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Guardians of the Rose Dev-Talk: RPG Influences, Decisions & Pixel Art

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4b9a4970593c86d25aaac1624c584fa0_originalJack Davison and Mike Blundell of the Network affiliated Potshotpete and Mike’s Pad YouTube/Twitch channels respectively, took to the former’s Twitch abode in a live tête-à-tête with Broc Copeland yesterday, the 13th of June at 8 P.M. BST. Under the moniker of Pixel x Pixel Games, Copeland is at the helm of Guardians of the Rose; a retrospective, high fantasy themed arcade adventure that is currently at the final week of what has been a fairly well-performing Kickstarter campaign so far.

Set many years after a fictitious Great War — one against the clutches of Witchcraft upon an old Kingdom — Guardians of the Rose narrates a young adolescent’s quest to quell prevailing corruption of the Royal Guard by remnants of the Great Witches and their subsequent rise to power. To this end, players must make use of their power of choice, medieval gear, witchcraft, NPC interactions and recruitment itself to build themselves as the Guild Master of a Secret Society whose ultimate goal, regardless of alignment with good or evil, is world peace.

Yes, the game’s biggest emphasis lies in decision making and exploration — where the NPC’s they recruit to their side, the quests they complete and choices they make during that course, affect not only the Kingdom’s reaction and behaviour towards players but also influences the type of ending their journeys attain. Further featuring a fleshed out lore and equally creative quests in its Open-Ended design, customizable stats and a skills system, Guardians of the Rose promises to leave very little out of player control — as they choose to incite revolution from the shadows or wage all out war.

9e81983232f0cec4b7ba25d0e4fc317a_originalThis is all of course set to be conveyed by Copeland’s affinity for pixel art, chip-tune and directorial sensibilities; a stay at home dad whose foray into game development began with Flash and eventually translated into his working on Guardians for over a year now, Copeland has been fostering a Kickstarter campaign for the sole purpose of sustaining his full-time toil since the 24th of May this year. His sights remain set on a PC, Mac, Linux and an eventual PlayStation 4 and Xbox One release for 2017, the foundations of which have already laid by the game’s Green-lighting on Steam earlier this month.

In conversation with the duo of Davison-Blundell, the once game designer and web developer explored the game’s inherent influences of RPG classics such as that of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Legend of Zelda, before going on to reflect upon the game’s current pre-alpha status.

I read a lot of High Fantasy books and have always liked Legend of Zelda — and I guess it was just random day in bed when I decided to put the together and said, “Let’s do it”‘, he states during the course of the podcast.‘The biggest RPG influence though would be — The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind — when I played that game, it changed my life really. It’s world was open unlike any other I’d played before.’

d0f70db72f6d6cffd811a4e14db41798_originalSpeaking of the true role and function of decision-making and NPC interaction with respect to game-play, the developer also revealed that the game will run for a meaty tenure of 12-15 hours, will be sold at a price of $15 on Steam next May and will also descend into a Beta period in August, this year. ‘There’s going to be a lot of stuff going on in-game that those playing for the first time won’t even realise they’re making decisions — unless they begin to think early on if they do want go good or bad’, explained Copeland.

‘Most of the quests in the game won’t even have an obvious outcome — it sort of plays as if the choice that you made was the only choice offered  by the game.’As for DLC and related future expansion of the game’s lore, he expressed that while he does have things in mind, their coming to fruition would solely be dependent on how the game does upon release.

The trio then dabbled in discussing each one’s gaming preferences, E3 reveals and perceptions towards Alpha/Beta releases — before letting viewers pitch their own array of questions. ‘It’s all skill-tree based; There’s NPC’s you can learn skills from, bosses you can pick skills from by killing them — you’ll then have a limited number of skill points to invest into the skill-tree’,  divulged the developer in response to one such question that enquired about the roles players will be able to play in-game.

a1214c55a0636fde275ec7afe7d32703_originalHe then continued in context by stating that a Game Plus mode was something he hoped he could get in in due time — one where players’ skills carried over to a new play-through of the game that featured subsequently harder quests, enemies and more. A final question moved him to reveal that while 60% of the game’s plot was now fleshed out, he was still contemplating how to convey certain multiple endings.

‘There’s no voice acting, only cut-scenes. I’m animating all cut-scenes by hand so I’m hoping I’ll be able to do all of the ones I want to do,’ he went on. The reason all of this is based in pixel art of course, stems from both his love for the art form and the fact that it happens to be the the default style in which he draws.

Guardians of the Rose’s Kickstarter campaign ends on the 23rd of June — and is only $1,700 short of its $7,500 goal at the time of this article. Be sure to visit the same for a complete breakdown of Backer Achievements, Updates and Copeland’s overall goal.

Pixel x Pixel Games was automatically put in touch with one time Higher Eclectic Ground members Jack Davison and Mike Blundell under the Network’s terms on the developer’s reaching out at the time. As of 18th June, 2016, they are no longer affiliated to or endorsed by the Network.

Play Starr Mazer: DSP With The April IndieBox

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19987651890_21929cb41f_hAs made public on the 15h of April by Creator/Writer/Director Don Thacker on Starr Mazer TV’s customary mid-Saturday stream, fans and followers alike are for the first time being granted the opportunity to get their hands on the much coveted, much hyped prequel to Imagos Softworks’ retro PNC-SHMUP, Starr Mazer. The IndieBox, for those unaware, being a neat little service that sends expressively crafted Collectors’ Editions of a wide variety of independent games to its subscribers every month.

Although the spotlight lies on only a singular game per Edition, hence allowing for its Box to be filled with collectibles, OSTs, developer diaries and more pertaining to it, IndieBox’s do come with their fair share of assorted treats; While the PlayStation 4, MS Windows released 2D sci-fi shooter, Galak-Z is to adorn April’s issue, bundled within it will be a redeemable demo code of the latest functional, pre-alpha build of Starr Mazer: DSP.

Subscriptions to avail of the April IndieBox ends by the 18th of April, 2016, meaning those interested in attaining an exclusive hands-on will have to make haste to book their copy via the IndieBox domain now. And yes, international deliveries stand.

Screen-Shot-2016-04-15-at-1.16.13-PM-1024x618Conceived as a passing feature for a scene in Don Thacker’s 2013 creative feature film, Motivational Growth, and successfully Kickstarted on 21st February, 2015, Starr Mazer is an upcoming retro-modern fusion of the Point N’ Click and Shoot ‘Em Up genres that was originally due for a summer release this  year.

Featuring modern gameplay brainwaves such as the unpredictability of narrative unfolding and sophisticated role playing elements, the tale of a DSP Mk. II pilot — that wakes up amid an intense bout of amnesia in the aftermath of the galactic GREAT WAR and sets out to unravel the mysteries of his universe — was postponed when the fleshing out of the team’s self-developed content creation tool Mazer Maker, consumed more time than was originally estimated.

 

 


 

Screen-Shot-2016-04-15-at-1.24.33-PM-1024x618In order to fill the void while also preparing players for the lore and SHMUP barrage that was to eventually hit them with Starr Mazer’s release, Starr Mazer: DSP was announced last Winter as a collaborative PC/Mac/Linux/Mobile venture with indie game developers PixelJam games.

A prequel, DSP will have players control a squadron of DSP Mk. I pilots in the midst of the GREAT WAR, collecting SK: Ore that functions as in-game currency to equip themselves with better quality weapons &ships, fending off twisted beasts and letting loose a plethora of classic space-flick inspired attacks, all the while attempting to resist an invasion of extra-terrestrials known as the G’ell. The game’s IndieBox demo meanwhile, will make available a ‘vertical slice’ of the game as revealed by Imagos’ social media and Community representative Kazuo Mayeda.

‘Players will be given a short tutorial and then their off to battle the G’ell,’ he explains. ‘They will blast enemies, accrue SK:ore and eventually be able to purchase stronger and more bad-ass pilots to aid them through to victory.’ What’s more, said demo will also feature fleshed out voice-overs for the squadron of pilots, contributing to which are a number of independent game developers local to the team’s base in Seattle, Washington. A short feature on their recording escapades is scheduled to go live on Starr Mazer’s YouTube at 3 P.M PST.

via GIPHY

Screen-Shot-2016-04-15-at-1.29.04-PM-1024x618Besides making weekly appearances in progressive builds during the team’s Saturday streams, DSP was also taken to this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last month, wherein it was shown off to only a few key press numbers. Response appeared to be largely positive, with some such as Destructoid going so far as to deem it as the highlight of their GDC experience.

Right now everyone is a hundred percent in the demo; Crafting dynamic pilot, ship generators and more,’ reveals Mayeda when asked of DSP’s progress and immediate future now that its Summer 2016 release date is barely around the corner. ‘Plus we’ll be heading to PAX East, showing the game with all its updated ships, UI and progress to all those who want to check it out.’ Naturally, we’ll concurrently be getting our own hands on the DSP demo hoping for the first time to jump into the Mazer universe first-hand and seeing what all the fuss around THE GREAT WAR is all about.

Meanwhile, the highlights of nearly 8 months of the Starr Mazer saga’s journey since its hopping on to Higher Eclectic Ground lies documented on its Space; with it being the perfect means to catch up with everything Starr Mazer from the Community’s perspective here, be sure you head down there as soon as you’ve sorted your own IndieBox.

In Conversation With DJ Spruke

Features

 A full-length LP electronic album by Spruke with a brand-new distribution paradigm that is unprecedented in digital music: every copy of the album is unique to that owner, re-recorded in full with new parts, new sounds, and a voiceover performance done by the user’s choice of performer of any gender, language, and cultural identity.

 As Bill Boulden, alias DJ Spruke of Bump In The Night electro-house podcast fame, typed up the introduction to ‘Music To Die Alone In Space To’s Kickstarter campaign, little was he aware of the magnitude of the impact those words would have on the creative backers that haunt the crowd-funding platform and beyond. A goal of $2,000 was set, providing various classes of contributors with a variety of privileges including picking their own voice artists, cover art and even guiding the actual recording of their albums. In the event that this new ‘distribution paradigm’ be a success, stretch – goals (Kickstarter lingo that specifies goodies or additional goals the creator might pursue should the original goal set by them be crossed) were set up to $10,000, before it was decided to retreat for the day.

In exactly 24 hours, the project’s goal of $2000 was funded by 74%. In another 48 hours, 200%. This incredible surge of activity on their platform led Kickstarter to feature the album on its newsletter – Happening – a week later, which in turn brought about another wave of contributors that would cause the campaign to reach the $10,000 mark in less than a fortnight. All stretch-goals were now accomplished and Bill was raking in cover artists and voice actors by the dozen.

Somewhere along the way Higher Eclectic Ground entered the fray. The artistic ingenuity of it all had us enraptured, coaxing us to take ‘Music To Die Alone In Space To’ to parts of the world that were yet to stumble upon such a paradigm. As we worked alongside Bill to achieve the same by taking exclusive renders of several tracks from the album to the indie video game and art community across social media, our understanding of ‘Music To Die Alone In Space To’s genius grew stronger – An understanding that reached its peak when we listened to the album in its entirety and documented our thoughts within our article ‘We Died Alone In Space Too’, a couple of weeks back.

To regard ‘Music To Die Alone In Space To’ as another ‘Electronic’ album then would be to belittle its artistic significance. It is a journey of the senses more than anything – one that every artistic and self-conscious being should venture on, irrespective of their love for music or lack of it.

The Kickstarter campaign ended with a whopping $25,000 from 663 backers in its account on the 26th of September. As Bill, now fueled with the intention of producing and shipping up to 310 unique albums, geared up to retreat to his sound-mixing space lair for the next few months, Higher Eclectic Ground managed to catch up with him for one final tête–à–tête on the 2nd of October  – hoping to discuss the creative genius’ musical journey thus far and its aftermath.

1.  Congratulations are in order Bill! Has it really sunk in yet?

I think so. I’m working like it has, anyway. At about 2 hours per album and 310 albums, I’ve got 600 hours of work ahead of me- or over a quarter of an American working year, to put that in perspective. I know that to hit my February promised delivery date I’m going to have to work nights and weekends nonstop, so I began hitting the decks immediately upon it closing (or actually, a few days earlier). So yeah, let’s see… at the time I’m writing this, about 10 days after closing, I’ve output 526 tracks. I have to output 3,720 tracks in all to make 310 12-track albums though. 

 But yeah, I’d say it’s kicked in. The fact that I’ve exported 526 distinct tracks so far has really driven that home, I feel the weight of this work, what with me doing it all day. Thankfully it’s largely unsupervised… I can work at my day job, do PR, or play some Hearthstone or another simple video game while the renders go. I just listen, listening to them do their things, and between each render tweak one knob or another to keep the track evolving.

2.  And there’s Bump In The Night Too! In regards to which – and prior album releases of course – how much has the Kickstarter campaign changed things for you as an artist in terms of coverage and reach?

Sales numbers aren’t back from iTunes, but I don’t really expect to see a bump in sales, I didn’t spend much effort trying to cross-pollinate it with old releases. Bump In The Night saw a nice spike of KS backers who would listen to a #BITN to hear the exclusive previews, it was the only place to hear Refract!

3. Which reminds me – on last Monday’s (28th Sept.) ‘Bump In The Night’ episode, I happened to catch a mention of how you didn’t want to talk about ‘Music To Die Alone In Space To’ anymore until you were done with recording every one of the 300+ albums.

Given the amount of individual attention and end-user involvement each album’s render demands, has it ever felt like perhaps the whole new distribution paradigm was a curse in its self – especially with having to go through 3720 unique renderings?

Oh, the only reason I didn’t care to keep talking about it on Bump In The Night is that at this point, the people who’ve signed up for one are going to get one, and I’m not taking any further orders. I just don’t want to create feel-bads. 

At this point the people on the list are well on their way to having their copies made, so they’re taken care of, but if you never signed up, then there’s nothing else I can sell you- I’m not printing any more of these right now- so talking it about it more would really just seem like rub-ins. Besides, a lot of my #BITN listeners back me on the Patreon, they’ve got that whole side, so they know they’re supporting me in all my efforts.  I don’t feel like any of this is a curse, no. It’s the problem I asked to have.

4. Yet do you manage to pull time for yourself? Does personal space suffer much with the surge in work load?

Nah, not really. I don’t have as much as one as you’d think. I live with my wife and she’s still around the home, we both are. I guess I have to spend a little more time locked in my studio. But it’s already the room I work from and Bump from and game from, so the difference is minor. I guess I can’t really watch TV out in the common area with her, which is a bummer… that’s just too much downtime that could be spent doing renders. Anything else though, I’ll still make time for game night or some sport or a hike.

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5.  And even then, you’ve continued to maintain a close relationship with all of your contributors from the very start.
Based on your interactions with them – What in your opinion can the raving success of the campaign be attributed to? The musical journey itself, the fact that people get to avail of something that is unique to them, or both?

It’s hard to pin it down, for a question like this. It really required all the pieces to work together. The delivery method doesn’t work nearly as well for a different musical idea, and the musical idea is not that remarkably different from some great soundtracks already out there without the striking delivery method.

It’s really hard to isolate the factors.

6. ‘Without The Striking Delivery Method’, you said.
Has it ever occurred to you that the paradigm might be overshadowing the music itself? That it could be rather simple for people to overlook and appreciate the significance of ‘Music To Die Alone In Space To’ as a piece of art like you intend for them to?

I don’t think anybody’s going to miss the significance of the album as an album. I mean, nobody’s really even heard it yet, there’s a few people piecing together all the preview copies to create something like a full album, but don’t discount before it’s even had a chance. 

When people actually GET their copies, individuality aside, I think they’re really going to like them for working music, atmospheric music, chamber music, meditation music, anything. And for the 300 other backers who just signed up for canon copies- I mean, they won’t individualized ones, they’re here just to entirely appreciate the work like it was a typical album, albeit one that they get to participate a ton in the creation of.

7.  Indeed. Speaking of the album’s creation – when one backtracks to the interview with ‘The Public’, wherein you’d mentioned how the album was a product of you intending to create a musical trip of the senses and providing individuals with musical copies that they could call their own; A question arises –  Why space? What did you read, watch or perceive that led you to base such an ambitious vision of yours in extra planetary territory?

Space in particular felt like a good place to explore the other component I mentioned in that Public interview- the need to make something one could lose consciousness too. There aren’t that many ways to die slowly over the course of an hour that aren’t just gruesome or horrifying; this method of dying, though, lent itself to that really well to that set of needs, especially because it’s kind of beautiful, you have a lot of ways to make peace with it.

8.      And so in abidance by that vision, not an earth-based musical instrument is to be heard throughout the course of the album – Synthesizer reverberations and digital tones emulate what it would supposedly feel like to pass by celestial bodies trapped within the confines of a beeping spacesuit.
Where did this understanding and recreation of extra planetary vibes come from? Did it involve extensive reading and study, or was it all created on an artistic whim?

More artistic whim, although keep in mind, with a degree in music composition and a lot of classical music already to my name, one could argue I’ve just front-loaded the studying and reading. You learn a lot in university about how to represent abstract ideas musically. It’s like all the entire classical era has going for it, since expressing ideas lyrically outside of O Jesu or the occasional My Lady Art So Fair was pretty taboo.

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9.  Ha! While we are on the subject of the album’s composition – All of ‘Music To Die Alone In Space To’s protagonist’s narrations are but messages they convey to a significant other through the void, yes?
 Our Creative Head of indie game projects, Salman Iza wonders why you would choose that conveyance of messages to someone else as the basis of the album’s narrative aspect.

These passages were co-written with the help of the remarkable Natasha Lewis Harrington, and all I can say about it is that we both brought a lot to the table in terms of what a person might realistically feel in these circumstances (after panic passed, anyway).

10.       And if we might be so bold to ask – is that narrative and the Astronaut’s struggle a reflection of experiences past perhaps?

I respect that you’re asking this question, but this is one of those places where it ruins all the fun if I tell you 🙂

11.      Fair enough! Now as we draw towards closure on the subject of its composition – how did you go about finalizing what the 10 tracks of the album would be about, before their synthesis and recording?
What did their synthesis and recording sessions entail – Did you have a tune in mind to begin with or was it all impromptu?

This might be the first album I ever wrote where not a single song had a predetermined tune in my head before I started. Most tracks, I started by thinking about the restriction I was going to be worth it, and working from there. I don’t want to say particularly what the genesis point for each track was, but for a few of them, I’ve explained it already- Tides, for instance, I talked about that one in an update and why it sounds the way it sounds. 

Absolute Zero, too, everything in Absolute Zero is the way it is for a reason, but it isn’t because I sat down with a tune in mind; I sat down with a list of things I wasn’t allowed to do and then asked myself “how am I possibly going to accomplish this goal, when I can’t do any of X. Y, and Z?” and then solve it like a puzzle from there.

12.       They do say one can only trace the dots by looking back, yes? I think only when those reading this actually get a chance to sail through the entire album in one go, will they truly appreciate how that puzzle was solved.

Now, I in particular, am a fan of how backers that contributed towards a personal copy gain full rights over it under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. I’ve also noticed how a few indie game developers have even proposed using ‘Music To Die Alone In Space To’ in their own creations – Once the canonical copies are released, what do you envision for their usage in other artistic media? Do you think it would hamper the magic of your own creation or boost that of others in any way?

I am not prepared yet to speculate on where all this leads. In a Zen kinda way, I find that the more I expect a certain course of events from the future, the less I appreciate what I get, so I’d rather not make predictions about where the canon copies lead. I definitely am not worried about anything diminishing the magic of any other copy, though.

13.  One of the teams of indie developers that exist within our community – SpaceVR – are working on sending a 3D 360 degree camera to the Cupola module of the International Space Station, capture footage of various extra planetary phenomena and make that footage available to Virtual Reality and Google Cardboard enabled devices. I can’t help but imagine the possibilities a pairing up of Virtual Reality space footage and ‘Music To Die Alone In Space To’ could lead.

Yeah, I have had a few backers mention their interest in syncing other things to this music and all can say is I am very excited about the possibilities.

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14.  All said and done Bill, when can we expect it to see the album on the Internet marketplace? I am aware that personal and canonical copies will be going out come November.

Probably about ten days after the backers get them. I want there to be a nice little period where the backers are enjoying something nice that nobody else is getting to hear yet, you know? But waiting that much longer is starting to ask for a leak or a torrent, and I do want to sell the canon copies, so I’ve got to put them up for sale not too long after or I can’t sell them.

15. Sooner the better for us too. Lastly, I know it’s a bit absurd to ask at this point of time but what are your plans as a musician besides rendering the 300+ albums and the podcast over the remainder of the year? Also, do you have anything else shaping up in your mind for after Music To Die Alone In Space To is launched next year?

Based on the success of Music To Die Alone In Space To, it’s unlikely that this adventure in handmade, unique music ends here, although I’ll probably want quite the refractory period after these 300 albums. I also wouldn’t mind a conventional album before then, either. It’ll have been three years since Lies Synthpop Told Me at that point, and I really do have a lot to say. Since that album, I got sober, got married, and “got kind”, I mean I changed a lot of things. 

 LSPTM was written to be a lot of my bitterness’s and depression’s last hurrah of sorts, I mean it’s the album that really turns on all the self-loathing and self-destructiveness that “Factor Friction” and “Laura By Spruke” and “Let’s Throw A Party” just bathed in, in so many ways. That album was about turning away from all that and looking forward, but it ends on a note that lacks confidence- with “All My Dreams Are Nightmares” you don’t really get to know if maybe things do get better, if a person really can be happy- but I really want to come back and make an album that’s a lot gentler, checks back in with me, like, “hey I want to write some songs about maybe not everything is not terrible not all of the time”. You know? 

Anyway, so that’s what’s up for me as a songwriter. As far as Bump In The Night goes, I just got to stick with it. I think it’s enough of a habit at this point that I don’t think it’s going to change much if at all. I’ve got to put my creative energies into Music To Die Alone In Space To, so I would expect Bump to kind of stay business as usual for a little while. I’m going to keep up with it, same commitment to a fresh hour of no repeats music every week, but I don’t think it’s fair for me to innovate on it or give it any makeovers before these albums are in my backers’ hands.

16.  Godspeed Bill, it’s been an absolute pleasure. This might very well be the last time we hear from you for quite a while now and so in parting, is there anything would like to send out to the hundreds of indie gamers and artists we reach out to daily?

Thanks for having me! Hmm. I have a ton to say to indie artists, I don’t know how to limit it to one thing. I guess I would tell them that enthusiasm is everything. Make sure you believe in what you’re doing, because everybody can tell. Looking back on this project, I think enthusiasm was my greatest asset… and with 3,720 tracks to export ahead of me, I think it will continue to be… or at least it had better be 🙂

In the days over which the interview took place, Bill initiated a massive poll from the 28th of September that served to provide his benefactors with the ability to vote for their choice of desired gender + language + combination which would in turn guide him in hiring respective voice actors for the album. The poll has resulted in an already stupendous roster (Mikey Neumann from Borderlands,  Laura Bailey of StreetFighter & DragonBallZ, Brina Palencia from The Walking Dead ) being filled with the likes of Chris Sabat ( Vegeta and Piccolo in DragonBallZ), Laura Shigihara (Composer of Plants Vs Zombies) and more.

And that’s without taking into account the fascinating ensemble of illustrators and designers he’s managed to put together for the additional six cover arts that will go into the album. Here’s a recent piece by Chris ‘Rally’ Benimati, photographer and illustrator behind the popular Japanese Web Manga – Vultures.

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Fascinating isn’t it? Oh and yes, while the album we listened to had ten tracks in total – Bill has since then gone onto add two more tracks, the themes for which were decided by his loyal supporters. For now, he’s back within his studio – creating track after track, each with unique flavor and passion as if they’re his first. Higher Eclectic Ground meanwhile, will continue working with him, following his progress from the sidelines , bringing you anything and everything worth knowing on this or any other musical journey he might have planned in the days ahead.

He is after all, our indie community’s pride. To catch samples of previous tracks, learn of his journey so far and even stay tuned to his future – stop by his Higher Eclectic Space only on the Ground.