Tanya X. Short, Captain of Kitfox Games, chats with Karl Quigley about Moon Hunters, their new project set in a fantastical Mesopotamia.
Kitfox Games are perhaps best known for their first project, Shattered Planet, which they released in June of 2014. A single player dungeon-crawler with rogue-like elements, it was quite well received across the board. The art style and procedurally generated tiles that randomised the environment and enemies put Shattered Planet a step above many other indie games. It’s unsurprising to see this level of quality however as Kitfox Games is made up of a group of what could be best described as veterans of the gaming scene. Or in the least, well-versed in its ways and more than creative enough to stand out. Tanya herself, who is the Captain of the team, has worked on several projects; proposing ideas and leading teams to realise these additions can be successful (notably The Secret World and Age of Conan).
The team published their first game through Steam, the largest digital distributor for PC games. It gave Kitfox Games a huge audience not only to receive feedback on their game but also to teach them one of the most important skills needed to be a developer; audience management. “Releasing a game on Steam and interacting with the Steam community for the first time was very educational” Tanya said, recalling Shattered Planet‘s reception, “we learned a lot about how to talk to the community and the importance of responding quickly, it was great practice for us”. The Captain of Kitfox talks with ease and her love for the line of work she finds herself in is clear.
“After a while you kind of have to accept that it’ll be a little strange. But I’d rather it be strange than boring for sure”
With their new project, Kitfox is moving into a new line of gaming; moving closer to RPG elements and to cooperative play, somewhere Tanya is much more comfortable. “I’ve always loved coop games, as a designer especially, because I used to work in MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online) so I have a fondness for that. But even just from a pure business standpoint, it’s just more fun when players can play together. It’s just instantly more engaging”. Tanya then spoke on the single player aspect of Shattered Planet, “I felt that single player stuck out to me as one of the weaker points”. She is certainly a lover of cooperative play, remarking “I feel like it’s an unexplored design area, there’s just so much more left to discover in the coop space”.
While Kitfox Games as a team has not touched on this cooperative space yet, Tanya has dabbled in it before, “About five years ago, my partner and I made a prototype that was a one to four player action RPG” and this helped her and the team to get a feel for the type of game they were going to make. Similar, previously made games give teams of developers a reference to view how they tackle certain problems and issues but as Tanya notes, “There’s not many single screen, four player games, unless they’re brawlers” but they wanted something more complex than that.
Moon Hunters is a one to four player cooperative experience which changes each time you play. Each play through you build a myth, a legend of sorts. There are currently “thirteen major personality traits and you can have a combination of any three at a given time”. Tanya states that the game is not one of morality; not good and evil but reputation and how the people talk about you. She compares this idea to our own mythological heroes like Hercules, Odysseus, and Gilgamesh, “there are examples of different kinds of heroes”. Each were different in their own status, “Odysseus was a cunning hero, Hercules a brave one, and Gilgamesh was brave but very foolish”. This is all in relation to one of the tag lines for Moon Hunters: ‘How will you be remembered?’ Tanya and her team believe that “actions outlive us” and that “why you do something can be as important as what you do”. Tanya makes the excellent point that “there are heroes that kill people and villains that kill people but it’s all about context and marketing in a way. Ancient Marketing”. Moon Hunters is not so much the black and white of being good or evil but more like “a complex personality test, but with killing monsters in the middle” she laughs.
A key gameplay element in Moon Hunters was also present in Shattered Planet. Procedurally generated content is effectively a way to allow a game to be played forever. But it’s difficult to pull off. Being a designer, Tanya has personal experience with the difficulties. “It takes constant awareness of what you’re doing”. She goes on to say they went back to the drawing board for Moon Hunters especially for this feature. “We learned a lot from Shattered Planet but we decided we really needed something that I, as the designer, could build scenes myself”. She references the nature of their previous project, as each map was made up of randomised tiles, rather than scenes and environments.
Tanya went into further detail on this randomised generation, “you start off with this blank sheet; you have code you need to write”. This seems like the problem to begin with; not enough rules and the game would be chaos. There would be no system or method to the generation. However she continues, “But it’s very very easy to make so many rules that are so reliable… suddenly it’s not different anymore, it’s predictable”. This ends up on what can only be described as a knife edge situation; there has to be change but especially meaningful change. “It’s very difficult and we’re still struggling” she chuckles, “After a while you kind of have to accept that it’ll be a little strange. But I’d rather it be strange than boring for sure”.
Moon Hunters is set to release on PC in January of 2016, with a beta scheduled for Autumn for Kickstarter backers. To keep up with this project (and you certainly should) check out their Facebook page for more details.