Akaneiro: Demon Hunters Interview – A Unique Take On ARPGs
Questions by Jordan Hall (ApocaRUFF), OnRPG Journalist
Answers by American McGee, CEO Spicy Horse Games
Akaneiro: Demon Hunters is an up-and-coming A-RPG with themes and influences from Japanese mythology, set during a time when Japanese and Western culture clashed. It has a very unique art style to go with the exciting gameplay. The game looks to be a completely original experience, the likes of which we have yet to see. Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing American McGee, CEO of China-based Spicy Horse Games, who are the developers of the game. But first if you like what you see here be sure to check out their Kickstarter Campaign as only a few days remain! They are also greenlit for Steam.
OnRPG: Hello and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! First, may I ask you to introduce yourself to our readers?
American: My name is American McGee and I’m the CEO and founder of Spicy Horse Games in Shanghai. I’m here today talking about our new online ARPG, “Akaneiro: Demon Hunters.” Spicy Horse is one of the largest indie developers in China and is made up of developers from around the region and the world. We’ve been making games for PC, console and mobile for 6+ years now. At the start of 2011 we shifted away from console/retail games to online, F2P games. Our hope is to bring really high quality games to the F2P space while ensuring fairness and avoiding “pay to win.”
While I’m happy to be here representing our development studio, I’d like to remind readers that there’s an entire, awesome team behind all the games we release. Akaneiro was brought to life under the guidance and direction of Creative Director Ben Kerslake and his design partner Matt Razzano. They worked with a team of 20+ other developers in our studio since the start of 2011 to deliver Akaneiro.
OnRPG: Can you give us a general overview of the game?
American: Akaneiro is an online ARPG set in the Japan of 100 years ago. We’re delivering it via web and client-download to Windows and Mac with a Kickstarter campaign aimed at also bringing it to iOS/Android tablets and Linux. It combines many best-of-class design features from the genre and has drawn favorable comparisons to some of the more successful examples in the space, like Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2.
OnRPG: Can I ask where you guys got the inspiration for Akaneiro: Demon Hunters? I know the game is heavily influenced by Japanese myths and you mention Little Red Riding Hood, but is there anything else?
American: The reason we chose that particular time in Japanese history was that it was when Japan properly re-opened itself to relations and trade with western nations. This was a major culture clash, and inspired great change (not all of it positive). Since we’re introducing some western themes into an eastern setting, it seemed like an appropriate time period.
OnRPG: Can you explain the class system and tell us why you decided to go with it rather than something else?
American: Our class system is all about flexibility. We offer players a chance to select a specific class when they roll a new character – there being three to start with: Prowess, Fortitude and Cunning. These essentially boil down to light, medium and tank classes – each bringing a special ability focus. Once players are into the game they’ll discover there’s a lot of freedom to equip and dress their characters as they please, even when that means crossing boundaries between classes. The same is true of skills and training. Our goal is to give players the freedom and flexibility to play as they wish.
OnRPG: What about Akaneiro sets it apart from the other A-RPGs, such as Path of Exile or Diablo 3?
American: We feel there are many aspects of the game which set it apart – the setting, art and story being the most visible and obvious things on first glance. Once you get into playing the game you’ll find the experience is highly streamlined – meaning you can enjoy shorter more manageable sessions of 30 to 40 minutes. Gameplay is driven by missions, which is a slight departure from the typical ARPG genre. And we’ve built an in-game currency system with Karma where everything is linked together – from your health and abilities to unlocking new content or purchasing weapons and armor. We’ve also added a twist to the F2P model, making it possible to access ALL the content for free via grinding, giving players the option to mix grinding with a few special purchases or to simply hit a “buy it all” button and unlock all the maps along with a chunk of in-game currency so that the F2P aspect can be skipped altogether.
OnRPG: Why was the unique art-style you guys use chosen for the game? Besides the fact that it's extremely beautiful, that is.
American: While the western high fantasy setting functions perfectly well for most ARPGs, we really wanted to depart from that theme. The folklore of Japan and neighboring regions is rich and inspiring, and we were also able to marry our art style to it.
Two separate bits of inspiration combined together to give us “Akaneiro” as you see it today. The first was my reading of a non-fiction book called, “The Lost Wolves of Japan.” This outlines the destruction of wolves in Japan at the hands of Western cattlemen. Wolves and other indigenous flora and fauna on Northern Japanese islands were seen as competitors for resources being used by cattle. The ranchers waged a brutal campaign of propaganda and violence against wolves until they were exterminated. This was especially stunning considering the once harmonious relationship natives to the islands maintained with wolves prior to this event. This story was my initial inspiration for “Akaneiro’s” narrative, which combines the historical context with a grim fairy-tale-like lesson in man’s balance with nature.
The next bit came while we were developing “Alice: Madness Returns.” That game featured an entire domain inspired by Alice’s exposure to Asian art and news. In rendering the mindscape our artists developed a number of technical and artistic techniques used to convey the appropriate tones and textures. When we began exploring ideas for a new game development, the narrative and art fit together perfectly.
OnRPG: The game is playable right now, yet you have a Kickstarter going. Why do you need further funding if the game is already in open beta (soon to be released)?
American: Our Kickstarter campaign is meant to help us accelerate development of a couple of key aspects of the game – like porting it to Linux, adding co-op multiplayer and adding support for iOS and Android tablets. These are all things we originally planned to do with the game, but because of limited resources and time will have to delay unless the Kickstarter is successful. The team will still be here, but they’ll have to shift to new developments, then return to Akaneiro later in 2013. With the funding we can keep them on Akaneiro development until these new features are added and see those things brought in without delay.
OnRPG: Will we still get the features mentioned on the Kickstater even if you do not reach your funding goal?
American: They will eventually appear, but it’s hard to say how long it might take before the full team is able to return and provide focused development towards those goals. We’ll have to carefully juggle new feature development with content updates and ongoing improvements. With the backing we can do all of this stuff simultaneously.
OnRPG: So is the game going to be truly free-to-play?
American: Yep! We’ve implemented what we think is a pretty fair and balanced presentation of the F2P mechanic – which we hope will appeal to fans of the model and those who just want to “buy it all” and get on with playing. That means you can access 100% of the game content for free, simply by grinding and earning Karma. We’ve tried to keep the grinding requirements reasonable – and so far the players seem pretty happy with that path. Beyond that, you do have an option to purchase Karma in varying amounts – and apply that towards things like armor, weapons, skill training and area unlocks. But keep in mind that purchasing Karma doesn’t give you instant access to everything in the game – you still have to progress in level in order to get to later stages or higher quality weapons and items. This is how we avoid “pay to win.” Lastly, we’ve provided an option where players can simply press a single button and “buy it all.” This will unlock maps, drop a bunch of Karma in your pocket and let you play through the content without worrying about grinding or how to balance your Karma spending (again, you need to level-up in order to progress).
OnRPG: The game is already available on browsers and client download. Are there any plans to release it on other platforms?
American: Of course! Additional platforms are listed as some of the main goals for the Kickstarter campaign. Check it out here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/spicyhorse/akaneiro-demon-hunters
In addition to the previously mentioned platforms we’re also eyeing a launch on Ouya. The campaign is helping us to judge demand for various platforms. And backer support will allow us to keep the team focused on those goals.
OnRPG: Can you tell us a bit about the technologies used to allow for such smooth browser-based gameplay?
American: We use the Unity3D engine for all of our development these days. It’s been married to in-house tech for client-server delivery of our games across many different platforms and devices. To date, we’ve released three new games using this tech since 2011 and we plan to release many more into the future.
OnRPG: I see that you guys have a comic coming out. How did that come about?
American: Dark Horse is releasing a series of comics based on Akaneiro. We’ve been working with them for some time now – going back to the last “Alice” project, where they produced a really beautiful “Art of” book for “Alice: Madness Returns.” We’re also exploring the idea of an “Art of” book for Akaneiro.
OnRPG: I've noticed that your company is based out of China. What's it like being an indie game developer over there?
American: It’s a time of massive change in China. This translates to a lot of optimism and creative expression. It’s like when the wall fell in Berlin – suddenly a part of the city which had been repressed and hidden was opened to the forces of expression and innovation. Today, that side of the city surpasses the other in terms of renovation, art and culture.
If there are cons, I’ve been here too long to worry about them any longer. One of the things I learned early on here was to be flexible. It’s ridiculous to think that this country would align with my expectations or demands – any “cons” are going to be signs of my own personal resistance to something I can’t change. It’s easy to change oneself than to expect the nature of a country or culture to change for you.
OnRPG: Do you have any tid-bits of information or an announcement you can share that you haven't yet revealed to your fans?
American: Um, not really. Everything can be found on the KS page or via www.angry-red.com.
We’ve got a really short period of time before the campaign ends and the game launches, so hurry if you want to get hands on some really cool in-game items. Once the campaign ends, those items will be gone forever!
OnRPG: Alright, thank you again for taking the time to answer these questions. Is there anything you would like to say in closing?
American: Nope. Thanks for giving us a chance to talk about the game and the campaign!