Aegis Defenders, by GUTS Department, is one of most successful Kickstarter campaigns this month. I was fortunate enough to speak with Bryce Kho (the game director) and Scott Stephan (the lead producer) in a short e-mail interview (the bolding is my own):
So to start off, could you briefly explain the story and type of gameplay Aegis Defenders has?
Scott: Aegis Defenders is a Metroidvania-style platformer, but with a few unique twists. The first is that you control two character simultaneously, swapping between them as you go. Mixing and matching their abilities is the key to success. The second is that their abilities have been tuned in a way to give the boss fights in the game almost a tower defense feel. Its pretty unique!
Bryce: The story takes place in a kind of post-post-Apocalypse where humanity is rebuilding, but they’re stuck in a new dark ages. All of this old technology is still around- Computers, robots, vehicles- but its regarded as a kind of black magic. Only the most curious know anything about it. The action centers around Bart, who is one of those tinkerers, and Clu, his granddaughter, as they try to revive an ancient technology to hold off an enroaching empire.
Is the game linear? Or does exploration give the player freedom to choose how they go along?
Scott: In true Metroidvania fashion, we’re focusing on having a world that you’ll be doubling back through, to give you a space to explore and solve.
I noticed the characters, Bart and Clu, have different abilities and ways of doing combat. How much does character/weapon customization play a role in the gameplay?
Scott: One of the best things about playtesting has been seeing just how many ways players can get through the game! Even with just the vanilla set of skills and weapons, we’ve seen an enormous number of strategies arise. Traditional TD games are really just gussied up puzzle games- There’s usually just one or two ways to solve a level. We really don’t want to do that. We want players to be able to pick and choose abilities and weapons that fit their playstyle and win that way.
The art style of Aegis Defenders is gorgeous, like a Chrono Trigger meets Miyazaki feel. What were some inspirations when thinking up the aesthetics of the game?
Bryce: I wrote a long piece about the character design process over at Gamasutra. It was really an amalgam of my love for that lush, Squaresoft pixel art, but I also try to pack a lot of detail in there.
You’ve mentioned that Aegis Defenders began as a graphic novel. In its transition to a game, does it maintain the “feel ” of reading a graphic novel? Story, dialogue, etc?
Bryce: The story is 100% important to us. In fact, the grandfather/granddaughter combination was really born out of a desire to show players what kind of world they were dealing with. Technology isn’t the hip industry for young adults that it is today. On the contrary, technology is regarded with a sort of mysticism because the ancients who it came from all vanished hundreds of years ago. This is a world where power comes from the old. Bart’s age versus Clu’s youth and the way they approach technology will help this divide come across in a more subtle way.
In terms of the story, discovering why Bart and Clu have come together and watching their relationship evolve is really the heart of the story. It’s hard for me to say who the real protagonist of the story is because they both desperately want to retrieve Aegis for their own distinct reasons. Bart’s story, which balances his own personal motives with his parental responsibilities, is more a redemption story while Clu is definitely more clearly after cold-blooded vengeance. The crossover between their goals and what it does to their relationship is definitely what makes this story interesting in my own opinion.
How long will it take to “beat” the game and what is its replayability (or post-story gameplay), considering the possible addition of co-op, etc?
Scott: Its hard to say right now, but we’re shooting for 8-10 hours for the single player campaign. I also think Horde Mode is going to add a ton of replayability- We’re envisioning it as a kind of playground with new characters and mix and match features. Of course, co-op would add a lot to the experience!
Is this your first game as “Guts Department”? Or have you worked on other projects?
This is our first game together. Bryce and Lifu worked together on a 2.5D platformer called Bloom. Bryce & Scott worked at GameDesk on an educational flight sim called Aero. Scott showed a VR game called Anamnesis at IndieCade and he worked on an unannounced VR project over the summer. We’ve made a lot of stuff separately, but with our powers combined! Etc etc.
Would you recommend Kickstarter as a good place to promote and fund indie games?
Scott: Yes and no. It certainly works, but its also a tremendous amount of work. We basically prepared 10 hours a day for two months before hand. That’s not an option for everyone and it has gotten so competitive that sometimes really amazing games just don’t fund because they couldn’t compete. In some ways that’s better for the Kickstarter consumer, but it almost feels contrary to the idea of Kickstarter. I guess the lesson is: If you’re going to do it, invest the time!
The KickStarter campaign is not over, but your initial goal to complete the game has been reached. When is the earliest gamers can expect to see Aegis Defenders on any platform, and what future platforms can they expect?
Scott: The delivery date on the Kickstarter says December 2015 and we feel like that’s a pretty good estimate. We’re hoping to be done earlier, but if there’s one thing a few years in game dev will teach you, its that there is always a delay. So we gave ourselves some extra time. We just smashed our PS4 stretch goal, so you’ll definitely see it there. We’re also hoping to get it on WiiU, mostly because we all own one! Time will tell!
Aegis Defenders still has some days to go on its Kickstarter campaign. It has already received enough funding for the Windows/Mac and PS4 versions. There are still stretch goals to be reached including: local co-op, a Nintendo WiiU version, a live instrumentation soundtrack, and more.