By Jen Carman on September 9, 2014 at 4:05pm
Our current gaming market is flooded with shiny, high-end graphics that render dust in sunbeams and ultra-realistic physics that make sure your character's hair blows in the gentle breeze swirling around them just so. All of that is incredible, and for some genres, namely fantasy and shooters, those visuals really pay off. But then you come across something like "Moon Hunters," and you remember that simplicity is beautiful in its own right, too. "Moon Hunters" by Kitfox Games is an action/adventure RPG for one to four players and offers a vibrant, beautiful experience which utilizes pixel art and is currently collecting a pretty penny on Kickstarter.
The story of "Moon Hunters" begins with the mysterious disappearance of the Moon, the central goddess in the world’s mythology and religions. As an adventurer, you leave your tribe to join others devoted to doing all it takes to discover what has happened and to set things right before the evil Sun grows too powerful. As you play through again and again, you help to shape the mythology of the world as the characters you create become the heroes of legends or the scoundrels who tried to trick them. There are five classes to choose from: Witch, Spellblade, Occultist, Druid, and Songweaver. Each class is associated with one of the world’s tribes and is fashioned to reflect the biome that tribe inhabits.
Personally, I had a blast with "Torchlight II" and "Castle Crashers," so just watching the short animations Kitfox posted to their Kickstarter page hooked me instantly. Kitfox themselves describe it as "Legend of Zelda" meets "Castle Crashers," which, is unbelievably encouraging. Player Theory had the chance to speak with Tanya Short, designer for "Moon Hunters," and co-founder of Kitfox Games.
Player Theory: First and foremost, "Moon Hunters" is beautiful. Was there anything in particular that inspired the decision to use watercolors during design or any of the other artistic choices that were made? How did you choose the artist for this project? Was there a process, or did you already have someone in mind?
Tanya Short: Thank you! Xin Ran Liu is the Kitfox artist, period, a co-founder alongside me and the programmers. He's a trained concept artist and illustrator but very technically skilled as well. He created most of the art for our last title ("Shattered Planet"), but for that one, we didn't give him the time to really incubate a distinctive art direction. For "Moon Hunters," he and I agreed on a very general direction to start ("occult," "pixel art," "fantasy"), and while the rest of the team finished up "Shattered Planet," he went and iterated several times on the environments and color palette. He also worked closely with G.P. Lackey (a pixel artist who also worked on "Fez") on the character design and animation, which had a strong influence on later iterations.
PT: "Moon Hunters" centers very heavily around mythology and pantheons. Is there anything in particular that inspired that aspect of the game design? Was there a certain culture that you borrowed from or built upon?
TS: It was mostly me, to be honest, and my personal fascination with mythology, folktales, and the occult. I've always owned several books on those topics, from story collections to a copy of the "Lesser Key of Solomon," haha! When Xin and I were working together initially to come up with the world's tone and structure, we chose Bronze Age Assyria specifically with wider inspirations from across ancient Mesopotamia (Akkadia, Sumeria, Babylonia, etc.). We think it's the richest, least-explored area, which also contains the kinds of conflicts we're looking for: the formation of beliefs, the clash between polytheism and monotheism, and the first myths of heroism. I was particularly enchanted with the so-called "cult" of Inanna/Ishtar/Astarte, who meant different things to different regions and peoples. We are adopting this directly with our in-game cultures and their beliefs about the Moon goddess.
PT: With this being your second undertaking, the first being "Shattered Planet," has development been any easier? What did you learn from your experience while developing "Shattered Planet" that has helped you build "Moon Hunters" into the successful Kickstarter that it has become?
TS: We're definitely more at ease with each other! When we started, we were all basically strangers with a good gut feeling. Now we all know each other much better, and we have all that procedural generation experience. I worked in MMOs for nearly five years, but I think it's "Shattered Planet" that really helped boost trust in Kitfox and the team, that we were capable of pulling this off.
PT: Speaking of Kickstarter, is this your first project funded through the site and what has that experience been like for you? Have you seen a lot of feedback from your backers?
TS: Yep, it's our first! It's been hectic of course, but one of the programmers and I distracted ourselves by going to PAX last week, which was even more craziness! It's mostly underlined to me the important of building up your community BEFORE the Kickstarter -- we'd be nowhere if we hadn't been working on Moon Hunters art and design for the past 8 or 9 months, even if it was on the back-burner. The response has been shockingly positive, and has been since the start, so we knew we had to keep going. As for feedback, it's been mostly requests for new platforms, to be honest, not a lot of input on world and characters -- yet!
PT: You're the first developer that we've spoken to that got started through the Square Enix Collective. What was it like working with Square Enix to get the ball rolling on "Moon Hunters?" How would you say the Square Enix Collective is different from other game developer launchpads like Steam Greenlight?
TS: It was pretty great! From the beginning, "Moon Hunters" has benefited. Phil Elliott from Square Enix is really a supporter of indie games and studios, and he's been really helpful! I think our project in particular might benefit more than some others because it feels a bit influenced by older Square Enix titles, so our fanbases have a strong overlap, but their network and ability to grab press attention shouldn't be underestimated. It feels completely different from Greenlight, to be honest. Greenlight and Kickstarters are platforms where you send EXISTING fans to help out your game/dev-team, whereas Collective is a platform you use to FIND NEW FANS.
PT: Of all of the beautiful and imaginative aspects of "Moon Hunters, which are each of you the most proud of? For instance, as there a particular class design that you mulled over for weeks before it finally felt perfect or did any of the tribes really resonate with you?
TS: Sometimes I just stare at photos of Iran, and the ruins or surviving landscapes there, and imagine what it'd be like live there with the gods walking among my people. I know we have fantasy elements (magic, moth-people, etc.), but I'm most proud of the elements of each tribe that make it coherent. Some tribes have fewer natural resources, or different terrain challenges, and attitudes towards hierarchy and storytelling. If I can successfully help the player understand the differences between different tribes' cultures, without spelling it out in a menu or exposition, I'll be extremely proud.
PT: On a similar note, what is your favorite class to play and why?
TS: So far, the Spellblade is definitely my favorite. He's a bit overpowered -- we'll fix that before launch -- but for now he's the best for knocking enemies around and just destroying everything. I'm looking forward to getting the Occultist fully functional though. I think she'll be really fun, and need a bit of finesse, with having the most control over enemy positioning. Hopefully grouping them up and blasting them will be as satisfying as I think it will be...
PT: One of the really big things that makes Moon Hunters unique from other games is the mythology system you have in place for the characters - where they can become a part of the game's pantheon and mythos through doing great deeds. Do the personality traits your character can achieve affect gameplay at all? If I get the "Trickster" trait, how would the game respond to me?
TS: Yes! So, Trickster is actually one of my favorites. Tricksters typically don't get the full trust of village elders (so you can't help them with sensitive, high-risk tasks like diplomacy or shepherding), but they're a favorite among children, and some characters will only talk to you, letting you in on their secrets, if you have a reputation for mischief. Most traits don't effect combat very much, but some extreme ones (Cursed, Blessed, One-Eyed, etc.) might. We're toying with the idea of Tricksters having a better dodge, but we haven't decided yet. Regardless, traits will always be a primarily dialogue/character-driven system.
PT: What has been the most difficult hurdle in the development of "Moon Hunters" and what came to your team the easiest?
TS: We anticipate developing for the PlayStation 4 (and maybe the Vita, if the Kickstarter goes well) will be a challenge, since we've never gone through the certification process for a console before. But so far, the surprisingly easy thing was the dialogue systems -- Jongwoo Kim, our gameplay programmer, built the systems for it in just a day or two and it already feels good to use. We have lots of plans to improve its functionality, but so far it's been great building on our knowledge of systems and events from Shattered Planet.
PT: After "Moon Hunters" is released and everyone loves it, are there any other plans on the horizon for Kitfox Games?
TS: Our lead programmer, Mike Ditchburn, is always playing around with random little prototypes, and I think he's eager to jump on a couple of those, always involving procedural generation and usually spaceships. And the artist, Xin, and I have been talking about a King Arthur-themed kingdom building game for over a year now since before "Shattered Planet!" So I don't really know what exactly is next, we're not focused on that yet, but we're definitely going to keep making games together for years to come, and they'll probably always be about exploring interesting worlds. "Moon Hunters" is only the beginning.
The "Moon Hunters" Kickstarter runs until Sept. 26. If you become a backer right now, $15 will get you a digital copy of the game upon release.
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