A long time ago, on a website far away, I got the chance to preview the first game from new Canadian indie studio Kitfox Games. Today I got to sit down again with the team’s head woman in charge and creative director, Tanya Short, about their next big game, Moon Hunters. Far from sticking to the style their turn-based rogue-like Shattered Planet, Moon Hunters is a cooperative action-RPG with a very distinctive approach to open worlds and story choices.
Tanya, for those who don’t know, what is Moon Hunters?
Tanya Short [TS}: Moon Hunters is a one to four player RPG set in an ancient world, and you are all working together to build your own mythology. It’s coming to PC, PS4, and hopefully PS Vita and Wii-U if we can make those stretch goal on our Kickstarter.
Why a cooperative exploration game? You’ve got a blend of Zelda and Journey this time round, and that’s a bit different from your last game.
[TS]: Well, Shattered Planet was still about exploring, but we’ve always wanted to put more co-op action in there. And I think the way to have the most memorable experiences are with other people. So, we are building on our experience with randomly generated worlds and unique stories people want to experience, but we’re bringing friends into the mix. So we don’t see them as very different.
You pitched Moon Hunters through the Square Enix Collective site, how was that experience in comparison to just doing standalone work?
[TS]: Oh it’s good. It’s really more of a way of getting the word out there. It’s not so much changing the nature of development. We had this idea, the guys at Square Enix liked it, and so we put it up there and we got a bunch of feedback and interesting ideas about what people liked about it. We got new fans and subscribers to our newsletter that we can talk to get and feedback from. So overall I’d say it was wonderful.
Very nice, would you advise it to other indie devs?
[TS]: Yeah I think so. One of the biggest challenges about being an indie dev, making the game without a publisher, is getting the word out, and getting people to hear that your game exists in the first place. Since you don’t lose anything by putting it on the Collective, there’s no reason not to, really. Unless you’re at war with Square Enix or something.
So be sure to check it out unless you’re an angry CronoTrigger fan!
So, main tagline for Moon Hunters is to create your own mythology. What do you mean by that, how will the players create their own mythos? Will it be a more like a traditional Western RPG like Mass Effect or is it more grand sweeping like Dark Souls and Skyrim? Does the game write down your actions like a mythological story?
[TS]: We’re not modeling it on any particular like Mass Effect or a JRPG or whatever. We’re more looking at the underlying themes of “what is it like to be a hero?” and to have a mythology based upon your actions. if it is based on anything, it’s based on an indie game almost nobody’s played called Dungeons of Fate and it was also inspired by another indie game, The Yawgh. A few people have played them, but they’re not widely known.
So what happens is, you go around exploring the world. You make decisions, which I guess you could call Mass Effect-ish, that you meet characters and help them with their problems, although they aren’t all present at one location, idly standing around, waiting to be helped. And then, your part in these character arcs and these events that effect the world, and how you build up your village, because you help by building different buildings and grow your character in different ways by helping out with different tasks — all of that contributes to your overall reputation. Your reputation is based on the personality traits you’ve been demonstrating through your actions.
So if you’re a more patient “wait and see” kind of person, then first of all you’ll get an attribute like patience. Over time people will start talking to you differently based on the fact you are known to be patient. Then for example, if that is one of your most enduring traits by the end of the game, then everyone remembers you as “Elijah the Patient”, and if your hero is truly epic, then you could earn a constellation. So maybe you’d have the constellation of an hour glass that’s actually named Elijah because you are the emblem of patience for ages to come.
But in your full mythology it would list a ton of different acts, and maybe not all were patient, but they are things you did to contribute to your world. So that’s the idea behind it.
Would that cross over between worlds? Like, if Elijah the Patient exists in this world and there’s another hero, Isaac the Hasty — will we still see that hour glass constellation?
[TS]: Well, it’s mostly meant to be consistent between your playthroughs. It’s not really like a persistent MMO, it’s more like you’re intending to play the game multiple times. It’s a relatively short game, but it’s different every time you play it. So you spend a couple hours you explore around, you create Elijah the Patient, and then next time you play again, or if you play with friends, then whoever the Hasty would have a constellation as well as the rest of your friends. So it’s more like a persistent meta-achievement.
So more of a persistent single-player world.
[TS]: Yeah, well persistent-ish, with the worlds being randomly generated.
Speaking of which, how does the procedural generation factor in to the story and gameplay. Are we going to see different enemies and tribes across playthroughs or is it going to be more like Minecraft with the same sort of elements spread around differently.
[TS]: More like the latter, I’d compare it to something like Starbound and Minecraft. You’ll have a biome, it’s the desert, and the desert will tend to have its specific enemies and tends to have certain treasures and legends. But what you find in the desert, how large the threats and great the treasures, and all that’s going on it will be different every time.
Alright, and how large would you say the worlds will be? How many biomes should the player expect in any given world?
[TS]: Well, were planning on four biomes, Deserts, Mountains, Forests, and Rivers — not counting special locations where you might find bosses or treasure. We’ve managed to include a fifth, Riverland, which has the Celestin faction.
and a sixth mini-biome, the beach for the Reefwalkers faction, thanks to meeting those stretch goals.
Did your team learn anything new after developing Shattered Planet that you’re applying into Moon Hunters?
[TS]: Oh absolutely! So, Shattered Planet was actually developed across multiple platforms — mobile (Android/iOS) and PC. We are not thrilled with the market when it comes to making money, but it’s a really cool place for players to try something out and get a feel for a game. So we’re looking to take that experience from mobile, and make a companion/preview app that lets you just try out the Mythology components without any of the combat or co-op elements. It’s just strictly playing around with the story, setting, and characters before you decide to make a purchase on PC or PSN.
That sounds cool, not a lot of developers have taken that approach. I hope it pays off.
[TS]: Yeah, we’re hoping so too. We believe Shattered Planet couldn’t have gotten as far as it did without the 300,000 downloads it got from mobile.
[TS]: Thank you! While it wasn’t a great way to make ends meet, it got a lot of people playing the game and got our name out there, so from that perspective it was a huge success! It definitely got our name out there.
Alright, now going back towards Moon Hunters — how does the coop factor in? Because that’s a big feature here, and will having multiple characters there change how the story and world generates? Will we see bigger worlds if you have more players? Will enemies be harder to kill or in greater numbers? How will the game decide which protagonist to focus on if, say, Isaac the Hasty and Elijah the Patient are both running around in the same game? Or will we just see the constellations trying to pile drive each other?
[TS]: Ha! Well we’ll probably be leaving it a little open ended, but we’re still exploring and prototyping all of those features. The Kickstarter success will also drive what features we can go for. Our favorite and hoped for goal was Online Multiplayer, we’ve thankfully made and that changes a lot, obviously. Because if we had just completed our basic Kickstarter goal, it would have only been local multiplayer. If that had been the case, what we would have gone with is that you would have one main player as the leader, and everyone as their sidekick. They’d be like Thor or Xena and everybody else is a friend and helper, who could’ve still had their own legends and constellations too, but if the game get’s confused it would pick that one guy/girl as the hero.
Kind of like in the Fable games.
[TS]: Yeah! Like Fable, or even Divinity: Original Sin. Original Sin is fantastic, and I love their co-op and those fun little conversations and stuff, so we’re going to be looking for interesting ways for players to interact. All we can promise right now is that you’ll play together, explore, and build your own myths together. With the Kickstarter doing so well, we’re excited to explore more!
As Creative Director of Kitfox Games, what are the responsibilities for you as a developer?
[TS]: Well, Creative Director is just a fancy way of saying I make high-level decisions and I design the game. I’m the team’s designer, so most of the time, through the production of Moon Hunters, I could be making levels, I could be making characters, and monsters, and items. I’d be writing events, designing UI — all that kinda junk. Now everything that’s actually more measurable, like making the interface look good or animating the characters, or the programming of any features; that’ll be the rest of the team. But as Creative Director, it’s also my job to make sure everyone has the same goals and is on point, and that we’re all excited with where the game is going. I’m also handling things like project management, production, marketing, and community management. But my favorite is when I just get to sit down and design all day. It’s fun, and it’s what I’m really good at. The rest of this stuff I’m still figuring out as I go.
And sometimes that’s the best way.
How has your experience with the AAA side of things impacted your approach to indie development? I mean you worked at Funcom on things like Age of Conan: Unchained and The Secret World.
[TS]: Well it gave me a lot of experience, and I think the number one thing it gave me was a lot of friends with experience in design and development, so if I feel lost or confused I had lots of people to turn to. I think it also gave me a clear idea on best and worst practices from both well managed and not-so-well managed projects. I mean, I know that I haven’t seen all the mistakes and know that I’ll make some, but taking what I experienced on Age of Conan and Secret WOrld and a bunch of other projects and it’s helped Kitfox together more quickly. I mean, Shattered Planet was on Android and iOS in only nine months, and I don’t think that would’ve been possible if it had been my first game. That experience and that network of support really helped us be faster and wiser than most indie devs just starting out.
That’s great, glad you guys got and still have that kind of help.
[TS]: Yeah, the Montreal developers group is in general just great. Whether they’re AAA or indie, it helps everyone out and everyone is very supportive. It really does help when you’re terrified of everything that could happen as an independent developer.
Speaking of which, hasn’t the Canadian government been trying to help grow the game development sector? They put a fair amount of funds into Warner Bros. Montreal last year.
[TS]: Oh yeah, they give some tax incentives, and the problem with them is that it’s actually better for larger studios, because you have to be operating for about a year and a half before you’ll see any of that money. It’s more like a reimbursment system, so I think a lot of small companies go bankrupt before they can even get the tax incentives, unlike larger companys like Warner Bros. Montreal. They’re planning for the next ten years, and while indies are kind of here week to week.
Alright, and what advice would you give them to aspiring creative directors and game designers out there listening? Because, a lot of people when they say they want to make games, they want to be “the idea guy”, and most of the time, working that kind of field is not very easy.
[TS]: Yeah, it’s not easy, and honestly I wouldn’t call myself “the idea guy”. I think, I was just talking to someone today, who was talking about how they wanted to lead a team, and they didn’t want to actually help with making the game, and I said that that’s useless. I mean, everyone has ideas, and everyone has interesting ideas, but what really makes your ideas better is making games. So my number one advice to everyone whoever comes up to me and says “how can I make games?” or “how can I be a designer?”, I just say make them, go. There’s so many free tools online, there’s no reason why you can’t have made ten games by now. There’s so many tutorials, and I mean a lot of the games that are coming out are wonderful. Paper’s Please was by one guy. It wasn’t his first game; it took him a long while, of gaining skill, insight, and practice. But I think it’s a craft like any other, I mean you don’t walk up to a master blacksmith and say “Alright, I’m going to make the best katana ever!” “I have a great idea for a katana!” You know it’s just, no, you gotta work at it.
Yeah, even just with modding and stuff like that. You have to start somewhere.
Alright, well we’re at the end of our interview, so now is the time for you ask me and/or our audience a question.
[TS]: Hmmmmmm…. well, I’d be interested to know, of the people in Moon Hunters, which tribe would be your favorite, or at least the one you’d be most interested to know more about.
Well you heard her viewers! Let us know in the comments below which tribe interests you the most! Go forth, observe the Kickstarter! Leave your feedback!
[TS]: Yes! Please!
Nothing involving a flame through minotaur?
[TS]: Yeah, I mean we have a fire boss, but no lava tribe. Sorry! Unless our backers really beg for it I guess.
Aye. Well it was great getting to chat with you again Tanya, and I wish you guys the best of luck.
[TS]: Thank you so much! You have a great day Elijah.
You too Tanya! For more on Moon Hunters and all things artistic in gaming, be sure to look here at Artistry in Games, and keep an eye out for our video interview with Kitfox’s lead artist Xin Ran Lau! Also check out Kitfox’s home page and the Moon Hunters Kickstarter! It’s only got three days left as of posting, and they’re only a little more funding away from multiple language localizaton.