By Robert Ward . December 13, 2013 . 1:00pm
Aeria Games are one of the more well-known online game publishers in the west. You probably know them best for Shin Megami Tensei: IMAGINE, which they’re no longer in charge of, but they’ve also published and operated games such the anime-esque Eden Eternal and the dystopian Scarlet Blade.
Siliconera recently had a chance to catch up with Aeria to find out how their next major title, Aura Kingdom, is shaping up, and what makes it different from their past projects.
How did Aura Kingdom come to be? Were you looking for an MMORPG to license, or did X-Legend [the developer of Aura Kingdom] approach you?
Trung Trinh, Producer: X-Legend, the developers of Aura Kingdom, came to us with the title. Since we’ve already launched reputable games like Eden Eternal and handled them well in Western territories, they showed us Aura Kingdom and asked if we’d be interested.
Aaron, Associate Producer: It’s continuing along the series of these games. X-legend is very good about making a good game, and then bringing the elements of those good games into their latest projects to improve them. That’s what we’ve been very excited about—that this is a core, solid game that’s been developed over a long period of time into something better. There are a lot of online games on the market.
Is it usually the developers that come to you, or are you often the one’s that approach developers?
Tom Nichols, VP for PC Games: It varies quite a bit. We’re always looking for products that are out there, and our business development team attends relevant game shows and has meetings with developers. We have a couple of people on are team that are spending a lot of time in Korea, for example, and really know all of the developers there who keep in touch about up and coming games. We have good visibility into the pipeline of PC and Mobile games that come out abroad from these developers.
So which countries are making the highest-quality free-to-play games right now, in your experience?
Tom: That’s a tough question, because if you can include games like League of Legends, which is the number one online game in China right now, well, it was made in the U.S.—so how do you define quality? As it turns out, with our corporate stream, in our business model, we’re a publisher, so we tend to take games from other developers, primarily ones in Korea, China, Taiwan, and Japan, and bring them to a western market. I can’t say that one is better than the other, they all have their different strengths and weaknesses and they all have their different kinds of focus.
The free-to-play model is wildly popular in Asian countries. Why do you think this is the case, and is it that this model is so slow to take off in the U.S.?
Tom: It definitely has been. The U.S. market, when you’re talking about MMOs, really came to be through Blizzard. They certainly weren’t the first—after all, you had titles like Everquest that were wildly popular, too—but even those games had the model of a boxing product with a monthly subscription fee. That’s been the U.S. standard for about 15 years. Needless to say, it’s taken longer for the U.S. market to get away from that [that a monthly subscription and box price imply quality] model.
In Asia, there’s just not that kind of devotion to retail. You don’t go to a store in Korea and buy a PC game in a box—it’s more about playing games in Internet cafes, or downloading games directly to your PC; the Internet infrastructure is entirely different and much, much better than it is in Korea than it is in the U.S. Those market factors really led to the adoption of free to play.
That said, I think that the free to play market is definitely growing in the U.S. and the transition is accelerating. You can see all of the big MMOs moving from subscription to free to play, and I think even with the new console systems, over time, you’re going to see a gradual increase in the availability of free to play games [like Killer Instinct on the Xbox One].
You mention consoles. How is the structure of one of your free-to-play games different than, say, a console game? How does that initial investment manifest itself in free to play, or does it at all?
Tom: I think it’s changing. Previously, on PC and consoles, a game that was free was seen as a negative thing. “If it’s free, it must be poor quality,” people think, “or it must be a low-budget game from a low-budget developer.” We’re slowly changing that, and it’s happening faster on the PC than it is the console. You can see with Steam and Aeria, there are really rich, high-quality games that are available for free.
I also think what’s happening now on mobile and tablets are educating gamers that you can have really good experiences for free. Now it’s to the point on mobile where people aren’t going to pay two or three dollars for an app because they know that the free ones are just as good. I think that’s leading the way and that, over time, you’ll see that trend make its way into consoles. The economics right now are different on console because you’ve got a sixty dollar box, and tens of millions of dollars in development with big franchises, so it’s hard for free games to compete against that – but I think that we will, overtime, see this trend take over consoles.
We’ve always thought that Scarlet Blade was a unique choice for localization. What drove the decision to localize it for the west?
Tom: Like I talked about earlier, we have strong relationships with our developers in Korea. We found out about this game early in its launch through these developers, and we worked out a deal. When we evaluated the game, we saw good gaming potential in terms of mechanics – and it had a unique aesthetic, if you want to call it that, in its sexuality, which helped separate it from other products in the market. As it turns out, I’m still an active player—and I like the game because it has a very good PvP balance, and the PvP gameplay is still a lot of fun. It’s still one of the strengths of the product, and we just recently released a new class for it last week, so the game is still releasing new content and new features.
Did you consider what kind of response the game would generate in the more conservative sect of the gaming community? Do you run into similar issues when you’re localizing titles like Aura Kingdom?
Tom: It does pop up, and we definitely do take a look at those things. With Scarlet Blade, for example, one of the classes looked like a teenager. We didn’t think it was appropriate to have a nude teen girl in the game, so we made some significant changes to her costume that covered her up a bit more.
With other games, there may be some changes in the degree of violence in the game, or language and themes that don’t have equivalents in the United States. For example, a lot of games from Asia draw on the “Three Kingdoms” lore explicitly, so we have to change elements of that to be more relevant to a western audience. This is all part of our localization process. Have there been any major issues like this with Aura Kingdom, Aaron?
Aaron: We’ve primarily dealt with issues regarding language. When we look at the initial translation of some of the material, it’s pretty clear what’s not going to slide with a western audience. So we’ve had to do some localization as far as that. When it comes to gameplay mechanics…
Trung: When you look at our portfolio, you’ll notice that there are games with a lot of different features and elements that are meant to attract a diversity of players—so maybe one person will be into PVP, so they’ll play a game like Scarlet Blade, and maybe one person’s not really into PvP, they just want a social group, so they’ll play a game like Eden Eternal or Grand Fantasia. We don’t really try to stay in a safety zone—we try to branch out with the kind of games we bring here.
Another one of your projects is FEAR Online. Can you tell us more about how this got started and how it’s progressing?
Tom: Here, again, we found out about FEAR through our relationships with developers. This was a title of particular interest to us because of the IP, which is well established, particularly in North America. We’re in the middle of the second alpha test right now, so we’re in the process of gathering feedback from players and looking at the metrics and date for the game. With this game in particular, we want to make sure that it feels like FEAR, which is a bit of a subjective thing, but we’ve got enough people between those testing it and those developing it to get a wide range of opinions on what exactly that means, and to make sure it feels like it’s something that lives up to the franchise and the genre that that franchise represents. We’ll have more information as that comes up.
Let’s move onto Aura Kingdom. Tell me a little bit about the story—what exactly is it that pushes the player through the game?
Aaron: Aura Kingdom is all about being the envoy of Gaia. Gaia provides a select few people with the ability to use Eidolons and go along throughout the story, and in turn shape the history of the game’s world. Basically, as you going through, you’re earning renown, you’re earning titles [a game mechanic that gives you specific permanent stat increases for meeting certain prerequisites], more and more people come to know you, and you’re becoming stronger. This all happens within the overarching story of the Shadow Knight—who’s attacking and trying to corrupt and destroy things, and who you are trying to stop, but might actually become him as well.
How do Eidolons play into the role of the Envoy of Gaia?
Aaron: Eidolons are the hands of Gaia. They’re manifestations of it, and all display a particular characteristic of Gaia. For example, one might represent its healing aspect, and so it excels at healing magic. They might be more suited to attacking or defending.
Trung: When you start out, you will witness another character that was an envoy of Gaia, but became corrupt and transformed into a monster. Around the time, your main character discovers he/she is the envoy of Gaia, and it’s at this point where he’ll obtain his first Eidolon. After your character defeats the NPC, he’s afraid that he, too, might turn evil one day, so he/she decides to go on a quest to try to get rid of the Eidolons. As the quests progress, though, the character realizes that there’s much more to this relationship than he/she understands. That’s where the story gets interesting.
So there’s a cost to this power—the potential to become corrupted – what leads to the threat of corruption, is it canonical, or does it show up in the mechanics?
Trung: So, we can’t reveal too much, but the Eidolon will become restless if you don’t continue to feed him…something. Well, it’s a part of the story we don’t want to reveal quite yet!
So then, if the story is structured, what incentivizes exploration in Aura Kingdom?
Aaron: So, we have these things called achievements that are spread throughout the world, anything from open-ended quest completions to listening to NPC’s, that a player can spend time hunting for. We also included a gliding system that lets players get from one place to another much faster than on foot, and without having to face the same enemies in the same area over and over again without choice. It will also let you access some hidden areas you won’t be able to find right away.
Trung: The Achievement system has improved a lot since X-legend’s previous game. Now, there’s badge system, where a player can unlock a different kind of badge, which earns you new titles. Titles will increase the stats of your character permanently, and they’re accumulative, so the more that you unlock the more powerful your character is. What will get players to come back? Well, we also have a huge number of eidolons to collect. It will take some time to get them all. The quest in Aura Kingdom, the story, is really interesting. It’s not just about finding X and killing Y; it’s about doing different things in the world [here he’s referring to quests that involve stealth and reconnaissance].
This is a very unique story that the player can experience. Every day, each of the cities will have a different bulleting board where a player can pick up a variety of quests. The quests change day to day. If you join a guild, then your deeds will affect your entire guild as well. There’s a lot more to it than just grinding. It provides a lot of unity in the community but promotes self-achievement as well.
Aaron: Every dungeon also has three versions: a one-man version, a five-man version, and a hell mode [higher difficulty] version, so you’ll be able to come back and revisit these dungeons once you’ve mastered one version and want to master another.
Can you explain a little more about how guilds work themselves into the gameplay?
Trung: So at level 20, I think, you can create your own guild. Each level that you increase in your guild [up until level 40, I believe was the cap], you open more slots to invite more people. The only way that your guild can level up is through daily quests or daily dungeons, which people can do on their own. Eventually, your guild will earn a guild town. This is a place that only people in your guild can visit.
Useful NPCs that are scattered throughout the world have a chance of being here as well, so you don’t have to fan out to find them anymore. Also, there are certain Eidolons that will only appear in your guild town. There will be an NPC with a table that tells you what day and time specific Eidolons will appear, and we hope that will motivate players to come together and take it down. The Eidolon you defeat has a chance at dropping that Eidolon for you to use in battle.
So, returning to the first question, Aeria has a lot of MMOs out on the market. How is Aura Kingdom supposed to stand out amongst them?
Aaron: For me, well, I’ve seen quite a few of X-Legends’ games here, but I think that Aura Kingdom is the most polished. It’s got solid mechanics. It’s aesthetic borrows much from anime, which I think makes it stand out beside a game like Scarlet Blade. For me, though, it’s the solid core game mechanics.
Tom: Like Trung said earlier, we try to offer a broad array of gameplay experiences for our customers—and we haven’t even talked about games outside of the RPG genre [first person shooters and action games]. On the MMORPG side, we’ve got some core fantasy style, some PvP focused games, some games that are more PvE focused, and then, with Aura Kingdom, you’ve got a little bit of a bias towards PvE but it’s really the style and variety of gameplay types within it that makes it special.
When we were playing Aura Kingdom earlier, we fought a giant steampunk robot with a chainsaw for an arm, but also visited a verdant forest with colorful, almost Metroid-like aesthetics. What kind of world is Azuria?
Aaron: I think it’s a good mix [of natural world elements and technological elements]. It has magic, Gaia cubes, but also a technological side. Grenadiers use canons, gunslingers use pistols— the technological side is there, but I think they’re both in harmony when you look at the game.
Let’s wrap-up by talking about the classes in Aura Kingdom, since you mentioned pistols and cannons. Can you give me a run-down of the eight classes in the game?
Aaron: Sure. First, we have the Guardian, our tank class. It uses a sword and shield, is designed to outlast enemies, and is balanced in both offense and defense. Second, we have the Ravager. This is a melee DPS class that uses a massive two hand axe. They use both single-target and AoE attacks to punish their enemies. Next, we have the duelist. They use dual blades and are designed to be a melee DPS, leaning generally towards single-target, they combine acrobatics and magic to disorient and wear down enemies.
The fourth class is the gunslinger, a ranged DPS that uses twin pistols. It’s both single target and AoE, deploying special bullets and magical traps to debilitate their foes. Next is the Grenadier, who uses a massive cannon. He specializes as a ranged DPS mainly focused towards AoE. He fires missiles, discharges powerful plasma bursts, and even launches elementally charged grenades. The bard is next, our healer class, and uses a harp. The bard can compose songs to both harm enemies and bolster friends.
The wizard is second-to-last here, a ranged DPS who uses stalves and elemental spells that can change the tide of battle. Finally, we have the sorcerer, our support character, who has a host of debilitating spells.
Trung: So! One of the things we want to stress about Aura Kingdom’s characters is their versatility. Once a character turns 40, you can switch to any other weapon from any other class. If you don’t like the secondary weapon you chose, then you can always switch and try something else.
Aaron: In the envoy’s path [a track of benefits you choose from as your character levels up], where every few levels you get a point you can spend and pursue your own play style, there are special skills if you have a certain main weapon and a special secondary weapon. So, if you’re a bard and you have the harp, and you decide you’re going to go with the twin pistols, there may be a skill in your envoy’s path where you need to have those two weapons to unlock it.
Also, Aeria Games provided Siliconera with founder pack codes for Aura Kingdom that give players early access and special pets. We have one Diamond Founder’s Pack and two Platinum Founder’s Packs as a prizes to give to our readers. Post a comment below if you want to enter to win one of the founder’s packs. We will notify winners on Monday, December 16 through their Disqus registered email when the Founder’s Beta begins.
The giveaway is now over. Congratulations to readers HerosLight and Crim who won Platinum Founder’s Packs. Falkyrin took home a Diamond Founder’s Pack. Keep your eyes peeled for more secret giveaways on Siliconera!