By Ka Yu . November 5, 2012 . 2:35am
Back in August, Siliconera covered a neat looking PS3 game called Page Chronica. The concept caught of a magical world where you spell spells grabbed my attention even though the game wasn’t announced. Page Chronica is available in Europe now and since we hear it’s coming to other regions we got in touch with Red Hare Studios to talk about the game and the Singaporean development scene.
Can you tell us about the history of Red Hare Studios?
Wee Lit Koh, Director: I starting developing while doing my postgraduate studies. I worked at a research laboratory during the day and prototyped the game by the night. I also used some of my limited stipend to pay for the game’s artwork. When I completed my postgraduate studies, I realized that my true calling was in the development of video games; for core gamers to be specific, rather than doing research work in a lab.
It was exciting to establish new theories and perform research but I what I truly wanted was to develop games that are seen and play by people, rather than theories and publications in academic journals. To this end, Red Hare Studios was thus formed in 2008 to serve that purpose, funded by my own savings. I employed the company’s first employee and we commercialized our first game four months later.
Were you surprised to see Page Chronica featured on Siliconera?
WL: We were generally very surprised with the amount of page hits when we googled Page Chronica as we have not made any public announcement about the game. When Siliconera reported about the game, our game was still clearing the QA from SCE. We have launched games in the past, but usually coverage for the game was drowned by other AAA titles. This is our first console title that we have developed with a team of six people over a period of two years. Hence we were pleasantly surprised when we learnt of the positive users comments on Siliconera. We look forward to receiving feedback about our first attempt at a console game, so as to create even more exciting games in the near future.
How did you come up with the idea for Page Chronica?
Qing Xiang Ho, Game Designer: Page Chronica was originally adapted from Trivium, a final year project I did back when I was in university. At that time, the game’s main mechanic was the use of three separate peripheral devices: Keyboard, Mouse and Gamepad. Due to the use of a Keyboard, there was a design that emphasized the typing of words to enable some attacks. This idea was carried forth when I pitched my game idea to Red Hare Studios. The notion that words contain physical power was alluring. We all understand that words can be powerful and inspirational, so why not demonstrate it? After much refinement and trouble-shooting, we finally arrived at the game design of the current game.
WL: In 2009, SCEAsia was touring Asia to recruit indie developers as part of their Asia Original Content program. They established a PlayStation incubation centre with Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), a tertiary education institution in Singapore. In January 2010, we were approached by NYP with the opportunity and when QX proposed his game concept to me, I decided to take the leap and we took up a space at the incubation centre. Eventually in September 2010, we were confident enough to pitch the game’s prototype to SCEAsia and the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA); the government agency responsible for spearheading Singapore’s media industry. We got some funding from MDA and publishing support from SCEAsia. Production of the game started in October 2010.
What is the theme of the story?
QX: As the game deals a lot with words, we decided to go with a storybook approach. In stories, words are everything – words give life to the world and give meaning to actions. So what if all worlds are essentially made up of words? Fairytales, dreams, even the universe is made up of a hidden language that cannot be normally seen. And that is the premise we gave to the game story. The universe is contained in a library, a great evil seeks to rewrite the universe, and a heroine must rise to fight against destiny.
The word capture gameplay mechanic is interesting. How did you design this and how flexible is the system? Will we be able to use adjectives to modify spells?
QX: The core design element to this system is similar to most word games: the longer or more complex the words you form, the more points or advantage you will get. With that in mind, we set forth to create a game mechanic that encourages players to constantly form longer or more complex words. Of course there is a limit to the word length we can allow (it is set to a maximum of 7 letters) but we have tried our best to ensure players can form any word they want given the type of letters on screen. We were never aiming to symbolize or materialize the words similar to games like Scribblenauts, so usage of adjectives did not matter. As long as you form a word, it will go into powering your character.
Can you tell us how you designed levels with word capturing in mind? Will players always have the right letters to make spells so they can progress?
QX: Basically, every word that a Player forms will activate a certain skill. The longer the word formed by the Player, the more skills will be released. Players will need these skills to overcome the variety of obstacles that block their path to the end of the level. These obstacles can take the form of enemies, traps or switches. Players will also be given a set of attacks to destroy enemies with. The strength of these attacks is determined by the complexity of the word formed. The more complex the word, the stronger the attack will be. We have specifically designed the game in a way that Players will always be able to form a word, but it boils down to the Player’s own knowledge to effectively make use of the letters presented on screen.
What spells are your favorite and which invalid words can damage Topez?
QX: My personal favorite is the Slow Watch Spell which slows down time around Topez so that she can easily move past enemies or launch more attacks on them. The environment will take on a different color and all enemies will move slower. It is probably the most useful and powerful spell in the game. But in order to activate it I have to form a word of at least 6 letters and that is quite difficult. (There is a way around this, but I am not telling…) Invalid words are basically words that are not accepted by our word database which includes certain names, one-letter words, and abbreviations. (So no internet slangs! Too bad.) To avoid making invalid words, just work on your spelling and vocabulary.
What is the video game development community like in Singapore? We’ve seen original creators like The Witching Hour who made Ravenmark and divisions of larger corporations like Ubisoft Shanghai.
WL: In Singapore, we have a number of independent developers who work on platforms ranging from iOS to Facebook. There are casual game developers, serious game developers and a few core game developers. Unlike many independent studios around the world, we have very limited access publishers in Singapore. Hence before SCEAsia came along, our access to development kits for consoles is actually very limited for independent studios. Interest readers may visit the website for Games Solution Centre, to better understand of some of the independent games company in Singapore.
What else is Red Hare Games working on for the future?
WL: We have received tremendous support from SCE for our game, and we are definitely planning for new titles for PSN and PSM. However, the team has worked very hard to launch the game, now we will like to spend our time to engage the community and the media, to collect feedback about Page Chronica so that we can make our next title even better.