There haven’t been many truly good RPGs on Xbox Live Indie Games. Many have made the attempt but fallen flat thanks to their ambition exceeding their skills, with only the odd gem such as Zeboyd Games’ Cthulhu Saves the World or Chaosoft’s EvilQuest standing out as competent. Creating a carefully balanced, in-depth game experience with engaging characters, a compelling plot and an immersive world is quite the Herculean task, but Wimbus Studios are the next to step up with their planned 2013 release of Chain.
Though it’s still in the early days, the trailer for Chain bodes well. The character designs are distinctive and Wimbus Studios waste no time in establishing an equally distinctive tone, with a Pale Rider-esque grizzled priest administering blunt force justice to a clown. Whether or not that sight makes you chuckle, it’s clear that Wimbus have a clear idea of where they’re going with this game. Even now, with the game not set to release until next year, the character designs and sense of humour set Chain apart.
Of course, these elements alone don’t make a good game, and the key to it all will be how well Wimbus manage to handle their RPG’s gameplay. Wimbus lay claim to a unique and deep character development system, which could make all the difference in ensuring Chain lives up to its early promise. Regardless, it looks like the core component of any good game is already present and correct here: fun. Whatever else Chain may bring to the table it already has a sense of fun, and that gives it a head start against the competition. If you like your RPGs to have a dose of character, keep your eye on this one. It might be going places.
Wimbus’ Steve Sefchick took some time out from the studio’s busy RPG-creation schedule to field a few of The Indie Mine’s most probing queries.
Introduce us to Wimbus Studios! Who are you? What was the studio’s origin?
Wimbus Studios is a 4-piece development team out of the South Jersey/Philadelphia area. The team is composed of Rebecca Mount (art), Mike Williams (audio), Bristow (game design/writing), and myself (Steve Sefchick, programmer). We all met in college and studied the same Game Design program, but we didn’t actually form this team and start making games together until YEARS after we’ve graduated! Fate kind of brought us together again and we’ve been working on this game for almost two years now! That’s the story so far!
Any RPG that uses colourful 2D visuals and turn-based battles will be compared to certain classic games, but what are your influences? Are there particular games that inspired you in the way you approached Chain?
The funny thing about this question is that it would change depending on who you ask! We all grew up with classic RPGs, and we certainly all have favorites, so our influences are all across the board! I think games that inspired gameplay the most were probably classics like Final Fantasy VI, Earthbound, and Chrono Trigger.
As for approaching how we developed Chain, we were forced to look at a lot of games objectively. We picked a lot of features and design elements that borrowed from some of our favorites, while tailoring them to how the game plays. One of the combat features in our game is the ability to team up with other party members to perform devastating attacks. Sound familiar? What we wanted to do for our game in particular, however, was to make it so that these attacks were that much more climactic and made it so you had to build up a “Combo Bar” to perform them. The higher you’ve built up this Combo Bar, the more allies you can include in the attack and the more damaging the skill is.
Are you big indie game players yourselves? Any favourites?
Absolutely! Indie is where it’s at! Some of our favorites are Binding of Isaac, Castle Crashers and Breath of Death VII.
What made you decide to make use of the Xbox Live Indie Games channel for Chain’s distribution? How are you getting on with Microsoft’s XNA development tools?
The biggest decision was accessibility. I had already developed a full game for XBLIG and several other prototypes, so since XNA was already a familiar language to me it just made sense. That being said – we don’t plan to be exclusively XBLIG long term, and with luck you’ll see us on Steam in the future!
The tools themselves are great. As a programmer, XNA has been downright delightful to work with and we haven’t really run into a single roadblock due to the platform.
We see a few playable characters in the trailer, including the stern-looking Father Fury and the quite literally faceless Joel. Do you feel that distinctive characters are important to a game?
One of the reasons that we focused so heavily on introducing the characters in the trailer is our dedication and focus to those characters. We use a four-character structure, so these four will make up your party the entirety of the game but as the game progresses you’ll learn much more than just their personalities. In fact, the story itself is driven by the character’s motivations, goals, and actions rather than an overarching plot.
One more thing that we wanted to drive home more than anything is how differently these characters played in combat. Chain uses a class-based system, and each character has access to 6 different unique classes. So with 24 total classes, we wanted them all to be very specific to the character, while being able to compliment each other. Some of the longest and hardest development drives have been based around the brainstorming and decisions for these classes and the skills related to them.
How did Chain‘s creation begin? Did you set out to make an RPG and go from there, or did the plot, the characters or the setting come before that?
Before the team formed I had written what would essentially become Joel’s origin story, and had already started programming the basics of an RPG. Bristow became interested, and started writing up some characters, settings, and basically putting some quality around what I had put together. I remember jokingly saying to him, “Oh, all we need is an artist and a composer and we’re set!” VERY shortly after saying that he had reached out to Mike and Rebecca for their interest, and the rest is history!
So I guess to answer your question we certainly have always wanted to make an RPG, but beyond that all of the creative direction has been very nontraditional – but that’s how we like it! The entire team has input and a say in every creative decision we make, from character skills to city designs to boss fights and everything in between!
It’s often been said that the indie development community is very supportive, but there have also been some horror stories of apathy and elitism. Have you had much involvement with other developers? If so, how have you found it? Or if not, what was behind that decision?
Both fortunately and unfortunately, not really. We’ve kept the game as a whole relatively quiet, and it wasn’t until the last month that we revealed the trailer and started becoming a lot more social about the game. This was intentional, we wanted to come to the table with something to show…it just took us a long time to get here!
Has working on Chain taught you anything that you’d like to share with other hopeful developers?
1- Have fun! If you’re not having fun…you’re doing it wrong!
2- Team arguments happen. When they do – it’s not a big deal!
3- Don’t be afraid to show others what you’ve done! Get people playing your game!
Do you have anything planned for after Chain hits the virtual shelves? Any future projects?
Not yet! It looks like we’ll still have our hands full with Chain for a while – but trust me when I say we’ve got ideas!
Chain by Wimbus Studios is planned to release in 2013 on Xbox Live Indie Games. Watch out for updates at Wimbus Studios’ website, and check their YouTube channel for the latest trailer.
A medieval historian by training, Alan tries by day to balance impending doctoral research with branching into freelance journalism. He brings to bear his 25+ years of gaming experience to promote overlooked quality games and occasionally wax philosophical about the industry. Alan can forgive flaws, but is merciless with those games that have no respect for their audience.
In addition to The Indie Mine, he reviews Xbox Live indie releases on his blog, www.theindieocean.com, and can be followed on Twitter @AlanWithTea