Designing We Are The Caretakers, out this week on Xbox

Hello! I’m Scott, Director of Design at Heart Shaped Games, and I had the opportunity to talk a little about the unique development process of our new sci-fi grand strategy RPG. We are the caretakers. A lot has gone into making the game over 4 years of development, but I would like to focus on how our design team discovered fun and new gameplay mechanics for a new strategy game from a very unexpected source: endangered animal poaching and the real world. animal welfare work.

inspiration and idea

I always wanted to make a grand strategy game with a large roster of characters to organize and upgrade, like in games like xcom, Darkest Dungeonor my personal favorite, classic Battle of the Ogres: March of the Black Queen. I worked on concepts and prototypes in the grand strategy genre many years ago, but finally found the right time to revisit these projects after our team was approached to make a game about tracking and managing poachers in the wild.


At first it seemed like a strange topic to make a game, but after spending time with real explorers and rangers working in the field to protect endangered animals, we left feeling inspired. Their incredible work has led us on a journey of discovery about the realities of human-animal conflict and animal conservation. Rangers work in small teams with limited resources, hunting down animals and poachers that move in unpredictable ways across vast expanses. This unique management challenge has evolved into interesting gameplay solutions and is a perfect fit for our beloved role-playing games for building squads and managing large squads. We quickly realized we had something innovative and special and got to work.

Changing genres and creating new gameplay

Our decision to translate this research into a game was to mix different game genres, each of which emulated an important aspect of wildlife protection. We’ve designed Overseer Headquarters, where you assemble hundreds of recruited characters into squads, deal with detained poachers, and upgrade your technology before heading out into the field. We’ve created a real-time paused map exploration system where you deploy your squads to look for poacher activity. And we’ve created a turn-based combat system to resolve encounters between your squads and poacher teams, giving you diplomatic options in addition to traditional JRPG-like options.


By giving players the opportunity to take action at the macro and micro levels throughout our campaign of over 30 missions, they get to experience what it’s like to put together an organization that can fight back.

Creation of the world

While the gameplay design was a long process of research, we put as much effort into creating an immersive world and style that would fit with the gameplay. Art director Anthony “robotpencil” Jones drew inspiration from the work of Afrofuturists such as Black Panther for the environment and character design; Composer John Parra inspired the flamboyant orchestral music with elements of rap; and narrative designer Xalavier Nelson Jr. beefed up real-world stories by adding close encounters with aliens and a post-apocalyptic planetary redemption story.


Lessons learned

The biggest lesson learned in creating We are the caretakers was that going beyond traditional genres and game tropes is the way to new and original ideas. By bringing in people from outside the gaming industry and building a diverse development team, we ensured that we had a variety of points of view that could find the right solution and create something exciting and fresh for our players. Working with the Heart Shaped Games team on We are the caretakers has been one of my biggest professional joys, and I hope it translates into the final game you get to play.


hope you enjoy We are the caretakers as much as we do. It’s available for pre-order today and releases Friday, January 6th! Your purchase also supports the people who inspired the game: 10% of the net proceeds from the game will be donated to the Wildlife Conservation Network’s Rhino Recovery Fund.

Xbox Live

We are the caretakers

LLC “Games in the shape of a heart”




We Are The Caretakers is an Afrofuturistic RPG that puts you in charge of a squad. Assemble a mysterious team of defenders in squad building systems inspired by Darkest Dungeon, Ogre Battle and XCOM. Protect the endangered animals your world depends on in strategic turn-based combat. Determine your approach to global resistance by balancing your reputation, funds, research, animals, and alliances. We Are The Caretakers is a challenging strategy RPG that challenges you to protect the planet by fighting for the people, animals and ecosystems that inhabit it.

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