Interview with Whale Hammer Games, the Creators of Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire
As I promised, I have been able to talk to the developers behind the Kickstarter Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire, and ask them a few questions. If you haven’t checked this Kickstarter out yet, go to tahiragame.com. If you love games like The Banner Saga or the upcoming Bedlam, then you should definitely check this game out! The game only has a few days left on Kickstarter, but it has been greenlit by the community on Steam. Below are the questions I asked, and the answers I received. Let’s do it! Me: What were the inspirations behind the overall concept of Tahira? WHG: When we started working on Tahira, I'd just spent five months trekking in Nepal and travelling in India. Those experiences were fresh in my mind, and I wanted to create a game that captured some of the sense of adventure I'd felt journeying across those amazing landscapes. The first inkling of what Tahira would be was an image that became lodged in my brain. It was of a princess looking down onto a burning city - her kingdom. That was the beginning of the story and you see it in the final shot of the Kickstarter trailer. WHG: Other inspirations were the people I met when I traveled in the Middle East, particularly the Syrians, whose hospitality and friendliness left a lasting impression. Tahira also owes a lot to a childhood spent reading fantasy and sci-fi novels, particularly the work of Ursula K LeGuin and Raymond E Feist. A couple of early visual references were Journey and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Me: I love that you and other developers are using rotoscoped animation and hand-drawn art for your game’s graphics. This definitely makes these kinds of games stand out, but was the whole rotoscoped look the only aesthetic choice before development started, or were you considering other styles, like sprites or 3D graphics? WHG: Once we settled on the turn-based tactics genre, it was always going to be 2D. Both Pete and I have some experience working in 3D, but we're much more experienced 2D artists. If you don't know what you're doing in 3D, it can blow out production times, and you're much less likely to get a visual look you're happy with. We looked around at a few different styles, but Pete has been drawing line art since he was a boy reading Jim Lee comics, so the rotoscoped style was a natural fit. The fact that we were even considering rotoscoping is down to the work that the guys at Stoic did on The Banner Saga. Me: Was this project originally meant to be a tactical RPG, or were there other considerations in terms of what kind of game you wanted this project to be, like an action game, PC-style RPG, and etc.? WHG: We had a few different ideas at the beginning, but Tom and I were always quite keen to have a shot at making a turn-based tactics game. We grew up playing them on the Gameboy and wanted to create something that built off the games we liked in that genre. I can't remember any serious conversations about it being in a different genre. Me: How accessible will this game be to newcomers of this genre? Will everyone be able to pick this game up and enjoy it, or will gamers new to the tactical RPG need to invest some time in it to get full enjoyment out of it? WHG: We want it to be fun for both newcomers and veterans. Some people will be drawn in mostly by the story, and we'll ease them into the turn-based tactics gameplay with a tutorial and an easier difficulty setting. Veterans who are looking for a challenge will definitely find it in Tahira, we're planning a Beta for late this year to help us balance our difficulty settings, and we want to create a setting that is hard even for us to finish. It's worth noting, difficulty increases won't just be stat increases. The way we're designing our levels, with dynamic enemy spawning and large maps, we have more creative ways of increasing the difficulty. Me: Since the tactical RPG genre is becoming a more popular niche genre, what would you say will differentiate Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire from other tactics-style games like The Banner Saga’s health and armor system, or Bedlam’s rock, paper, scissor fast-paced-style combat? WHG: One of the big differences is the scale of our combat. Our combat maps are much larger than The Banner Saga's and what I've seen of Bedlam's. That adds a strategy layer to our combat that isn't present in the other two game's combat. It gives us a lot of room to be creative with our environment design. You're never going to fight the same battle twice. We're looking at other interesting ways of using the scale of the levels in our battles. One of those is having multiple combat grids that have their own turn queues, letting you reinforce units between them. Me: Due to the climate around the game industry these days in terms of having more varied protagonists, was having a female protagonist a result of the call for more varied main characters or was it part of the original plan without any of the game industry politics getting in the way? Either way, love that the game has a main female character! WHG: From the very first inkling of what Tahira would be it was about a princess. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't aware of the discussions going on in the game industry when we started making Tahira. But it was a creative decision we made, without any external forces pushing us to make it. I found the idea of writing a female protagonist much more interesting than a male one. Me: Is this game taking place in an actual location on earth or is it some fictional land that will be inspired by the middle-eastern area of the world? WHG: The game's set on a remote colony world - definitely not earth! You'll see some sci-fi architecture in the world of Tahira, left over from the Astral Empire. But as you've seen in everything we've released so far, the architecture that the current people living in the world are building is inspired by Middle Eastern, North African and sub-continent architecture. We did that because, despite the game taking place in in a fictional world, we wanted it to ground it in a reality people could relate to. Me: What overarching themes will be tackled throughout this game’s story? WHG: The plot deals with issues such as food security, climate change and corrupt power structures. I’m also really interested in looking at the ways different cultures relate to technology and nature, and the value they put on each. The larger theme that the game’s story will explore across both seasons is what it means to be human and how that is affected by technology. In some ways, it’s a giant melting pot of ideas and cultures that will help me to tackle that question from as many viewpoints as possible. It’s also a very personal story. While all of those larger themes are present, the plot will be driven by the characters and their struggles. Me: Are the enemies that you face on the battlefield going to be just human, or can we expect something else to try and take down Tahira and her crew? WHG: In Episode One, the enemies you face will be human. We have some cool ideas for some non-human enemies, but they'll come in Episode 2 or 3. We want to ground the story with a sense of reality before we begin introducing more fantasy and sci-fi elements. Me: If you can answer this, since the Kickstarter has been up, have there been any offers to bring the game to home consoles/handhelds? WHG: We've been contacted by a few people. It's something we've thought about and would like to do down the line, but for now we just want to focus on creating a great game for PC, Mac and Linux. Me: Since episodic games are becoming more apparent with games like The Journey Down and the successfully funded Jenny LeClue, was breaking this game up into episodes the original plan? WHG: Once we'd worked out a rough draft of the story, we knew we needed to break it down into pieces if we were going to do it justice. We did that, and I wrote a draft for what would have been the first game. It was still too big. We talked to some of our peers about it and they suggested the episodic route. Thankfully, the story had a point in it that worked well as a natural stopping point for Episode One. The decision to go episodic has been very freeing creatively. It scoped the game down to a size that the three of us can really execute the original vision we had for Tahira. Me: If this game gets fully funded, when can we expect a release for the first episode? WHG: All going to plan, we're aiming to release Episode One in early 2016.