I recently had a chance to interview the fine folks over at Spicy Horse. First up is a well known developer, American McGee, and the creative director: Benjamin Kerslake. In addition, I got a great chance to get some new information about Spicy Horse’s newest game Akaneiro Demon Hunters.
American McGee: CEO of Spicy Horse Games
Q.) It’s pretty unprecedented for Western based gaming to move overseas and set up shop. What initiated the decision to do so?
It was mainly driven by a desire for change and exploration. Asia has always held special appeal for me so when an opportunity to move and work in Hong Kong presented itself I made the jump immediately. I didn’t know at that point exactly where the jump would take me – or have any thought for starting my own studio in China – but the possibilities became obvious almost as soon as I’d landed.
Q.) Spicy Horse has a focus on free to play games with some sort of online social or multiplayer functionality. What differences do you see between retail releases and this newer brand of gaming?
Online gaming offers us the chance to cater to a smaller, more engaged audience while continually updating and improving the user experience. Truth is this is a very old model of game development and distribution – one that dominated the industry back in the 80s and early 90s. Shareware titles and online distribution allowed developers a closer relationship with their customers. Now that so many digital distribution channels have opened for developers we’re seeing once again the benefits of the model vs. the traditional retail/box-product business.
Q.) Where do you see the future of the gaming industry going?
While content and design will always improve at a steady pace driven by up and coming creative geniuses, I believe the real changes are going to come from distribution and user interface. We’re quickly heading towards a point where the computing device (call it a phone if you like) in your pocket will outstrip the living room console in terms of convenience, ubiquity and utility. Combine the idea of everyone, everywhere computing with advances in user interface (see Oculus Rift for an example) and you’ve got my picture of the Next Big Thing (at least for the next 5 years.)
[pullquote_left]We’re quickly heading towards a point where the computing device (call it a phone if you like) in your pocket will outstrip the living room console in terms of convenience, ubiquity and utility.[/pullquote_left]
Q.) What are some of your biggest inspirations?
Inspiration for me comes in many shapes and sizes – I experiment a lot with everything from cooking to music, technology to gardening… you name it I’ve probably dabbled in it a bit. For me inspiration often comes from combining otherwise unrelated fields or interests. It might be a piece of music that gives me an idea for pacing in a story or a bit of software knowledge that gives me an idea for an improvement to my electric scooter. Inspiration is everywhere you care to find it.
Q.) Do you personally game and if so, what is your favorite game of all time? What are you currently playing?
Favorite game of all time is still GTA3. But these days I’m hugely addicted to Mine Craft (with half the world it seems).
Benjamin Kerslake – Creative Director at Spicy Horse Games
Q.) The artwork for Akaneiro and Big Head Bash is immeaditely drawing to the eye in my opinion, especially with Akaneiro. What process do you use to narrow the art style you’ll use for a title?
Art will define the identity of a game, particularly before people can play it. Providing this gives people something familiar or inspiring to connect with personally. In the early stages of development the game narrative or design (or both) will help inform what art styles might be appropriate. From there, we’d go through a explorative art process looking at how that art style was developed and applied historically. We usually produce a lot of art in this period that will drive the game toward finding the right identity. This is usually when we discover the elusive combination of unique and familiar elements that make for a great art style.
[pullquote_right]Art will define the identity of a game, particularly before people can play it. Providing this gives people something familiar or inspiring to connect with personally.[/pullquote_right]
Q.) Even on the site Akaneiro lists Okami as a source of inspiration. What other sources of inspiration did you draw from when creating Akaneiro’s art style?
Okami is one of the best realizations of Japanese traditional art in a game, so it’s a natural touchstone. Viewtiful Joe and Mad World (also Clover/Platinum games) have striking high contrast elements to their presentation that don’t negatively affect gameplay. Oboro Muromasa (The Demon Blade) is a recent title that featured some great creature design based on the same Japanese folklore. Outside of gaming, we referenced a great deal of traditional Japanese art across several centuries. In particular the work of Gyokudo Kawai , his work features an especially nice balance of drawn detail and ethereal watercolor that suits our environments perfectly. “Lone Wolf and Cub” (manga) has been another reference point.
Q.) Who are some of your favorite classic and more modernized artists?
A short question with a very long answer. To keep it succinct, I’ll pick one of each- Edgar Degas and Mike Mignola.
Q.) As an artist I have to ask, what are your feelings about the great overall debate of whether or not video games can be considered art?
You’d have to define the term “art” before you could truly answer that question. As in- what is art? That’s a debate that’ll probably be going eternally. The fact the question can be applied to games at all proves they’re at least comparable to other art forms.
New Details About Akaneiro Demon Hunters
Q.) Gleaning from pictures on the official site for Akaneiro it seems to me that there are multiple characters, but most of what I’ve read revolves around the Red Riding Hood character. Do you choose other characters to play as from the start or does the game star a linear hero/heroine?
You can create and customize your own “Red Hunter”. All these demon hunters are part of a single order (The Order of Akane). The order itself was formed by Red Riding Hood. She’s sort of like a deity or supreme example for all the hunters in the order. The other Red Riding Hood humans also serve similar iconic roles. The Red Girl, The Forest Mother and The Huntsman.
Q.) How robust is the loot system in the game? Does armor show on your character and if so are there a good number of different sets to display?
We have a full random item generation system for weapons and armor. All these are displayed on the character in game, so you’ve a great deal of options when it comes to appearance. Initially we have 10 base weapon types, each with 10 variant visual styles and random stats. There are 3 pieces of visible armor, and 30 different set variations also with random stats. You can craft items to add the stats you prefer, and tint armor pieces. There’s plenty of meat there for, and we’ll just keep adding more as we go!
Q.) Spicy Horse is known for making social and multiplayer affairs lately and it’s hinted at that Akaneiro will have multiplayer. Can you tell us anything more about it at this point?
We’ll be very careful about how we’ll implement PvP, and it’ll go through further testing before inclusion. We want to be certain it won’t negatively affect our community. Co-op will be available sooner. We’ll be looking to our beta community a great deal to tell us what preferences and desires they have regarding multiplayer.
Q.) Akaneiro’s enemies are based on Japanese folklore and artwork. Can you name some specific monsters or demons that are in the game?
Everyone seems to like the “Gashadokuro” – a giant reanimated ogre skeleton. Ours is a boss character, and has been fused with a Jinmenju (tree that drinks blood/eats people). He’s a charmer.
Q.) Do you have any sort of release date in mind that you can share with us?
That will depend greatly on our closed beta. We’ll work closely with that community to address the issues that affect release. I’ll have to remain tight lipped until then.
Q.) Lastly, do you have any unannounced details you could share with TheParanoidGamer about Akaneiro?
We won’t have fishing. But if you have the right tools and speak to the right person, you’ll be able to unlock the wonders of Bug Island.