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 Hooked onto RPGs – Massive Mage Gauntlet Interview

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PostSubject: Hooked onto RPGs – Massive Mage Gauntlet Interview   Tue Feb 07, 2012 10:35 pm

Hooked onto RPGs – Massive Mage Gauntlet Interview
By Matthew Campagna

Original post from Pocket Full of Megabytes []
For original post click on pic below

Mage Gauntlet is an upcoming Action RPG from the award-winning Rocketcat Games, creators of Hook Champ, Super Quickhook and Hook Worlds. With Mage Gauntlet having recently been submitted to Apple for approval, we got hold of Rocketcat’s Kepa Auwae to discuss the upcoming title and the sorry state of Action RPGs on iOS.

PoM: To get things started, can you tell us about yourself and about Rocketcat Games? Who are you, how many are you, and what is your role in the company and in game development?
Kepa: Rocketcat Games is just me and a couple of people I know, Brandon Rhodes (art mostly) and Jeremy Orlando (programming mostly). A couple of years ago now, we decided we wanted to make games. None of us had any game industry experience, but we figured we’d learn as we went. Our first major game, Hook Champ, was an IGF mobile finalist, and our second game, Super Quickhook, let us all move to game development as our full time jobs.

I own the company, do level and game design primarily, decide what projects we’re going to do, tweak and balance, and various business stuff. I used to also do most of the writing, but Brandon took over that role for Mage Gauntlet.

PoM: Your upcoming game, Mage Gauntlet, is a retro-inspired Action RPG. I used to love Action RPGs, but having played too much of Zenonia and too many Zenonia “clones”, I am utterly sick of the tedious garbage that passes for Action RPGs on the app store. Why should we give a damn about Mage Gauntlet?
Kepa: A large majority of the retro-inspired action RPGs on the App Store are actually KRPGs, short for Korean RPGs. They’re easy to identify… oddly similar control lag, 50/50 chance of the menus actually supporting touch controls, 4-way running only with no diagonal movement, nearly identical button and UI setup. These things all have to do with KRPGs not being designed for iOS, they’re actually ports of Korean mobile phone games. “Zenonia clones” aren’t really clones, it’s just that Zenonia was the first mobile phone KRPG shoddily ported to iOS.

I think KRPGs have moved past “cloning” and into “inbreeding”, with it now being impossible to determine who is cloning who. The whole genre is full of games that are eerily similar to each other, with different companies basically making the same product. Five-minute long intro cutscene full of loading times and emoticon speech bubbles, dumping you into a tutorial where you have to collect 20 firewood, dumping you into a game full of endless fetch quests. Mindlessly hit an attack button until your hotkeyed ability is back up. Collect 30 boar tusks.

Mage Gauntlet is actually designed from the ground up for iOS, with smooth controls and menus. Combat is finely tuned, fast, and satisfying, with your actions in a fight actually being meaningful. There’s a humorous, coherent story. We don’t have fetch quests, and the game was made with a generally anti-grinding philosophy. You can even run in up to 16 different directions, rather than four. But really, I think “not being a shoddy mobile phone port to iOS” alone makes Mage Gauntlet stand out.

PoM: Freemium sims, physics puzzlers and endless scoring games are all the rage on the app store these days, and yet Mage Gauntlet is something else entirely. What gives?
Kepa: We’ve always wanted to make iOS RPGs. Our first game, Hook Champ, was originally just intended to be practice for us before we switched over to the RPG genre. Then we got into the whole “grappling hook racing/platformer” series for awhile. I guess we’ve just always liked the niche genres.

PoM: How many hours can players expect to put into completing Mage Gauntlet‘s main quest, and what kind of replay value does the game offer?
Kepa: I’ve timed myself at 4 hours for the main quest, at 42 levels long. After you beat the main quest, you unlock Master Mode, which is much harder. Master Mode has remixed levels, twice as large enemy group sizes (fighting ten enemies at a time is common), new items to find, new nightmare variants of existing enemies, and limits your lives per level to one instead of three. Master Mode is for people that want a challenge, and it should take most people awhile to get through. We’re also thinking of some score-based survival modes to put in the game in a content update, which would be free like we usually do.

PoM: Is Mage Gauntlet a story-driven RPG, or does the story take more of a backseat to gameplay? Without spoiling anything, what can you tell us about the game’s narrative setup?
There’s a focus on the story not hurting the play experience, so no massive cutscenes. You fight your way through enemies, explore, look for secret areas, and run into characters that talk to you. A lot of the story is told in these short conversation bits, and there are also optional books and notes you can find to read. Plus the bosses yell at you. We tried to make the story enjoyable with fun characters, but without it interfering too much with actually playing the game.

PoM: Your previous games have placed strong emphasis on competitive scoring. Does Mage Gauntlet include competitive aspects, such as speedrunning dungeons a la ClaDun?
Kepa: Not on release. This is actually our first game without some sort of competitive scoreboard. That should change after the first content patch, though. Until then, there’s a large achievement system, with 86 achievements total.

PoM: You’ve hyped Mage Gauntlet as having been inspired by SNES games such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Secret of Mana. Fantastic inspirations! What other titles, new or old, did you look to for inspiration in developing Mage Gauntlet?
Kepa: A lot of Square’s old lineup around that time, like Secret of Evermore and Illusion of Gaia. Roguelikes and old shooter powerups for the consumable nature of the spell system. City of Heroes, oddly, probably served as the spark for how we arrange enemy groups. A couple of games we started when we first began making games. We never released them, but we’ve been plundering design bits from them ever since. Any game, ever, with a slime monster in it.

PoM: In the game’s most recent trailer, you show Mage Gauntlet taking jabs at genre tropes such as the innane questing prominent in KRPGs, and breaking into NPCs’ homes. How have these genre traditions informed your game design, and in what ways is Mage Gauntlet a response to these conventions?
Kepa: Some tropes are just great to make fun of. I regret not truly fully exploring the “breaking into NPC’s homes” joke in Mage Gauntlet. We could have done so much more, expecially since you can also destroy most of the furniture in the game. Maybe in a sequel you can go into a big town and have people react to you as you break absolutely everything there, to find a single rupee.

Terrible design is actually really helpful. It’s easy to look at something that you consider bad design, and then keep it in mind so you can try to do something different. Inane fetch quests are so popular and widely accepted now, it’s interesting to think about how they got so acceptable to people. I blame Everquest. It’s not hard to figure out why designers use them so much, though. I figure it’s the game designer just going “Well, we can’t think of a good way to drag this out, whatever”.

PoM: The trailer shows what appear to be different characters controlled by the player. Are these actually separate characters, or the same character wearing different gear? What can players expect in terms of character customization and/or development? Are there classes, do you provide opportunities for characters to branch out along various paths, or is character development more linear as in The Legend of Zelda?
Kepa: It’s the same character wearing different gear. There is a lot of gear you can find. There’s slots for your weapon, robe, pet, trinket, and hat. Hats are cosmetic. Pets follow you around and provide a small bonus. Robes generally give you bonuses to different spells, depending on what color and type of robe you wear, with some exceptions, like the Battlemage Armor that increases your melee critical chance. Weapons can provide a variety of different bonuses, such as the Giant Cleaver that does 50% more damage than normal but attacks slower, or the Gambler’s Cut that gives you a chance on enemy defeat to instantly give you an extra spell. Trinkets have a wide variety of bonuses, such as the Arcane Heart that lets you take another hit, the Broken Watch that makes the Time Circle spell appear much more frequently, or the Berserk Amulet that sets your spell critical rate to 0% but increases your melee crit by 1.5 times. By mixing and matching gear, you can alter your character to your preferred fight strategy. We shot for providing some interesting choices, rather than just finding swords with higher damage numbers.

There are no classes, but there’s a leveling system with three stats. You can choose between Vigor (special charge ability and dodging recharge), Magic (magic spell damage, AOE size, summon duration, and spell critical chance), and Luck (melee and magic critical chance, with some mysterious minor effects). Leveling is very fast early on, and it’s rather easy to max one stat out. Maxing all the stats out takes a lot of replays.

PoM: The Legend of Zelda has always been puzzle heavy and encouraged exploration, while Secret of Mana takes a strategic approach to combat, encouraging you to time your attacks for greatest effect. On the other end of the spectrum are games like Zenonia, which lack puzzles entirely, and favor button-mashing and spammed attacks over strategy. Where does Mage Gauntlet fall within these contexts?
Kepa: Mage Gauntlet is combat heavy and level/world map based, with exploration in the form of searching optional paths in the levels and finding secrets. It’s closest to Secret of Mana. We didn’t want to limit how often people can attack, and we were interested in doing a system where you could attack as much as you wanted, like in Zelda. At the same time, we definitely didn’t want to lose the tactical element that Secret of Mana had. So we came up with a system where you’re powerful, but so are enemies.

Your attacks are powerful and interrupt weaker enemies, and you can mash the attack button to do a faster but weaker attack. Holding the attack button briefly and releasing lets you do a charge-attack that will briefly stun weaker enemies that you run into. There’s a dash button over the attack button, which lets you move quickly and slip past enemy projectiles. Dashing and charging take energy, which recharges based on your Vigor stat.

On top of this, you have spells. Spells are one-use, and you generally get 3 per level, but you can save them up between levels. There are a lot of them, and they include both direct attack spells, summons, and “powerup” type spells that amplify your character’s power for a short time. Fireballs that can blow up a group of enemies, Sword Fury that gives you a 100% melee crit rate and gives your weapon swings a magic-sword-beam type of effect for extra range, Summon Shadow copies of yourself that run around stabbing things, Silence that nullifies all enemy magical projectiles for a time, stuff like that. In a pinch, casting any spell will disrupt enemy magic for a second, cancelling any hostile magic in the air.

You’re really strong. But so are enemies. You can take three hits (six versus weak enemies), by default, so you better take advantage of your power and speed. In normal story mode, you can get back up three times where you fell, at full health, but in the later parts of the game you’ll want to take advantage of all your combat tricks. We put in the “get back up” system to help people new to the genre experience the story, but Master Mode takes this safety net away. Plus you get extra rewards if you never fall down in a level.

PoM: Your three previous games — Hook Champ, Super Quickhook and Hook Worlds — were all built on a common idea. Mage Gauntlet appears to be something quite different. What made you decide to go in this direction? Was it simply time to hang up your grappling hooks? Are you finished with the hook games, or just taking a break?
Kepa: We wanted to make RPGs for a long time, the Hook series was actually an unexpected diversion. Making the Hook series taught us a lot about making games, though I think we’re done with the grappling hook concept for the time being. You never know, though, I still want to make a Metroid-style game centered on swinging around with a grappling hook.

PoM: Is Mage Gauntlet influenced by the Hook games in any way?
Kepa: Yes. The world map setup is similar to how we did it in Hook Champ, just bigger, and with “medals” renamed to “stars”. The secret and achievements system is heavily based on Super QuickHook. The story takes place in the same world as the hook series, with some subtle references.

PoM: What are your future plans for Mage Gauntlet in regard to updates or purchasable DLC?
Kepa: We want to try adding a survival/arena mode in the first content update. Waves of themed enemies come in, and a scoreboard tracks how long you survive. If the arena mode is popular, we could add more arenas in further updates. That and any other requests we get, like we’ll put in iCade support if there’s demand for it.

The game comes with some DLC items. There’s the Rocketcat Fan Pack that’s free if you get the game early, then a single sword, robe, trinket, and hat that are DLC. The DLC items are designed to be really optional, there are equivalents that you just find in chests while playing. For example, there’s a Phoenix Feather trinket you can buy that will resurrect you in a fiery explosion, once per level, but there’s also the Arcane Heart I mentioned that gives you an extra hit per life. They work out to be about the same advantage, it’s just that the phoenix feather is cooler. We’ll probably add a set of DLC like the above inferno-themed set every update. The actual content in an update, such as that arena mode, will be free for everyone. It’s how we usually do things.

PoM: Finally, is there anything we haven’t asked that you’d like us to know about Mage Gauntlet?
Kepa: It’s going to cost $2.99, with a dollar off sale the first day or two it’s on the App Store. After that, we plan no further sales. Our policy has been that we don’t really discount our games except for the release sale. Also, if you get it the first weekend, you get a Rocketcat Fan Pack that contains hats from our previous games and a Rocketcat pet that follows you around and provides stat boosts.

PoM: When do you expect it to hit the app store?
Kepa: Probably a couple weeks from now. As soon as we get a more concrete release date, we’ll post it on our website and Twitter.

PoM: Thanks again for your time, Kepa! We are definitely looking forward to getting our hands on Mage Gauntlet.

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