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GamerTell Interview: American McGee talks Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, Android and Kickstarter

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Akaneiro: Demon Hunters is one of the latest titles from Spicy Horse Games, the development studio headed by American McGee. American McGee is perhaps best known from his work on American McGee’s Alice and Alice: Madness Returns. If you’re familiar with those games, you’ve no doubt noticed the unique art direction and overall concept those games contain. Akaneiro: Demon Hunters carries on that tradition as a free-to-play action role-playing game. Akaneiro is currently in open beta, is bound for Steam and also has a Kickstarter that fans can pledge money to in an effort to help Spicy Horse implement certain features. As the Kickstarter campaign nears its final week, GamerTell got in contact with American McGee to talk about Akaneiro, its future on Android devices and why Spicy Horse waited to launch a Kickstarter campaign.

GamerTell: Can you explain why you chose to draw inspiration for Akaneiro: Demon Hunters from the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale?

American McGee: The original idea for Akaneiro came from my reading of a book called “The Lost Wolves of Japan,” which details the destruction of wolves in Northern Japan around 100 years ago. This extermination came at the hands of Western cattlemen who had introduced beef consumption and cattle farming to a people who were vegetarian – and who lived in relative balance with nature. This history seemed to invite further exploration and expansion – with my idea being to illuminate the man vs. nature aspects present in the reality and fairy tales we create.

My initial work on the concept was later expanded upon by the project’s Creative Director, Ben Kerslake and his design partner, Matt Razzano. They’ve also received writing support from my long-time creative partner R.J. Berg, who has been involved with both of the “Alice” projects (and is a co-founder of Spicy Horse). Our developments are always highly collaborative like this.

GT: Akaneiro has a very unique cell-shaded / graphic novel art style. Did you always intend to use this art style, or was it something that evolved over time?

Our artists began working with this style during development of “Alice: Madness Returns.” There’s a section of that game with a distinctly Asian feel to it – and which required special application of technique and technology to render properly. Coming off that development and with the specific knowledge in hand, the team decided to marry technology and story. The result is what you find inside Akaneiro.

GT: Why did you choose to go with the free-to-play model and what steps are you taking to make the game fair to players who choose not to pay?

AM: My history with F2P goes back almost a decade and begins with events that eventually led to my living and working in China. The model is one that’s only recently begun to appear in Western gaming, but has existed in other parts of the world for quite a long time. It’s not necessarily “evil,” at least not any more so than say, a retail model dominated by a few publishers who dictate everything from the fate of developer’s lives to the type of content you’re able to access. In my view, F2P offers distinct advantages that are beneficial to both developer and gamers (and even to publishers, if they approach it the right way). It’s a model that provides gamers a chance to access content entirely for free – and allows a closer connection between design/production and customer demand. It also allows developers a way of building self-sustaining business where they can explore more creative methods of design and story-telling.

GT: What made Spicy Horse wait to start a Kickstarter campaign for Akaneiro? Why didn’t you launch it before full scale development began?

AM: We’re using Kickstarter as a launcher for our game. It’s helped tremendously in raising awareness for the title right when we need it the most – at launch. The goals stated in the campaign are also more realistic in light of the fact that we have a finished game. If I’d told people 18 months ago to back us on our first attempt to build an ARPG for browser/mobile – having just come off “Alice: Madness Returns,” I think the response would have been pretty negative. There’s a saying, “you’re only as good as (or capable of) the last thing you did.” Now that we’ve proven the core of our vision, it’s much easier to convince people we can take it the last mile.

GT: If the Kickstarter campaign doesn’t reach its funding goal, will fans still be able to contribute financially to Akaneiro’s ongoing development?

AM: We’ve established a donation/support page where players can support the game’s development separate from Kickstarter. The other way to support the game is simply to play it and contribute to the in-game economy. If players are interested in the PayPal page, they can find it here: http://angry-red.com/donation.html

GT: Have you gotten a chance to work with the Ouya dev kit? Is a possible Ouya port dependent on the success of Kickstarter?

AM: The dev kit arrived at our studio in Shanghai only last week. We’ve already given it to our tech team and they are evaluating the challenges we’ll face when trying to bring our games over. That being said, nothing is hard-linked to the success of the Kickstarter. If the campaign is successful, it simply means we can move more quickly on some of the goals we’ve outlined. If it fails, then we’ll need to move some of our development resources to new projects – and they’ll only be able to return to Akaneiro-specific tasks once their work on that new project is complete. We don’t think the latter scenario is ideal, but being a small studio means we sometimes have to make the “wrong” decision in order to ensure stability and survival.

GT: Should Akaneiro be released for Android in general, are there any devices in particular the game will be optimized for?

AM: We’ve already established a relationship with Nvidia and they’re offering support to get the game running on Tegra-3 powered devices. Beyond that, we’ll target devices where we see the most demand – starting with tablets and going from there. Because of the game’s complexity and size, it will be difficult (if not impossible) to get it running on older model devices or ones with small screens.

GT: What kind of changes to the UI and controls are you making for the mobile version of Akaneiro? Will it support USB or Bluetooth mice and keyboards as well?

AM: Because we’re working with the Unity3D engine, these sorts of options should be relatively easy to support. It’s mainly a question of whether the device/OS supports it – and most new Android devices do come with built-in support for these types of devices.

GT: Have you heard about the other Android console called the GameStick? What would it take for you to support that platform as well?

AM: I’ve heard of it, but don’t have enough details to know whether or not we’d be able to bring our games to it. One thing to keep in mind (and this includes Ouya) is that our games are pretty resource intensive. We’ve set a goal to bring console-quality games to browsers and mobile devices – which means we can only target higher-end devices.

GT:How do you feel about the fan response to Akaneiro on both Kickstarter and Stream Greenlight? Have you noticed any recurring comments or suggestions regarding the game?

AM: Overall, it’s been really positive. I’m amazed to see people comparing the title favorably to large developments like “Diablo 3.” The biggest suggestions center around people’s desire to see the co-op multiplayer features brought online. That’s something we’ll get in there as quickly as we can. Aside from that, we’ve been collecting tons of feedback (and bugs) via the Closed and Open Beta – using ZenDesk and our forums to funnel everything towards the development team. It’s been a wonderfully inclusive process – bringing us closer to our audience while constantly improving the game. My hope is that we can build atop this success and use the some method when developing all future games.

GamerTell would like to thank American McGee for taking the time to answer our questions. Remember, you can play Akaneiro: Demon Hunters right now on PC or Mac for free. In the time I’ve spent playing since November, I have no hesitations in saying this is a game that is definitely worth your time.

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