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How Waylanders Aims to Exceed Expectations — An Interview With Gato Studio

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When brothers Fernando and Sergio Prieto set up Spanish studio Gato Salvaje, they had an idea to make an RPG with a twist called The Waylanders. Their game would have lore just as complex and intricate as the best of the genre, but it would also seek to innovate, both narratively and in terms of gameplay, expanding on pre-existing ideas to build something with a unique focus.

This vision was not possible for them at first, but eventually, with the aid of a successful Kickstarter campaign and a lot of help from both their team and famous figures in the industry, it is coming to fruition. OnlySP caught up with the pair to discuss their start in gaming, their idea for The Waylanders, and much more.

BEGINNINGS

Of the pair, Sergio was the avid gamer from a young age and was keen on the idea of making video games very early on. Nevertheless, Fernando admitted that he definitely had a role in fostering that ambition. “I am guilty that he got to design video games because I convinced our family to let him study animation and 3D design. I personally never expected to be involved in the video gaming industry, but I think for Sergio, for all his life, he was trying to design games.”

“I began to create games as an amateur at 12,” explained Sergio, following up on Fernando’s comment. “It’s interesting because my brother and I have come full circle. He introduced me to gaming since he let me play my first video games on his computer, and then when I built the company he was working for a big bank. It was curious because he introduced me to gaming, and later I brought him into the company. He placed the first stone for it when I was 11 or 12.”

Needless to say, they were both big gamers, but the idea of starting a company in their native Spain was a challenging one, and the timing was not great either, as Fernando explained.  “I always thought it was a good industry to work in, but not in Spain because there isn’t a big scene here. We have nice companies making good video games but our industry is not as big as the industry in the UK or in France or Canada, so it’s more difficult always to produce games and to take them to the market.

“I remember very well when the conversation was; it was when I went to take Sergio to the airport. In that moment he told me he wanted to create a company. It was 2009, so I told him he was crazy because it was in the middle of the financial crisis, and everything was very difficult, not just making games. Even despite that he didn’t pay any attention to what I was saying and he created a company anyway!”

Soon Fernando decided to help his brother out and use his experience in the finance industry to help make the company more viable. “One thing is to develop video games, another thing is to be an entrepreneur and to manage a company,” said Fernando. “It was a very good mix because now we have the managing and the creative aspect together through both of us. It was difficult to get to this point where we are developing a big project for us, and a big project in Spain like The Waylanders, especially since in today’s market it’s very difficult to get renown for the small games that you might create. It was a path, and we learned step by step, but it wasn’t planned at all. We learned it the hard way, but I think that’s the best way to learn.”

CRAFTING THE WAYLANDERS

The Waylanders is a big project, and so the brothers had to work their way to it, even though it had been in their heads for a long time. Other, smaller projects came first. “Ark is a point-and-click adventure game, and, in the beginning of the company, point-and-click adventures were an easy choice because my previous jobs and studies are from animation, so I selected a genre without most of the programming part,” Sergio told us. “Waylanders is more about all the things we want to put in a video game when we started the company. We first learnt, as Fernando said, how to do video games, and right now is where we feel that we’re in the right moment to try to tell the great story that we have in our mind.”

Since Ark, the company has expanded significantly, growing from a very small team to one more suited to designing and releasing bigger games, as Fernando said. “When we were developing Ark, there were seven or eight people in the company, and we realised that to survive in the video gaming industry we had to grow. It was very difficult to survive without growing because we need to make bigger games to actually get anywhere. I saw a graph at GDC that said that in 2016, more than 80% of the games were below the $19 tier in terms of their retail price, but 80% of the money is made in the $20 above tier. So where would you rather be? Small games and small money, or big games and big money.

“Obviously we thought we had to be in the latter, we had to design and develop a bigger game. Also, because of that, we had the idea for the Waylanders game. We know that RPGs are in a very good moment in the market, there are a lot of gamers that want more RPG stories. In that moment we didn’t even have enough people to hire in our region so what we did was we talked with the local government, and we convinced them to make courses and give information for the people to learn to design video games.”

This was no easy task, and took a lot of cajoling and persuading, but eventually, they managed to get somewhere. “We made the courses, we phoned more than 60 people, and we selected them from the best CVs that we received,” said Fernando. “After that we selected from those 60 people the 24 that we hired for the company. At the end, there were people had never designed a video game but many of them had the right training. They were programming engineers, artists, they were animators, and we told them ‘you can do it if we practice a lot, if we design a good production pipeline, we can do it.’

“In the end we also hired a lot of experienced people as well, in order to help those that are new become very good developers. Nowadays, we have those 24 people that we found in the company, and the rest of the company is made up of more experienced people that have been developing video games for years, so we have a mix of experience and I think it’s working. Especially because everyone who came to make video games with us are so involved in the project. They are so happy developing video games, and you can see that in the game that we’re making.”

With recent developments in video game studios like Telltale and Rockstar around overwork of employees, the brothers are confident that their team is large enough and also has enough time to complete any tasks they have at hand.

“I was very proud because we reached the pre-Alpha demo without any need of crunch. It’s not easy, but in my point of view the people that work happy end up producing a better game. I think that at this moment we don’t have any problems with that,” said Sergio, and Fernando agreed.

WHAT IS THE WAYLANDERS?

So what is the game? It is clearly an RPG on an epic scale, and one that will be crammed with rich lore and a plethora of options for the player. Sergio explained that the story is based on the brothers’ homeland, Galicia. “Waylanders was born because we travelled around Galicia, as well as a good part of England and Ireland,” explained Sergio. “There is a very good background and history. It’s a very beautiful environment. Our land is very special because it is known as Celtic, but it is not one of the Celtic nations, yet we still have a lot of Celtic legends here. There is a lot of magic and mystery in the legends, so we thought a lot about what we can discuss in an RPG. Obviously it’s a very fresh mythology.”

Fernando expanded upon that basis with some more historical context about the medieval setting. “We knew about the story, where it was going to be set and that it was going to use Lebor Gabála Érenn, an Irish book that talks about how the kingdom of Ireland was created in around 500 BCE. It’s a story that tells us about how people from Galicia went to Ireland, so we thought it would be cool to look at that. It is a story that certainly hasn’t been told in video games before, and even hasn’t been touched by cinema, and it involved a lot of magic, a lot of mythology, a lot of fantastical creatures. We thought it was something that would be good to explore be in an RPG, and that’s when we began to grow our idea that could be the perfect idea. The perfect story for the game.”

“The main thing I wanted to talk about in the story was magic and its relationship with religion as two major forces in the game, will be two forces that can’t be together, there is a conflict” added Sergio.

This conflict between magic and religion extends through more than one time period, and as such the game will also explore other relationships and track how they progress through multiple ages, using a take on Celtic legend to allow players to travel through time, Fernando explained. “We wanted to introduce something that makes the narrative very interesting, which is the idea of reincarnation: a major concept for the Celts. They can be reincarnated, and your main character will have to wake them up in the future, in the medieval ages. They can be completely different from what they were in the Celtic period but they will remember who they were so you could be a big warrior in the Celtic period and a housekeeper in the middle ages, for example. This is something we wanted to explore so we can look at all contradictions inside the character in the different periods. We wanted to dive deep into that aspect, and I think it’s going to be quite enjoyable to discover that part of the game as a player.”

What of the antagonist? Understandably, both Fernando and Sergio are coy, but Fernando did offer a little more background. “I think that the most important thing is that the characters at the very beginning will feel that strength and energy, but the bad guys will possess a dark energy that will change people and go through their characters, changing their history. The first thing that they will feel as a character is that the story is not on the correct path, and the main characters will need to fix that. The reason that we went to the Middle Ages is because all that strange energy comes from that moment, an energy that started in the Middle Ages that wants to change the past.”

Fernando’s explanation alluded to quite a complex, intricate story, and, to make sure it did not get out of hand, they sought someone out to help to reel the story in and allow it to maintain its epic sensibility while remaining intelligible. That person, initially, was ex-BioWare creative director Mike Laidlaw. Fernando explained how he came to be involved in the project:

“Five minutes after we heard about Mike resigning from BioWare at the end of 2017, he had an offer from us. He participated in our first crowdfunding campaign in 2013, and we had his private email so we sent him an offer and we explained to him what we wanted to do. After that it was very easy to convince him; we were in fact told by Mike when he first came to our city in January that he loved to see that everyone was so involved in the game, and we are very proud to have the opportunity to work with him because he has a lot of experience when building a game like this and has helped us to design the high-level narrative, which is very important because when you have that you can concentrate on developing it rather than making sure it doesn’t get out of control.”

“He helped us a lot to simplify the ideas we had in that moment. So he took the whole thing and helped us to focus in the things that were special and to clean the things that would be best. He was very involved, and without him the story wouldn’t be the same. A lot of him is in it,” added Sergio.

Not only has Laidlaw joined the team, but noted Telltale alumnus Emily Grace Buck, who has led narrative design in the likes of Telltale’s Batman and Guardians of the Galaxy series, also took a shine to the idea and has joined the team too, with the help of Kickstarter backers. While Laidlaw will be focused on high-level narrative, Buck will add meat to the bones of a vital aspect of any RPG: the character interactions and interpersonal relationships. “Emily is a specialist in romantic relations as a writer and we want that in the game, someone more concentrated in interpersonal relationships to give a deeper element to that aspect,” said Fernando.  “She has helped with all of the close interactions, because right now we have all the epic stuff, but Emily had allowed us to explore the characters more deeply and go closer in,” added Sergio.

Another crucial part of any RPG is the gameplay, which allows the player to delve into the intricate lore woven for them. Originally, the gameplay was not too different from some major titles in the genre, but soon Sergio had come up with an innovative mode for combat and started to formulate a large part of the gameplay around that.

“Our first objective was to have fast gameplay. We wanted to have a combat pause option, so you can pause the game and have all the time you want for the choices you want to make, but when you turn it off the game will be very fast. We wanted slow to decide, but fast to see how your decisions affect the game. So in that view the game is pretty fast.

“The combat formations, the tactical point of view […] are more tactical than is normal for the genre. The combat formations I think are original. I can’t think of a reference; only games like Baldur’s Gate that has formations from a position point of view, but this form that you can take your character and form a phalanx with the others and that phalanx is very powerful, I think our game is unique from that point of view.”

The game does not only focus solely on combat in gameplay terms. It also has a complex system of dialogue choices that do not play out quite like one would expect, as Sergio also explained. “We don’t have a system of morality for the choices. We will have more like a system of perks, like when you are talking […] you will have a lot of choices during the game and those choices will affect the companions, not from a moral point of view, more depending on their personality and situation. It will affect how they react to things. Another thing we wanted to do is more similar to something like Mass Effect, which explored it well. Companions’ loyalty missions. The closer you are to a character, the more loyalty missions you will receive. It will be impossible in the game, in one playthrough, to play all the loyalty missions, because some decisions will make it so that some characters are not as close to you than others, but our intention is not to have characters that have problems with you, but to explore all the loyalty missions you need to be close friends with your companions.”

KICKSTARTER AND FAN RESPONSE

The Kickstarter campaign for The Waylanders raised USD $168,999 over its duration, allowing the team to hire Buck and also providing valuable resources to develop the game. Fernando told OnlySP that although it was at times a taxing process, he would not have done it any other way.

“We wanted to try on Kickstarter from the very beginning, not only to make money, though it’s good for that, but also to help to validate our idea. You receive a lot of feedback from your potential players, and, if you analyse it well, you receive a lot of very useful information for your development. Obviously another characteristic of Kickstarter is that it lets you build an audience, which is important because we want to make a game that people love. If you want to do that, you cannot go to your tower, develop your game, and release it to the market in two years without checking-in with the audience once. You have to be close to the public, close to the gamers, and talk with them, hear what they have to say, and be able to adapt some things about your game if you realise that they are not working very well.

“I think it’s good for the project and I think we are very happy at the moment because many of the innovations that we are using in the game are very well received. Now they are mad at us because we don’t say much about the story! That’s good, they want more from us! And we will give you more, but step by step!”

The game is still a long way away, but Fernando is already sure of the kind of experience he wants fans to have with it. “A role play game is a big story, usually it’s over 40 hours of playing, and hopefully enjoying, the game. If after they finish the game they want more, or if they feel that they want more games like this, we will feel very happy. Hopefully, we will have some humour in the game, some excitement, plot twists, all of that. You need to have a mix of everything.

It’s not just an epic game, it’s not only about fighting, it’s not only about battles. You need more, you need conversations, you need to fall in love with your companions. It’s a mix of all that. It’s like life, sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re sad, sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. It has to be the same. We are trying to mix the best writers and best people to give players a fully-rounded experience, and hopefully we will be able to do it.”

The Waylanders is currently projected for release in Q1 or Q2 of 2020 on Steam, and may appear at a later date on consoles. The game’s pre-Alpha demo showcased at select conferences in late 2018. For updates on the game’s progress, you can check out the Kickstarter page here.

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E3 2019

How Final Fantasy XV’s Lead Game Designer is Making a Rhythm Game — An Interview With No Straight Roads Developer Metronomik

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No Straight Roads game art 5

Wan Hazmer’s journey is an interesting one. Having worked at Square Enix on games such as Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV, Hazmer left the studio in 2017 to start his own development studio, Metronomik. The studio’s first game, No Straight Roads, is a music-based action-adventure game where players must fight the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) empire as an independent rock band.

OnlySP had the opportunity to speak with Hazmer about the game’s inspiration, gameplay, and art design.

OnlySP: What inspired you to make No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I am a big rhythm gamer. I used to be really good since Beatmania 1 so that’s more than 15 years of experience playing rhythm games. I used to go to the arcades every week and spend like $50 just to play music games. (Laughs) Whenever I invited my friends to play rhythm games with me, they always said “I’ll just watch you play.” It baffles me because everyone loves music; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love music. I think the problem is the way [music] participates in gameplay. Music is only used in two ways in games: soundtrack or rhythm games. I think everyone has rhythm sense. If I were to give you a guitar, and you didn’t know how to play the guitar, of course you’d admit you’d have no rhythm sense.

I feel like, when you listen to a song maybe five times, then you’ll know when the chorus is supposed to come even before it comes. I want everyone to use that musical instinct to play the game and that’s why we have the enemies follow the music. The input, the participation that you have in the game isn’t a pure action game. Other inspirations also include other rhythm games. Rhythm games’ stories are something I like as well, like Space Channel 5, Guitaroo Man and even games that put a lot of emphasis on music. I think you noticed that the outer stars remind me of Jet Set Radio. The word ‘radio’ is in Jet Set Radio despite it not being a rhythm game. [Jet Set Radio] was such an influence and I still have the soundtrack.

No Straight Roads game art 2

OnlySP: How would you say your experience on other games contributed to No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: Back when I was working on Final Fantasy XV, one of the biggest things about the game was that we had to make sure that Final Fantasy becomes relevant again. [Part of that] falls into how you travel in the world so we thought “What is one of the most current way of travelling romantically?” and we thought “road trip” and it’s the core experience in Final Fantasy XV. We spent a lot of cost and effort into making sure that that core UX does its job. We had to photograph an AI, Prompto, and that was actually very difficult to pull off. Can you imagine an AI taking a photograph of you? He’s a very bad photographer at first, but he gets better and better. The user experience is an emotional connection to the game.

I also wanted to make sure that [No Straight Roads] has a UX that everyone can adhere to and that’s something that is very relevant. With relevance, we talk about rock vs EDM. It’s a classic tale of “my taste is better than yours.” And another is “your music can change the world” is our big core UX. We have the transformation of the props into weapons. We also have three channels of music: backing, melody, and rhythm. We multiply that by that by three genres of music rock, EDM, and a boss specific genre [for the demo, it was disco]. Depending on the situation, depending on the story, depending on how you perform, we actually switch one of the channels to EDM, one channel to bass, and one channel to rock. There’s a lot of music going on in the game and we only do it if we know that it is going to sell something for the UX. That’s something I got from my Final Fantasy XV experience.

OnlySP: How was it like creating the music and implementing it in the game?

Hazmer: I am very lucky to have four composers who are very talented. One of them is Falk [Au Yeong]; he’s the music director. He actually used to work with me on Final Fantasy XV where he was a mixing engineer for the music. When you travel to Hammerhead, for example, a gas station in Final Fantasy XV, when you enter a diner the music starts changing a bit. We were discussing dynamic music for a long time. We also have James Landino who is working on the EDM tracks—he [worked on] Cytus [2], Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy as well. We have Pejman [Roozbeh] who is more of a funk/disco kind of guy, and Andy [Tunstall] who worked on rock.

What I love about working with these four composers is that they know the technicalities involved with implementing music in games. What we do is we come up with the concept for the boss first. We have a DJ who thinks he’s the center of the universe and he’s going to spin some planets. After that, we pass it to the musicians. They compose really great music and they pass it back to us and they understand that there are three channels and the programming involved. There are a lot of times when you make a video game, you outsource the music in the last minute. I really wanted the musicians to be involved from very early on so they are actually involved in the game design process as well.

OnlySP: In the demo, I noticed I got to play as two characters. Are there only going to be those two characters?

Hazmer: Yes. The concept seems like there could fit another person here. (Laughs) You can only control two characters, but there’ll be a bunch of bosses. You can actually play couch co-op as well, so one person can be Mayday and the other Zuke.

OnlySP: About how long would you say the game would be?

Hazmer: 10–15 hours. When you defeat a boss, although there are some RPG elements in it (like giving buffs to your weapons), but I don’t want to go with the New Game Plus route, so I’m [following] more of a Sonic or racing game [style] where once you complete a particular level, you can actually challenge the level again in a different difficulty. So there will be difficulties where you’ll have to parry almost everything in order to survive. For example, when you’re playing the game you only hear rock when you’re almost defeating a boss, you can play an entire boss fight in rock.

No Straight Roads gameplay screenshot 1

OnlySP: How did you go about selecting the genres of music for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: First of all, we came up with interesting bosses in the game. My co-founder, Daim [Dziauddin], he’s really big into storytelling and he always wonders why people play music. We didn’t want this game to be a game about a bunch of bosses, who are awesome and big and that’s about it. Every single one of these artists has a reason to play music. From there, we see what kind of genre fits them very well. For example, we came up with a DJ who is egocentric and he thinks that he’s the center of the universe and, bam, the sub theme is space. From there, we figured we can do some disco and some Flash Gordon kind of things, and that’s how the genres came about.

OnlySP: Are there any plans to add in some post launch content?

Hazmer: Definitely. This is still all in talks, so it is not confirmed at all. I would love to collaborate with other games or different artists so that we can get their branding into the game [such as a being a boss in the game]. That’s one of the dreams for this game. Once we finish the game, I really want to collaborate, organically, with many different musicians.

OnlySP: Of the genres of music that are not in the game, what would you say would be the first one you’d want to put in post launch?

Hazmer: Oh wow. That’s quite difficult. I kind of like jazz in a way so jazz would be nice. Jazz and EDM would be really cool. (Laughs) I really like jazz, so I think a jazz boss would be really cool.

No Straight Roads game art 3

OnlySP: What influenced the art style for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I made a lot of realistic games and wanted to run away from realism. We thought that the characters in the game [don’t] have to be a human skin color. So we were looking at a lot of American cartoons like Steven Universe. The other thing is the funky art style of games that don’t take themselves too seriously like Tim Schafer games like Psychonauts. Sometimes ugliness is beautiful and beauty is ugly. In terms of the poses for the characters, we love ourselves some Jojo. (Laughs) Poses for us are very very important.


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