We hooked up with Phillip Hunt, founder of Hunt Game Studios, to find out more about his 2D 16-bit RPG Gheldia RPG. In this interview Philip discusses lore, weapons, design, shards and more.
IncGamers: What’s bringing back the 16-bit style of RPG’s & why now? Is Kickstarter helping to cause this trend or is it purely the nostalgia?
Phillip Hunt: I feel that 16-bit RPG’s struck the perfect balance between player interaction and storytelling. There’s a reason why so many people are fond of this era – certain games just hit all the right notes (FFVI, CT, LoZ:Lttp).
These kinds of games are also possible to create for those with limited resources which is another reason why they’re so attractive to indie developers. I think it’s great if players who didn’t experience these games the first time around end up trying them due to the renewed interest.
IncGamers: Which of your top gen games from your bio page have you used for inspiration when creating Gheldia?
Phillip: I’ve drawn different influences from many games but the biggest two are probably Seiken Densetsu 1 (FFA) and Link’s Awakening.
IncGamers: Could you go into more detail about how you make Gheldia? E.g. Tools you’ve used or tweaked etc?
Phillip: The engine is custom-built and written in C#. The original engine was tightly coupled to XNA but I reworked it after GDC to be more platform agnostic. This way I could have the engine call into the PSM libraries to get it running on the PS Vita.
I also built an editor in C# that allows you to edit the game’s maps, items, enemies, etc. I plan to release a modified version of it sometime after the game is released to allow players to create/play custom levels. I’m still working out the details around this but I think it would be a cool feature. I did the sprite work in Paint.NET and GraphicsGale.
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IncGamers: What made Lor decide to become a ‘slayer’? Can you tell us more about his background?
Phillip: There are only a few across the world of Aldunia that have the ability to wield monster energy and it deals with their responsiveness to the ebb and flow of it. Lor discovered this at an early age and decided to pursue it as a means to see the world and become renowned.
Lor is a bit cocky but has a good heart. He’s also not a silent protagonist so there will be plenty of opportunities for players to learn about him when they interact with NPCs. Much of the story and lore of the game can be found by talking to people and reading books/journals instead of traditional cut scenes.
IncGamers: Can you expand on his special ability to use a monster’s own powers against them? Do you physically morph into them or gain buffs of some sort?
Phillip: Slayers possess special armor and weapons that channel their attunement with monster energy. They can use this energy to draw power from embedded Shards. These Shards are essentially crystalized forms of monster energy and the main attributes of a monster then transfer to their wearer.
For example, the Toxic Crawler of The Wastes can poison you if you get hit by its stinger. So if you pick up drops from a Toxic Crawler and fuse them together at an Arcane Forge you can create items with these properties. Equipping them to your weapon will then give you the ability to poison enemies by striking them.
IncGamers: In Gheldia, weapons have an interesting ability to allow a player to take other paths that could otherwise be blocked if using other weapons, what’s your favourite weapon?
Phillip: My favorite weapon is probably the sword. It has the quickest attack animation and a nice slicing arc that is good for keeping multiple enemies at bay. However, it’s not super effective against heavily armored foes.
IncGamers: Haha I’ll bear that in mind :). To expand, how many weapons are there to choose from? Can you craft custom ones or find hidden ones on adventures?
Phillip: Lor has access to 3 different weapons – a sword, a hammer, and a crossbow. Each one is useful in different situations – the sword is fast moving and good at hitting multiple enemies, the hammer is slower but has a powerful knockback effect, and the crossbow is a ranged weapon. All three also interact with the environment differently such as breaking rocks with the hammer or triggering distant switches with the crossbow.
I had other ideas for weapons but in order to keep the levels balanced and prevent the player from getting stuck if they chose the “wrong” combination I limited it to these 3. You cannot acquire new weapons but every level does have a hidden Arte that can be found. These Artes act as spells and give Lor the ability to deal damage, heal, inflict ailment, etc.
The crafting is a simple system that lets you combine monster materials of different types to create Shards and Fragments at an Arcane Forge. The hidden Forges give you access to more interesting and powerful Shards.
IncGamers: Somewhat contrary to Zelda games, you allow a more open design in which players can tackle the regions of Aria in any order, could you share some insights into this decision?
Phillip: I really liked how you could choose the order of the dungeons in the earlier Zelda games. With games becoming more cinematic and story driven these player decisions have decreased. While there are open-world games that give you a great sense of freedom, their level design is very different from older games.
IncGamers: How do you go about balancing your aim for great gameplay with balancing the game’s enemies and player progression?
Phillip: Since players can progress through the regions in any order it was important to create a system that would always be challenging. You don’t want the player to journey through one region and then steamroll the others.
There is a mechanic called the World Level that controls the strength of monsters and the quality of loot. After you finish a few levels the World Level increases and the monsters become stronger, but you will also get better drops from them. This means that you don’t have to worry about doing things in the “right” order. It’s very easy to diminish a player’s sense of power by leveling the enemies alongside you which is why the loot quality also increases to always give you the extra edge (if you seek it out).
IncGamers: If a player puts their stat’s into the wrong ones due to a certain build they had in mind and finds their weapon ineffective due to having not come across a new monster before, what options do they have?
Phillip: Most enemies can be defeated with two types of attacks, so even if you can’t use the most effective weapon/Arte against them you can still battle them. If players are finding a particular build not working for them they can swap out Shards and Fragments without any penalties at a Soul Crystal. Soul Crystals act as camp menus so you can’t just change your configuration on the fly. I want players to think about how to approach things but not to penalize them if they choose something else.
IncGamers: Can the weapons also affect the skills a player can have?
Phillip: There are no restrictions on equipping attack stats based on the weapon, but some stats can perform better on certain weapons. For instance, the hammer doesn’t have a high critical strike rating but hits fairly hard. If you increase the critical strike rating you can get some very nice burst damage that you won’t see on the other weapons.
IncGamers: Could give us some examples of how your Shard feature works? A good combinations you came up with?
Phillip: The Shard System is essentially how you increase your stats. Shards are embedded into weapons and armor which then grant their stats to the player. These can be found in the world or created at Arcane Forges using monster materials. Players can then customize their equipped Shards by embedding Fragments into them. All abilities are stat based and can grant you attributes such as HP regeneration, increased loot quality, draining HP from enemies, and more.
I find that the attack Shards offer the most interesting combinations. For example, you can put Stone on your crossbow and stop enemies in their tracks by hitting them with a distant bolt. Or you can put Slow on your sword, strike quickly, and then jump backwards before they can hit you due to their slowed attack speed. Players are encouraged to experiment with different weapons and Shards until they get a setup that works for them.
IncGamers: With regards to exploration and quests, how adaptable are the levels? Can I get an axe and chop a log to make a bridge, use my whip to leap across or my daggers to climb for example?
Phillip: The game originally had a quest system but it actually detracted from the overall game and was removed. The situations you describe are definitely cool ideas but to keep everything balanced I had to go with only a few weapons.
Exploring is encouraged. Since some levels have multiple routes you may have to return with different weapons to see everything. Also, there are secret exits that lead to high quality shops and monster dens. Lastly, levels contain different colored keys which not only open locked gates but treasure chests as well. These chests usually hold the best loot and are usually hidden.
IncGamers: Where do you see 16-bit style RPG’s and its trend in say 20yrs time?
Phillip: I’m not sure where we will be in 20 years but there are more varieties of gaming than ever before. The eight generation is going to be an interesting one with retro style games sitting next to AAA blockbusters. I don’t see why we won’t be playing these kinds of games in 20 years as they have already lasted this long. The question is – what system will it be on?
IncGamers: I agree, every generation certainly needs to play them at some point. Could Gheldia feature multiplayer in the form of co-op someday, despite puzzles having to be reworked to take into account additional players, is it technically possible?
Phillip: Multiplayer is an area that I’d like to tackle in the future. Since Lor is part of a band of mercenaries I think it would be cool if you could adventure with fellow Slayers. It will probably have to wait for a future title.
IncGamers: Could you give us an insight into your roadmap for your studio & team and the direction(s) you’d like to take someday?
Phillip: Right now everything is focused on getting Gheldia ready for its release. There will probably be additional support for the game next year with the release of the editor and some other updates. I’d like to bring the game to other platforms (PS3/PS4/WiiU/3DS) but we will have to see what the porting process looks like. After Gheldia I’d like to try and make a smaller game. I have plenty of ideas so we’ll see where it takes us.
IncGamers: Lastly, anything you’d like to say to fans?
Phillip: I’d like to thank everyone who has supported Gheldia so far and encourage those that are curious to check it out once it’s available (demo is planned for later this year). I look forward to everyone’s feedback!
IncGamers: Phillip, thank you for taking time out from your adventures in Aria.