we talked to Spicey Horse CEO American McGee about the Kickstarter for their new free to play game Akaneiro: Demon Hunters. Today we are talking to Ben Kerslake the Creative Director of the game who give us a bit more on the actual game and what players can expect when they fire it up
Could you give us the high level overview of Akaneiro: Demon Hunters? How long has the concept for the game been floating around?
The core thematic idea, that of Red Riding Hood in a Feudal Japanese setting, has around for quite some time. Spicy Horse has itching at the chance to bring it to fruition more or less since American started the studio. In that time, the potential game genres it may have been attached to have varied. We decided on an Action Role-playing direction after Alice: Madness Returns development was completed. This was in part due to the studio shifting toward building online games relying on RPG mechanics.
What is a demon hunter and how does the player come about being one?
In Akaneiro, our demon hunters are all members of the Order of Akane. This elite group was founded in Japan some 300 odd years before the events of the game by Red Riding Hood (in her later, demon hunting years). The Order is famed for having fought a great war that overturned a demon, or Yokai, invasion.
Apart from being naturally gifted hunters, members of the Order must undergo intense martial training. They are also taught how to gather and harness Karma to pull off the super-human techniques required to combat Yokai. Karma is the crystallized blood of fallen Yokai - appearing as rough, red shards. Order members are often referred to as "Red Hunters" for this reason, as well as their penchant for wearing red cloaks in emulation of their founder.
The Action RPG market has seen a few big releases this year with Torchlight II and Diablo III, how does Akaneiro: Demon Hunters differ from those games? Do you feel like this full of a market helps or hurts the game?
Many of our original ideas for Akaneiro stemmed around a pure action title, and I think we offer a slightly faster paced ARPG experience as a result. Whilst still requiring careful tactical use of abilities, we try to keep combat fairly intense.
In departing from the western high-fantasy to explore Japanese tradition, we're also providing a setting which is fairly unique amongst our present day contemporaries. A different theme can go a long way to making an experience feel fresh.
We're big fans of the genre, and I think though the market is well served - it's only increased player appetite. I see the audience expanding, and wanting more... so that's definitely a positive for us and the genre as a whole.
Where is the game in it’s development? What has been the biggest challenge so far? Do you established a release window yet?
The game has just this past week entered open beta, and an initial release will follow in late January. The biggest challenge for us has simply being living up to the promise the game has. Though the game is perfectly playable, and a ton of fun, there's still a lot of features we want to add, and that our players are asking for. Readers can find out more about that by checking out our Kickstarter page
Do you feel like there’s a certain stigma with browser based games? How do you get gamers past that?
There certainly is, and with free to play. It's natural, as there's plenty of examples of sub-par product looking to make a quick buck. The simplest way to get gamers past it is to put a quality product in front of them, that oozes production value. I'm not saying that's easily done - but I feel it's the best way to speak to any consumer. Show your invested in quality, and they'll at least check it out. I think as the lines blur between, mobile, web, free to play, etc - those stigmas will start to peel away. That's already happening to a degree, and quite quickly. Players of all types are becoming more and more discerning, so I think the quality bar is being raised too.
As a developer of a free to play game how do you balance the needs of making money with the needs of the player? What things will you be charging for in the game?
An online game is a dynamic product, so to balance it you must be constantly active, and work alongside community to shape the game and the economy around player behavior. We sell our in-game currency, Karma, which players may purchase if they don't want to commit the time to earning it regularly. Non-paying players can earn as much as they like. No content or progress off limits for either type of player. Though paying for Karma saves some time, it doesn't allow players to circumvent or trivialize earning experience and completing missions. We want people playing the game, after all!
What’s the biggest challenge of creating a free to play game? How have you refined the pay to play system since you started development?
We explored several different models and platforms. Any RPG has to support a working economy, be it free to play or not - that challenge is there regardless of payment model.
How did you come up with the story for Akaneiro: Demon Hunters? Has the story evolved a bit since you started the game?
As well as the "myth" we've built around Red Riding Hood in the game world, the narrative was inspired by both historical and fictional accounts the huge changes taking place in Japan during the mid to late 19th century, when they opened up trade with the West. We've drawn several parallels inspired by the East meets (or versus!) West theme. The narrative continues to evolve, and will do so further as we release expansions to the initially released areas.
What kind of multiplayer experiences are you planning for the game? Will it strictly be co-op or are you looking at competitive modes?
Right now, we're focused on co-op - it's definitely the higher demand feature with less overhead for us. As demand increases, we'll explore what might be possible in terms of PvP, but we don't want it negatively affecting the game (in terms of balance and itemization), so we'll be treading carefully.
Could you talk about what pets will be able to do in the game? How many different pets will be available and what kind of critters will be available for players to pick from?
Spirit Helper Pets provide a variety of powerful passive bonuses, in addition to being charming little companions. We've got 7 varieties and plan to add more as we go. Players can go with something traditional, such as Inugami the dog spirit, or perhaps experiment with the Yokai trickster Kabuki Kozo.
The core of any action RPG is the loot system, could you talk about the kind of things players will be able to get in the game and how they will be able to modify their loot? What are you doing differently in Akaneiro: Demon Hunters that we haven’t seen before?
We've got a full-fledged random loot system, with hundreds of visual templates for items. Each piece of equipment has a number of attributes that provide passive and active bonuses to a wide range of stats. We've definitely provided a great deal of variety for a game of our scale - ARPG fans will be right at home. Where we try to buck common trends is in the relationship between visual design and item power - we've created less dependency on specific classes/builds when it comes to what armor and weapons you can effectively use.
This means you needn't feel forced to look a certain way to complement your play style. It overlaps with our ability system, which offers abilities divided Discipline but never locks you into a prescribed path. We've built the core of both items and ability systems around the same idea diversity and hybridization.
We're hoping to add a crafting system in at a later date, that'll allow you to combine any piece of equipment with any attribute.
Is there anything we missed that you think is important?
Come play the game
and let us know what else should be there - support the Kickstarter to make Android/iOS versions and much expanded feature set a reality as soon as possible!
We'd like to thank Ben for answering our questions as well as Shannon for helping to coordinate the interview.