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Ash of Gods

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Developer: Aurum Dust
Release Date: March 23, 2018

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'Ash of Gods' Developer Interview With Lead Designer Nikolay Bondarenko

by Liam Craig on Feb. 21, 2018 @ 12:13 a.m. PST

Ash of Gods is a mix between a roguelike role-playing visual novel and an online turn-based strategy game.

Ash of Gods is a ​turn-based RPG featuring constantly evolving storytelling with risks that truly affect gameplay, along with an extensive online PvP mode. The game features a story based on the complexity and ambiguity of moral choice where any of the characters in game can die. Momentary benefits may cost a character a life, while sacrifice will make the walkthrough of one of following episodes easier.

Ash of Gods features a mix of gorgeous art, lush music, tactical combat, and a powerful story that plays out via dialogue driven layer interaction. Depending upon a player's decisions, no two playthroughs of the game will be the same.

Along with a constantly evolving storyline, players will be treated to a fantastic visual and aural experience, featuring stunning hand-drawn characters and environments, coupled with music from Adam Skorupa, whose previous work includes The Witcher, Bulletstorm, Painkiller, and EVE Online.

How would you feel if every decision you made played a pivotal role in the survival of yourself and those around you? Sounds a little bit like real life, doesn’t it? In the upcoming narrative turn-based RPG Ash of Gods, that’s exactly what happens. Every playthrough of the game can be unique -  as your choices affect how things turn out!

We sat down with AurumDust Studio's founder & Ash Of Gods lead designer Nikolay Bondarenko for a quick chat about their upcoming turn-based RPG.

Q: What are some games that members of AurumDust team have worked on that we might recognize? Any team members we might recognize?

NB: I worked on Aura 2: The Sacred Rings, Dead Reefs, Cradle of Magiс, and for the last 6 years I worked on the development of the GameNet platform - one of the largest publishers of online games in Russia. Many gamers may be be familiar with Ivan Magazinov, as he was the game designer on King's Bounty, Royal Quest, while Igor Podmogilnikov, our art director, worked on CrimeCraft, Northern Blade, Skyforge, Guns of Boom and  Running Shadow. All of our team members have worked in games in one way or another for the last 5-12 years.

Q: Was the design of Ash of Gods the first idea you had for the game, or, did you have other ideas for games, tested them out somehow, and decided Ash of Gods was your favorite idea?

NB: At the end of 2007 there was a boom in social network games in Russia. Back then I worked in a TVX Media company and I had "carte blanche" for my project - a hybrid MMO, combining a step-by-step combat system and a card game. The core of that game was built around opposing groups of players fighting for control over ziggurats and menhirs, which give resources to factions. In the midst of pre-production, when we had planned out almost all the gameplay and logic, the 2008 financial crisis buried this project.

I didn't forget it though, even while I was at another job, I would from time to time return to the story that I wrote for that game. It was one of those things I just couldn't let go of.

Several books by the author Sergei Malitsky echoed wonderful ideas that kept me up at night. I really wanted to tell a story that I had in mind,  and I was looking for a format that would allow me to do this.

Q: What is it about Ash of Gods' concept that made you say "This is the game I want to make?"

NB: “This is the story I want to tell” - plain and simple. I just love this story, and want to share it with everyone.

Q: For those unfamiliar with Ash of Gods, can you explain the game's backstory, and the gameplay?

NB: The story begins 700 years before the actual events of the game, in a battle in which the group, let's call them "junior angels", decided to sacrifice themselves to stop the long and bloody war that the older angels unleashed in an attempt to wake up their sleeping gods. Their sacrifice stopped the genocide for 700 years. Even with such a great sacrifice, this horror returns, centuries later. One of the heroes of that first battle, one of our main characters, could not sacrifice himself, And then it all began again.

Our heroes do not want to save the whole world or establish universal justice. Thorn Brenin, driven by a maniacal desire to save children—he does not care deeply for the rest of the world, and would happily let it perish. Lo Feng follows the rules of his order—and the world and the people around him are of little interest. His story is one of love's influence on your personality and feelings towards everything around you. Hopper Rouly, our former angel, is moved by seven hundred years of self-loathing for failing to make the sacrifice the rest of his kind did..

With our story, we want to tell you how sometimes people pursuing their own goals end up saving the world….or throw it into the abyss of horror.

As for the gameplay—it features a mix of genres - being story-driven, there's a lot of text and quests, along with turn-based tactical/card-game styled combat, and resource management. You'll also be moving around a large global map, choosing your path through the adventure.

Q: From all we've heard, the core of the game is its story, and how it uses a "rogue-like narrative". How do you explain that to people? Rogue-like for most people refers to gameplay, like "You died, try again." How does that work in storytelling?

NB: In my mind, "rogue-like narrative" means the following: we have story-driven gameplay, where your decisions will make small, or significant, changes to the overall story and your path through it.

Each hero, for example, has a path that leads toward their individual death, which is based on your choices. But, even with your hero dying, you can still complete the game. Even if you kill off most characters in your party, you'll still be able to experience the rest of the story! This extends to NPCs, even in-game royalty can be killed.

Ash of Gods will not ask you to replay a mission, nor will it display a "game over" screen. If your characters die, or you kill off other characters and NPCs in the story, you will continue to play and find out how everything will end with this outcome. We really are hoping that the story is so compelling, that you won't want to pull the old-school RPG trick of saving every few minutes, then loading that save the minute something bad happens. We want you to continue the story, even after your favorite heroes have died, or left the storyline for some reason.

Time also plays a role - you're surrounded by war, so backtracking through the story is not something you'll want to do. You'll want to press onward, as delays cost lives.

Some of the story choices about who lives or dies are simple, but then we have some even tougher choices— do you allow a conflict between the main characters where one of them will kill the other? Do you kill the woman you love to "save the world" (but there's a chance it might not!). Do you sacrifice yourself to save humanity? And, big decisions like this might not have the intended effect, as their results take into account actions and choices made earlier.

Q: You're using some more "classic" technologies and styles for the artwork, can you explain how you create characters from both the story side, and in the art development process? Do the artists read some lore, and start work, or do other members of the team offer feedback on the creation of character art?

NB: I'm currently writing our last few developer diaries, in which I actually discuss this, so it's great that you've asked this question, as the topic's fresh in my mind.

Our art process all begins with the work of the screenwriter—he describes the "profile" of the hero -  his image, reactions and personality. After that, we choose references for the face, pose and choose the color scheme. After that we do the outline of the pose and face, discuss and make edits. Then draw, paint and finally apply a halftone and add the animations.

It's also worth mentioning that before we had started working on the game, our author, Sergei, wrote a novel on which we are basing our work. Sergei's novel was something all the artists read, and it helps them to understand the role and influence of the characters they draw.

Q: The combat, as we've been told, is card-based, how does it work? Will players be able to earn cards from beating enemies and finishing story lines? Will those cards be able to be swapped between characters in a party, or are they character-specific?

NB: Yes, everything is that way - you will receive fragments of cards by participating in battles and buying them in in-game stores. Playing on low difficulties, you basically can do without cards - but when playing on medium or high difficulty to play without them is hard. Currently, the game has 19 cards - of which you can choose 5 to take with you in a particular fight. In a multiplayer online game - if you do not use cards, this is a sure guarantee of a weaker position compared to your opponent.

Q: We've heard there are several combat classes, how many are there, and how will players learn to pick the best ones? Will it just be trial and error, or will players be introduced to new classes as they play, so the slowly learn what works best for a situation?

NB: In total there are 30 classes in the game. The player can choose from 13 of them. Depending on your opponent,  you will need to change the usual team build from time to time to get through the battle with a minimum of injuries.

Current feedback from players and testers has shown that there's no problem with the number of classes. Each class has 5-7 skills available, and players will quickly learn to adapt to the opposition and come up with good combination of characters for specific battles.

Q: Do you have a personal favorite character in the game? If so, what makes them special to you?

NB: Lo Feng. His morality is very different from what we are all used to, and what we now consider the norm. At the same time, I think that his behaviour is much more human than the average citizen's in difficult conditions. Behavior of such a not-quite-human aspect is always more interesting to me.

Q: There's been a few mentions online that "This looks like a Banner Saga clone", how do you counter that comment? Also, didn't someone from the Banner Saga team actually give Ash of Gods a sort of "thumbs up" during your Kickstarter campaign?

NB: Yes, the guys from Stoic supported us on Kickstarter. I myself am a big fan of Arnie Jorgensen's work. He saw the beginnings of our game in mid-2016, when active development has just begun, and he liked it. As for the comparison with being a clone—I'm not really concerned with it,we are definitely offering something different.

I wanted to tell the story and did it—those who played the game say that the comparison with the Banner Saga disappears about 20 minutes from the start of the game. At the same time, I'm sure everyone who likes this genre will appreciate our history. All those who like turn-based tactics especially will enjoy the game. Don't just take my word for it - the press who have been playing the recent preview build have frequently said that this is much more than a clone, and we've had very positive previews so far.

Q: Video game crowdfunding has seen some backlash in the past 1-2 years, especially since some big-name Kickstarters failed to launch, or in some cases, launched, but were less-than-awesome games. Did this worry you went you went to Kickstarter? Also, you went for, compared to most other developers, a relatively small Kickstarter "ask" ($75,000). Did you ever think of asking for more originally? If so, why'd you go for a smaller amount?

NB: Difficult question. I'll try to answer without writing a couple of pages of text. I think that the Kickstarter format is dying fast - it's slow, difficult to start, complicated in marketing and has long been oversaturated.

What the FIG people are doing is the future—crowdinvesting will replace crowdfunding. We went to Kickstarter mainly to hold on from November 2017 until March 2018 and try to complete the Lo Feng storyline. Could I have jumped into a time machine and went back to last summer, I would have reduced the requested amount to somewhere between $30-35k, actually. 

In an era where some developers are asking for 100's of thousands of dollars in crowdfunding efforts, we really were pushing it when asking for $75k, if you can believe that. We didn't do much promotion for our Kickstarter, and so the media didn't know about us for the most part. By a mix of miracles, and a lot of hard work on social media, we managed to hit our target, and surpass it a little. We've actually made enough to complete development, and that's the most important thing.


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