It's a little known fact that Game Dev Tycoon, the game that fucked with pirates by slowly sending them bankrupt, is Australian. And while Game Dev Tycoon launched several years ago, the studio has remained quiet about their next game.
It's called Tavern Keeper, and it's exactly what you think: making sure orcs, elves and all other manner of races get shitfaced for profit.
Greenheart Games co-founder Patrick Klug, who is based in Brisbane, showed off the game to Kotaku Australia in an online briefing ahead of E3. Klug took me through a pre-alpha build of the game, showing off some of the levels, management systems, animations and design.
Tavern Keeper starts on a huge world screen, where you can see fires and taverns in lots of different locations. The opening tavern — which you won through a bet — is set in a dank swamp, with the player making their way through taverns in mines, mountains, a halfling village, one atop a waterfall, before running a large tavern in a major city.
It's heavily inspired by Discworld, Klug explained over Skype, with a stylised low-poly look for the orcs, halflings, elves and other races that drop by your tavern. Keeping abreast of their different preferences is key to progression, and each of the different races will respond differently to the quality of service, what recipes and lodgings are offered, how clean the tavern is, the speed of service, and how well priced everything is.
Over time you'll also attract a higher tier of patrons, who have higher expectations. They'll be less patient when it comes to service, pickier about the atmosphere, the softness of their bed, that sort of thing.
Like other management sims, taverns are rated on a five-star system. Want higher tier lodgings? You'll need a laundry, so you can keep the sheets and beds clean. To increase your tavern rating, you'll need to make sure your accommodations reach a minimum level, you're not carrying too much (or any) debt, your drinks are of acceptable quality, and that the average patron is largely satisfied. (You can't, miserably, bribe the patrons with free drinks just in case.)
The building process, even at this stage, is fluid in a way that's reminiscent of Planet Coaster. Building rooms is a straightforward drag and drop process, with objects, doors, doodads and walls all snapping to walls and other objects seamlessly.
On the staff side, each member has their own traits. There's also D&D stats for each character, which affects their capacity in different parts of the tavern. A burly orc will better at repairing and cleaning; charismatic humans and elves will be more apt at administrative duties, the front of house, and so on. Staff might also clash with some of your patrons, like royalty, so you'll have to carefully manage their interactions and movements to avoid a drop in your approval rating.
Despite being well in pre-alpha — Tavern Keeper isn't due out until next year — most of the animations were in place. Merchant trolls push dingy boats down the swamp with their goods, tossing barrels of ale onto the deck for you to sale. The low-poly style keeps things identifiable when the tavern gets more occupied, and there's plenty of visual variety across the tavern environments.
As a bonus, there's a light story throughout each tavern. In the opening swamp level, after completing some of the basic tasks, a patron walked in looking for a beer. A book icon appeared over their head, with the text "I'm Guild To Meet You". It was an older lady, a representative from the Tavern Keepers Guild — whose approval all tavern owners require.
I asked whether Tavern Keeper would support mods, and Klug responded by saying that modders were extremely capable if given the tools. "What we will try to do is so people can inject their own animations, and if not, we'll have fallback animations that you can just select ... I think in the end we will see, but we have no plans yet for modding support in the first release. We'll see how it goes."
The game is being self-published, which is partially there's not been much word on Tavern Keeper yet. Klug explained that the process was "quite scary" in some ways, but the studio — which is based in Brisbane but consists of remote workers from all around the world — was primarily focusing on development before thinking about what the release plan is.
"It's such a different game [from Game Dev Tycoon]," Klug explained. "Tycoon Keeper is a systems game, it's very different, you can't test it with just 3 systems, you need all those things working together to feel the game and what not. And that's what surprised me: how difficult it was to get to a stage to where you can experience the game [in testing]."
Klug added that despite the complexity, Tavern Keeper was weirdly relaxing. Once the tavern is mapped out, hires are made and orders are on the pass, he found it was surprisingly chill to just watch everything interact until a disaster happened.
Tavern Keeper, which is launching first on PC, doesn't have a release date yet. The Brisbane studio hopes to have a beta out sometime this year. More updates about the game will be posted on the official site.