Matt Chat’s Interview with Joe and Hannah Williams of Whalenought Studios

Hi, all. Following is the transcript of my interview with the designers of Serpent in the Staglands.


Matt: Hi, folks, I’m here with Hanna and the lovely Joe Williams of Whalenought Studios.  Now Hanna your expertise really speaks for itself, but Joe I have got to ask, come on now, are you a real gamer?

Joe: I just sit here and do it alone all day and then you know there is all the website.

Matt: So these two are from a studio called Whalenought Studios, they are based in Chicago I believe.

Joe and Hanna: Yes, that is right.

Matt: So they are currently working on a game called Serpent in the Staglands, which they call a “true role playing adventure.”  I thought that was an interesting tagline, so I am kind of wondering, are you implying there that you don’t think Dragon Age and Skyrim RPG’s are just vicious lies?

Joe: No, not at all.  I think there are certainly different categories of role playing games and I guess our genre we thought, or what we are doing kind of combines adventures games like Indiana Jones or Mister something with role playing experience, more of a table top infused role playing experience.

Matt: So you have some adventure game elements in there?

Joe: Yeah, absolutely.

Hanna: Yeah, lots of puzzles, lots of detective work, trying to figure out what is going on in the world.  You have to pay attention to clues more so than things being handed to you.

Matt: You think it is sort of a Legend of Grimrock sort of thing?

Joe: A little bit.  It is not as much of a dungeon crawl I guess.  A lot of the narrative elements are put together kind of like a puzzle.  You can start the game without much help, but you have to find the pieces of the puzzle, kind of like what is going on before you got there as a player and also what is going on during.

Matt: Am I going to be able to figure this thing out or am I going to be stuck in the beginner’s area?  In the water wing zone?  Am I going to be okay?

Hanna: I think you will.

Matt: Okay.  I know one of the things I usually do not spend lots of time talking about on my show, you know I review a lot of role playing games and this stuff, but usually I am not all that impressed with story.  Part of these games, you have played a few I am sure, I think that I can sum up the story line on about 90% of role playing games.  It is like ‘prepare the all powerful orb by gathering up the 16 ½ pieces and then conveniently distribute them across the various regions and defeat the evil wizard and put an end to the eternal winter.’

Joe: That story gets old right?

Matt: So it sounds like you have something totally new, you have gone way off that cliché path.  So, give me a little bit about the story of the game.

Joe: Yeah, well I guess we have tried too.  I think if we were to relate the story, or I guess the narrative anything, I think a game like Myst is just ingrained in at least my subconscious and I think that kind of formed a lot of it where you just dropped on an island.

Matt: You have two brothers trapped in a book.

Joe and Hanna: Oh yeah yeah.  We have our problems. No, our theme you are role playing as a God and you have come down for this festival, a festival that celebrates you, and you are kind of a philanderer.

Matt: Philanderer?

Joe and Hanna: You know you just. You don’t help him lots, you just kind of go down to relax.  Yeah, you like to party out there at the solstice festivals, you stay up on your moon.

Matt: I guess you play as a God?

Hanna: Yes.

Matt: I can just push a button in and all the bad guys just go away?

Joe and Hanna: Right. I mean normally, except you are trapped in a mortal form because you cannot return back to your moon, so the story starts from there where you are stuck.  In Staglands it is just a peninsula.

Matt: Oh my God, I knew there had to be some kind of catch to this.

Joe: Yeah.

Matt: It turned out to be true.

Joe and Hanna: You know that she activated or started the game? Yes, you don’t have a lot of ideas why you are there, you don’t have a lot of known enemies, but clearly someone has it out for you so you are running around trying to figure out what is happening and getting some opinions. You have one priest that kind of helps you out at the beginning, but he cannot do lots for you.  He says, “You know I doubt I can keep you safe in this little temple” and so he gives you the food and then from there you are pretty much on your own.  You are not supposed to build lots of trust in anybody so you either have to Sherman’s march your way through the whole game and try to figure things out that way or try to stay under cover.  You don’t want people to know who you are.

Matt: So there is not a lot spelled out for you at the beginning of the game.  You have just have to sort of figure out what is going on as you go.  I like that.

Joe: Yeah.

Matt: Okay, so one thing that I do think though is key to just about any CRPG, if it is a good CRPG, I think one of the main reasons I like it is because it has a really good set, a really great game road.  I want to get in there and explore.  I don’t even need to have a quest to make me go look at places, you know I am like what is that over there?  I then go and check that out.  I was really intrigued by the stuff I have seen you say and stuff I have seen in the videos about the Serpent and the Staglands because you are talking about a Romanian sort of Transylvanian kind of theme to it and you mention Bram Stoker, who of course wrote a book about a vampire.

Joe: Haven’t heard of him (laugh).

Matt: What was the name of that vampire?  I am thinking is this sort of a Raven Loft?  Would it be out of place thinking of Raven Loft?

Joe: It takes on, it is a little mystical I guess in that we have spells and all that, but it is pretty grounded as the setting.  It is in a bronze age, it is not…

Matt: What does that mean exactly, a bronze age?  What would we expect from that?

Joe and Hanna: It means you have to do more with the kind of weapons and armor and your equipment more so than anything.  I mean medieval looks, it is pretty medieval in terms of the setting. We try to go into pretty heavy detail.  I got some inspiration from Darklands from something like that where we allow the setting to be fully realized.  We did lots of research to make sure all the weapons you are using and stuff like that you can really kind of get a grasp on.  You know the bronze age is not something that is really looked at in video games and we thought that it would be kind of fun to throw people into that kind of world.  We wanted to originally want to have a system where you can bend and brake your swords like a brutal durability system for everything.

Matt: Also, what I was wondering is there going to be a sort of weapons degrading all the time?

Joe and Hanna: Yeah, after bending. We already decided our game was already hard enough without that extra element.

Matt: That might not have been fun.

Hanna: I think it is also in the details like there are straw mattresses at the inn and people don’t have pillows because they didn’t have pillows then.  Trying to incorporate all these little things that…

Matt: They didn’t have pillows?

Hanna: Yeah, apparently we were reading about it and only sick women in the poor classes used pillows.  If you were a noble then you had one.

Matt: That is probably the fact of the Podcast right there.  Back to the video.  No pillows, that would suck.

Joe: The eastern European settings, we were excited about doing that.  That was your idea to kind of throw in a new territory we don’t see a lot in CRPG’s.

Matt: So it is based on actual Earth geography?

Joe and Hanna: No it is not.  It is a world that we made up, but we are using some kind of linguistics languages from eastern European, researched medieval Slavic names, that kind of thing. One of the environments and things. Yeah, it is more just about setting this tone instead of this consistent environment that we wanted.

Matt: I thought I saw somewhere that you said that you had even found some actual curses.  I am really curious, I guess it is probably safe for you two.

Joe: Oh probably.

Matt: Can you just give me a couple?

Hanna: I mean, they say lots of things like “by the eye of the God” or “the teeth of the God” and things like that.

Matt: By the teeth of the Gods!

Joe and Hanna: Some easy and banded quips right there and you have got it. I really like all the curses like calling people strumpets and wenches.

Matt: Strumpets?

Joe and Hanna: Boot lickers, and all sorts of colorful names… They didn’t use lots of go to cuss words I guess in the games we got we got to be really creative. There are more adjectives like you boil brain to milk liver (laughter).

Matt: Sort of a black adder like vibe to it.  So let’s see.  Here is a question from a viewer.  I have a couple of dozen viewers who watch the show and sometimes they will send me questions on Twitter, this one is J.P. looks like Coonah, I hope I am not mispronouncing it, he asks will the game focus more on exploration or will it have a healthy number or quests and MPC’s?

Joe and Hanna: I guess both.  We do have a healthy number or MPC’s and there are plenty of things to do, but exploration I feel that we are really pushing exploration from the beginning especially by not giving lots of hints on where to go. There is not really an indicator on the screen on where that you are actively doing a quest, but there was lots of things for you to be doing.  People give you, you are disguised as a spicester and so often you can come across shady people that want spices delivered to different districts and you have to dodge the outriggers of the guards and like taxes and bridges and stuff.  You have to try to get through that.  A spicer is a spice merchant in our world.

Matt: You sent me some comments about that right, so you thought that being a spice merchant, having that trade or job, other than Dune I do not know what other type comes up, you know spice merchants.

Hanna: Well we thought if you were going to be in disguise in a world what better way to get around and have access to different places and different things than to be a merchant.  We thought it was almost realistic for a very unrealistic setting.

Matt: What kind of spices did they have there?

Hanna: There are spices to season food and spices that…

Matt: Is there like an exotic spice?

Hanna: We are going to have a whole glossary of spices in our journal.

Joe: Lots of it starts with block sort of spices because they try to get lots of taxes on them.  If you are going to try to going into these kind of subquests like that it is to try to get through and lots of the spices are not even really spices they are exotic goods.  They are taking a little more of the Transylvanian vibe like Virgin blood.

Matt: No garlic?

Joe: Like silk worm kind of things.

Matt:  Any garlic powder, or is strictly off?

Joe and Hanna: We have mushroom powder. That is illegal.

Matt: Mushroom powder, I am getting hungry thinking about all this.  Sounds like one of those rare games where you might actually play this and walk away with some actual knowledge.

Joe and Hanna: A lot of it is kind of fantasy like, but we tried to infuse everything with it, at least a sense of grounded realism. Yeah, and Joe especially is an extraordinary.

Matt: Grounded realism, is that a pun on this?

Joe: Grounded realism, oh yeah.

Matt: I pick up on things like that.Anyway, Hanna what where you saying there?

Joe and Hannah: I said Joe, he likes researching weapons and equipment and types of fabrics used.  He has gone through our inventory spread sheet several times and every time I look in there he has added a couple more sentences to each of these descriptions about the type of fabric used. I make your life hard doing that. Yeah, and so if you like that kind of thing, if you like being immersed, that is what we are going for.

Matt: That sounds great.  I noticed that you said a couple of times that you were inspired by the game Darklands, I hope you guys can see my copy back here.

Joe: Yeah, there it is.

Matt: Great game.  I had Arnold J. Hendrick on the show before, I don’t know if I sent you guys that for those, but, another bed game.  It seems to like the half dozen people that played it they loved it.  They talk about it, they just really got obsessed about it, but lets face it, it wasn’t really a big mainstream success.  So I am just wondering what are you thinking with trying to follow that sort of game?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to make another Diablo II or something like that?

Joe and Hanna: I think there is still an audience for games like Darklands or maybe some that didn’t have lots of good reception when they first came out. I think too, we didn’t play it when it came out because it was a little bit before our time.

Matt: I think it was made in the early 60’s?

Joe and Hanna: No, 1992, but I looked over at my computer one day three or four years ago and I see Joe booting up a DOS in there and I was like what are you?  He is like I heard about this game Darklands and I scoot my chair over and we see these gargoyles, very cheesy, flapping across the screen. The fire intro, the gargoyles.

Matt: That was cutting edge back then.

Hanna: We started up and immediately died and pulled up the manual and trying to now get through this.  We just really liked it and it was a fun setting.  I felt like our characters were not as valiant as…

Matt: I don’t have the manual for it, but I am sure it is nice and thick.

Joe and Hanna: I grew up with those old Indian Jones, the original adventure games from Lucas Arts.  I see that back there too.  That day was great and I miss Darklands, but playing that just a few years ago it is just an immensely charming game. Since our goal is not necessarily to make a main stream amount of money, we just need enough money to make another game.  We can do things like this.

Matt: Keep that in mind if you find yourself with some extra cash.

Joe: We can live like permanent monks in Darkland.

Matt: So why are you making the players keep all their own notes, I think even I saw somewhere where they are even going to have to break out the old draft paper and pencil.

Joe and Hanna: This is not like a huge dungeon crawl, this isn’t like that where you need to record all that.  There is a zoom dial for your map on and we have an overall map. It does have a map, although you can get hand drawn maps from people who want things from you.  While there is an overall map it is not littered with markers telling you where you should go.  You have to listen to instructions, you have to reference these hand drawn maps, you get your printed inventory that are basically a treasure map with a big X where you are supposed to be going.

Matt: You put your own pens on the map and notes?

Joe and Hanna: No, we didn’t do that.  We have a journal that you can write in. Our thinking was that if you have to write your own notes and we like the same games too, we are not just trying to be cruel, but if you write your own notes and you shape these quests and these to-do lists in your own wording it becomes more of your own adventure and it just takes on a different picture than these pre-populated quest notifications.  It is your take on it.

Joe: It is kind of an open ended narrative on what is happening and a focus in exploration.  We thought that was an easy way to present that to the player.  After so long, after doing quest check list #500.

Matt: Bring six cart of moms too Richard Velevar….(laugh)  You don’t like collecting bear asses anymore?  Has that gotten old?  You have some notes and maps.  It almost sounds to me guys like you are making an assumption of the players of this game, almost like you are assuming this is an intelligent person that is able to solve some problems and keep some notes and apply this thing in my skull?

Joe: We would like to think there are smart players still out there.

Matt: Is that what you are shooting for?  A certain demographic of player?

Hanna: I don’t know so much a demographic in terms of age, but maybe intelligence and willingness to get their hands dirty.

Matt: I mean this is not something a 15 or 16 year old would do right?

Joe and Hanna: I have hopes for 16 year olds. For the future here Matt, come on.

Matt: I mean like a 60-year-old or 70-year-old, this will be a big hit in the senior citizens log.

Joe: I guess even the art, we very specifically chose to do that kind of art style just because I went to the artists and I was limited to doing something like that, but viewing that we tried to make it like bonus game was 3D or Darklands, so the whole feeling of the game is sort of to inspire you to take a breath from current games and try to go back to something else.

Matt: That was my first thought when I was looking at some of the screenshots of the game and the style of it, not just this game, but some of the earlier ones you did too.  I got thinking some of the graphics I saw in the Omiga computer back then, it is not like it looks crude, really nice images.  It is kind of a distinctive style I guess, but I have seen you so often and you describe it as sort of a timeless style.  I wonder if you can elaborate a little on that because there has to got be people that look at this and say aww look, this graphic is so primitive.  They just don’t get it.  They just cannot make that connection.

Joe and Hanna: When they grew up with that it is hard to blame them because this does probably look crude.  There are lots of games that use it as a retro, cool, super Nintendo, nostalgic use. What we were trying to do was a nostalgic inspired game, but we’re using lots of things that aren’t nostalgic like rendering effects and things we can do with our engine that are more modern, but we are parenting it with Pixel art.  Like a souped up Omega.

Matt: I like Pixelar just fine as long as it is a choice people make.  They like it not because they couldn’t afford anything better and then they are going to play the nostalgia card and get super Nintendo involved.

Joe: Trying to match it we have these limited color pallets for the characters and stuff, but we kind of matched it up with having a walk cycle of 10 frames or something.  A character’s armor sheets are ranging 1000’s of frames now so we are trying to match up the animation.  We are trying to make it as nice as Pixelar it is the least we could do for an isometric, eight directional cam, so hopefully.

Matt: I was trying to decide if, looking at it, if I had a time machine, what year would this have looked really cutting edge.

Joe: It is a mishmash of new things and old things.  It is hard to implant.

Matt: I would have said mid 90’s.  I would be kind of curious guys watching the video let us know your views.  So I was listening to you in the podcast interview with Adam, that was pragmatist silicone.  I really liked that interview.  You guys were talking about how you know you wanted this real time with pause combat and admitted a very deliberate choice to go that route rather than a turn base, it seemed like that was kind of cache right now.  I was trying to wrap my head around how it is going to work in your game as I am thinking Balder’s Gate sort of approach, but then you are talking about these cool downs and charge ups, I almost imagine a World of Warcraft that sort of thing.  So can you just clarify this, how this combat is going to work?

Hanna: Well there is not cool downs or, there are charge ups so much as waiting time attack speeds, but it is real time with pause and it is a little chaotic, but many of the systems are set up especially the combat or fighter skills where you equip three at a time.  That means in the auto crack every X number of hits your skill will fire or at the start of a battle or if you are low on health.  You are doing lots of management during a combat.  You are prepping everything and you have your wizards in the back and you know what they are going to cast and you go for it.

Joe: There is lots of pre-buffing happening to make, especially in mid and in battles successful.

Matt: So it is not like sky or like having this big fight and suddenly right in the middle of a punch you stop and eat 17 rutabagas and you start back up and then you know he falls.

Joe: It is not possible.

Matt: What about the old problem of you get your fireball locking up and by the time you get it ready to go the bad guys have already moved on to a different spot.

Hanna: That can happen, but definitely you can get your casting speed faster and increase as you level up.

Joe: Our spell caster is using a different system.  They don’t have any fireball dispensers or mental magic.  Instead you are holding down a spell so if you have something called like Fowl Creek it sort of drains stats and does a little bit of damage you fire your wand at a target and you are constantly holding that till it is changed.  There is a duration for it.

Hanna: The damage keeps coming.

Matt: The delayed gratification?

Joe: It prods every few seconds.

Hanna: Sometimes it is nice because some of the spells they build up and the longer you hold them the more out play they will do.  So if you are lowering someone’s dodge chances it can continuously get worse and worse so there is some pay off too.

Joe: It is fun to play with that.

Matt: It certainly sounds interesting.  So let’s see, here is another question.  How many types of enemies are there?  What kind of variety is there?

Joe: There is a lot right now.  There is a list for monsters and creatures that is around 25 right now and that is just for some unique images and animations.  We don’t have lots of terrentous color swaps for them yet.  I am sure we could put some more in.  There is fire-ims and ice-ims and they are kind of the same thing just colored differently.  We tried to have a pretty big variety and they are pretty interesting.  The most you will be fighting are other humans, immortals, bandits, or lahs.

Hanna: Getting some games interesting as they all have your skills and spells too.  There is even one that we call him the skin stealers and they take on all of your weapons and armour, skills and spells so you are basically fighting yourself.

Joe: Those are pretty fun.

Matt: Must have been a challenge to get the yeah I ons monsters like that.

Hanna: It was.

Matt: Is that really as hard as it sounds?

Hanna: No, it wasn’t too bad.  You just have to, it was weird.

Joe: It was tricky.

Matt: You have some pretty clever tactics going on with the enemies?

Joe: Some of them have unique things that they do.  We have this race of creature called Trumors and they are underground.  They opted if there is holes anywhere around them they can take attacks at you and they would run to a hole.

Matt: Trumors?

Joe: Yes, and the they would be underground and they would pop up in a different hole.

Hanna: They are kind of a reptiley.

Matt: No relation to Tremors?

Joe: No, they are like little humanoid reptiles.

Matt: Them and mushrooms.

Joe: Most of the monsters, we don’t really have the typical, we have a goblin, but we don’t really have a typical D & D variety.  We tried to keep it based on a lot of folklore like Romanian and Transylvanian kind of folklore.  It was kind of interesting.

Matt: I have heard, and it is bound to be a lie, a very nasty rumor guys, just something horrible about your game.  Something is missing, a creature that is actually missing in the game.  I don’t even want to lend credence to this rumor, because I just cannot imagine, but is it true?

Hanna: It is not true.

Joe: It is not true.  Since that interview we went out of our way.  We have implemented said creature.

Matt: I had a little something for you in case you hadn’t done that.  I actually went and got this remote control rat and he is actually animated so you could have used that.  I could still send this to you.

Joe & Hanna: That would be great.

Hanna: That would be helpful for Joe when he was animating.

Joe: Yeah, in eight directions.

Matt: I am glad that was, that was awkward for you.  With that little bit of unpleasantness past us, we have these different Gods now.  So this question is, do the different Dogs change the entire outlay of the game experience for the players?  Are there different quests and thoughts?  I actually think you can play the same God every time right?

Hanna: At the beginning of the game you have this ultima-esque lady talk to you and ask you some questions that kind of.

Matt: Is she a fortuneteller kind of lady?

Hanna: She is not, but she kind of is.  We don’t know what she is because it is part of the later game, but she asks you some questions and one of those questions is which God would you like to ally with and so you can choose one of four Gods their in the Staglands to be your ally and those Gods will have temples that you can visit and depending on who you choose.  You don’t really get lots of quests, but they give you information, different information based on who you pick.

Joe: They kind of pointed out that this is just to kind of give your character your version of this God a little bit of back story that you wanted to create then we kind of fuse into the rest of the game depending on your choices some big and some small ways that are kind of fun.

Matt: I guess the advise is when you get this game don’t just blow through that segment because it is going to have a big impact on the way…

Joe: You could, but then you might not realize some things that were affected by it that you could kind of lose out on, but it is fun.

Hanna: I don’t think it will be a negative consequence at any point.  It is more just defining who your character is.

Matt: So you guys are a husband and wife team. As I am thinking about this and you know I have had a lot of husband and wife teams on the show over the years.  I haven’t had them on the show, but Ken and Roberta Williams of course, I have had Lori and Corey Cole who replayed their Quest for Glory.

Joe: Oh, Quest for Glory again.

Matt: Of course John and Brenda Romero.  I had David Shelby and Laura Bowman on, that is a side team, PSI.  You know we were just talking about that.  I am just wondering about this, how does a husband and wife team work for you guys?  What is the dynamic here?

Joe: We have been doing great.  We were planning this prior to getting married.  We actually quit our jobs right after our honeymoon and then we were doing some freelancing stuff and kind of staying afloat.  We had a mom and pop digital shop for awhile and we were planning surging the safelands and get some side projects.

Hanna: I think we work well together.

Matt: Has there been any issues where there are two different side and threw pots and pans at each other?  Slamming his fingers in the laptop?

Joe: Yeah, lots of throwing pots and pans.  I think it has been great.  We can balance ideas rally quickly, just the two of us in our small home office.  That has been our philosophy about designing this whole game.  We are finding fun and we don’t really have to talk to anyone else about that.  The final product will just be the product of our minds that at any given time, drinking coffee, coming up with quests and fun puzzles and stuff.  It has been fun.

Hanna: We are kind of in a bubble working together, talking about games and our game.

Matt: Do you think having both male and female perspective does it change the kind of game that you end up making?  Would it be different if it was two guys or two women?

Joe: It would certainly be different if you had read so much more literature than I have.  I don’t think that writing or a lot of the ideas could have been around.

Hanna: I don’t think our game has a male or female perspective, but I do think it would, I don’t know, it might be different.  I think we both bring in different backgrounds.  I am a big fan of Sea Raider and I feel like a lot of that stuff that comes into our game is inspired by books more so than previous games from my end.

Matt: Who are some of your favorite fantasy authors?

Hanna: Guy Gabriel Kay, I don’t know if you have heard of him.  He is my favorite.  I like Orson Scott Carr and I also tend to read more female narrative ones, which maybe is not everyone’s favorite, but Sharon Shinn, Robin McKinley, but I don’t know.  I think they are interesting and I think it is interesting to pull ideas especially about mages and the spirits and all of the things from these books because they are all so different from what is going on in games.

Matt: I know Orson Scott Carr.  Did you guys hear about Terry Pratchet?  That was kind of sad news.

Joe & Hanna: Yes.

Matt: Have you read the Disc World series?

Hanna: I have read a few of his books, but I don’t think I got as into them, but he was a big name, really important.

Matt: Okay, so it seems like surfing in the Staglands is a pretty ambitious step, pretty ambitious project for you guys.  I was looking at some of the previous ones.  It looks like the first ones, correct me if I am wrong, was a game called Snakes Like to Take.

Hanna: That wasn’t a game, that was just a hobby for our project.  It was an interactive children’s book.

Matt: What is that all about?

Joe: It was an RPG and there was a wizard.

Matt: I almost feel like there has to be on a couch and I am the psychoanalyst here.  There is some Freudian overtones.  Who thought of this?

Hanna: It was like winter the first time we experimented around making things, making interactive projects and this was one of them.  We were just seeing if we could do this, make games, and they were all a culmination to our first Staglands.

Matt: Snake Likes to Take, was that an Android or Iphone thing?

Hanna: It was an Iphone thing, it is not for sale anymore.

Matt: It almost sounds like you want to put some distance between you and Snake Likes to Take.  Is that something you look back on finally and…

Hanna: I look back at those experiences and freak.

Matt: I see that on your Kickstarter page, from the makers of Snake Likes to Take.  I think it is  pretty cool idea.  It has good educational value right?

Hanna: Yeah.  I think so.  If you are toddler and you like stealing things.

Matt: You kind of are stuck with this snake theme as you have Snake Likes to Take and now we have got Serpent in the Stagland.  Then probably the second is Ridge to the Moon.  No snakes in that.

Joe:  That was another one that we just kind of did.  I did that on my off time while I had a normal job for a few months and then we released that and I just kind of experimented with art and we just were tying to see if we could release something.

Matt: Just taking baby steps.

Hanna: Yeah, and then the next one, what is actually a real game.

Matt: Bridge to the Moon wasn’t a real game?

Joe: It was fun, it was a little experimental.  We sold it for like ¢.99 or something cheap.

Matt: Did you make lots of money with that one?

Joe:  Not a whole lot.  More with the other RPG that we did.

Matt: Isle of Bxnes  I will say one thing about this, putting that X in there.  It is pronounced Bones with the X there it is supposed to represent a cross bone.

Joe and Hanna: It is a cross bones, it comes across better in art than in words.  This is a good example of a learning experience.

Matt: One thing about spelling it this way, you can go to Google and type in Bxnes and nothing else pops up.

Hanna: You are right, we didn’t even have to Copyright that.  We were really savvy in the marketing department is what happened in retrospect.


Matt: You described it as in insanely difficult, prehistoric, ARPG action role-playing game and with procedural levels.  So I guess you were impressed with Darklands and getting killed right off the bat huh?  You guys kind of have a sadistic streak to you?

Joe & Hanna: Yeah, there is a theme.  The games kind of reflect that.  It is just the place I would like to think we can challenge.  It was more of an action game more like Diablo or something.

Matt: I like the prehistoric spin.

Hanna: That was fun.  We would like to use the IP again at some point, but for PC.

Matt: You are running into some issues you said having it on the Apple store having it updated or upgraded or something?

Joe: Working for like a mobile thing like that it is fine and lots of people do it and I am impressed with people that do it, but there is a lot of upkeep that goes into there.

Hanna: So many devices to test and I think for a small studio like ourselves it was not the best avenue.  With each year an amount of Q. A. are needed to make it successful.

Joe: We really didn’t want to add that to the Apple focus.

Matt: They can be really asses with all their requirements.

Hanna: Especially us liking these open world exploration games there is so little space on these games that you can have, it was just really not, I don’t think it is for us.

Joe: It wasn’t our final goal, but it was a good kind of stepping stone to getting to work on something like Serpent.  We were working on Serpent in the Staglands kind of during the Isle of Bxnes process, just kind of getting revved up, doing both simultaneously for awhile.

Matt: You did pretty well though right?

Hanna: It is still sold for the Android.

Matt: It is not on Apple though, you have to have an Android?

Joe: We removed it from the Apple store so it is on the Android right now.

Hanna: When Apple does its updates you have to update your apps too and I wasn’t making enough money for us to warrant that.

Joe: So the ones that own it on their Apple and they are the only ones that will I guess.

Matt: I like the esthetics on that game too.  I notice things when I play a game like when if you go to the loading screen and you have the look to that, little menus and things.  I noticed with that one everything looks like it all fits together esthetically right?

Joe and Hannah: I like doing the mattic.  Sometimes it is expensive for the user experience, but hopefully not.


Matt: I sense a little tension here between you two?

Hanna: I think that it is something that people might say that Pixelar and the bit map fonts we are using it is hard to have lots of tool tips and lots of things that are in modern games and they are called metafires and to get your menus and teach you what to do because there are limitations of the art.  Also, us wanting to have gothic vines everywhere and caveman gig with big rocks and use words like ‘me want’.  It is a tricky medium.  We are trying to walk the line between having a good user experience, but also keeping that theme.

Matt: More mover function?

Joe and Hanna: Yeah.  That happens.

Matt: Nothing bugs me more than you are playing a game, everything looks great, and then you pop up the loading or save screen and this box pops up and it looks like it comes from another planet than the rest of the game.  So I am glad that little touches like that that I appreciate.  You said that you are getting away, I guess you are tired of the procedural operation, randomized stuff.  You want to hand craft everything?

Joe: I think there is an art to both of them and I think our skill set kind of runs itself if you are hand crafting everything.

Hanna: I think so too.  Joe sets up these levels and designer and his attention to detail is really great and that is not something you can do with hand crafting.  He was setting up a table the other day and he made these fabric rules I think and he was just stacking all these fabric rules and these little bases and cups, that kind of thing you can only do if you are intentionally setting it in there.

Matt: You are serious about your textiles?

Joe: It is a big part of the game.  If you are into that then Staglines is for you.

Matt: I strongly agree with that because when you think about Balder’s Gate, one of my favorite series, it wouldn’t be the same if you are just always going to oh look you found the gray long-sword of the wolf or the big axe of the whatever.  It is just not as thrilling.  I like the idea that somebody put that thing there.

Joe: Exactly.  Of course the game play you know, can certainly accommodate something that is a little more randomized than Diablo I or II.

Hanna: We have mobs of female wolves or foxes spotted somewhat randomly and not all the time, they are a little dense there to see if it happens so your enemies have some random elements to it.

Matt: There are some random encounters in other words:

Hannah: Yes, and we have brand new encounters as well.

Matt: Every couple of steps?

Joe: Yeah.  On the over world map while you are traveling from hub map to hub map you can get ambushed along the way by a band of wolves or something.

Matt: As long as occasionally you have a rat encounter.

Joe and Hanna: A whole heard of rats, you can talk to rats if you have a woodwise aptitude you can talk to animals and rats.  That is where the telepathic thing is, you are using moderate slang calling rats.

Matt: You have a connection to rats? Yanking my chain here?  Okay, so you launched this Kickstarter back in April, 26, 2014, not that long ago.  You raised a little over $28,000.00, which is more than double the $10,000.00 you asked for.  I am just wondering did you anticipate that level of support with all the coverage or were you shocked by it, did it take you by surprise?

Joe and Hanna: It took us by surprise.  We had no idea how it was going to be received.  We had our video for it, it was an early techtile moment the art has changed so much now, and that matters so much for a Kickstarter.  Having a good presentation is pretty much all the marketing, so I wish we had a better presentation for all that, but we were shocked at how much reception we got for it.  Especially with only ending up having Isle of Bxnes be our only game before that and not many people had heard of it and the people that had were in the mobile market no apparent discomfort mobile forums so we didn’t really have the huge audience to pull from to ask or support us.  We were a super grateful for everyone who went in.  I felt like for the first three days we just sat there glued to our screen watching the number rise.  Could this work out for us?  I don’t know.  Originally we were not planning on using Kickstarter.  We were just going to be doing it ourselves on our free time while we were freelancing.  We felt we could jumpstart it and work on it straight and we can do that without lots of money.  We live together.  We don’t have huge office fees or anything like that.  It worked out great!

Matt: So the $28,000.00 that you raised from the Kickstarter, you also had some other money that you could put in there with that?

Joe: We had some personal money that we used for it, so that is what we have been doing since.

Hanna: We are pretty low budget, the Kickstarter was our main source of income I think.

Matt: I have heard you say that you received a ton of feedback from supporters and Beta testers and I have seen the game discussed everywhere, on RPG Codex, if you guys follow that.  Those guys are kind of interesting.

Joe: They know their stuff.

Matt: They are kind of scary with intelligence.  When I started to do my Matt Chat show I wanted it promoted on there so created a fake account on there and everything.  I just made comments on there occasionally.  I told them I was from another country.  I really thought I had them completely fooled.  The first time I started mentioning Matt Chatt, BAM!  Pounded!  They know a little something.  I am just wondering, how does it feel to be on the other end of all this feedback, I mean I assume probably mostly just questions and suggestions right?  Have you seen stuff that made you hmmmm that is kind of, I don’t know what to think of that or…?

Joe: Yeah, I mean if people are opting in for the Beta they know they have done their research and obviously if they are going to pay for that and help us out and they know what kind of game they are getting into.  We haven’t really had any out lyre suggestions, but lots of them have really helped with UI, making sure things make sense to other people.  That’s when outpost, since we have been with Kickstarter and we were going to be doing this full time and get the ground running and developing all this stuff and we might have missed some really obvious UI changes and people can help with this.  It probably would have made it eventually, but our Beta testers really helped with suggestions.

Matt: That is good.  It amazes me how you can have these, I don’t know how many millions, probably hundreds of millions of dollars, go into something like this Dragon age inquisition game, and they can’t even get the damned inventory anywhere close to being comfortable to use.  What is up with that?

Joe: I never played any of that.  I played the first one a little bit.

Matt: That is just one example.  I mean I could, seems like it is rare to find an RPG that makes sense.  You go in, put your armor on, he gets his junk and sell it.

Joe: Inventories and all, they are just not for the future.  I like to make lists I guess now.

Hanna: I do think you get, as for us, you get used to playing something and you don’t realize it is not usable because you have been testing it and playing it for so long so having the Beta testers is so great because it is someone who is not used to a system that doesn’t work well.

Matt: So nobody has been criticizing your making comments about anything other than minor issues?

Hanna: I think people are into our Youtube trailer, PC gamers.

Joe: Lots of people don’t like the sound of the game, but our Beta testers have been good.

Matt: What do they not like about it?

Hanna: If you don’t like 2D art or…

Matt: Screw those people, what do they know?

Joe and Hanna: Yeah, I know.  You don’t have to buy it.  It is certainly not a game for everybody.  That is why we are making it.  We are making it for people that miss older style RPG’s or tabletop inspired.

Matt: There seems to be lots of demand for that.  All these Kickstarters and we were just talking about the TSI and the Seven Dragon saga.  What do you think of that project?

Joe and Hanna: It has to be great.  I think it should be really like, I don’t know what it is called.  When you are arbitrating your character and you create the personality behind them and they get rewarded for that.  It is kind of a neat… I really like that system and the way they have it laid out, although I think their pitch wasn’t a flashy as maybe some other Kickstarter pitches.  I hope they still get the crowd that wouldn’t just immediately back a gold box successor.

Matt:  I was wondering about that too.  On the one hand gold box, the people that grew up playing those, that is all they have to hear and they probably won’t even watch the video.  I don’t know, they could have jazzed it up a bit.  Maybe they will update the video if they don’t get the reception they want.  I mean, I have already pledged.  They could have made it out of power point and I would have pledged there.

Joe: Yea, we pledged too.  They didn’t even need a video, just an image of a gold box rimmed game.

Matt: They could have just had a gold border on it and I would have played.  So here is a question.  Will there be a history of the Staglands available to read as a separate PDF or a book or is it all in the game?

Hanna: There is going to be a little bit of lore in the manual and more in the journal, which is for people who pledged to our Kickstarter or bought off our site.  There is not going to be s history text book specifically planned now.

Joe: You can write one if we make enough money.

Matt: You said there was a journal that goes with this available to people that Kickstarted it have?

Joe: No, you can get the journal if you order it off our website, we are just doing that.

Matt: Like turn the page 12 and entry 20 in the journal.

Joe: There is a handbook and then there is the manual that has a little more generic information that is like decoding things that might help you with certain native puzzles or different languages.

Hanna: We have an incantation book in the game, which you can type in words to shout and things happen like day turns to night, you light a torch, or you can pocket some money.  So the handbook has some special chants and incantations in it that other people wouldn’t know about.

Matt: Kind of like a mantra.

Joe: It is written in the perspective of that priest image in there earlier that helps you in the beginning of the game and is like a travel guide assuming you are not coming down for the dire reasons of the game starts and so it is kind of fun and it gives you a different perspective of the game world that you might actually see.  It is accurate, but it is from the priests perspective, not from like a game master’s perspective.

Matt: How long does this, a totally different topic, how long does it take to create and animate a single character sprite?

Joe: Two days? Well a sprite is made up of a head, a shield, potential, a normal weapon like a sword or a bow, but those are separate, but each sprite I want to say is about 1000 frames that are hand drawn.  The same goes for the head and the armors and all that.  For the armor sets those probably take two days.

Matt: I don’t know, is that good?  It doesn’t sound that bad, two days, but I guess that adds up.

Joe: Yeah, it ads up, and there is monsters and all that kind of stuff.  It wouldn’t have taken as long if we could afford a four directional character, but we wanted to do the A.

Matt: I was wondering about this because you said wanted this isometric view right?  So I like that view too, but I have never been able to understand why.  Maybe you could shed some light.  I am not an artist, I have no concept.  Why do I like that better?

Hanna: I think it is a comfortable view the way I look at the world because you can still see people’s faces not like a top down.  You see a personal connection.  You should ask me I actually have a little emotions with first person games so I only play isometric games.

Joe: It is a nice tactical for a game like this you want that tactical view.  You know a view like a game like Starcraft would have or even like Dark Sun or Bolder’s Gate any of these.  You get a nice kind of perspective and it is a familiar perspective in the RPG genre, people like.

Matt: I think it was Ultima 7 the Black Gate.  I always thought that one was a little strange because the little angle wasn’t quite on or something.

Joe and Hanna: Yes, this doesn’t fix it, but change it.  You want to take the game world and just shift it.

Matt: It is like the whole time you are like ahhhhhh funny planet some how.

Joe and Hanna: I played that long after it came out and I am so used to the ones that mostly used that it was extremely jarring.  We did take some time to figure out the optimal game world too.

Matt: So just a couple of last questions here folks.  Are you going to have mod tools with this or level editors included?

Joe: We are not.  We didn’t have enough time to implement the game starting how we did to make that feasible, so, I suppose someone can try, but we don’t really have the tools to add things on.  We have an expansion coming out after we finish it that gives you the last five levels that you can get and it takes place on some southern islands on a south peninsula.  It is free and that finishes it off.  There are no mod tools specifically to extend the game.

Matt: I don’t know if you know this or not, but it was an interesting question.  Do you know how many lines of dialog there are in the game?

Joe and Hanna: No we don’t.  You would know better than I, but no I do not.  No we don’t know.  There are quite a few.  You cannot talk to everybody, some people just are not interested in talking to you like civilians, settlers, people on the roads in tunics and little felt hats maybe, but the interesting people.

Matt: Rats?

Joe and Hanna: Rats, telepathically rats are extremely communicative.  Yeah, they are really chatty, I don’t know why.  As this went the game is really totally.

Matt: This is going to be released soon, do you have a monitor date picked out yet?

Hanna: In our trailer we put a little fun rune code at the end to decipher our release date, but it is May 28.

Matt: What is that, a couple of months from now?

Joe: We are going into polish and finalizing the levels.

Matt: Are you going to do that early access thing or just go straight to?

Joe and Hanna: We are just going to release it.

Matt: I wish I could give you a hug right now.  I am so wanting early access.

Joe and Hanna: A weird phenomenon.  I can see why developers do that, but we really want to just release the game as a company product.

Matt: I can too.  Exploit the hell out of the game.  Good for you.  I heartily approve that and endorse that 100%.

Joe: I feel bad for our Beta testers sometimes.  They have seen it so early on and it is so changed since version 1 that they are not going to be able to really probably experience it for the first time.

Matt: So you send them a pizza every now and then right?

Joe: They got their reward then.

Matt: So I guess that is about it for me.  I did want to ask one last thing for fun.  It has been awhile now, I had Mark Sutterwal on the show and he told me about this thing they did on Lucas Arts, I think you actually mentioned you like Lucas Arts games right?  So the other guy named Harry Cuning would ask when anyone came to him with a pitch for a game he told them that they had to complete this sentence, “For the first time ever……”  I thought that was kind of an unfair jerky move, but I guess people could do it like that.  Prince of Persia “For the first time ever I could control time.”  So is there anything we can say about Serpent of the Staglands that is for the first time ever?

Joe and Hanna: Oh, the first time ever experience that a Transylvanian bronze age as a God.  That sort of sums it up.

Matt: Experience of a Transylvanian bronze age as a God.

Joe and Hannah: Cannot think of anything.  I don’t know if that was the bronze age, it definitely wasn’t the bronze age.

Matt: It sounds like a great game to me.  I have already pre-ordered mine.  If you haven’t pre-ordered yours though, what is the name of that website to go to?

Joe and Hanna: or there is a link on

Matt: That is the first puzzle, if you cannot figure out how to buy the game don’t even play it.

Joe and Hanna: Just give up.

Matt: How much is it? Is it going to go on sale or what?

Joe and Hanna: It is going to be $19.99 or $20.00.  You should never pay more than $20 for a video game.

Matt: That is a good deal.  It is going to have in app purchasing?

Joe: No, think better of us.

Matt: Thanks guys, it was fun.

Joe and Hanna: This was great, thanks for having us.

Matt: If you wanted any input on the game I can always give you my own suggestions.  You probably know I am well known for my game names.

Joe: We are.

Matt: A lot of people do come to me for help naming their games.  You probably knew this already.

Joe: Oh yeah, we should have done that earlier in the process maybe, but.

Matt: I am kind of proud of that.  The Barton Still.  Barton’s Gate.  They tweaked the title a little.

Joe and Hanna: Yeah, a little.  The original is better.

Matt: Now I was thinking of this for you guys, if you are not happy with your title, so what do you think about this. Are you ready for this?  Free of charge?  Rodent, wait I am not done, Rodent in the Maplands?

Joe and Hanna: Oh wow.  I would have to think about it.  Maybe if the 28th rolls around and that doesn’t make it we can confuse a lot of people.  It may be a step in the right direction.  We can get the mainstream crowd with that.

Matt: Gotta have me a rodent.  All right guys, I will let you get back to your programming and whatever it is.  Have a good day and thank you very much, it has been lots of fun.

Joe and Hanna: Thanks for having us on, this was great.

Matt: No problem, my pleasure.


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