8-bit Interviews is a special series where we interview creators and co-creators about their game. Eon Altar is a new and innovative way to play tabletop RPGs from Flying Helmet Games. With a unique combination of qualities, such as intense narrative and bringing back social gaming, Eon Altar is one of a kind.
Above (left to right): Edward Douglas, Luke Reynolds, and Scott Penner, who all would like to thank Mesa Mundi for their assistance and support.
A special thanks to photographer Jennifer “trinity4888″ Smith for the above photo.
8-bit: Tell us about Eon Altar. It’s a clash of electronic gaming as well as tabletop gaming.
Scott Penner: When we first started, our goal was to bring that sense of social gaming back to video games that we miss from when we were kids. we remember sitting on the couch playing Halo and playing Goldeneye 007 with four players on one TV. And it seems like each generation is really separating people, Xbox Live gaming for example. And a lot of games don’t support co-op split-screen. These elements serve to separate people in games. And even old school LAN parties. We really grew up with Dungeons & Dragons and other board games and wanted to make a game that captures that experience. So it was really important to us to make something accessible. For example, my wife loves the idea of role-playing games, but as soon as you bring out the stats sheets it’s just too overwhelming.
I understand you’re trying to make it easier to understand by taking away stats sheets. So then can players still make their own quests and then play them?
SP: No. We’ve developed a story. Right now we have five characters, and we’re planning on expanding. Each of these characters have their own motivation and back story. They are all trying to get to this place called the Eon Altar. Some of them aren’t sure if it’s a place or a thing, but what they do know is that it is very valuable. Some believe it’s a holy place, some believe it is a tomb filled with riches, or something that will give them great power. So, there is a bit of conflict and hesitation. We’re not only enhancing the co-operation but also the competition. We like the idea that if you make someone mad, they can be right across the table from you. They might even be your ride home. So we like to push that a little bit, but at the end of the day these people are a team. They need to work together if they are going to get to Eon Altar at all.
So in developing Eon Altar, did you focus more on the story line, or the way it made the players feel? Were you going for enriching story or flashing lights?
SP: Well to be honest we were really going for both. We have a a rich narrative but we also want to deliver a high-quality social experience as well as high-quality visuals. We also opted to stay away from voice acting. Not only because it’s hard to get right, but also we wanted to capture the element of these role-playing games where a person actually voices their own character. Thus the players speak themselves. You can also choose to share your dialogue or keep it to yourself, adding another element unique to our game.
So obviously narrative really drives this game. Are there any games that really influenced this aspect?
SP: Absolutely, we’ve actually worked on Mass Effect 2. As well as the fact that Luke and I sort of come from this Dungeons & Dragons background. So aspects from those games really influenced our system.
So I understand this game is not on a console. It’s on a tablet correct?
SP: That’s right. What we were really trying to do is create an experience that is immediately accessible to a large number of people. Not a lot of people have an Xbox 360, but a lot of people are beginning to collect tablets, iPads, smartphones, and so forth. These come out all the time. So we wanted to make sure we made a game that could play across those platforms.
So you could play on a tablet and two iPhones?
SP: Absolutely, the basics is that there is a shared device in the middle of the table. It’s the way you move around, interact, and much more. Then each player is going to have an individual device, whether it be a smartphone or any type of tablet. They will wirelessly connect to each other to communicate.
Right now, how much does the game cost?
SP: Currently we’re targeting a release that will be a free download. You download for free. We’re planning on making it episodic, so you download a few episodes for free, and see if you like it. Then if you do, you can purchase the subsequent episodes to continue to play.
Since you have removed the game board, did you remove the game pieces? You’ll be able to see your character correct?
SP: On the handset each player can see their own character. Here you can buy new gear and we also have a full tree of abilities that you can access. Not only that, but your character stays consistent. You finish one session, and come back one week later. Your character still exists.
Have you guys completely removed dice and taking turns? Or have you found a better alternative?
SP: When we first started, we tried to revolutionize what we would use. Though, we always knew it would be turn based, this is the easiest way to assure that there is no latency with the wireless connection. We tried many options though. And as funny as it sounds, dice was really the way to go. So we came up with this idea that mimics dice. The game automatically calculates the number of dice you’re supposed to roll. All you need to do is shake, and when you are ready to throw, you simply lift your thumbs and the dice appear on the shared device. As soon as we saw that moment, we knew we had made the right choice.
What is the most intriguing thing about this game for you individually?
Luke Reynolds: The thing I enjoy the most is the dialogue system. We played with voice over, but what we found is that the players reading their own dialogue really getting into the characters. They really get into the character, that’s my favorite thing.
SP: The thing that really struck me is how four people who probably have never met each other before will work together. They will become a team. They’ll know exactly what the rules are. Hearing them learn more about character, and everything else. It’s really just great to see that social gameplay coming back.
With people being thrown together into one room in mind, what about long distance? Is this something you even considered based on the idea of this social gaming?
SP: Well to be honest, when we started we said no. What we ended up with though was that people have friends that might not be in the same place. We are doing everything we can right now to have those people play. We are doing everything we can to make that connection possible.
So are there any plans on an expansion of Eon Altar?
SP: Well it’s worth saying it’s still in development. We have a targeted release of sometime after Christmas, or sometime in the new year. Like I said, it’s episodic. An episode is about ninety minutes, and we’ll be rolling out new content each month for players to discover.
Thank you to everyone from Eon Altar. We really enjoyed the demo of your game. Great job, and keep up the innovative work.