Not too long ago, I posted up an article about a game called Artizens currently up on Kickstarter; a platforming game project with a huge emphasis on personalizing your characters through a powerful customization system. I was impressed, and in my efforts to find out more, I was fortunate enough to land an interview with Charles Amis, co-founder and game designer for Artizens, Inc. Here’s what he had to say about the game, the team, and what we have to look forward to from Artizens.
TRISCY: How and when did you all meet each other? Any interesting stories you could tell?
CHARLES: Adam and I met in graduate school about 6 years ago and immediately bonded when we learned we both loved Xenogears. We started dreaming up games of our own right away since we were both studying game design. Kai and I met as interns at Gamelab and became close friends later when we both worked at E-Line Media as the main game designer and programmer respectively for Gamestar Mechanic. Adam and Kai then met when we all got together to start planning our own company.
TRISCY: Is this your first collective project that you’ve worked on with this team? What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome as a team to make this game thus far?
CHARLES: I’ve worked with both Adam and Kai separately on about 2 or 3 games and together we’ve worked on one other small game to get our bearings as a team. I think the greatest challenge we’ve overcome so far was finding great new team members. Derrick, Howie, and Simon are amazing at what they do, great to work with, and we’re so glad they’re on the team. We really couldn’t do this without them.
TRISCY: How did the idea for Artizens originate?
CHARLES: Adam and I wanted to make a game that really integrated player creations into a single world and made them matter to gameplay. We’ve always loved action platforming games as well and the 2D side perspective makes them quite ideal for featuring simple player drawings. This started off as something for school, but we never stopped working on it after graduation.
TRISCY: How bizarre are some of the characters you have made in your own game so far? In other customization-friendly games?
CHARLES: Well we have one guy we affectionately call Fatty Bear. I created him when I was trying to make the largest possible Artizen without using any jumbo mods. He’s the color of toothpaste and has red eyes, but I haven’t decided what gear he uses yet…he may just go commando and cheer Artizens on from the sidelines. It doesn’t offer a huge amount of customization, but in Terraria, I made my character look like Franky from One Piece. We’re all big fans.
TRISCY: Do you fear any repercussions of offering so much customization?
CHARLES: Bring it on! Imaginations are not always pretty, but they are always personal. I think everyone will like what they personally make, but I know other people won’t feel the same way. We’ve got simple and fast tools to let players hide any content they don’t want to see, so I that should help on that front. Me personally, I’m looking forward to seeing everything that people come up with.
TRISCY: What are you planning for the game to offer it that strong sense of community and replay value?
CHARLES: We’re planning on having semi-random missions and ongoing content, which should add a lot of value to continued play of the game. We’ve also got a few features to foster a great community, like the trading post where you can buy and sell gear and drawings from other players, the mercenary board where you can choose new party members from the community, an emergency support feature that allows pros to help newbies in trouble, and our MMO town where you can see everyone else running around in all their crazy gear. As we grow, we want to do it alongside our community, so we’re setting up tools to allow players to easily suggest new features or vote on their favorite ones that we’re considering putting in.
TRISCY: What do you believe might have influenced this game outside of video games and Magic: The Gathering? Any films, shows, or otherwise?
CHARLES: I love a good buddy flick and seeing great teamwork in action in TV shows. It’s something I aspire to in my work and I also want Artizens to have all the challenge and tools needed for great teamwork to emerge. I’m also a really big Dr. Seuss fan and I think a lot of his absurd creations have influenced my monster, plant, and world designs as well.
TRISCY: What’s your plan for the game’s soundtrack? Any specific styles in mind?
CHARLES: Adam is our composer and he has about 13 tracks put together for the game so far. You can listen to them here. He’s inspired by japanese game composers like Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu, but also Darren Korb and Jim Guthrie.
TRISCY: At the moment, you’ve been showing off the ideas for armor and character customization, but are you at all considering allowing players to create new environments to play in? If so, how would you plan to handle that?
CHARLES: We’ve gotten a lot of requests for this, so we’re definitely considering it. It will be a big feature to let players create their own levels, so it won’t come until we’re past our first planned release. Also, once people are in and playing, they may want a different feature more than a level editor, so we’ll see how things go.
TRISCY: So this is more of a personal question, but when I saw Northington, I was immediately in love with his projectile-reflecting beard. Is there any chance I would be able to get that for my character, since I am a quite bearded man in real life? Or is that rather special ability only for the respectable lumberjack samurai?
CHARLES: You could make a reflective beard yourself pretty easily. Just combine the mask craft with a reflective mod and draw it to look like a beard. Voila! Reflective beard is yours!
TRISCY: In the Kickstarter video, you primarily show off the customization of the armor. Though characters of different appearances do show up in the background, you don’t really show off too much of the creation under the layers of metal/fur/swimwear or what have you. How powerful is the character creation in the game for the actual look of your character? Is it as powerful as drawing the different portions of your characters, as the armor is?
CHARLES: Our basic character creation system is quite simple. You can choose to be male or female, pick a face type, skin color, hair style, and hair color. The reason it has so few options is because we want the true customization to come from the workshop and making your own stuff. All of the characters you see in the trailer look different because they’re wearing armor that makes them look that way. If you draw a helmet and chestplate to look like a face and shirt, then you can become anyone you want to be. Furthermore, with mods to armors, you can also change your body shape and size. Also, you’re not locked into any of the choices you make in the initial character creation system. If you want to change your underlying hair style or even face, there’s a place in town for that.
TRISCY: Since you have worked on other projects before, I must ask what might be a tough question. If you had to pick, what would you say would be your absolute favorite game you’ve completed before Artizens? What do you feel you might have gotten out of making that game that will help you with Artizens?
CHARLES: I think it’s definitely Chamball. It’s a sport that mixes martial arts and dodgeball with 15 feet of rope. You play on teams of 3 in a circular playing field with a ball attached to a rope anchored in the middle. Players then try to hit the other team with the ball by swinging the rope, but everyone can block with their forearms and lower legs adding the martial arts dynamic of attacking and blocking. Adam and I started it up together, then I refined the game over three years with a bunch of friends, including Kai. What we all learned about the importance of playtesting and refining over the long-term will certainly help with making an ongoing game like Artizens really shine over time.
TRISCY: Are you planning to bring about any grand-scale monsters, such as the Lao-Shan Lung from Monster Hunter? Huge, possibly special-event style beasts of the sort?
CHARLES: They won’t be in the first release, but we’d love to add really gigantic Lao-Shan sized bosses to the game. I think there could be a great fit with having a boss that is covered in moving platforms and has various weak points that need to be dealt with.
TRISCY: Where do you see the game going long after you’ve completed the base games? How are you going to go about expanding on it?
CHARLES: As long as there’s interest and we can keep the business running, honestly. I think Artizens would make a fantastic long standing franchise and just get better over time as the number of crafts, monsters, and locations grow.