I’ve always loved mythology and couch co-op, and to me, they seemed to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Myths are all about stories told around a campfire so long they became truer than facts, right? Only now instead of campfires, we have TVs, and instead of passing the conch shell or shouting story additions, we each hold our controllers, taking our turns or stealing each others’ kills.
Plus, what’s a hero without their friends? I love The Epic of Gilgamesh, and it’s all about the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, and although we could have tried to tell a story about friendship in a more scripted and cinematic way, I think couch co-op more accurately captures the essence of true friendship: suffering together, failing together, succeeding together. And the best part is that one player always seems to be the Trickster, hassling everyone else until they get a punch in the arm from their party members. Moon Hunters does have a story, but it’s never going to be as important as the story players already are building in real life with each other.
So throughout development, to support this “band of mythological heroes” feel, we had difficult design choices to make, and each time, we decided to favor couch co-op as the primary mode of play.
For example, each character has very different abilities, and together they complement each other in a way that is supposed to feel almost overpowered. We also decided to fit all four potential players’ upgrade options in the same screen at the upgrade shop, even though in single-player, that might mean most of the screen is empty. And of course, the dialogues in the game are much more enjoyable since everyone in the party can vote on what to say or do.
One problem that came up early in development was how to handle ties in votes. We decided to rely on “Charm”, which is an otherwise useless stat. Whichever player with the highest Charm will win ties… but to raise your Charm, you generally have to choose to Sleep in the camp, getting your beauty sleep when you otherwise could be building your other, more combat-relevant stats like Strength or Intellect. Though if someone in the party gets a high enough Charm, there’s a very special friend you can make by the end of the game…
We also tweaked the end of each run to be as un-repetitive as possible, even if all 4 players basically went on the same journey. Each player unlocks a different constellation in the night sky, and gets their own mostly unique generated myth. Since each run is only about 45 minutes long, and each player can have a different assortment of personality traits (Cunning, Brave, Seductive, Foolish, etc), it becomes almost like a multiplayer personality test RPG.
We’re looking forward to seeing how couch co-op players get into character after it launches on Xbox One on July 19!