For my next foray into the discovery of new titles on crowdfunding platforms, I found another title in development, which was particularly significant to me as a Legend of Zelda fan. Airoheart, under development at Pixel Heart Studio operating out of Gold Coast, Australia, is a 16-BIT adventure RPG created as a clear love letter to the classic Super NES title, The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, whilst at the same time taking influence from other classic RPG series; such as Final Fantasy. The game boasts a massive open world, puzzle-solving, and combat. The project has been successfully funded on Kickstarter and is due for release very soon, much to my excitement. Eager for more knowledge of this excellent-looking title, I contacted the game’s lead designer, Samuel North, to have answered a few questions I had in regards to this game and what made Pixel Hearts want to create a game in the same vein as the beloved Nintendo classic. Here’s what Samuel North of Pixel Heart Studios had to say about Airoheart:
What were the influences behind your game?
Of course, the main influence of Airoheart is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I was a big Nintendo player and was also inspired by the storytelling found in the Final Fantasy series. I always felt that’s where the Zelda franchise had fallen short. Yes, it had charming worlds and characters, but I never really connected to any of them on an emotional level as I did with many of Final Fantasy’s characters and stories.
I always (personally) preferred the gameplay in TLOZ… it’s open-world exploration, real-time combat, and puzzle-solving/platforming combinations. And, knowing how brilliant A Link to the Past was, especially its world, level designs, and progression. It was always in the back of my mind. “Why aren’t there more games like this?” “I wish there were more like this!”. So, after finishing my College studies in Game Development. It wasn’t long before I knew it was the kind of game I had to make! I had the mindset of combining the richer storytelling from FF and bring it into a new world that played somewhat like ALTTP.
What has the developmental process been like?
One huge learning experience… I had created several smaller projects in college and all had been 3D games, so it was the first time doing 2D. I had to learn a new way of programming things. But with just myself working on the project at the start, I had to learn and do everything, from all of the pixel art graphics, HUD/UI, programming, and sound design.
It has been a lot of fun though, and seeing how far we’ve grown as developers is very humbling. If you could see some of the pixel art assets I had created for the game, in the beginning, you’d be shocked. Quite bad! But it’s okay, it has been a long process of developing skills and just going back over things again and again, and making them better and better. While everyone can always be improving their skills, we’ve certainly hit our ‘groove’ now, so to speak and development is not slowing down!
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
Very close, it has come such a long way! I believe we are on the home stretch. I still wouldn’t want to release until everything is perfect though. That’s something we all agree on.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
The world-building… Creating a new world, with new characters, writing stories, backgrounds, and lore. Just making the world come to life and feel fun to explore is really rewarding! We love seeing the characters we’ve created come to life and interacting together, having story scenes play out.
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
Honestly, having fresh mechanic ideas in particular for dungeon rooms, platforming, and puzzle creations. We’ve got all your typical dungeon standards… your pressure plate traps, swinging ball and chains, fall pits, etc. things you see all the time. So, we want more mechanics that are less conventional. For example, at the moment we are incorporating the rune/magic system into the room puzzles to a greater degree. We have a Rune that turns the player into a feather (the main purpose previously was for losing aggro from enemies), now if you turn into a feather above a grate, you can fall through it and land in the room below. Things we hope are new and interesting to players and encourage lateral thinking.
You mention on the Kickstarter page that the dream doesn’t end with Airoheart. Have any ideas for future games been considered this early on?
Absolutely… Airoheart is certainly a foundation that we can build on in the future, and an IP we want to expand. Its core gameplay is rooted in its storytelling, exploration, dungeons, platforming, and puzzle-solving, just like its inspirations. But all that can act as a base, in which for future titles we would love to add things like professions, crafting, survival, social affinity/reputation, house building, a much larger world and plot, the list could go on. This is a genre not seen too often, and it is one we would love to expand upon and even bring into the mainstream if we can. This can be done by sticking to it and building upon it more and more. Ideas for a second title’s story have formed and also what we want it to look like, not only visually but gameplay-wise too.
How well has the game been received so far?
Really well, it’s exciting and very encouraging to see how many people also want another game of this genre. It’s definitely a big nostalgia hit for a lot of people including ourselves.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
Initially PC and Mac, but afterward all the main consoles, so PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch. That will take more time and funding to develop.
Obviously, Airoheart is a heartfelt love letter to Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. What are your fondest memories of that game?
Simply exploring that world for the first time, spending hours upon hours discovering every little secret I could when I was young. There was really nothing like it at the time.
Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that has since been scrapped or reworked?
Yes, I had initially planned to have a gathering and crafting system for multiple professions such as alchemy, blacksmithing, and carpentry. I had also begun to incorporate a leveling system where the player could increase their strength or speed among other attributes. After a lot of thought and discussion about the scope, time, and budget constraints. And also considering the overall game itself, we decided certain aspects such as these were not necessary and were just going to take up valuable time and possibly make the game more complicated than what was needed. For example; would leveling have been necessary for A Link to the Past? We didn’t think so. Rather, we decided to leave such things to a later and also bigger title.
If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or any franchise, which would it be, and why?
That’s a hard question, but probably Square-Enix back in the 1990s. There are so many beloved titles I would have loved to have had a part in.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Yes, follow your heart. Make the kind of game that you want to see out there. Not just those that make the most money, like multiplayer. It will help you get through a very long and challenging process. Develop self-discipline and time management skills, I’ve found these to be equally as important as any programming or artistic skills.
Where on the Internet can people find you?
The best place to find us would be on our website at https://www.pixelheartstudio.com/ which has links to our FB and Kickstarter page too.
Do you have anything else to add?
Yes, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been interested in or supported Airoheart! You don’t realize the world of difference it makes for small indie studios such as ourselves to hear your kind words and encouragements. Indie’s really put their hearts on the line when they put their games out there for the world to see. Every single one of you is greatly appreciated and we wouldn’t be here without you! Thank you.
I’d also like to thank Samuel for taking the time to share with me and readers the details of this incredible-looking title and to wish him the best of luck with the game upon release. If you’re interested in helping Pixel Heart reach their stretch goals on Kickstarter, you can support them via the link below:
In the meantime, I hope you guys enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it and talking with Samuel about this game; The Legend of Zelda series is my favorite gaming franchise of all time, and I’m always excited to see new games made in the same vein.
Scouse Gamer 88