[Soenke Seidel, also known as Warby, and Friedrich Bode of Exit Strategy Entertainment dropped in this week to answer a gold pile of our questions regarding their upcoming title that caught our attention earlier this year, Pirates of New Horizons.
We were lucky enough to grab the first interview with the developer on the recently unveiled third person space pirates action adventure game that has us and much of the ModDB/IndieDB community abuzz with excitement.]
DIYGamer: Set the stage for us. Who are Exit Strategy Studios? Where are you based, and how many are working on Pirates of New Horizons?
Warby: We are 4 guys from all around the world …well Europe mostly: that would be Friedrich Bode from Germany who runs the business side of things (or will run that once it is a business,) Skjalg S. Maehre our lead-technical-software-engineer (is that a word?) who wrote the spectacular entity framework that i use to actually build the game content, Michael “Zacker” Schmidt from Denmark who helped me nail down the feel of the core mechanics over the last couple of weeks and me Soenke Seidel aka Warby, I make all of the actual game content.
We should probably give a shout out to 2 of our most valuable contributors too: Christian Wasser for the grappling hook feature and and Harry Mack for the swashbuckling soundtrack (no it’s not Dropkick Murphys although clearly inspired by it.)
DIYGamer: You have an interesting development schedule for PONH, first you plan on releasing a free prototype of the game (approx. 20 minutes/3-4 Levels) for PC, Mac and also playable in browser. How far away are we from getting our hands on that?
Warby: I have not yet given up hope that it could be by the end of August! There is only 1 more major task left that ill be done with this week but a million small things i want to change before releasing … so we will see how those turn out!
Friedrich: The last 10% of a game’s development often take up the longest time. There are all these “little things” that you had pushed aside before and that add up. Even if this is going to be a prototype, that is rough around the edges by definition, we want players to get a proper idea of what the final game would play like. If there are small, easy to complete tasks that significantly improve the way the game plays and feels we’ll try to get those done before releasing the prototype. We are doing a bit of user-testing with friends these days and there are some reoccurring topics that require little effort to fix. Still we would like to get this prototype out to an audience as big as possible, as soon as possible, so some things simply have to wait. End of August sounds optimistic, I would estimate end of September, but as Soenke said we have to see how fast we can get those final tasks done. Just be confident that it is rather a matter of weeks or months than years!
DIYGamer: You’ve also detailed that the response you receive from the prototype will determine whether a full version of the game will be worthwhile time and money wise to develop–mentioning that it would then be potentially shopped to consoles via digital distribution (XBLA, PSN, WiiWare.) Pretend I’m a big bad exec representing Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo, pitch to me why you believe the full version would be a great fit for my console download service.
Warby: Uhh I am gonna leave this to Frie I don’t like talking to business people I am all development. ^^ That said its my deepest conviction that: a good product pitches itself! So my dream pitch would work kinda like this: I enter a room, pop in the game, turn up the volume, hand the gamepad to one of those execs,walk over to the wall and lean against it with a smug grin on my face (all this without saying a word.)
Friedrich: The game is a great fit for online delivery services like XBLA, PSN or WiiWare because you can pick it up and get playing so quickly. There is no steep learning curve, the controls are very intuitive, in fact they are designed with a controller in mind. You need to know which button to press to move the character, which button to jump and which one to make the sword swing and you are good to go!
Everybody knows and loves pirates, but have you played a pirate “girl” before? A pirate girl on her flying ship venturing through a universe filled with aliens and robots to be specific? I think that’s what makes the game’s universe so interesting: there are enough familar elements to easily find your way around but also enough strange and mind-boggling stuff to draw you in and explore. Add to that there are not enough 3D Jump’n Run games out there nowadays. PONH mixes this with elements from popular games like Zelda and God of War, beautifully drawn visuals and content for all ages. Our plans for length and pricing of the game would make this a good fit for digital distribution too. Plus we are indie developers who invest a lot of our time, otherwise spent watching Starcraft II replays and debating interactive media as an art form, so we are really dependent on this kind of money…please?!
DIYGamer: Sold! Alright, let’s get into the game’s guts a bit. From what we saw in the announcement trailer, the title seems to offer a variety of different core mechanics. What can players expect with the free release gameplay wise? Would the full version mean a lot more of what’s in the prototype, or would it potentiality bring some new mechanics in as well?
Warby: We have a huge backlog with ideas for mechanics that didn’t make it for the prototype do to time constraints …and well let’s just say experience ^^ for the full game I’d definitely love to resurrect some stuff out of that spoils-bag of ours! As far as the mechanics in the prototype are concerned you can expect alot of puzzles platforming combat and grappling hook action and also some slight adventure/quest-ish stuff! This may drift a little into technical territory but our extended player controller/scripts allow players to swim in water, slide down from too steep surfaces and be passively moved by elevators and other moving platforms. This may not seem like a big deal, if you are a 3D jump and run player all those things are pretty standard, but Unity’s out of the box player controller does not come with these features so we are very proud to have successfully added them and we will release this for free to the Unity community after the prototype is out! Promise!
DIYGamer: While the game certainly has its own charm, one of the reasons it grabbed my attention was that both the look and feel of it immediately conjured memories of good times with several classic titles and series. Sonic and Zelda jumped to mind for me, and looking through the game’s comment section, Super Mario Galaxy, Kingdom Hearts, One Piece, Jak and Daxter, Psychonauts and Windwaker all have been mentioned. That’s a nice list of names to be compared to at this stage, but what media (video games or otherwise) have you guys actually drawn upon as influences for the title?
Warby: When I wrote the design doc, the first chapter was MUST KNOW TITLES and I embedded youtube links to a hand full of games that whoever wanted to work on the game must have intimate knowledge of. Let me see if I can find that for you …. *searches* … I doubt all of my mates know all of these games to be honest ^^:
- God of War (For its polish and just being the best game franchise EVER EVER!)
- Psychonauts (For its characters and humor … this is the game that sparked this project into being.)
- Monkey Island (For currently being the best pirate game…until we come along!)
- Cave story (For its “el mariachi of video games” holy shit i can’t believe one guy alone did this factor)
- Zelda: Windwaker (Art style and campaign structure)
- Jak and Daxter (For its seamless-ness and love for geometry)
- Portal (For its length and pacing)
- Jet Set Radio Future (The connection here might seem a bit nebulous because the features that linked the games got cut)
I’m also gonna take this opportunity and deny some influences:
- One Piece ( i had never heard of this until people started comparing PONH to it )
- Super Mario Galaxy (Although an excellent jump and run game i am going for something completely different!)
- Sonic (Not a big sonic fan especially not the 3d ones. That the sliding and picking up of coins has a sonic feel is pure coincidence.)
- Kingdom Hearts (I have no idea what this is. I have seen tons of promotional artwork over the years but i couldn’t even tell you if this is a jrpg or a beat ‘em up)
Anyway, yeah being compared to high profile AAA titles feels quite warm and fuzzy. I hope people will still do that AFTER they played the prototype. =^.^=
DIYGamer: As mentioned, the main character is a rather beautiful female sky-pirate. May we have her name and a bit of backstory? Also, does she have a love interest?…and as a follow up to that question: Could it be me?
Warby: Her name is annha ( yes thats an “h” before the “a” think of it as a fantasy name,) her back story is what the prototype is about so i am not gonna spoil that here. The only thing she loves is gold ! And no 4th wall breaking in my game this is not Charlie Kaufman’s adaptation!
DIYGamer: I’m heartbroken, but I’ll keep it professional…let’s continue. Any other games or projects in the works beside PONH at Exit Strategy you can let us in on?
Warby: Should this prototype not yield the interest in the project that we are currently hoping for, I have 2 or 3 different ideas for game prototypes that I am DYING to build but I am not gonna spoil what those are here yet. Also it’s not strictly an Exit Strategy release but Christian ”grapplinghookaction” Wasser and I did a little Facebook game during one weekend just to gauge if there is advertisement money in it.
DIYGamer: Anything else you’d like readers to know?
Warby: Thanks for the overwhelmingly positive feedback so far! I am always cautious not to get too hyped over a game pre release (I get burned quite often when i get too hyped for a game) so keep your expectations low for the prototype…so that we can then totally blow your minds!!!!!!
Friedrich: Thanks a lot for giving us the opportunity to get the word out about our game! Everyone who would like to keep up with our progress or would like to ask us directly is more than welcome to visit our website www.piratesofnewhorizons.com!