- Studio Archcraft came into the public eye when it originally revealed its plans for an elaborate role-playing experience for the Game Boy Advance called "Project Exile". Now the game has strong backing, has been moved to the Nintendo DS and has been developed considerably since its original conception, as well as receiving a new name, Cubed³ decided to catch up with the team to see exactly what was going on and what future plans were on the cards...
Cubed³'s Adam Riley: First of all, can you tell our readers how big the team is on this project, and how long the game has been in development?
Vincent Dehaut, Studio Archcraft: We've been working on Project: Exile for a pretty long time - we started the basic groundwork in 2001 or so, and began serious production work in 2002. We were still in school at that time, and the team was (and still is) fairly small considering the scope of the project. Overall, around twelve persons contributed to the project, excluding testers, and of those only three (the lead programmer, the lead artist, and the lead businessperson) worked on the project for the full duration of the project.
AR: What made you choose to bring the game from GBA to Nintendo DS? And what are some of the hurdles you have faced during the transitional period?
VD: The Nintendo DS is a really interesting platform to develop on - the moment it came out, we started thinking about making a project for it. Then we realized that Project: Exile would probably work even better on that console, and that the GBA would probably not be the most commercially viable choice for the game when finally came out.
The biggest hurdle in porting the project to the DS was actually on the design side. When we made the decision to port the game to the DS, we had to figure out exactly what changes we would make. Let's just say that it's very tempting to change the whole game when a big chance like that comes along. We toyed with many ideas, over maybe a month or two, some of which are really ridiculous in retrospect.
Ultimately, we realized that just about everyone who saw the game loved it as it was. Adding gimmicks would not have improved the game. So we decided to focus mostly on using the new console to enhance the game, instead of adding unneeded elements which would have changed the entire game experience.
AR: 'Project Exile' - is this a codename for the project, with the name set to change before its final release, or is it locked in place now? (If a codename, any chance of exclusively revealing the final name?)
VD: Project: Exile is a working title. The game will be published under the title "Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled."
AR: Given the added power and unique features of the DS, has this allowed you to expand upon the original concept considerably? If so, could you please give a few examples (such as possible menu navigation using the touch-screen)?
VD: As I mentioned, we really considered many options. We chose to use the DS solely to enhance the game experience. Concretely, this means that while the game itself didn't change, we're going to make the full game playable with the stylus only. We'll also support the standard control pad and button mode if the player prefers to use that, or any combination of touchscreen and buttons.
AR: 'Active-Time Tactical Combat RPG' is a bit of a mouthful. Can you break it down a bit for our readers? Looking at early footage of the GBA version, it appears to be a mix between Secret of Mana and Chrono Triggers styles - is this in any way accurate?
VD: The easiest way to approach this is to break it down in two parts. The system is "Active-time" - it's not turn-based. The battle runs at all times, whether or not the player inputs commands. That said, it's not an action game: while excellent reflexes might give a player a small advantage, they're not needed to win the game.
The game is "Tactical" - issues which rarely crop up in RPGs, such as the position of heroes and monsters, weapon types, or terrain type, matter in Project: Exile. For instance, some spells have areas of effect: if you keep your heroes in a clump, they're more vulnerable to it. Or in some battles, you can position your fighter-type hero to prevent some monsters from attacking your wizards, maybe by putting him in a narrow spot between two cracks in the ground. Of course, cracks in the ground don't bother flying enemies... or archers.
AR: And can you talk a little about the epic story that will be included and about the world of Bel Lenora?
VD: That's pretty hard to do without revealing spoilers... Basically, Bel Lenora is a land where almost everyone can use magic. In fact, only two persons have been known for not having any magic: our hero, Kairu, and a man named Vai, a man who betrayed Bel Lenora and led an army of demons and demon-worshippers against Bel Lenora. The country is now recovering from that devastating war.
Kairu, a war orphan, was raised by the man who defeated Vai. Obviously, as the only magic-less man alive, Kairu is not well-liked by the general population (although it's clear his foster family likes him, as do most people who know him.) However, Kairu's lack of magic creates lots of tension...
AR: Other than the main adventure, the team has revealed there will be several side-quests available. Can you provide an example? And what else is included to help extend the game?
VD: The sidequests we included go all the way from extra areas to explore which are totally unrelated to the main story, to supporting character-related tales, to ending-altering game segments focusing on the various characters and on the history of the world. In addition, we're planning many extra challenges to be tackled.
AR: You have shown off character art for six characters, but it has been stated there will be eight main ones in the final game. Can tell us a little about the group on offer and the two not yet shown?
VD: Again, that's hard to do without giving spoilers, so I'll focus on the characters' abilities instead. Each character is unique: for instance, one fighter is very powerful and tough, but slow, while another is significantly faster, but more fragile. Some wizards focus mostly on damaging spells, while another focus more on curses and other weakening spells. Finally, the game has no dedicated healer-type character. Many heroes have access to various healing abilities, but we don't have a character specifically focused on healing.
All of that was intended to let the player selects which character to use as much as possible. All characters are useful at all time - even against an enemy immune to fire, the fireball-throwing mage can do something.
AR: The various locations in the old GBA screenshots shown so far look as attractive as Squaresoft SNES classics such as Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana. Is this where your inspiration is coming from, or other sources?
VD: Obviously, we were inspired by those games - the SNES era was really the "Golden Age" of console role-playing games. That said, the game draws a lot from other games, too - some older, some newer.
AR: And how upgraded will the graphics be now you have the power of the DS behind the project?
VD: Project: Exile pushed the limit of what the GBA could deliver graphically. This gives a good idea on how good we want the game to look. We intend to keep improving Project: Exile's graphics until we deliver the Gold Master version of the game. This means that we're going to add more art assets, improve existing ones, and generally make the game more spectacular until the people at Graffiti pry the Gold Master disk from our fingers.
AR: It was announced back in October that Graffiti would be bringing the game to the US in February. Has this changed, or is that locked in place now? Also, what are the plans to bring this game to us Europeans eager to get a taste of RPG goodness on DS?
VD: As of today, a February ship date is of course impossible. Since Project: Exile is our first project, many hurdles which seem simple at first glance turn out to take quite a bit of time to overcome. Project: Exile enters beta in early April, however, so those hurdles have been overcome.
As for Europe, we're delivering the localized versions a few weeks after delivery of the English gold master. So assuming the publishing and distribution process takes the same time for Europe as for North America, the game should be available in Europe and Japan a few weeks after it's available in North America.
AR: What stage are you at in the project and considering Vincent Dehaut has told fans the company has 'plans' (pleural), do you already have one eye on a potential follow-up? Or is there anything else you can reveal to us?
VD: Studio Archcraft intends to continue developing games, plural, after Project: Exile is published. Obviously, Project: Exile 2 is one of the options we're considering. The next big step for us is to start developing multiple games at the same time, and we've already started doing some preliminary work on that.
AR: What are your thoughts on WiiWare? Will Studio Archcraft be actively looking to support this service? And do you see a future for your company's games on Wii and DS in general?
VD: Anything which makes it easier for new developers to enter the market is a great thing. We're certainly going to take a serious look at WiiWare, especially as a stepping stone to Wii development.
We're already at the concept stage for future DS products. We would also like to try developing games for Wii, although that's more of a long-term plan - we don't have the resources in place to seriously consider it at the moment.
AR: Finally, what are some of your favourite RPGs from the past?
VD: I'm a huge fan of the old SSI games for PC: the Gold Box series, the Eye of the Beholder series, etc. I also enjoy replaying the old NES RPGs once in a while. Dragon Warrior 4 was the birth of the modern story-driven RPG, and it's a surprisingly deep game. And, as I mentioned, Final Fantasy 4 and 6 and Chrono Trigger are masterworks.