I have conducted a very special Q&A; for the first time, with a video games developer, CEO of Kisareth Studios, Tanya Lee Botelho. She very kindly agreed to answer some questions about Kisareth Studios, the development process of both Chronicles of a Dark Lord I and II, and about the franchise in general; as well as a few questions about video games in general and her own personal experiences with them. I had a plethora of questions for her, as she and Kisareth Studios have, and continue to enjoy a lot of success with the CoaDL series, and have a lot of plans for the future; and her answers were as follows:
How have players reacted to the sequel of Chronicles of a Dark Lord so far?
We’ve been getting a lot of comments such as “wow the detail level in this is unbelievable”, and “they’re pulling out all the stops in this one”. Mostly positive, thus far. There have been a few of our fans taken aback a bit at the sweeping changes in graphics going from Episode 1 to Episode 2. Such as the face portraits, for example. In Episode 1 we used an in-engine tool to make the face portraits, in Episode 2 they were all hand-drawn.
What was the most exciting thing for you and the team about developing CoaDL 2?
Honestly, I can’t really pinpoint just one thing as going through the entire production cycle there were so many exciting aspects in developing this title. I would point out, for me personally, that using a new engine (RMVX Ace) I had less limitations to work with, and therefore was able to really push the engine to its limits in terms of what I wanted to do with it. There are quite a few scenes in the game that I think will stand out on their own as being special, not just in terms of what’s going on, but in the technical area of how they were done and what the engine can be capable of.
What kind of lasting impression do you both think and hope that the sequel will leave players with?
I think when the credits start to roll after they’ve experienced the ending, they’ll be eager for Episode III to come out considering what they’re left knowing. My most fervent hope, in terms of the overall impression the game leaves with them, is that they’ll get that we’re trying to evolve the genre into something that feels new, that gives them that intangible feeling that we felt when we were kids sucked into a great game. Also, that the tropes often seen in turn-based RPGs can be effectively evolved into something different, or even used in an entirely new manner. Most of all, I just hope that players will get that we’re coming at this from a different perspective and that it offers all sorts of exciting opportunities in the future to explore. Or, you know, that they’ll say something along the lines of, “Dragon Quest IV and Final Fantasy VI had a baby.”
How challenging was it to improve on aspects seen in the first game?
Actually, I have our awesome fans to thank for being able to know what they really liked and what could have been improved on from the first game. I read as many of their comments and emails as I can, so going into production I kept in mind what our fans of the first game really loved and expanded those things into greater depth and detail. Things that they felt could have been improved on, I have to say we definitely improved on those things and then some. We really do listen to our fans, and if we’re doing something they really love, we’re going to make it even better. I will say this, in regards to the challenge of this title’s development, was that if at all possible I wanted to have gameplay replace some of the larger cut-scenes in the game. To give a mostly spoiler-free example, there is a battle that takes place between the enemy naval fleet and your characters’ fleet, and it would have been a lot simpler to just make a cut-scene out of it. However, I thought our fans would have tons more fun actually playing that battle out, instead of just watching it. It ended up becoming one of the most fun scenes in the game, and well worth the time in making it happen despite various technical difficulties that we had to overcome.
How does it feel to know that the Chronicles of a Dark Lord franchise has built up a cult following among indie gamers over the last few years?
Indie gamers are awesome, just wanted to note that. Sincerely, I appreciate each and every player that has chosen to spend their hard-earned money and time with our games. It’s the best feeling in the world to know that there are folks out there who enjoy what you create, what you’re passionate about. I’ll never take any of our players for granted, and you can definitely bet I’ll be listening to their feedback as we get to work on future projects.
What were the key inspirations behind Chronicles of a Dark Lord?
It all comes back to where it all started for me…AOL text-based role-playing. Just about two decades of fleshing out the characters and their stories, personalities, etc. Of course, there were other inspirations as well from classic RPGs like Final Fantasy IV, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, the Dragon Quest series, the Lufia Series, and the Lunar Series to name just a few.
What aspects of the first CoaDL have had the most interesting responses?
We’ve had some very interesting responses to the three-way relationship between Gelina, Magus, and Xiria, and of how it’s perceived by others. We also have had some pretty great responses to how Magus ‘handles’ certain NPCs in the game, and of the choices involved with those situations. Many reviewers and bloggers also like to note that you’re not controlling a party filled with angsty teenagers, but with mature adults who are married and even divorced with one another. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t briefly mention the huge fan response in regards to Xiria Lee, she’s definitely become a fan-favourite.
Where can you see the CoaDL franchise going in the distant future?
The current plan is to have nine main installments, or three trilogies basically. We already have plans to create spin-offs and even new IPs based within the universe of the CoaDL series.
What sources of inspiration do you and the development team take whilst developing video games in general?
Sometimes while we’re deep in development, what we’ll do is take a day and just do some gaming. Whether it’s an RPG, FPS, a Platformer, and so on we’ll do some gaming, and often ideas will come to us during that time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been playing an RPG, and suddenly I’ll put it down and jot down a few notes for CoaDL because something just occurred to me that would be really cool to do. Sometimes we’ll get ideas for future projects while we game as well. For me, personally, often I’ll be listening to metal (thrash, death, gothic, etc.) and VGM (video game music) and really getting into it while I’m deep in production. It certainly has inspired a number of scenes for me.
What is it that you and the team love most about gaming and developing games?
I mentioned it earlier, but being so engrossed in a game and being absorbed into its world is what we love most about gaming in general. Creating that feeling, of having such a detailed atmosphere and lore that you can’t help but follow everything going on in that world your character(s) inhabit, is the kind of feeling you really want when you’re gaming or developing a game. When you can make a connection to the game you’re playing in some fashion or form, or even become emotionally invested in the characters, is when you get that intangible feeling that never goes away. That signals a great game, and it’s what we strive for and what we want out of our games.
What has been the most challenging thing about making video games?
Having a very strict budget with which to work with in terms of obtaining resources and assets for each game. That, and being limited at times due to the constraints of the engine. We had to get very creative in order to work around some inherent limitations of the engine, and it paid off big in the final result.
How do you think the recent heightened interest in indie gaming has impacted the company?
Greatly. I was commenting the other day with my President, John Sierra, about this very thing actually. I referred to it as the “Golden Age of Indie Gaming”. Considering the truly awesome indie games that have come out within the last few years and those coming out now and due out in the near future, it really has heavily impacted how people are viewing independent developers. As a company, we’re able to take risks that Triple-A companies can’t afford to, and the general gaming public I think is aware of that. Our company’s business model, and I’m sure many other indie developers as well, is vastly different from that of Triple-A developers, and it’s all due to the explosion of awesomeness that Indie Gaming has become.
Aside from RPGs and 2D side scrollers like Unusually Usual, are there any other game genres that you and the team, have considered dabbling in?
RTS (Real-Time Strategy) for sure, there’s a game concept we’ve got going on right now that will address how we intend to impact that genre. Another genre would be a Tactical RPG like Final Fantasy: Tactics and Tactics Ogre. That particular genre is near and dear to me and quite a few others of my team. I’d also have to say a 3rd-Person Action game, like a Devil May Cry or God of War. Without giving too much away, we are in the conceptual stages of a “Metroidvania/Ys-hybrid” of a game that we think is going to really blow away peoples’ minds.
Chronicles of Dark Lord certainly speaks of Kisareth’s internal company philosophy of quality over quantity. What kind of fresh perspectives do you and the team plan to bring in the future?
Well, our approach to making RPGs is basically, “take the genre and its tropes and evolve it, or turn it on its head.” That is pretty much our mantra now when it comes to development in other genres as well. We’re going to do things you wouldn’t normally if ever, see in an RPG, Tactical-RPG, RTS, Platformer, etc. We’re not going to play by the same rules that you’ve seen in other games of a genre. When we release a game, it’s going to be “our answer” to something. Like in the case of Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode II, that game is our answer to Final Fantasy VI and Dragon Quest IV.
What’s next for Kisareth Studios?
We’ve got our upcoming, first truly 8-Bit RPG called Shenandor’ah: Zero Chronicle. Think Game Boy Color in terms of the styling we’re going for. The game is a distant prequel to Episode 1. When I mean distant, I mean that it takes place over a thousand years before. We’re also working on Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode 1 Tides of Fate HD, utilizing the Unity Engine. There are other projects, but I can’t comment on them at this point.
What is your earliest gaming memory?
I remember playing this Octopus game for the Atari 5200. I can recall this black blob of pixels coming after my block of pixels, and to me, that was the most fun thing in existence at that point.
I noticed on your Facebook page a while back that you wrote about a particularly complex dream you’d recently had. Have ideas for CoaDL ever been based on any elements from your dreams, and do you think they could ever potentially have any influence on future games you and the team design?
Sometimes, when I have a complex dream like that, I’ll jot down notes and ideas for possible game concepts. I can definitely say that a few dreams have impacted Episode 1 and Episode 2’s development. To give a recent example (minor spoiler ahead), the rather epic naval battle cut-scene in Episode II came from a dream. As for future games, absolutely. Even my darkest nightmares have their place and can affect a particular game’s storyline or a feature. It’s not often that this all happens, but when it does, I count it as something deep within my mind trying to tell my conscious self something.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers?
You’re going to encounter someone, or a few people, telling you that you can’t do it. That there’s no money in it. That having game design as a career is stupid, and you won’t amount to anything. In my case, those sentiments were also peppered with misogyny as well. You need to tell yourself that none of what they say matters a damn to you. Make sure you’ve got tough skin, and just do what you love and make a game that you would want to play and enjoy. If you’re in it for the money, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons. If this is what you’ve always wanted to do, where your passion is, then do it. I’d also say to aspiring developers to do their research. Not just in programming, or which engine to use, but in as many areas of game development as possible, even if an area is not your best area of expertise. Learn all you can about the actual design, graphics, sound, and programming areas, then learn as much as you can about the business end of it.
Also, don’t rush into making decisions. Think every decision through, make sure it’s what you think is best for your game. Lastly, there will be times when you have to make concessions to the overall image you have of the game, whether it’s due to programming, engine limitations, graphical limitations, glitches, and so on. When it happens, and it will happen, be flexible about it. Think outside the box you have in your head for the game, and the answers will come to you.
Do you have anything else to add?
I just want it known that upside-down bagels are inherently evil. That, and I give the most sincere thank you to all our fans and supporters over the years. I hope that we do you proud with every game we release.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Tanya for taking the time to answer my questions and making for a very exciting feature on my blog, as well as the staff at Kisareth Studios for all their rigorous efforts in making the Chronicles of Dark Lord games as overwhelmingly excellent and enjoyable as they are, and I can’t wait to see what plans they have for the future, and what fantastic games they plan on releasing in the future.