GamerTell Interview: Red Hare Studios talks about Page Chronica

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It’s always exciting when a new developer enters the video game scene, especially when they start off doing something unexpected. Enter Red Hare Studios from Singapore. It just released Page Chronica, it’s first game, on December 4, 2012. You may have even seen it while purusing the PlayStation store.

Well today, you’re going to learn a lot more about Page Chronica! GamerTell recently was able to speak to Red Hare Studios’ Producer Wee Lit Koh and Art Director and Game Designer Qingxiang Ho. We talked about Page Chronica, Red Hare Studios and what the developer would like to do next. So, read on to learn more about this new developer.

GamerTell: How did Page Chronica come to be? How did Red Hare Studios decide to send players off to help Topez the Librarian stop The Big Bad?

Qingxiang Ho: The idea for Page Chronica actually came from my graduating project Trivium, that I did in my final university year. Within it, there was a design that allowed the typing of words to enable some attacks. After I graduated, I went around presenting my idea to various companies as part of my resume. When I pitched my game to Red Hare Studios, the concept of words containing physical power interested my employer. We decided to demonstrate the notion of “your words have power.” So after much refinement and testing, we finally arrived at the current game design of Page Chronica.

GamerTell: Page Chronica is a really interesting, and perhaps even risky, game. What made Red Hare Studios decide to go with a unique first game rather than something more orthodox?

Wee Lit Koh: I agree that Page Chronica is a risky undertaking and while we do hope that it can be a commercial success, we also would like to live upon the spirit of an indie game company. However, it does not mean that we do not care about feedback for the game and simply develop the games that we want. We had a lot of focus group testing with respect to the basic gameplay and the game’s control. You will have observed that there are options within the game to change the game’s control to better suit a gamer’s taste.

However, during the development of Page Chronica, we were also on some instances “stubborn” to external suggestions, especially with respect to how each level should play out. You will soon find out that there is more to the game than its “innocent” outlook. The “Big Bad” is a really a real “Badass.”

Qingxiang: Essentially, our company comes from the small island country of Singapore, whose game industry is still in its infant stage. We did consider making something more mainstream, but we also understood that we had little means of catching up or being on par with other more experienced regions like America, Europe or Japan. So in order to stand out from the crowd, we decided we needed to do something different. Even if Page Chronica is something that unsettles the majority of gamers, we wanted to capture the attention of the world, sort of a “shout-out” to tell everyone that we are here.

GamerTell: Which games helped inspire Red Hare Studios’ team when you all were creating Page Chronica?

Qingxiang: Most of us at Red Hare Studios are gamers, so there were a lot of games that inspired us. Some examples include Scribblenauts, Okami, Mega Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, American McGee’s Grimm and even board games like Scrabble and Boggle.

GamerTell: Despite being a platformer, Page Chronica actually ignores some tropes like the ability to jump on enemies’ heads to kill them. What made Red Hare Studios decide to exclude that kind of attack and why?

Qingxiang: The main reason is game balancing. We actually had that mechanic in the early stages of game development, but because we wanted to link the forming of words with attacks, we needed the attacks to be more quantifiable. It is difficult to restrict the number of jumps a player can do on enemies. That is why we went with a game mechanic that is similar to Mega Man in which attacks are limited as a resource rather than Super Mario Bros. in which jumping attacks are unlimited.

Wee Lit: One of the key visions that we wanted to develop was to have a platformer that requires both thinking and agility skills, similar to a game of Chess-Boxing. We know that this combination has a niche target market, but I believe in bringing a variety of experiences to gamers. And as an indie company we can afford to do this. The first few levels are meant to be teasers for players to better grasp the game’s concept. Later levels then require players to develop strategies by observing the patterns of the enemies and bosses. If Topez had the ability to double jump and kill, we believe most players will just “stomp” their way through the level and largely ignore the thinking aspect of the game.

GamerTell: I noticed a big jump in difficulty immediately after meeting the first boss. Was this done on purpose to help encourage players to replay the first level to get a better feel for the game or was it unintentional?

Qingxiang: To be honest, it came as a surprise to us that the first boss was so difficult for players. While it is true that we made the boss slightly difficult, so that it would still be challenging when players replay this boss fight after gaining certain skills further in the game, we initially figured that the boss was simple enough for players to grasp. The main purpose of the first boss was to test players’ familiarity with the core mechanics of the game, namely the word formation, jumping and attacking elements. As long as players memorize the attack patterns of the boss and formulate a specific strategy, like in Mega Man, it should be relatively easy.

But, Page Chronica feedback made us realize that we are still inexperienced in deciphering players’ threshold of game difficulty, and so to show our appreciation to those who have bought the game, we have begun releasing boss fight videos to help struggling players conquer this barrier. You can find them at Red Hare Studio’s Youtube Channel.

Wee Lit: I was surprised with the frustration that players have expressed about Page Chronica’s difficulty as well. I would like to assure the readers that we have done many rounds of testing ourselves and once the player knows the right strategy, it is quite easy to beat the first boss. Hence, when we learnt of the feedback, we immediately set about developing a video walkthrough for the first boss to explain how it can be played.

GamerTell: With any spelling game, you know people are going to try and spell unsavory words. Has Red Hare Studios implemented any censors to dissuade that?

Qingxiang: That was a concern to us from the moment we started compilingPage Chronica‘s built-in dictionary. We had long known that our publishers or the game rating agencies would point out this fact, and so to prevent a mature rating, we had to do some form of censorship. However, we could not prevent players from foolishly acquiring the letters used in such unsavory words, so the best we could do is to make those words as invalid words.

The next problem is to figure out which words to censor. The tricky thing about vulgar words is that they usually hold multiple meanings that are not actually vulgar. So to set a proper standard, we mainly removed words that are censored on TV, radio and newspapers.

GamerTell: What’s the longest word or most complicated word you’ve managed to spell in Page Chronica?

Qingxiang: It is hard to pin-point our longest or most complicated word, but we can tell you the word we often use to debug the game: ZOOZOOS. If you check a dictionary, it means wood pigeons. The great thing about this word is that it is 7-letters long, which activates all your character’s abilities, and it contains 2 Z’s, which gives it a lot of damaging power.

GamerTell: Would you ever consider releasing Page Chronica on another platform, perhaps the Vita or PC?

Qingxiang: We are still considering it, but we have to look at market sales before making this decision.

Wee Lit: As Qingxiang mentioned, this will very much need to be a business decision. Ideally, we hope to find our audience on the PS 3 first, and then to understand the market’s resistance towards such a fusion of ideas.

GamerTell: If a Page Chronica 2 was released, what would you like to add? What would you fix?

Qingxiang: Based on players’ feedback, there are a few areas I would like to revisit and make changes, like in the GUI or game difficulty. Most of all, I would like to push our art graphics further. There were a lot of things we could not implement in Page Chronica due the to budget constraints of an indie studio; that is why we have gotten comments that the game looks dated. However, I hope to better enhance our graphical prowess to make the game look comparable to modern day, next-gen games.

Wee Lit: Page Chronica covers several genres, which has always been risky business. Some platforming players will feel that the word puzzle element takes the fun away from “stomping a minion”, These players expect Topez to have a basic attack and have double jump, without which they felt that we are forcing them to use the word mechanic. Word puzzle gamers, however, felt that they are being introduced to a platforming genre that they are not familiar with. There many new rules and concepts that are introduced to fuse the two genres together and as with any new product, we will expect some form of resistance.

Hence we believe that we need to help the gamers first appreciate Page Chronica by offering detailed walkthroughs, design insights and tips on completing the game. I believe that only when players have started to become receptive about the game concept, will they be able to offer us the feedback needed to develop a better title.

GamerTell: How did Red Hare Studios get started? What made you want to make games?

Wee Lit: Red Hare Studios was started in 2008 and we have tried to develop a “large scale” project every year. Page Chronica started development in 2010 and took us two years to complete. Of course, large is relative and this game is considered large for a small studio like us since more than 50% of the company is working on the project.

We have seen that the games market has been about iteration and established IPs in the recent years. Little effort was made to introduce new genres of games or new ideas, because it is risky to do so. Any major publisher will be sure to encounter stiff resistance from the market when something unfamiliar is introduced. We admire games like Flower, Journey, The Unfinished Swan and Papo & Yo, where once in a while a developer comes around and does something really different. Hence when I saw Qingxiang’s game prototype, I immediately picked PS3 to be the platform to develop such a game.

GamerTell: What kind of game would Red Hare Studios really like to make?

Wee Lit: Well, this question has crossed my mind several times, and as the company’s owner, I have the “luxury” of dictating what games will be built. If it was up to me, being a space opera fanatic, I would develop a game like Freelance or Eve Online. However, I strongly believe in developing and grooming the creative talents of our team and everyone in the team has a dream game that they want to build. Qingxiang is a huge fan of Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? and I am sure you will find some of the game’s influence in his design. I also share Qingxiang’s sentiment about creating rich virtual worlds.

Qingxiang: To me, it is less about what genre of game to make, but rather what sort of world to make. I am very fascinated about stories creating worlds, so my dream goal is to create a story that would resonate in the consciousness of many and would construct a world that people can share in.

GamerTell: Do you have any plans for future games? Are you working on anything new yet?

Wee Lit: Page Chronica has helped us gain both fame and notoriety. The worst part of being an indie game company is that people have no opinions about your game. Regardless of whether Page Chronica will eventually become a commercial success or not, we sure have turned some eyes with the launch of our game. We have also gained a lot of valuable networks and got to know many game journalists like you.

We are definitely working on new projects, which we may reveal hints of it during PAX East ’13; if we can scrape together enough funds for a booth for that fantastic event.

Be sure to stop by GamerTell on December 21, 2012 to learn more about Page Chronica. That’s when we’ll be running our review and you can see if you want it for your PS3. If you can’t wait, then you can grab it immediately from the PlayStation Store for $10.99.

Site [Page Chronica]

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