Developer Interview: Ark Heiral

A better implementation of back-to-basics than in Ark Heiral‘s upcoming Chained Echoes a SNES-stylized RPG with heavy exploration and combat elements — would be difficult to find. We spoke with the grandmaster behind the development, Germany-based Matthias, about what we can expect from this indie delight, and just how giant mechs fit into it all. Sign up for Chained Echoes’s newsletter if you want to track the progress of this 2D RPG as much as we do, and look for the upcoming crowdfunding campaign planned for this winter. [At the time of this interview, Chained Echoes was entitled Grand Grimoire.]

Chained Echoes

|| What’s the story behind studio Ark Heiral? We hear it might be one person behind all the magic of The Grand Grimoire at the moment. Can you tell us about yourself? Where are you from? Why video game development?

Hi and thank you for inviting me to this interview! My name is Matthias, I‘m 32 years old and I live in Germany. I’ve been a gamer since my early childhood days with a special love for RPGs and text adventures. The only thing that I like more than playing RPGs is making my own. During the day I’m working as a motion- and graphic designer and in the evenings I’m working at The Grand Grimoire – with some breaks for about 2 years now. Currently we are 2 guys on the team. Eddie is writing the music and I’m doing… well everything else. At least for now.

|| Why SNES-styling for your upcoming title, The Grand Grimoire? Is there something in particular about that era and its playlist of games that you found compelling?

Yes, there are actually a lot of things. First and foremost: SNES games and 2D games in general are incredibly fast-paced. There is so much stuff happening in such a short amount of time. Take Chrono Trigger for example. Everyone who played it remembers all those epic moments in the game. All those timelines you visit, events that happen and characters you meet. But do you remember how long that game takes to complete? Only around 20 hours – and it’s the same for most games of that time. With the advent of 3D games everything started to get slower. Not (only) because of loading times but because of the nature of 3D graphics and having everything in natural proportions. It made traversing the world slower. And then this open world trend started and game length was a huge factor in marketing. A bigger and longer game equaled a better game.

But nowadays (or rather in the past few years) I have the feeling the trend has changed. Gamers tend to have huge backlogs and less time to play games aside from maybe their favorite IP.

This is where the potential for successful 2D RPGs can be found. The possibility to pack an epic adventure into a 20 hour game.

By going with a pixel art style I don’t want to simply appeal to the player’s nostalgia, although it’s part of it of course. Instead I want to express what kind of a game The Grand Grimoire will be – on which aspects the game focuses – what kind of game the player can expect.

Pixel art – being a vague style without many details – also leaves the player more space for his own imagination on how some things might look if they were more realistic.

|| How will the mech gameplay fuse with the promised swords and magic? The Grand Grimoire will have turn-based combat, and we’re curious as to how utilizing mech suits will impact that gameplay.

Generally there will be 3 types of battles: 1. Character battles on foot. 2. Mech battles. 3. Sky-battles with airships and mechs. Since I don’t want the player to learn 3 different battle systems all of those 3 types share the same base. All of them are the same type of turn-based combat. But each of those 3 types will have a unique mechanic. A small little change that will make all those battle styles feel different without needing to learn anything new. I’m still in the process of making adjustments, so I can’t tell you more at the moment.

Aside from battle mechanics your mechs and your airship will have a huge impact on your exploration. As long as you are outdoors you will be able to call your airship and use it to traverse an old-school world map. (Of course you can use a fast travel option to get to places you already visited, too).

Furthermore you will be able to use your mech as a means of transportation. With it you can take shortcuts and reach places you were not able to reach before, in order to find new places, treasures and enemies.

The Grand Grimoire will also allow the 3 combat systems to interact. For example: You will find a dragon sitting in a cave. After you have dealt a certain amount of damage on foot it will try to escape into the sky. This is where you board your mech, chase and defeat it.

|| Mini-games! What kind? We noticed that mini-games will be present in The Grand Grimoire. What kinds of mini-games can we expect to find? What sorts of mini-games do you enjoy playing?

I enjoy a lot of different mini games. Fishing, racing, casinos, card games and all those cool little diversions. For The Grand Grimoire the complexity of the mini games will depend on the budget the crowdfunding campaign will earn. As an indie developer with a strict budget my first and foremost goal is to ensure a high quality of main systems. They need to be fun and bug free. If I can achieve this I might implement a more complex mini-game like the ones mentioned above. Otherwise I’ll probably do some more simple yet fun things.

|| What level of difficulty can we expect from The Grand Grimoire’s gameplay? Will there be a heavier focus on storytelling and exploration versus combat, or will combat provide a meaty challenge?

I hate battles in games that are so easy that you can win them by using only your normal attacks with an occasional magic spell (I’m looking at you Final Fantasy series). In The Grand Grimoire you will employ a high diversity of skills in order to defeat your foes. That is why your skill window in battle is opened from the beginning – because you will use your skills/techniques/magic spells far more often than your normal attack.

Which means that the difficulty will be a little bit higher than your average RPG (although there will be an easy option). But it somehow depends on the player’s play style, too. I’m giving the player the freedom to decide how much time he wants to spend in battles. Most overworld battles will be optional. You can skip them if you want. Instead you can decide to concentrate on exploration which will be as effective for leveling your characters as fighting mobs. This is made possible by a certain game mechanic I’ve implemented and by a focus on equipment you can find or craft.

So you can either beeline your way and take every battle encounter, skip them all and concentrate on exploration, do both or do neither. Your playstyle will be tested in the next story boss battle though. So keep that in mind!

The game as a whole will be story driven. It’s not a dungeon crawler/roguelike/roguelite but a pretty classic JRPG style game.

|| How did you meet your composer? We see that Eddie Marianukroh is providing the music for The Grand Grimoire. How did that partnership come about?

Well, I made an announcement, people applied for the position and I chose him. I received far over 100 applications so there was no sane way to reply to all of them but in batches. Telling the composers that you received their applications and would contact them again at a later date. I received many awesome applications but Eddie was the only one I contacted directly and asked about his music. His demo tracks were so incredibly good that I immediately fell in love with his music.

|| Is a Kickstarter campaign still scheduled for this winter? We know your fans are already chomping at the bit to support you – ourselves included. Will we have that opportunity, come this year’s snowy season?

Yes, the Kickstarter is still scheduled for this winter! It is set to be sometime in January.

|| In a post-apocalyptic world, you managed to save your SNES – but only three SNES games. What are the three SNES titles you couldn’t live without? We know it’s hard… but it’s still better than having saved only one.

This really is a rough question, haha! I probably should take a genre that is fun playing over and over again like a racing game or a beat’em up instead of a story driven RPG but I guess I would still take those.

I would take Terranigma, Final Fantasy VI and Seiken Densetsu 3 with me.