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Developer Spicy Horse is currently working on an action RPG with tons of flavor called Akaneiro: Demon Hunters. It will be free-to-play on PC as well as Android tablets. The name symbolizes Red Riding Hood; just like the new Snow White film starring Kristen Stewart deviates heavy from the known tale. As the game is set in 19th century Japan, it is heavy on this traditional mythology of demons and supernatural occurrences. Its art style reflects this beautifully and it adds an instrumental soundtrack to that, which fits the theme like a glove. This highly atmospheric piece sparked an interest in us, which is why we asked the developer some questions. Ben Kerslake, Creative Director at Spicy Horse and current Chinese resident, got back to us with some answers, for which we are thankful.
1. Daav: The heavy cel-shaded style opens itself up to be linked to several other artsy games, especially with an oriental theme. Are there any games that fueled this inspiration and if so, what inspired you from each game?
Ben Kerslake: Okami is just about the best execution of a Japanese themed art style in a video game, so it’s an undeniable touchstone. We don’t quite go to the extremes that Okami often did, as they’d be less compatible with our genre and camera perspective – but we push it as far as possible. Other Clover titles, such as Viewtiful Joe and MadWorld also provide a great example of pushing form to the absolute extreme whilst still placing a great amount of value on function; they’re a good example for any developer looking to excel in one without disregarding the other. Vanillaware’s Muramasa was less of a direct artistic influence, more of an example of how Japanese folklore and Yokai (folklore monsters) could be re-imagined whilst staying true to tradition. I’d also give a nod to Diablo II, not in terms of art style, obviously, but just in the general artistic and thematic cohesion.
2. Daav: Akaneiro is different, both in scope and theme, as your first game, Alice: Madness Returns. Are there different challenges from working on a high-profile game and what did you learn from that experience?
Ben Kerslake: Working with the Unity Engine was a big shift from our work on Alice in Unreal. Both have strengths and weaknesses, but I would say having worked with a larger scale engine let us be quite specific about how we wanted to modify Unity to suit our workflow. Apart from that, we used a similar approach to building levels and assets. We’d construct a large range of 3D props and modular pieces for designers and artists rather than model entire levels. As to the overall production, I’d say the pressure working on this scale of game isn’t less, just different.
3. Daav: Akaneiro will be free-to-play, a radical change from your previous project. What sparked this decision and are there any ways you’ll attempt to monetize the game?
Ben Kerslake: The shift was based on the studio moving away from working with a publisher, and trying to remain independent and financially viable. It’s a tough balancing act. If we want to keep the studio running, and continue to support games after release – there must be revenue. On the other hand, you don’t want that need to outweigh the value of design integrity. In fact, the studio has already released two free to play titles – Bighead BASH and Crazy Fairies. Both those games monetize certain items, and are working daily with their communities to keep things fair and avoid manipulative mechanics. With Akaneiro, we do plan to sell items that provide customization and convenience. Also we plan to release a constant stream of new areas in DLC style expansion packs. Allowing players to pay to circumvent gameplay would be as much against our interest as theirs.
Thank you for your time.