Our excuse for interviewing you is the recent launch of your latest game, Akaneiro: Demon Hunters. How is the game doing so far?
The game has been officially launched for about one week now and based on the numbers we're getting back, the reviews and the player feedback, we can say it's doing great. We've already had enough demand to justifying new servers in Asia, which is something we weren't expecting to do for some months still.
You seem to have a thing for… deconstructing fairytales and putting them back together in a darker, less innocent fashion. Akaneiro takes perhaps the darkest look into the tale of Little Red Riding Hood ever and even moves her from medieval Europe to feudal Japan. They are oddly unique and perhaps even a little disturbing at times. What lies behind your desire to twist stuff around?
My fascination with fairy tales derives mainly from their shared origins and history, which is tightly woven with our own origins and histories as human beings. Fairy tales often contain our most basic fears and common lessons in social behavior. These lessons transcend cultural boundaries because their origins lie in times prior to written narrative, prior to the separation of men into distinct tribes. By exploring these themes we can tap into powerful subconscious mechanisms that continue to shape our world today. With Akaneiro in particular, it's an exploration of man's relationship with nature – and an exegesis on the need for balance.
It certainly makes for a gaming experience that is both creative and out of the ordinary. One could even call it your trademark, but is there more to it than that? Would you say that your games give players a peek into how your brain works outside of creating games?
Games are a peak into the collective brains of all the people who were involved in making them. They are like the rings of a tree – every decision made during development leading to the final “growth” you explore while playing. All our human creations take on a similar reflective quality. For this reason, to suggest these games are merely a peak into my own brain would ignore the collective contribution required to bring them to market. I would feel comfortable allowing that the game themes are a peak into my own personal narrative and into topics that I frequently find myself exploring.
What sparked the idea to ‘marry’ Little Red Riding Hood to a Japanese theme?
Akaneiro: Demon Hunters began as a kernel of an idea in my brain, spawned by the reading of a book called “The Lost Wolves of Japan,” but that theme was given shape by the project's Creative Director, Ben Kerslake; his creative partner, Matt Razzano, and my long-time creative partner R.J. Berg.
“The Lost Wolves of Japan,” details the destruction of wolves in Northern Japan around 100 years ago. This extermination came at the hands of Western cattlemen who had introduced beef consumption and cattle ranching to a people who were vegetarian – and who lived in relative balance with nature. This history seemed to invite further exploration and expansion – with my idea being to illuminate the man vs. nature aspects present in the reality and fairy tales we create.
Your studio, Spicy Horse, has a strong focus on Free to Play games. Is it easier to launch a Free to Play title than it is with a full game?
Nothing is “easier.” Console games, mobile games, F2P games – all come with unique challenges and require specific sets of skills to be developed and published with success. When we made the pivot towards online F2P games, we were able to build the core game quite easily. We struggled a bit to get the client-server back end written and integrated. Then we failed miserably at the actual “F2P” elements, in terms of simply not including them (this was with our first F2P title, “BigHead BASH”).
Since our first release we've learned to embrace our ignorance while working to improve our games and the monetization models contained within. It's starting to feel like we've got the hang of it – we've learned a tremendous amount. Relative to the big successes in the space we still have a long way to go though!
Have you considered finding a publisher for the game, or have you left that field completely?
With our new games we still happily enter into publishing relationships. This happens mostly in territories where government regulations forbid us to distribute directly (like China) or where local expertise is critical (like Russia). These kinds of publishing arrangements are symbiotic and beneficial to both developer and publisher as they don't result in the publisher owning our IP or placing restrictions on our ideas.
Do you feel that the way that your wish to express your creativity is incompatible with “your average modern day publisher”?
Absolutely not. You have to understand that a modern publisher is the product of the environment in which it evolved – if you wish to make a game directed at the audience that's evolved into the traditional (console) market, then these publishers are the best way to get there – especially when massive development budgets and marketing efforts are a perquisite.
The question is whether or not I'll some day want to develop another large budget title directed at that market. Never say never.
You’ve roamed quite a bit after you left the United States and lived in three different locations. Interestingly enough, they have all been in China. What is the attraction to China, and why did you eventually settle in Shanghai?
China is currently passing through a period unparalleled in the history of man. Industrialization and modernization introduced so rapidly and to so many people at once is creating an accelerated birth of nation. Our modern world's story is being replayed in the blink of an eye. Already China has left the West behind and now writes what may be the most significant chapter in the book of our future. Being here has opened my eyes to humanity, our modern existence and an awareness of our ignorance like nothing I could imagine.
I moved to Shanghai for the dumplings.
If there is one thing you would like to say our readers - it can be about anything at all - what would it be?
What if the video games of our future where our reality of today? Who would you be?