SnowCastle Games is an award-winning indie game development studio based in Oslo, Norway. Founded in 2009 by Bendik Stang and Erik Hoftun, the studio cut their teeth few mobile games such as “Hogworld” and “Scale Tower”. Today, they are developing their most ambitious project yet — a beautiful 3D RPG designed called “Festival of Magic” for the PC, Mac, and Wii U. The game is being designed with the Unity engine. You play as Amon, a desert scavenger who teams up with his companion Gnart to reveal the mysteries of their world. What makes this RPG unique from other role-playing games is the ability to harvest ammunition and spells for your weapons.
Bendik Stang, co-founder of SnowCastle Games, was nice enough to chat with Dromble about the studio and their beautiful game.
Please tell us a little bit of background information on SnowCastle Games. How many people currently work at your studio and what games have you worked on in the past?
We started up Snowcastle back in 2009 and spent the first year doing small games for clients while building our team and skills. Our first self-published game was a small childrens’ story for iOS/Android/Mac. It was a demonstration on how to tell a story like the old adventure games of the 80s. After that we all sat down and in a very democratic way decided to make an Adventure-RPG with turn based combat. The vote was unanimous, so although we are a little group of very different personalities, we obviously have one thing in common.
Festival of Magic is a big, beautiful 3D roleplaying game. Is it challenging for a small studio (like yourself) to tackle such an ambitious project? What does it cost to create a game like Festival of Magic, and how do you keep development costs from skyrocketing?
Yes, we have a rather small in-house team of only 6 people, but then we have some really talented external team members too. I would say our limited budget is definitely our biggest hurdle, though limitations may
also be a good thing.
SnowCastle Games was recently at Pax Prime 2013 to show off a playable alpha build of Festival of Magic. What type of feedback did you receive from those who played the game? Do you see any areas of the game that need improvement?
PAX really exceeded our expectations and we received amazing feedback from all kinds of gamers. A lot of people shared our longing for these type of games with colorful worlds and simple, but addictive gameplay. Of course we received some great feature requests, suggestions and constructive criticism, but most importantly we could observe how people played the game and see their reactions. We have already sorted out some known and some previously unknown issues with the current version which have really enhanced the experience.
Can you briefly explain the game?s battle system? Also, were there any games that helped influence Festival of Magic?s gameplay mechanics?
We wanted the battle system to be back to basics turn-based, but at the same time refine it and make battles feel responsive, smooth and modern. While the core gameplay and setup will feel familiar, the way it’s presented is unique. So, briefly put, you control a party of three pairs. Each pair has a warrior and protector character whom the player has to choose between for each round. Warriors can attack with the aid of magic consumables such as spuds and pearls, while Protectors can use defensive spells. The player can switch around the characters for different pair combinations to get access to new Special abilities and also affect the stats of each pair – so if you pair Ivory with Gnart the pair will have higher defense, lower strength and have access to their unique pair abilities.
Festival of Magic was shown earlier this year in a Nintendo of Europe video highlighting upcoming games for the eShop. Describe your relationship with Nintendo – do you find them to be easy to work with? Are you happy with their current policies regarding indie developers?
We met with Dan Adelman and Tim Symons at GDC in San Francisco in March this year. Before GDC we had no hopes for developing for the Wii U, but the meeting changed this. Coming back from the conference we found ourselves fast tracked through the certification process. It was our first experience working with one of the 3 big ones, and we feel really well taken care of.
At PAX Prime a few weeks ago, we met with Mr. Adelman again, and talked about our need for some extended eShop features. We would like a lot of stuff that the eShop currently does not support; like public beta testing and an in-game shop for the DLCs. He told me that they wanted to accommodate our needs, but it would take some time to get all the features in. So hopefully by the time we are ready with FoM, those features will be added to the eShop.
Do you have the game currently running on any Wii U development kits? How much work does Unity help cut down in porting the PC version to Wii U?
We have the Wii U dev kit up and running, and until this week, we have only focused on getting a stable PC/Mac build ready for PAX, Publishers and Investors. Now that we have accomplished that, we have just started working on the Wii U version of FoM. It sure could use a little plug-and-play functionality, I must say, but with some support from Nintendo I’ll bet that we have the current build running on the Wii U next week.
Are you interested in bringing Festival of Magic to any consoles from Sony or Microsoft? Also, what is your studio’s current stance on Ouya? Do you see much of a future with Ouya?
We would of course love to distribute our game as widely as possible. That said, with our small team, there is only so much we can do. Right now we are focusing on WiiU, PC and Mac, but once we have that under control or if our team grows a little, we soon might add one or two more platforms to the list. And OUYA could be one of those platforms. We just need to make sure we are spending our extremely limited time where we will benefit from it the most. As it seems right now, and I do hope it changes, we won’t be able to make all that much money on the OUYA.
Many RPGs are well known for having a beautiful soundtrack. Can you tell us anything about the music in Festival of Magic?
Music is a huge part of the experience. We started as early as possible with the score to inspire the team and establish the right mood for the game. Our composer Eiko Ishiwata is an incredibly talented
multi-instrumentalist and a JRPG expert. You should check out her acoustic covers of classic Final Fantasy songs on her Youtube channel. Amazing stuff.
The game’s art direction seems to be a blend of both east and west. Does the art direction draw any inspiration or influences from other games or animated films?
There’s too many influences to list here, but in general it’s high quality stuff we all love like Disney classics, Studio Ghibli, Legend of Zelda, Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy series and western games such as Beyond Good and Evil, and Monkey Island. So all fairly big budget stuff!
Aside from RPGs, are there any other genres that SnowCastle Games would love to tackle?
While we wish to make the Adventure RPG genre and storytelling our speciality and niche, it would be fun to do something completely different at some point to keep the team inspired – maybe a simple puzzle game or a clever platformer or a racing game or a fps/mmo or….No, just kidding, we are super happy just making RPG & Adventure games.
Many fans expect RPGs to tell epic stories with complex characters. Regarding Festival of Magic, how important is it to tell a good story in an RPG?
We want to make sure the story dictates the content of the game so we already have the rough outline of the story for the whole project. As a small team it’s important to find clever solutions to enable us to tell a
so-called epic story. It would certainly be awesome to do insane CG cutscenes, but we would rather spend our budget on more content and more gameplay. So while story is key to motivate and immerse the player, we want the player to be playing more than just watching. Most of the story will be told through dialog and in-game triggered events, for example while the party is running across the desert a huge airship appears and the characters start commenting the situation while the camera is directed towards the point of interest.
How far in completion is the game (percentage % wise)? When we can expect Festival of Magic to release on PC, Mac, and Wii U?
While we’re only in early alpha stages of development, we have spent a lot of effort developing the tools and the systems we need for production. If everything goes as planned the first two episodes of FoM should be ready within Q4 2014 – so within a year.