Behind the Scenes with Citizens Unite!: Earth x Space
For decades, these role-playing games have iterated on the party system popularized by early dungeon crawlers: Dragon Quest IV’s individual party member sections, Suikoden II’s Stars of Destiny, and BioWare’s signature character romances and party banter snark. A new RPG, Citizens Unite!: Earth x Space has its own unique, deeply satisfying approach to the video game party system.
We asked developer Ryan Vandendyck at Eden Industries about the process of creating Citizens Unite! Oh, and while you read, remember: you can pre-order Citizens Unite! Earth x Space at Limited Run Games for PlayStation 4 and Switch through December 19.
First, please tell us a little about yourself, your background, and how you came to work on Citizens Unite!
I’ve been playing games since I was two, and so it was absolutely a dream come true to get my first job in the videogame industry as a programmer on Mario Strikers: Charged on the Nintendo Wii. From there, I worked on many games (like Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, X-Men: Destiny, and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon) before creating Eden Industries.
The development of Citizens of Earth began in 2012 and began to really come together in late 2012 when the art director, Robin Carpenter, came on board to shape the visual design.
Citizens of Earth released in 2015, Citizens of Space followed thereafter in 2019, and finally Citizens Unite!, combining Citizens of Earth and Citizens of Space and adding a ton of new content, came out in January 2021, completing an almost decade-long journey.
Let’s start with giving people an idea of just what’s happening in Citizens Unite! What kind of game is it?
On the surface, Citizens Unite! combines the RPGs Citizens of Earth and Citizens of Space into one game - but it’s so much more than that!
So first of all, Citizens of Earth is a humorous RPG where you play as the newly-elected Vice President of Earth and recruit regular Citizens — like the town Baker, Teacher, Lifeguard, Homeless Guy, and so many more — to investigate a mystery that begins with the local coffee shop, Moonbucks, and carries you on a journey to save the Earth! The battle system is reminiscent of classic RPGs like Dragon Quest and Earthbound while focusing on collecting a big roster of Citizens to customize your party.
And then Citizens of Space takes place hundreds of years later when the brand-new Ambassador of Earth arrives at the Galactic Federation of Planets only to discover that the Earth has gone missing! You’ll recruit friendly Citizens from across the galaxy - like the robotic Confectioner that can bake treats in her tummy oven, the Anglerfish alien Angler, and the cybernetic Athlete that loves to play Spaceball - to help you locate the missing Earth and save the galaxy! Like Citizens of Earth, the battle system focuses on collecting a big roster of Citizens, but this time it dials it up to 11! There are battle minigames to play, big summon abilities to really impact the battle, and you can swap Citizens in and out of battle at any time!
What distinguishes Citizens Unite! and makes it really special?
Not only does Citizens Unite! combine two great games and includes new Citizens in both games to recruit, it does something that I think is very unique for a game bundle like this - it features a brand-new plot that weaves its way through both games, and at any time you can swap back and forth between Citizens of Earth and Citizens of Space! Things you do in Citizens of Earth will affect the world of Citizens of Space, and vice-versa, and only by playing through both games, and the new content, will you get to the bottom of the meta-plot that threatens Earth in both eras!
The art for Citizens Unite! has a very cartoon vibe to it. Why did you make this design choice? Whose idea was it, and what does it add to the game?
The art style was the design of the game’s art director, Robin Carpenter. Even though we were making a game rooted in the Japanese RPGs we all grew up with, we wanted the art to really stand out compared to other such RPGs, which typically opt for more pixel-art or anime aesthetics. Additionally, we wanted an art style that would make the humorous caricatures of the Citizens really burst out of the screen, and the cartoonish look really lets us go over the top with the characters in really fun and humorous ways.
Citizens Unite! sort of skewers the traditional party-based RPG structure. What are some of the ways it subverts expectations?
The main difference between Citizens Unite! and other party-based RPG games is that even in other RPGs where you do recruit lots of characters to your team (Pokemon, Suikoden, etc.), it’s still expected that you’ll use a relatively small party at any given time. Whereas in Citizens Unite!, all of your Citizens are usable at almost any time. In Citizens of Earth, you can restart a battle with a new team of Citizens in order to try out new strategies or team combinations. And in Citizens of Space, all of your Citizens participate in the battle together! You can change your active Battle Citizens during a battle, call down Summon Citizens for a big effect, and Partner Citizens are equipped to Battle Citizens to provide stat boosts and unique abilities. So there’s an absolutely massive amount of customization and strategy possible.
And of course, no discussion of the ways Citizens Unite! would be complete without a discussion of the Citizens themselves. In what other game will you find a Lifeguard that can perform mouth-to-mouth to heal a fellow party member, an Athlete to hit a flurry of baseballs into enemies, a Conspiracy Guy to probe the enemy weaknesses, and a Pizzabot to deliver slices of delicious pizza? Only in Citizens Unite!.
What are the unique difficulties faced in making a game that’s funny and satirical? How did you overcome those challenges?
Humour is extremely subjective, and satire can be very polarizing, so making it appealing and entertaining can be a really delicate balance. We did a couple things to overcome these challenges, though, the first being that right from the start, we knew we wanted a game that was positive and uplifting. So the humor in the game is never negative or cruel, even if there is a lot of buffoonery!
And speaking of buffoonery, giving the game a political vibe made satire a little easier since, one way or another, people tend to love poking fun at politicians!
And finally, since the game is really packed full of pop-culture references, some a bit more obscure than others, there’s a lot of humor to be found in appreciating the funny and unique twists on these references. Although some may be a bit too obscure for all but the most die-hard fans, again, it’s all focused around being a form of humor that’s genuine, earnest, and very good-natured. Which we think makes it pretty universally appealing!
What makes Citizens Unite! really stand out? What’s really FUN about it?
To me, Citizens Unite! stands out first and foremost by presenting a theme that is really unlike anything else out there. The game is focused around ordinary Citizens coming together to save the day, so right from the start, you’ve got a theme that’s really distinct from the classic “legendary heroes save the world from an ancient evil” kind of vibe that is so common. One battle with the Mom scolding Protesters to defeat them or the Popstar belting out a beat-down ballad and you’ll know you’re playing something very unique!
And really, it’s the combination of the unique theme and Citizens oozing with hilarious personality with gameplay that offers so much that provides Citizens Unite! with its distinct flavor of fun! Whether you’re customizing your team of Citizens for battle, leveraging the unique Talents of the Citizens to customize the world and your experience, or hunting down every single one of the 88 Citizens available to recruit, there’s so much for players to experience that they can really get immersed in the world of Citizens Unite!
What are some of the influences on Citizens Unite!, and how did they help shape the game?
Citizens Unite! has been inspired by a ton of classic RPGs! This can be seen even in the opening scene of Citizens of Earth, which fans of old-school RPGs should be able to recognize - albeit with a bit of a funny twist given that the main character of Citizens of Earth is a grown man!
Beyond that, Earthbound was a huge motivation for its modern theme and humorous nature, both of which are huge parts of Citizens Unite!.
And of course given that Citizens Unite! features a large party of recruitable characters, similar RPGs (Pokemon, Suikoden, etc.) were very influential.
And finally, since Citizens of Space features battle minigames for attack, defense, and special summon abilities, similar games (Paper Mario, Mario and Luigi RPG, etc.) were inspirations to us.
When you’re not working, what are you playing right now?
We’re mostly working! But when we have time, a lot of us are playing through Dragon Quest XI since we all can’t get enough of those kinds of RPGs! Beyond that, I’m playing a lot of my NES Classic and SNES Classic with my kids, educating them on the classics so they can one day make games with me with a solid understanding of the games that inspired me to make games too!
What are you most proud of about Citizens Unite!?
Growing up playing RPGs on the NES, SNES, and beyond, it was always a dream to make something that not only expressed my love for the genre but to incorporate all the many ideas I’ve had over decades of playing RPGs. Citizens Unite! represents almost a decade’s worth of work (from the first work on Citizens of Earth in 2012 until the release of Citizens Unite! in 2021), almost a hundred fully-realized Citizens unlike anything you’ll see in any other game, and a very unique experience of traveling between Citizens of Earth and Citizens of Space to experience a plot intertwined between two games. With Citizens Unite!, we’ve been able to leave our mark on the RPG genre in a very unique way, and this is something the whole team is exceptionally proud of.
If you like what you see here, pre-order CItizens Unite! Earth x Space today at Limited Run Games.
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