Dragon Fantasy Book I Interview: A new kind of JRPG

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One man’s dream is going to be exposed to a whole new audience on April 16, 2013. That’s when Muteki ‘s Corporation’s Dragon Fantasy Book I will make it’s PlayStation Store debut. Granted, the game has already been available through alternate means. A year ago, iOS owners were playing it and Windows and Mac gamers have had months with the game as well. Now, however, people will play it the way it’s meant to be experienced, on an actual console and handheld.

GamerTell recently got the opportunity to ask Bryan Sawler, President and Founder of Muteki Corporation and the one of the two men who spent 16 years on Dragon Fantasy, a few questions about their new internet-famous game.

GamerTell: When did you decide you wanted to develop games?

Bryan Sawler: This is possibly the hardest questions here – I’m pretty sure I was in 6th grade when we had an assignment to write a story about what we were going to do when we grew up and I wrote about how I would be making video games. Or it could be attributed to when I was 7 and I was given a Commodore 64 and started programming on it. Or later when I was in my teens and “met” Adam Rippon, now working with me at Muteki – I say met in quotes there because we didn’t ACTUALLY meet in person for 5 more years – and we decided, “Hey, we both like games, let’s try to make one despite knowing absolutely nothing about how to do so.” I guess the short answer is it was always just in me.

GamerTell: Tell us a little about Dragon Fantasy Book I and II, so people know what they’re getting into?

Sawler: The Dragon Fantasy series is intended to be sort of a retrospective on the progression of JRPGs through the years. As such, Dragon Fantasy Book I takes heavily from the older JRPGs, everything from Dragon Quest to Final Fantasy to Earthbound. Think random, turn-based battles and pretty much everything from that era. Even within Book I we have some progression, as we go from a single hero and single enemy (Chapter 1) to multiple heroes (Chapter 2) to multiple enemies (Chapter 3).

For Dragon Fantasy Book II, we decided to move up to the more 16-bit era of JRPGs, and, as such, were heavily influenced by later games such as Chrono Trigger. Here we forgo a separate battle screen and have the battle take place in the world with characters leaping, slicing, and casting spells. Instead of random battles, the enemies are wandering around. We wanted to really bring in all of the great parts of that era of JRPG and then add on to that some of the great features of this era, like cooperative multiplayer.

GamerTell: Will someone have to play every Dragon Fantasy game, or could they just jump in at Book II?

Sawler: While the characters remain the same and the story is a full arc, we’re making sure that each game is a proper complete game that can stand on its own. So while some of the inside jokes may be missed if you start off with the second game, you’ll know what’s going on in the story and should never feel lost or that you’re somehow missing out.

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GamerTell: What kind of JRPGs did you love to play, and how did that influence Dragon Fantasy?

Sawler: Would “Yes” but a sufficient answer? Between Adam and myself, or really, just from Adam himself, I’m not sure there are many JRPGs we hadn’t played, especially from the earlier era. I think both of us favored the Dragon Quest series which explains Book I’s battle system being very similar. Beyond that, Lufia was a big favorite. see the battle “animations”, as was Phantasy Star. I think we even have a few Zelda and Soul Blazer references in there for good measure.

GamerTell: Ogden, the hero of Dragon Fantasy Book I, is based upon Adam Rippon’s father. What personality traits did you draw upon when creating Ogden?

Sawler: In fact, most of the characters are based on friends / family of his. Adam and I started trying to make a JRPG in our teen years – and in that time he wrote up this great story and huge cast of characters, most of which made it over now to Dragon Fantasy.

In the case of Ogden, it was the passing of his father that inspired him to get back and finally make the game. So we decided to focus solely on that one character initially, when Dragon Fantasy Book I was just the first chapter, Ogden’s Story, and keep it as simple as possible so that after over a decade of restarts and shelving the idea, we’d finally finish something.

GamerTell: Did you ever worry that having an older hero and defying JRPG stereotypes may turn away some potential players?

Sawler: If I’m being completely honest, I think I have to admit that we made Dragon Fantasy Book I, at least initially, more for ourselves than for any potential players. It was a game we had wanted to make for the majority of our lives by the time we finally did. And so we made it for us, and we made it to honor Adam’s father, and we just hoped that other people would enjoy the game too, but if not, that’s ok.

GamerTell: Early screens and videos of Dragon Fantasy Book I show plenty of humorous moments. What made you decide to take a less serious approach to your game?

Sawler: We’re a surly, sarcastic bunch at Muteki. Games are meant to be a form of entertainment, and so many games, especially RPGs lean so far to the side of taking themselves so seriously, that it’s hard to take them seriously.

GamerTell: What do you hope people will experience or take away after playing Dragon Fantasy Book I on their PS3 or Vita?

Sawler: Hopefully they had a few chuckles at some of the jokes, had a good time playing an old-school style RPG. And hopefully they’re looking forward to Dragon Fantasy Book II. But more than any of that, hopefully they just had fun. It’s what we’re here for as game developers – to make a product that brings other people joy and I think that gets lost far more than it should. It’s so easy to get caught up in everything we’re trying to do that you can forget that ultimately it’s our job to make something fun.

GamerTell: Will there be a Dragon Fantasy Book III?

Sawler: I certainly hope so! After doing our 8-bit styled RPG, (Book I) and 16-bit styled RPG (Book II) we’re hoping to make a Book III that catches up to more modern 3D JRPGs. We want to really chronicle the evolution of the genre in these games and that’s what’s next.

GamerTell: How helpful was Sony in getting Dragon Fantasy Book I and II on the PS3 and Vita? Can you talk about some of the resources and assistance offered?

Sawler: I think we’ve pretty publicly screamed about how great Sony has been to work with so far, but I’ll gladly do it again. A great example was at PAX Prime 2012. We brought the wrong hardware to the show, which we weren’t allowed to show publicly. Instead of just slapping us down as some other console manufacturers may have done, they not only loaned us proper hardware to show the game on, but also helped track down a fellow developer to help get the game running on it as my dev system was 800 miles away!

That was for Dragon Fantasy Book II, which is one of their Pub-Fund games (search Sony Pub Fund if you’re not sure what that is) – but then even for Book I they’ve gone above and beyond, including approaching us to get Book I as part of their Spring Fever promotion, and helping push things forward to make it happen on time.

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GamerTell: Right now, the PC version of Dragon Fantasy is only on Indievania, Desura and iTunes. Have you tried to get it on Steam? Would you have to go through Greenlight to have it added to the catalog, or do you think the recent enthusiasm would allow you to skip that process?

Sawler: I can’t really say we’ve talked with Steam as that would allude that they’ve spoken back. We originally talked to Steam (or maybe at Steam?) about the game. Then eventually some months later we received the generic “we say no but we can’t say why” rejection email. Since then, discussions with them have basically pointed us at Greenlight saying “go there” but with other well known successful games not being green-lit, Mutant Mudds for example) the likelihood that a retro JRPG would make it through is a giant unknown.

GamerTell: Would a 3DS or Wii U version of Dragon Fantasy Book I and II ever be possible? It seems only natural, given the SNES appearance of both games.

Sawler: We’ve certainly talked about it for Book I, but being the small studio we are we’re just really trying to focus on making these games great.

And for Book II, we’re launching initially as a Sony exclusive, so that’s a different discussion altogether.

Did the games sound interesting to you? Well, if you own a PS3 or Vita, you won’t have to wait long to play one of them. Dragon Fantasy: Book I will be on the PlayStation Store next Tuesday. You’ll get all three main chapters and the bonus chapter for $9.99. PlayStation Plus members get an extra edge, as it will be $7.99 for them until the store updates on April 23, 2013. Also, this is a cross-buy game, which means people get both the PS3 and Vita versions for that price.

Site [Muteki Corporation]

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