Visiting Vile Monarch’s development studios is like being the king of the world. From their lofty office perch and through well-cleaned windows I could see across all of Warsaw, feeling like some sort of minor deity. Which is appropriate, as I came here to play Weedcraft Inc, a tycoon game and a genre that are traditionally all about making the player feel like an omnipotent being.
However, I didn’t have long to pontificate on how vastly inflated my own ego was that simply being near the top of a skyscraper made me feel like a god, instead I spent the time speaking with lead designer Kacper Kwiatkowski about illegal activities, baked products and all things Weedcraft Inc.
TSA: First thing I wanted to ask, why make a game based on the theme of weed?
Kacper: It’s because we wanted to make a tycoon game and we realised that the whole situation with marijuana, especially in the US, is so weird and so… can I say f****d up?
TSA: Yeah, swearing is allowed! [Ade was slightly misinformed – Ed]
Kacper: It is f****d up! Each state has a different law and the whole country makes it illegal, but on a state level it can be legal. It can be legal as a medicine or legal as a recreational drug, so it is chaos. We realised that making order out of chaos is what tycoon games are for, so the idea clicked. It’s one of those ideas that when you come up with it, the second thought is why it didn’t happen earlier? I suppose it did, but these were with simpler games that weren’t so concerned with the politics and society, and we wanted to tackle these problems. From the very beginning we were working with Devolver – they actually approached us about the project – so the whole vision of the game is a collaboration.
TSA: Are you intending to make a political statement with the release of this game?
Kacper: I don’t think so, not a political statement, just more of a political sandbox maybe? We have some rules, a simplified slice of reality, it’s ultimately a sandbox where we mess with stuff and you can see what happens. You change the law, you can interact with the law, you can see how politicians come at this situation, how police interact with weed entrepreneurs. Of course, this is through the lens of our not entirely serious game but we still wanted to reflect the depth of the real topic.
TSA: When I was playing it, there was so many variables going on in the background. Was it a nightmare to balance all of those aspects and the knock on effect of the choices the player makes?
Kacper: That was the hardest part of the game and we’re still doing that. It was like up and down when we were balancing the game. Sometimes it was too easy, other times too hard, we went back and forth but I hope this pendulum is coming to stop at a point where it’s just right.
TSA: Accessibility is often quite hard to achive for a tycoon game, there’s a lot of complexitites that need to be introduced gradually, is that an element that you’re still fine tuning?
Kacper: We think that we are already doing a good job compared to traditional, hardcore tycoon games, in my opinion, but we are still trying to improve the whole entry side of the game. To smooth it out and make it welcoming for new comers, even one’s who are not normally fans of tycoon games.
TSA: Going back to the legalities of weed, do you have any concerns with releasing the game in certain markets?
Kacper: Well, there are markets where it would just be illegal to release this type of a game. For example, in China and some of the other Asian markets, we just can’t release it. We think that is absurd, but that is the reality we are dealing with.
To our knowledge in most of Europe and America we shouldn’t have any problems and that would be really weird if we did. You can buy a game about killing people in most countries, why wouldn’t you be able to buy a game about weed? Even if you think weed is evil, so is killing people!
TSA: It is weird that killing people is a constant in most video games…
Kacper: Even in Asia, they censor aspects of killing people in your games but you still kill them!
TSA: We have a big issue with sex and drugs, we just can’t handle them!
Kacper: They are too much! [laughs]
TSA: In this day and age you can’t just release a stand alone game anymore, do you have ongoing support planned?
Kacper: Yes, we would very much like continue to work on this game, though maybe not until we’re very old! But we think it’s an open ended game. On the day of release it’s going to be bug free, relatively, you’ll be able to complete two scenarios and have fun doing that, but if the game is popular enough we’re going to add content.
We are already thinking about the third scenario in the first update and probably with more to come. Not just scenrarios but new game content. Ideally we would be able to reflect the ever-changing reality of weed laws in our game.
TSA: One thing that really impressed me about the game is that you have the sandbox where you can mess about with the variables and see what happens, but there’s a big narrative drive all the way through with character development. This is something you don’t normally see in tycoon games. In Weedcraft Inc you have a character that you are role playing as. What led you to including this?
Kacper: That was the intention from the very beginning. We wanted to add a human face to the tycoon genre. As you said they are susally very abstract, you are dealing with the mechanics themselves, not really interacting with human beings. We wanted to change that as we think that a human being is always at the end of the process. Whether you legalise or ban something there is someone who will benefit from that or be hurt because of that. We were listening to a lot of stories, sometimes first hand about people who’s lives were influenced by weed. Sometimes they were happy stories and sometimes sad, like someone’s kid is suffering from cancer and they need marijuana to help them through chemotherapy. Reflecting the world of weed in our games and not telling these stores would be very unfair. We wanted to add this human element to the game.
TSA: It would be very easy to go in a direction were the player is just the criminal and has no moral choices, but there are a lot of moral choices in your game and questions of how something can be legal and immoral or illegal and moral. So there is a lot of grey.
Kacper: Like with the cancer example, someone needs a delivery from you because of their chemotherapy and it’s illegal. So what do you do, are you an immoral person because you deliver someone’s medicine?
TSA: Along with the deeper moral stuff this is a really funny game with humorous dialogue and unusual characters that you meet. How do you balance the tightrope between serious, thoughtful content and something lighter and throwaway?
Kacper: We wanted to have both and I hope we eventually succeed in that. On one hand we wouldn’t want the game to be all goofy “let’s get stoned dude!” but on the other hand we couldn’t be only with a straight face all the time with all about moral dilemmas, because in the end weed makes you happy. This whole culture is largely about embracing smiles, friendship and being relaxed. We can’t walk away from this aspect of weed culture.
TSA: Would you ever be interested in adding bakery based DLC, so you can have cake baking? Would that be a thing?
Kacper: [laughs] That’s a very specific question! But seriously we know that there’s a lots of things related to marijuana that aren’t just the flower. We make it abstract. In the game you don’t know what type of product you are dealing with, it’s only weed, but in the future we would like to explore this aspect of the industry as well.
TSA: You’ve got some crazy names for the different types of weed in the game, are these based on real life or do you have a weed name generator that comes up with these verbal concoctions?
Kacper: Both. There’s a big pool of authentic weed strains growing in the game. Some of them are even branded strains that we acquired permission to use, and when you start breeding your own strains in the game they are given randomised names which you can change. They are largely inspired by the names of real strains. You see a silly name in the game and you might not even know if it is authentic or generated.
TSA: What’s the most ridiculous name for a weed strain in the game?
Kacper: Jaw-Breaker Sex is probably my favourite!
Thanks to Kacper for taking the time to speak with us. You can check out our hands-on preview with Weedcraft Inc here.
Thanks to Vile Monarch, Devolver Digital and Indigo Pearl for organising travel and accommodation to Warsaw. Weedcraft Inc will be released on PC in April 2019.