Friday, April 24, 2015

April A to Z - U is for Underbyte studios

Howdy gamebook lovers! As you may or may not know, gamebook apps have fuelled the revival of the gamebook format and also smashed the boundaries of what gamebooks can do. And today, we have the people from Underbyte Studios to tell us about their latest project, Heroes Guard.

Underbyte Studios also have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed.
Tell us about your backgrounds?
I always wanted to work with video games, learning to program around the age of 13. Unfortunately "breaking into" the game industry is difficult, so I started off my career as software engineer in the defense industry. After about 8 years, I was lucky enough to land a job working on a AAA title: Elder Scrolls Online. It was a wonderful experience and taught me to not give up on pursuing my dreams. 

After launching the PC/Mac release of Elder Scrolls Online and helping to do console integration for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, I decided to set out to work on my own games. Actually my wife Colleen was a big proponent and really pushed me to further explore the opportunity. I can't imagine a more lucky man!

What influences did you draw from when you created Heroes Guard?
I grew up reading and loving Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was younger. It wasn't until much later through the App Store that I came to find out gamebooks even existed. I loved the game and role playing elements that they mixed into the story. I could have seen myself being thoroughly obsessed as a kid if I knew they existed!

Most of my interactive fiction reading these days comes from: Choice of Games, Inkle, Tin Man Games, and Cubus Games. More specifically, I have to tip my hat to Lucid who authored Life of a Wizard.

Some of the game is Zelda like and some has gamebook elements to it. How did you decide which parts of the game would have text and which parts would have graphics?
Hah! Zelda-like, that probably would be neat! But since the game is turn-based and text-heavy, I think it is probably best described as a hybrid of Choose-Your-own-Adventure, Magic: The Gathering, and table-top role playing.

Heroes Guard was always meant to be first and foremost an interactive fiction experience. All of the graphical and game-oriented parts are there to help the reader get more engaged into the story. For instance, how much gold the player had on his adventure: This could be a simple flat number, but instead I chose to create a bag of gold that spills over with coins. The more gold they have, the more the gold spills over. I feel that the player can become more entrenched in the story and world if they have a few of these elements to help get them there - but ultimately the fun is enhanced by the player's imagination!

Secondly, one thing I felt to be lacking in most of the interactive fiction I read was a strong sense strategy and replay-ability. The card game for large encounters gives the player some opportunity to win a fight "their way" and not just with the fate of a few dice rolls. The story-engine technology in Heroes Guard, coined Fate Spinner, also plays a key role in keeping the story fresh and new for each play through!

I played the demo version of the game. What features will the full game have?
Are you sure you've played a demo version of Heroes Guard? It is only in alpha and I've hand selected the few people who have gotten test copies. Although I would love to rope you in as the game nears beta (few months).

Some key features that make heroes guard different from most gamebooks and other interactive fiction are:
  • Fate Spinner Story-Engine: Story chapters, choices, characters, and locations are chosen by fate from a curated selection. Perhaps you were raised by hunters that found you as a child lost in the woods, or perhaps you were sold into slavery at a young age. Replay through Heroes Guard over and over and see what fate has spun for you!
  • Card-Battle System: Use the magic, weapons, and companions gathered through the story to defeat powerful foes. Perhaps you'll squash that giant spider with your war hammer or perhaps it's a better idea to blast it from afar with a fireball? Your choice, your strategy!
  • Dynamic Short-Stories: An interactive map with random locations and events is built by the Fate Spinner Story-Engine. Each event is a short-story that will put your strength, dexterity, intelligence, and charisma to the test! Careful, as each short-story can escalate if left unattended and eventually will consume the towns you are meant to protect. You must manage your choices well!
  • Life Chronicle: In Heroes Guard you are a old, weathered adventurer recalling all his past feats. You managed to live through everything fate could throw your way, but just how well did you fair when you did finally hang up your sword and shield? Perhaps you rose to power as a commander in the guard, or perhaps you lost it all and ended up as a beggar on the streets?
What can we see for the future?
For Heroes Guard, I'll continue to iterate on the features and content. I hope to get to beta-status within the next 2 or 3 months. For those in the area, Heroes Guard will be at the Too Many Games festival in Oaks, Pennsylvania on June 26-28! I'll also be applying to the Gamescape festival in Baltimore, MD that takes place from July 17-19. But, we'll see if I'm lucky enough to get a spot!

I would love to have guest writers for post-release updates, as the short-story mechanic makes it very simple to add additional content that is separate from the main story-lines.

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