Questions by: Darren Henderson (DizzyPW)
Answers by: Sean (COO) and Jeff (CEO) of Apocoplay
Alteil Horizons is an ambitious project. Not just for what the designers at Apocoplay are trying to achieve technically, but for the story of what they have gone through to reach this point of the Kickstarter, now 19 days in. I was unfortunately too fast to draw judgment when I saw the initial media blasts of “Trading Card Game Crowdfunding” and moved on, thinking the odds of another iTCG hitting $100k wasn’t worth the time covering. Luckily their contact was persistent and finally convinced me to take a look, and now I’m sold on the idea. Alteil Horizons seeks to merge tactics style gameplay with a no luck-based directive and reduced instances of early game steam rolling utilizing elements of trading card games that have been present all along, but never quite tweaked in this direction.
But rather than hearing it from me, I sought out the designers at Apocoplay to hear in their own words why this game is offering the innovation to online gaming that only seems to come from indie groups these days.
DizzyPW: Hello there! You guys are a small and pretty public team but for those that haven’t been following the Kickstarter, please introduce yourself and your position at Apocoplay!
I’m Sean, Project Lead of Alteil Horizons and COO also at Apocoplay. We’re a pretty small shop so we all take on several roles.
I’m Jeff, the Technical Architect for Alteil and CEO at Apocoplay. As Sean pointed out, we are working founders, so everyone on the executive staff needs to pull his or her own weight in terms of production.
DizzyPW: Now I’m not one to care much about graphics. Gameplay always comes primary. But the initial buzz raised for your game came from the announcement of some masterful artists on staff. Can you give us a run-down of the talent you’re bringing?
Sean: Katsuya Terada is a legend not only in the video game industry -- thanks to his design and world-building in the first few Legend of Zelda games – but also in animation, as character designer for Blood: The Last Vampire and in live action films as a character/monster designer and supplementary illustrator for Devilman, Godzilla: Final Wars, Hellboy (the American movie), and most recently Pacific Rim.
Yuji Kaida is an artist who has worked extensively on some of the largest properties ever to come out of Japan, including Godzilla (no pun intended), Mobile Suit Gundam, Transformers and Macross (called Robotech here in the States). He’s produced such a quantity of work, that his style has really become the face of these internationally celebrated properties.
Shunya Yamashita has taken lead design roles on a number of games: Final Fantasy X, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Valkyrie Profile 2, and Disgaea 4 are some of my favorites. In addition, he’s had a supporting role in most Square Enix games of the past 13 years, a position that puts his name on a lot of projects well known in America. He’s also famous for his re-imagining of the entire Marvel and DC lines of female characters in his Marvel Bishoujo and DC Bishoujo series.
Hitoshi Yoneda is another video game industry veteran whose design and illustration credits span most of the Phantasy Star series (starting at the beginning), Secret of Mana and Wizardry Online to name a few.
DizzyPW: Both on the art side and the engineering side, you’re bringing plenty of quality. I suppose it helps that you’re building off the skeleton of the already functioning Alteil iTCG but how did your team build enough confidence to get so many big shots to sign on with an indie status group like Apocoplay?
Sean: That’s where our partnership with the Japanese team comes into play – they’re a small video game company based out of Tokyo called Coreedge. They have been around the Japanese video game industry a long time, and were even part of a huge company called Gamepot at one point, so they know how to swim with the big boys. We’re taking the lead in this project, in terms of design, programming and implementation, but they are handling the art, getting us top talent using their contacts in the Japanese video game industry.
DizzyPW: Ah Gamepot explains how Wizardry was brought into the equation. While your artists are certainly well known, their stylings from Wizardry Online to Guilty Gear to Legend of Zelda to Secret of Mana (four of my favorite games of all time!) couldn’t be further apart. What type of theme are you imagining for your world and how will you use this to immerse your players in roleplaying out a story?
Sean: The story revolves around an epic war between the Solar Kingdom of Folrart, and the Duchy of Crest – which fights under the banner of the crescent moon. The Solar Kingdom soldiers are bright and gleaming, with all kinds of fancy armors, who march into battle supported by white-robed priests. The Duchy of Crest soldiers dress in dark purples and black and use forbidden augmentations that give them strange powers, train monster dogs and other creatures to help them, and are supported by assassins. Story wise, it’s interesting to note there are just as many good characters from Crest as from Folrart, and just as many evil characters from Folrart as there are from Crest. There are other factions as well, each with a different style.
One of our big goals is to really let our artists go all out and produce the art they love. We use the above and a variety of other tricks to allow them as much freedom as possible. For example, one artist might create all the monsters in a particular set. We also have small mini-sets called EX Packs that we can devote to a particular artist, so they can produce something that really emphasizes their style and stays consistent within the set. Both Katsuya Terada and Shinya Yamashita have their own EX Packs.
DizzyPW: As I actually passed out on my keyboard researching your game the night before in preparation for this interview, I have to ask, where does your team get the energy to produce so much in addition to their day jobs and family? And for over a year no less!
Sean: I suppose “coffee” is the stereotypical answer, and I must admit a number of us on the staff are real aficionados. But really it’s all about working together. You see he’s been coding all night, and she made all these buttons and menus after the baby went to bed… well, it makes you want to do more, too. Not only us, but the Japanese team as well. They have their own games to support – they manage a ton of games, including the Japanese version of the first Alteil – and still find time to take care of all of our art needs. We aren’t so naïve that we think it’s going to let up any time soon, but we are looking to the kickstarter as a way to hire more help and get more control over how we allocate our time.
DizzyPW: On that note, I’d like to raise awareness to our readers about a little bit of backstory behind the passion Project Lead Sean is bringing. Plenty of free PC games have shut down over the past four years without so much as a fight. What drove Sean to risk so much time and effort to take a stand and fight to revive Alteil?
Sean: Alteil isn’t just something that popped up recently. I was first introduced to the Japanese game in 2006, and led the team localizing it for the US market. After it launched in 2008, I took on various game management and game development roles as the game changed hands a few times. So when it looked like it was going to be turned off mid 2012, I’d already been working on it for 6 years. I married my wife during a lunch break while working on the game. I made a lot of friends on the Japanese team over the years, many of whom had been working since the early development (2003). And of course, there was the Alteil 1 fan-base, who I had been in contact with all this time. It seemed like the right thing to do, to take up the reins and move forward with a sequel rather than let the switch get thrown.
DizzyPW: You’ve already covered the tactical combat, resource system, and day/night cycle pretty well in your video series. Any hints on other major reveals players should watch for in the coming days of the Kickstarter?
Jeff: Sure. We are getting a lot of support from talent that we met during past projects. Sean already mentioned the relationship Coreedge has with established Japanese artists and I touched upon my relationship with the web comic community through ConnectiCon. One thing we haven’t talked about yet is Sean’s past as a TV producer and script writer. You can’t have a history like Sean’s without making a few friends along the way, so expect to see some big announcements in terms of voice talent for the single player game.
As for the videos themselves, Sean isn’t done making them. We have more unique features to explain, such as the Soul Cards and tactical play. Once the basics are covered, we can cover common strategies, deck construction, and a high level overview of the game itself from start to finish.
DizzyPW: Alteil Horizons is making a major push towards being multi-lingual. How will this play out in terms of communicating with others in-game? Will you be able to chat with your opponents during matches or only during certain times?
Jeff: Good Question.
This is as much of a cultural question as it is a technical one.
In the original American version, the ability to chat was huge. Because of this, we are using a single integrated chat system that can be accessed anywhere in the game. In a nutshell, this means that you can invite your buddies from a guild chat channel to join another channel tied to a game in progress very easily.
Conversely, every user has the option to disable chat or lock down permissions, including prohibiting spectators from watching a game.
As for the language barrier itself, players have a variety of options. To start, players can chose to only be matched with people who speak one of the highly represented languages of his or her choice.
That said, the important thing is that our chat system is adaptable. Theory only goes so far, so the real test is to see what works in reality. By having a chat system that can be modified quickly by our developers, we’ll be able to evolve to any consumer needs quickly.
DizzyPW: Tell me a bit about the business model you are currently considering to keep Alteil development and content pumping out post-Kickstarter.
Jeff: The experience of free players is very important to us. Not only on a personal level as gamers, but from a business perspective as well. Users can get more cards simply by playing. Essentially, word of mouth from our free player base is a critical part of getting the word out there.
As for making money, opening a fresh pack of cards is just fun. You can spend money to get a pack immediately. In the original game, when a new set was released, sales tended to spike.
In terms of selling packs of cards, you can’t beat a draft tournament. It’s fun for the players and it’s good for business. It guarantees variety and keeps the game fresh, which is important. Walking away with a prize in addition to your new cards doesn’t hurt either.
We're careful to make pauper decks and cheap prebuilts viable, but rares will allow some variety.
DizzyPW: You’ve mentioned Google has been plenty helpful in getting this project off the ground. Any plans for Apple support in the future?
Jeff: The support we have received from the folks at our local Google and Microsoft offices have been wonderful. We can’t thank them enough.
As for Apple support, that’s pretty much a must have. Apple’s mobile gaming market is massive. Thanks to how iOS 7 handles CSS, an Apple release is likely to happen much sooner than originally anticipated. Right now we just need to add some trivial UI improvements before we announce officially.
I’d like to point out that users aren’t restricted to playing against others on their own platform. A mobile user may play in the same game with a friend who has a PC using the web, for example.
DizzyPW: E-sports has been a hard hitting factor on business planning for plenty of online PC titles in the making. With Alteil offering both beautiful animations and a spectator mode, is it in the stars to offer large scale spectating of major community tournament matches within Alteil Horizons?
Jeff: Without a doubt. One thing about Alteil is that it is a game of skill. Whenever you have a skill based game like that in a competitive environment, you have spectators. The original game already has its share of celebrities among its own player base, like Worthing. Worthing is a man who won the world championships of the original game with what is essentially a modified starter deck. He’s just that good, and people love to watch him play.
Spectator matches were huge in the first game and we expect it to be just as big in the sequel, especially with the popularity of social media.
DizzyPW: I don’t want to take up all your time (you’ve got a $100k Kickstarter to get funded in the next 11 days after all!) but my last curiosity is your hints on Batora. It seems you’re living the dream of bringing story-driven content with an actual evil figure at least quasi-controlled by the GMs. Beyond the server-wide penalties are you considering story-impacting outcomes to these battles?
Sean: Absolutely. We want to be able to do regular small Batora events, because we want every player to be able to participate, and it’s great fun never knowing when the arenas will be ambushed by agents of Batora. But expanding the Alteil 1 model with big yearly events that affect the story and what new cards show up is part of the plan for leveraging the excitement of Batora.
DizzyPW: Thanks again for your time and here’s to seeing your goal reached so you can sleep easier at night! For our readers if you want to back their project or keep an eye out on new updates, check out their Kickstarter Page HERE! Indie developers like these guys are fighting the fight while major publishers continue to ignore the requests and suggestions of gamers. Show your support and get some real innovation into the F2P PC sphere today.