Friday, March 14, 2014

Spotlight - Celestian Tales: Old North (Ekuator Games Interview)

Last week we had a chance to talk to Cipto Adiguno, Producer of Celestian Tales: Old North at Ekuator Games, about their Kickstarter campaign. While the Kickstarter campaign has since surpassed its goal, you still have time to help them reach their stretch goals. A prototype of the game is available here.

TFN: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us! How would you describe Celestian Tales: Old North to someone who knows nothing about it?

Ekuator Games: As it says on the campaign page, Celestian Tales: Old North is a game that aims to redefine the classic RPG. It does this by combining classic gameplay aspects with refreshing visuals, unique storytelling method with multiple characters, and a heavy storyline very unusual to the genre.

TFN: In your Kickstarter description you call out RPGs in which you play as the "chosen hero", who fights dragons and saves the world. What is your opinion on these cliches and do you consider Celestian Tales a rejection of the aforementioned cliches?

Ekuator Games: These clich├ęs work. It's very hard to go wrong with the standard formula, and players don't usually complain if they become the savior yet again. With this in mind, it's understandable why few games want to stray from the 'safe lane'. In some ways Celestian Tales rejects that in an RPG we're always the 'good guys'. Remember when we stole from boxes inside people's houses, and did it right in front of their eyes? Yeah.

TFN: Celestian Tales will be released in three parts, with a plot spanning three decades. What are the challenges and rewards of telling a story over such an extended period of time?

Ekuator Games: The biggest challenge is to make sure that everything do change. How do the lands change, how did characters grow and mature, and how your choices affect them. They have very broad possibilities and describing it into the game is very tough.

The reward is that players can forge a bond better with both the world and the characters. Having your decisions matter makes you take responsibility for what happens, and that integrates you to become part of the game itself. You can understand how the world and characters become what they are right now because you've witnessed life-changing events of the past. No media other than games can deliver this kind of experience.

TFN: In many ways your game strikes me as a tribute to Japanese style RPGs, but the deep choices and consequences you've hinted at are more characteristic of Western RPGs. Are you fans of both, and what do you consider the strengths of each sub-genre?

Ekuator Games: I'm personally a fan of both. JRPGs fill up most of my time in the PlayStation / PS2 era, while WRPGs in the last few years of PC era.

When I return to my consoles play JRPGs, it struck me how they often show a world that is much brighter and happier than the real world. Even when it's about a land torn by war, the vibrant colours and character designs make those problems seem trivial. WRPGs on the other hand aim to be as close as possible to the reality, describing the grave matters at hand as it should be, but sometimes lacking the 'fantasy' aspects.

TFN: On your page and updates, you've mentioned famine, most notably with the phrase "Honor doesn't fill your stomach". Unpleasant truths like this would be glossed over by many RPGs, but seem to be a core concept in Celestian Tales. Can you describe your approach/philosophy in developing the plot?

Ekuator Games: We want to build a story where the biggest enemy is humanity itself. A story where the player will be unsure whether all the sacrifices made were worth the outcome. We want to touch the player in a personal level, up to a point where he/she might even question his/her own sense of morality.

Ekuator's vision is for its games to ultimately be part of you. This is one of the ways we do it.

TFN: Are there any games, movies, or other sources that have served as inspiration for Celestian Tales?

Ekuator Games: The storytelling in Celestian Tales is heavily influenced by western works such as George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Mass Effect.

TFN: We are very impressed with the visual design in Celestian Tales: Old North! Can you explain how important it was to pursue a handcrafted 2D perspective versus a 3D or tile-based approach?

Ekuator Games: From the start we wanted to re-imagine the classic RPG. Top-down perspective was the norm back then, and so we decided to pursue that angle. Using 3D for the environment and sprites, while possible, would stray too far from the original intention. The game wouldn't be a re-imagining but something else entirely, and so we set aside that idea.

We originally tried to use tiles for the environment, but weren't satisfied with how it looked. It was more like a vintage remake than a re-imagining. In this time and age, we thought we need better graphics than a game released two decades ago. After a lot of trials, hand-painted environments and pixel sprites was the answer. They're malleable enough for us to create almost anything needed, and look good enough for the game to have its own unique identity.

TFN: Ekuator Games ran a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 which did not meet its goal within the allotted time, but you've come back with some vast improvements and it looks very likely you will exceed the goal with time to spare. Is there any advice you’d offer to aspiring game designers looking at the Kickstarter platform?

Ekuator Games: There are lots! The biggest advice is this: *listen to your backers. *They are people who believe in your dreams and idea, and contributed to it. You don't need any more reason to treat them as well as you can.

Also: *don't hide your game. *The old adage, "Obscurity is worse than piracy" is true. Build it as good as you can and share it with as many people you can find. If your story has a great twist, don't hide it. If your characters are quirky, show it. You'll receive a lot of feedbacks and have people interested. When you've taken those feedbacks into your game and have nurtured a community, that's when you should go for Kickstarter.

TFN: Our podcast is known for doing Top 5 lists every week, Celestian Tales is shaping up to be an incredible RPG. What are your Top 5 Role Playing Games?

Ekuator Games: Only 5? That's going to be hard... well, this an assorted personal pick:
- Suikoden 2 & 3
- Mass Effect Trilogy (though the ending is a bit disappointing)
- Chrono Trigger
- Final Fantasy VI
- Metal Gear Solid 3 (great story, but maybe doesn't count as an RPG)

TFN: Again, thank you so much for talking with us! Is there anything else you'd like to communicate about Celestian Tales: Old North?

Ekuator Games: Thank you for talking with us! Celestian Tales has evolved a long way up to this point, and it's thanks to everyone who believed in the project. We couldn't have made it here without you :)

Check out the Celestian Tales: Old North Kickstarter and consider donating over at:

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