Discover Circus Electrique, the steampunk circus RPG from Zen Studios, which will be released on September 6
At the end of 2019, a small team of creative minds within Zen Studios came up with an idea: “Let’s make an RPG in a steampunk version of London where all your playable heroes are circus performers.” Almost everyone who read the pitch – myself included – reacted in a way that I hope you’ll share upon hearing such a premise: “What a crazy idea…I love it!” With Circus Electrique just weeks away from releasing on September 6th, allow me to reflect on how it all came to be, and other ways the game also differentiates itself from other RPGs…
Make a game that we ourselves want to play
The idea for a project first called “Circus Scandal” was born when the team members just released other Zen Studios RPGs like the first-person dungeon-crawler Operencia: The Stolen Sun, the tactical roguelite Dread Nautical and the 4X genre mish-mash CastleStorm II all expressed our desire to bring another RPG to life. At Zen, it’s important that we create the kinds of games that we ourselves want to play… and it just so happens that in recent years a certain relatively new subgenre of RPGs has particularly captivated many of us, best illustrated by Darkest Dungeon. And in the middle of that darkness, a light bulb went on: “We enjoy this kind of game. Let’s make our own.”
Steampunk offers a unique aesthetic
But what exactly was the best way to make a game like Darkest Dungeon “ours”? We understood early on that the first step was to present a unique aesthetic. High fantasy is cool and all, but what if we took things elsewhere? What if we didn’t even have knights, mages, orcs, elves or dragons? (Not even a single dungeon, dimly lit or not!) How about we…go steampunk?
It was designer Andras “Babar” Klujber’s brainchild, to which almost all of us said, “Steampunk is awesome! We love steampunk! Why aren’t there more steampunk games? Let’s change that.” Before we knew it, we found ourselves researching the era…which led to finding some great circus posters like these…
So that got us thinking… circus performers have their own special abilities, don’t they? What if they used them to fight? What if it was up to these circus people to save late-Victorian steampunk London from ordinary citizens gone mad? What if the electrical innovations of Tesla, Edison and Westinghouse were really amplified (pun absolutely intentional)? Not many games with such a premise out there.
Driven by history
Now we had our basic idea: a steampunk RPG where you fight as circus performers against ordinary people gone “crazy”. But how to make it make sense? This is where another of our key differentiators comes in: a greater emphasis on story. Something more narrative, perhaps even more influenced by JRPGs.
To put it simply, the world of Circus Electrique was identical to ours until 1873, when a great innovation revolutionized electricity, sending the timeline in a more steampunk direction. Our story is set 26 years later, after a terrible event known as the Maddening causes ordinary people to attack innocent people seemingly beyond their own control. Mysteriously immune to the Maddening, the artists of Cirque Electrique join our protagonist Amelia on a quest to find out how it all happened and how to stop it.
Accessible difficulty and atypical RPG heroes
The singularity of Circus Electrique does not stop at aesthetics and history. On the one hand, we know that many gamers find this particular RPG subgenre too punishing. While not without its challenges, Circus Electrique aims to be a game you won’t just want to finish… but actually do! We are easier… but not too easy.
It’s also worth mentioning that these aren’t your typical RPG heroes. Character classes like Strongmen, Knife Throwers, Human Cannonballs, and even Robot Bears – 15 in total – are a welcome change of pace from the more fantasy-focused archetypes.
And finally, because everyone knows the show must go on, comes the “tycoon” aspect of Circus Electrique: planning a circus. It takes the form of a complex, almost puzzle-like gameplay experience where placing the best roster of characters based on their likes and dislikes is directly tied to the success of the series. It’s the kind of thing that can take you a minute or an hour, depending on how much you want to think about it.
On behalf of the team, we couldn’t be happier to present our unique vision to you very soon. Let us know what you think once Circus Electrique hits your PlayStation of choice on September 6th.
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