driven story revolves around making friends and holding onto them, so it felt right to focus the board game on bringing people together. This friendship theme informed a lot of tough decisions throughout the design process. I playtested many mechanics and followed and refined the ones that had people actively engaging together on every turn as that was when the board game felt most fun and true to the videogame. Many of the mechanics were inspired by the game and it was actually an extremely fun challenge to try to fit each mechanic into a new experience.
Did you have to play through the whole Eastward game before creating the board game? Or was the work done based on things like partial play, samples, design docs, etc.?
Meyr: Yah! I played through the game and took detailed notes about themes, characters, and mechanics. I love old school JRPGs and pixel art so I was already very excited about Eastward. I landed on the idea for the board game about halfway through playing, while enjoying the time spent in New Dam City. I thought the struggle to save the city was a nice encapsulation of what makes the game so great and could work as a stand alone experience that fit inside the larger game.
Turning the board game into two parts, so to speak, is an intriguing move. Especially for a limited product! How did you figure out what to put where to make each half feel complete, and hopefully minimize FOMO for the customer who couldn’t get both?
Meyr: We wanted first and foremost for both versions to be the same core experience and then decided it would make sense if each version could act as a sort of expansion for the other. So by having both you get extra characters, items, and another board layout to play on. We felt that Sam and John should be included in both and then picked two other sets of friends for each version and selected items that related to them.
As usual, I like to take this space to issue some thanks instead of puking out a fleeting conclusion graf. The interview speaks for itself! So, a big thanks to the folks from iam8bit and Erich Meyr for taking the time to answer my questions. And thanks as well to the PR representative I worked with who facilitated the whole thing.
If you haven’t played Eastward, definitely take the time to check it out. I’m a few hours in and it’s super interesting from the jump. And if you’re curious about iam8bit’s physical editions or the soundtrack vinyl, preorders are live on its website.