Odyssey: Education Through Engagement – an Interview With Omkar Deshpande

Odyssey: Education Through Engagement - an Interview With Omkar Deshpande

As technology evolves alongside education, we gain the ability to shift from classical deeply ingrained teaching methods to something better. No longer are teachers beholden to out-dated and old-fashioned systems of instruction when it comes to covering the history and philosophy of science. Children are now born into a world where interacting with technology is second nature, and Omkar Deshpande and Vivek Kaul of The Young Socratics have set out to take advantage of this. Their new game, Odyssey, combines education and entertainment to teach students about the history of science in an engaging, interactive series of adventures. Odyssey takes a Myst-like approach to helping kids learn classic scientific and mathematical philosophies, letting students discover and use these ideas in an intuitive, historically accurate way rather than just cramming formulas into their brains. Deshpande and Kaul want their game to be the start of a new method of teaching old ideas that will make sense in both historical and modern contexts. CGMagazine spoke with them about the game, where the ideas came from, and what they hope to accomplish. 

CG Magazine: What was the evolution of Odyssey?

Omkar Deshpande: The idea for Odyssey goes back about two years: we had been teaching middle school kids here in the Bay Area, and the approach we were using to teach math and science to them was a Historic Philosophical (HP) approach. We were presenting the ideas the way they were invented by the great minds of the past instead of just telling [them] what the final forms of the theories or the laws look like in the form of equations, which is generally how math and science are taught in schools. We saw that the response to this HP approach was quite good.The question was how to scale it, how to make something that would allow us to reach beyond a limited classroom and our 15 kids. …That’s when we thought, “well we could take a HP approach to science and combine it with storytelling and gaming”. Storytelling and gaming are independently engaging for kids, so then we would have three different components to a product, and we could bring those three together in a single experience. We felt that would increase the [level of] engagement many fold.

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Odyssey gameplay images via The Young Socratics

That’s where we thought if we could draw upon elements from puzzle adventure games like Myst, [from] the kinds of stories that we ourselves had read when we were that age, … [and from the sorts of stories] kids read nowadays, and combine those with a HP approach to science, [then] we could build a unique product which would also be aligned with the spirit of the next gen science standards, and also, hopefully, be entertaining and a very different way to learn science.

CGMagazine: How do you make a game that is both educational and also engaging from a gameplay perspective?

Omkar Deshpande: The educational aspect is the HP approach, as we said; the storytelling and gaming side were independently conceived by us. A lot of effort was put into developing the story with the help of Eric, and a lot of effort was put into the puzzle design and the game development itself. That’s where we hired Jason Miller who had worked on Call of Duty and some other games- [a] very experienced dev. By having Eric and Jason work with us closely, we felt we achieved a good balance between education and entertainment. One of the ways we do that practically in the game is…the entire game can be thought of as a linear sequence of chunks, and within each chunk what the player has to do is explore around, [and] discover a journal fragment. The entire journal that was written is carved into a sequence of fragments by the character in the game. The player’s job is to first discover each fragment, and with each one the player …[uncovers] a bit of the story of the game and also a little bit of the science [they are supposed to learn]. Then, in that local environment, the player encounters a puzzle to which that science content is to be applied. The understanding of that piece of science is tested by that puzzle. Once the puzzle is solved, the player … unlocks the path or the key to the next portion of the island. That’s how we weave together these three components throughout the game.

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Odyssey gameplay images via The Young Socratics

CGMagazine: What philosophies, discoveries, and disciplines, were you adamant be in Odyssey, and did any get cut for one reason or the other?

Omkar Deshpande: We wanted to start from a blank slate. We wanted to assume the player does not have any pre-requisite knowledge of science. Since the origins of science lie in ancient astronomy, we decided to start from the ancient Greek world, and then build up the scientific inventions one by one or the ideas, and build an edifice, so in the way [when] you are constructing one floor of that edifice, all the foundations for it have already been established. It’s like the Euclidian approach to Geometry: when you come to theorem 10 of Euclid’s elements, you’re only relying on a self-evident set of axioms and the theorems one to nine that should have already been proven. You don’t rely on something that is to be established later. So that’s the approach we followed, and we wanted to go all the way up to Newtonian physics, starting from ancient astronomy, through the ancient Greek world, through the Renaissance, up to the scientific revolution. It’s one of the most important stories in the history of human civilization, ending with [the] Newtonian laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation. But we couldn’t really get to that point, because we had to put our own money into completing the game, and after a year and a half we had exhausted our savings… [E]ven though the first draft of the journal has been written up to Newtonian physics, game development would have required twice as much [money] as we had already put in. Because of that, we had to release whatever was built as the first three chapters of the game, and we [have] said that we will release the next three chapters if we get funding or sufficient revenue from the first game.

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Odyssey gameplay images via The Young Socratics

CGMagazine: How did you find the Kickstarter experience?

Omkar Deshpande: We were new to that experience, and what we found was that a significant amount of planning is needed to actually get a good Kickstarter campaign going, including the prep of the KS and video and prepping a mailing list of people already interested in your product. Initially, most of the traffic you can get for the KS has to be your own. Only when you reach your sufficient threshold do KS internal users start to come to you. We had to focus a lot of our effort initially on our network, and then, after that, to expand the network, we looked into game communities which are looking at adventure games, and then we also looked at science forums and science teaching forums, [because] there are science teachers and students and parents who are actually interested in science. Most important was the home schooling community, because we had been teaching home schoolers as part of our classes, and many of the ideas of how we should come up with the models to be used in the game came out of the classes we taught to homeschoolers. Alongside KS we also did a Steam Greenlight. Initially our target was towards middle school students, but we found that there are some science enthusiasts who are interested in puzzle adventure games even in adulthood. They want to play with their kids because the material we cover in this game is not known to many adults, either because they learned science in a different way, [or] they didn’t go into its historical evolution. When we go back to the Steam Greenlight, most of the people who ordered are adults, and we also had an Early Access since Feb 23, so you can see the reviews which came to us through Early Access, most have been positive. The difficulty with the Indie game community is that it’s very fragmented. It’s hard to get enough exposure towards your game unless you have a lot of budget. That has been the challenge we are working on, whatever exposure we got …[yielded] good reviews. Now the question is whether there are enough adults interested in the game or if we should only focus on the educational markets.

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Odyssey gameplay images via The Young Socratics

CGMagazine: How did you get someone like Noam Chomsky to play your game?

Omkar Deshpande: Actually I had been corresponding with him for some time and he is generally interested in the philosophy and history of science. …[W]e had shown him certain things which we were doing in our classes, and after that we sent him the journal we had made which emphasizes this whole intellectual journey, and he looked at the journal and he just gave his endorsement after that. But I had been in touch with him for some years. Also you can see we were also in touch with David Mumford, who is a field medalist and national medal of science winner, and he has also written for us. The quality of the content we cover is [so high because] we made sure we were talking to academics as well …[making] sure it was as accurate as possible and still easy for people to understand, so [we] were trying to do that as well.

CGMagazine: Final thoughts, anything to add?

Omkar Deshpande: We feel like we’ve created something unique and I don’t think there is a game like this—that much we feel quite confident about. What we don’t know right now is whether we [will] get enough exposure for people to use it and actually impact how science is taught in the country. Our hope is that we will find some avenues, whether through philanthropists or gov’t grants or funding of some kind to allow us to keep making more games.

Weathered Spirit – An Interview With TITAN 1 STUDIOS Kyle Smith

Weathered Spirit - An Interview With TITAN 1 STUDIOS Kyle Smith

Editor’s Note: The following interview with TITAN 1 STUDIOS is available in full in this month’s issue of CGMagazine. Click here for more details!

TITAN 1 STUDIOS is a Toronto based comics publisher that has recently launched their Guardian Knights of Relativity Universe. CGM spoke to the company in March about their plans for the line, and now that the universe has kicked off, we got a chance to talk to one of the writers.

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TITAN 1 STUDIOS images via facebook.com/knightguardians

Kyle Smith is a local boy who writes comics in his spare time. His first story with TITAN1STUDIOS is a one-shot called Weathered Spirit, which drops this August. CGM got a chance to chat with Kyle about his project, why he loves comics, and what it takes to actually make a living writing them.

CGMagazine: Tell us a bit about yourself!

Kyle Smith: I’m a writer and illustrator from Toronto, I make comics. I started making comics just kind of independently, self-publishing them, probably like seven years ago or so. I kind of did it part time, I also worked in post-production for a while and just early last year I decided to have a go at turning comics into a full-time career so I’ve been doing it full time since the beginning of this year.

CGMagazine: How did you get in touch with the guys at TITAN 1 STUDIOS?

Kyle Smith: Me and a guy I do a lot of comics with, a really talented illustrator named Gabe Sapienza, did a comic together called Scare Tales, which is like a Tales from the Crypt-esque horror anthology series. The TITAN 1 STUDIOS guys approached us about maybe doing something with it through their company. What they wanted to do didn’t really pan out with what we wanted to do with it, but through that conversation I got talking to [TITAN 1 STUDIOS owner] he owns TITAN 1 STUDIOS he’s the guy that makes stuff happen and we started talking about some ideas about stuff we could do with TITAN 1 STUDIOS with their Knight Guardians universe.

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TITAN 1 STUDIOS images via facebook.com/knightguardians

CGMagazine: What can you tell us about what you’re working on right now?

Kyle Smith: We just finished a one-shot called Weathered Spirit, which is this supernatural thriller mystery with some horror elements thrown in. It’s about a girl who lost her mother when she was young, and she’s kind of this failing private investigator down on her luck and struggling to make ends meet as she’s trying to discover what happened to her mother and on top of all that she’s haunted by this visions. She’s basically trying to discover what happened to her mother and on top of all this that’s happening in her life she’s haunted by these visions of this terrifying ghost and she doesn’t know why or what it all means and the story follows her journey to unravel these mysteries and goes from there.

CGMagazine: How does this tie into the rest of the Guardian Knights of Relativity universe?

Kyle Smith: It’s set in the world of the RU and takes place in one of the last remaining city states—in the RU the world is war-torn as far as I know about it and there is six city-states and it doesn’t really tie into the main series but what we’re doing with these one shots, with Weathered Spirit and future projects, is we’re expanding the RU by following other characters on different journeys that take place within this world.

CGMagazine: Provided this goes well for you, do you have anything else in the pipeline?

Kyle Smith: We’re doing another one shot called Dogs of War that follows one of the Knight Guardian characters, Aaron Seth, as a young soldier. It’s a story that takes place during the past of this characters life. It’s a war story, not sure when it’s coming out, but we just finished the script on that and if things go according to plan with weather spirit I’m pretty sure we’re going to see a mini-series spin out of that.

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TITAN 1 STUDIOS images via facebook.com/knightguardians

CGMagazine: I know print sales for comics aren’t what they used to be, is it hard to make a living as a comic writer?

Kyle Smith: Well, since this is the first time I’ve ever tried to make it a real thing I also have to do freelance work on the side because you can’t really pay your bills by writing one comic every couple of months. Like I said earlier, I come from post-production so I do work as a video editor and colour correctionist as well, so I just take jobs when I can get them and when I’m not doing that I work on comics.

CGMagazine: Do any of your own experiences bleed into the comics you write or are they purely works of fiction?

Kyle Smith: I try to take things that I think about and if there’s something I want to make a point about or if I have an opinion on something that creates a bit of an emotional investment for me when I’m writing and that obviously makes it more creatively fulfilling. I think I try to do that a little bit but not to the extent where it’s going to overpower the character or take away from the story.

CGMagazine: Thanks a lot for chatting with us Kyle, good luck with everything!

Kyle Smith: Thanks man!

The Mind of a World Creator – An Interview with Alexandre Amancio

The Mind of a World Creator - An Interview with Alexandre Amancio

When it comes to the gaming industry, new studios come and go almost on a daily basis. Even some of the big names of yesteryear no longer exist, and what is a huge studio today can be gone tomorrow.

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Alexanre Amancio – photography courtesy of Reflector Entertainment

Certain names in the industry have recognized this trend, and are starting to adapt to the future. Rather than focusing on a single type of media, studios like Alexandre Amancio’s Reflector Entertainment are attempting a new approach: create the universe, the IP, first, and let the media follow. Why set out to specifically make a game when you can create an entire world spread across books, film, television, comics, and games by creating that mythology first? If the world is interesting and captivating, fans want to experience it in more than one way.

CGMagazine was lucky enough to snag Alexandre Amancio for a conversation to hear from him personally about what exactly Reflector Entertainment is all about, and what the company is attempting to accomplish.

CGMagazine: What can you tell us about the new studio?

Alexandre Amancio: I think the main distinguishing factor between Reflector and everyone else is that we don’t see ourselves as a game/film/TV studio or publishing house. Reflector is first and foremost a universe; it’s a world company. We build worlds, we want to build mythologies, and we do that in an agnostic way. We don’t look at where it’s going to live. We first start with thematic stories and worlds that start off with one very specific idea that we believe is relevant to the times. Once we have that idea we start building a world around it, a mythology, some characters, and once we see that there is a resonance, we then start looking at how we can spread that world across multiple channels.

As an example, the author of Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard, essentially said “I can’t take credit for my work because I felt that I was channelling something, it’s almost as though these events, this world, actually existed and I was only a vessel that was trying to write as quickly as possible while this stream of information flowed through my mind.”

I think that whenever you tap on to something that is essentially very true, it feels like that, it feels like you’re channelling something and that’s what we’re chasing. We’re chasing after these mythologies that will flow out of us and once we see that there’s a universe itching to come alive, these are the ones that we take one step further and take really smart creatives from every different channel around the table and try to craft these stories that all stem from this one universe.

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Alexanre Amancio – photography courtesy of Reflector Entertainment

CGMagazine: So you’re not just there to make games, you’re there to create worlds and whatever comes out of that just follows. On that note, what do you guys have cooking up right now?

Alexandre Amancio: I can tell you that we’re working on about five different universes, five different IPs. One of them we just announced the name, Hellfighters, that one we are currently writing the script for the film, we’ve started pre-production and conception on the game, we’re also developing a narrative podcast associated with it as well as a graphic novel series and a novel trilogy.

There is another one that we are in talks with a third party for a universe we are collaborating on. I can tell you there is somebody major involved, a major player from the film industry that’s involved. It’s somebody that we respect tremendously and sees the world through the same filter…sees stories as being vehicles for worlds and universes rather than seeing it as a finite film.

Then we have other ones that are in various levels of development. One project that we are working on along with two people from the film world that have also done television. And we have three that we are developing internally, ideas we’ve had internally and are developing. But again, all of them are slated to be much more than a game or a film or a TV show. They’re all mythologies, worlds, and universes. Some are inter-connected and some are not, but that’s the filter we see everything through.

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Photography courtesy of Reflector Entertainment

CGMagazine: How big is your studio then, if you’re tackling all these different media?

Alexandre Amancio: Because of the nature of how you do all these media, except for the gaming industry where it tends to be not only simpler but allows you to have more control of quality—to have your team be internal. A lot of the other industries, like film, TV, or print, you deal with people with whom you collaborate for projects but you don’t hire them internally, they’re sort of freelance. This is true for film, you hire a producer, you team up with creatives and create the property, then when you produce it, it’s all people you put together for that production that disband afterwards. It’s just the nature of the film and TV business. In the comic book world it’s a bit the same, you put together a team, you create the property, write it, illustrate it, and then you use a third party like Image Comics for example to publish it. For games it’s different. There are so many moving pieces that go into making a game that you have to actually develop stuff, and the best way to do that in my opinion is internally.

This is why we’re ramping up our studio to around 150–160 people in the next 12–18 months. In those people we have about 10–12 people that are part of Reflector Entertainment. It’s more of the IP people, you have high level executives that help shape these universes that are different creative braintrusts that we put together for each IP. Then we have staff for two games, we are targeting teams that are about the size of 90 people. The reason for that is because the nature of starting a production, you have a pre-production team that you then ramp up for production, so if you have two productions in tandem you disassemble them so that when one of them is in conception the other is in production so you can cycle people through. Because we’re part of a larger family, Reflector is a subsidiary of Lune Rouge, Guy Laliberté’s company, so a lot of the back-office services, HR, accounting and all that stuff, our head office is providing. Which means all of those people that I’m mentioning are just going to be working on the creative content.

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Alexanre Amancio – photography courtesy of Reflector Entertainment

CGMagazine: As far as games go specifically, what are some things you want to carry over from your time at Ubisoft and what are some things you want to leave behind? I know they’re really pushing games as a service, DLC, season’s passes etc. What did you take from there and what are you leaving?

Alexandre Amancio: First of all, I think that if you take any set of rules that you’ve pre-established and you try to apply them on every single one of your projects I think that’s a mistake, because you’re making stuff that is unauthentic. I think that the concept of a game should stem from the IP, and I think the same for all of the media. Every single story world that we built carries with it the ingredients of how to build the medium that give it life. If you do that I really, truly believe that you’re making something authentic. You stay away from formulaic stuff; I’d rather have something that has resonance that people still talk about two years down the road than something that makes a lot of money. Obviously I hope the studio stays alive and makes a lot of money so we can keep telling these stories, but the primary goal is to tell stories that are relevant to today. That’s the basis of everything.

To answer your question directly, maybe one IP, the game actually calls for because it fits perfectly with the actual theme, is something that is more of a ‘Free to Play’ with other stuff attached to it. Transactions maybe? For one IP though, that seems fake and tacked on because what you want is a product that you just buy and get the whole experience. The story needs to determine the type of game. That being said, I can tell you the first game we’re working on doesn’t have that games as a service approach because it doesn’t fit with the IP. It’s more of an actual product that you buy and is an experience.

As for what I want to bring over from Ubisoft and what I don’t, first of all, I’ve worked on games that had a 30-person team and the last one [Assassin’s Creed: Unity] we had 1,000 people working on it across ten studios and three continents. For me, one of the reasons that I decided to do this was that I wanted to focus on smaller teams. I think that there’s a magic number of just fewer than 100 people. Everyone on the team knows what everybody else is doing. It’s small enough so that when there’s a problem, everybody feels like it’s their job to fix it. It’s a close collaboration; everybody has a direct impact on quality. I don’t want to remove any credit from people who work on large games because it is a very difficult thing to do; just making those gears work and synchronize is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s just a different game. I want to focus on smaller teams, direct intervention on quality, where people feel like “I did this, we all did this together.”

When you’re a big company your focus changes. It’s just a very natural thing, it starts becoming more like a business and it’s just the nature of how it works. I think keeping Reflector smaller, giving it that Indie feel and Indie approach to creation…willing to take more risks on certain creative things, keeping the budget small so that you can actually risk and not be too dependent on whether you reach a certain number of copies sold. That’s another reason I think this is such a cool endeavour. Having the safety of company that has backing but having that freedom to be able to be a bit more edgy and creative when you’re building your products.

The Mind of a World Creator - An Interview with Alexandre Amancio
Photography courtesy of Reflector Entertainment

CGMagazine: Anything else you’d to add?

Alexandre Amancio: We’re starting small, and to be very frank and humble we did this first announcement because we had been working under the radar for quite a bit and you can say that you’re a cross-platform or trans-media company, but I think that if you’re going to do it for real it needs to seep down into the very DNA of the company that you’re building and I think that this first public communication that we’ve done on Reflector is the beginning of a story and I really want to establish a close relationship with the journalists but also with the fans—this is not a monologue, it’s a dialogue. We want to try something new, we want to try a new approach and I don’t think we could have done this 10–15 years ago. There is this accessibility to all these different media where you can tell these stories in a different way and I think it’s an experiment. I think this is the way of the future and it will create IPs and universes that will resonate more with today’s public and this is what people want. They want to be able to follow stories through all these different media, they want to be able to see the links that nobody else saw and talk about them. I want the act of taking part in these stories to be an act of creation in the same degree as what we’re doing, the creators. That’s the relationship that Reflector wants to establish with the fans.

Knight Guardians of Relativity – An Interview with TITAN1STUDIOS

Knight Guardians of Relativity - An Interview with TITAN1STUDIOS

Editor’s Note: The following interview is available in full in this month’s issue of CGMagazine, available now

TITAN1STUDIOS is a Canadian-based publisher developing transmedia content across novels, comics, video games, animation, and live action TV.  They are currently publishing three series that will hit the shelves in Q1 2017. Knight Guardians of Relativity arrived in comic shops in January and is the launch of the Relativity Universe.  The company recently partnered with Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc., the world’s largest distributor of English-language comics, to bring the Relativity Universe to comic shops. CGM had a chance to speak with lead writer Taran Chadha and Executive Producer and publisher Rathan Moorthy about what this means for their company and their future plans.

CGMagazine:  Tell us a bit about yourselves. How long have you been writing comics, what got you into the medium? Who are your influences, both in the past and currently? What titles do you read and enjoy?

Taran Chada: I started writing a mix of films and comics since the age of 13, but when I came out of college it was tough breaking in, and to be honest my work then was still amateur. It lacked a deeper understanding of human drama and motivation. But after a few years working as a writer in advertising, I got a project for a birth control product and decided to create a comic for the print ad, which was a pretty weird choice on my part. It was a blast to make though, so I started freelancing in advertising to pay the bills, while writing and drawing comics on the side with my friends and self-publishing. We did a 300-page graphic novel that took years to finish, which we’re proud of, but was still not quite at that professional level. Eventually after lots of work, trying my hand at writing films in LA, I ended up in Toronto at the RAID studios, and was able to push the work into a realm that felt good to me a few years ago. And that’s an exciting time, when it finally clicks, and all you want is time to pump out as much as possible, it becomes an addiction. Like that high you get from running, after the first few months of grinding through it, when it just feels good. Now I find it hard to go a day without writing, like my body hates me unless I’ve punched those keys for a few hours every morning.

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In terms of influences, I remember reading Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and thinking, “Holy shit, this guy has read all these books to write this”. So I decided to do the same. I read the original Sherlock books, A Picture of Dorian Grey, Frankenstein and so on. And they were amazing, so I kept diving in. The original Dracula blew my mind, it was genius. So I still try to read as much literature as possible to inform my writing. But for fun, comics are hard to top, recently I’ve been loving Southern Bastards, and Prophet is fun to read for the weird worlds they create. Saga is something I always recommend to people, top-notch art and writing, with a lot great human moments in-between all the epic sci-fi. I like to think about it, because it feels personal, even though it’s intergalactic, and that feels like an accomplishment to me as a writer. One-Punch Man is a great Japanese Manga/Anime show! Okay, I’ll stop there otherwise I could go on forever…

Rathan Moorthy: In April of 2013, I was disenfranchised by the Canadian broadcast scene.  After a few years of successfully producing sports and entertainment related content to the broadcast and sponsorship community, I found it increasingly difficult to find partners to deliver the niche/indie style stories that we wanted to produce.  It seemed that everything that was making it onto TV was a derivative of some other successful show, or a reboot or remake of something that existed a few decades previously, etc.  We had a few good scripts in our portfolio, stories that dealt with the challenges of minority communities living in Canada, and an episodic comedy-drama (similar in subject matter to Aziz Ansari/Netflix’s Master of None), but we were not getting any traction in the broadcast community.  So, I thought it was time to pivot.  I reached out through a mutual acquaintance to Gareth R. Roberts (Award-winning Harper Collins UK novelist) and pitched him a dystopic ‘Knights of the round table’ concept that dealt with protecting the use of time travel, and framed it within the context of humanity having destroyed itself during a series of temporal wars, and now existed within a series of remaining city-states.

Gareth loved the concept and over the next few years of weekly Skype calls, delivered a 70,000-word manuscript that would go on to form the backbone of our graphic series.

As Gareth was writing, I started visiting comic shops in my area to see what was out on the market, thinking that we could use the comic medium to deliver the first elements of our story.  I was ready to be ‘rebirthed’ as a comic reader.  Having only really followed Superman and Spiderman in comics as kid, I was not really prepared for how the industry had shaped and shifted since the mid-1980’s.  To be honest, I found it all quite overwhelming … until I found Cary Nord’s work in XO Manowar.  I took a deep study into the first trade and loved what Valliant and Cary were doing with the franchise that had both mainstream superhero feel with solid indie storytelling.  I was sold … we weren’t trying to develop Knight Guardians as a cape story, but we knew that we had to draw enough mainstream publisher components to have a chance at being relevant in the market.  I went through an exhaustive search to find a creative team to deliver the graphic series and through [that] found Taran, who was working out of the RAID Studios. Together with Taran, we added two more RAID Studios artists in Irma Kniivial (colourist) and Gabriel Sapienza (Cover Artist) and Barcelona-based sequential artist Abel Garcia.  Now, about a year on, our team is finishing up work on the fifth Knight Guardian book, and ready to launch two new titles with two additional creative teams.

Knight Guardians of Relativity - An Interview with TITAN1STUDIOS

As far as influences go, I’ve already referenced Cary Nord and XO Manowar … but currently (having gone from a comic shop newbie to now a $50 per week shopper), I’m totally taken over by the work of Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, and Babs Tarr in Motor Crush.  This series, for me, is the hottest thing on the market.  From character, to story, to art, to world building … this creative team is totally knocking it out of the park.  Something tells me that these three are up to something bigger than what they’re revealing in Motor Crush, and as a fan, I can’t wait to see what that is!  As a note, we’ve been fortunate to add Motor Crush letterer Aditya Bidikar to our creative team, who, in my mind, brings serious artistry to his letters, which is very difficult to find.

Atari: Battling for the Mobile Market

Atari: Battling for the Mobile Market

Atari isn’t exactly a small indie outfit pumping out a few titles on Steam Early Access. The company is essentially responsible for creating the home console industry that, despite a crash in the early 80s, has grown into one of the most dominant media markets.

However, thanks to the advent of smartphone technology, an entirely new branch of the industry has exploded in the mobile scene. While some voices in the community have decried this avenue as a money making scheme, there are certainly some fantastic games available for both hardcore and casual players.

Atari: Battling for the Mobile MarketWith Lunar Battle, Atari is aiming to showcase that mobile games can showcase the depth and complexity of a PC or console title, but also be fun and easily playable for those who don’t necessarily have the spare time required to master and progress through some of those more intimidating titles.

Currently in soft launch, Lunar Battle is a city-builder meets space combat sim. Players take control of the construction of a moon base and the creation of a spaceship used to engage in zero-g dogfights. Currently in soft-launch in Canada and a few other countries, Atari is looking to players to tell them what works and what needs altering for the full launch coming this Fall.

CGM recently spoke with Fred Chesnais, head honcho and CEO at Atari, and Mark Perloff, a lead producer on Lunar Battle, to see what the game is about and what Atari was aiming for.

CGM: What exactly is a soft launch?

Fred Chesnais: [With the] soft launch we are targeting certain countries where we want to get feedback about what works in the game, what’s monetizing and what isn’t, and be able to pivot and balance the game based off what we get from the users. Drill down and make sure everything is where it should be.

CGM: How does the Atari pedigree fit into the design of the game? What elements or themes are present that showcase the history of your company?

FC: Lunar Battle is an IP that we have owned for many years, so what you see is an interesting IP from our portfolio. We’ve decided to highlight it and relaunch it because we believe our expertise in simulation and arcade games would basically be the best combination to offer a great game. If you’ve read the description, it’s a combination of simulation and battle and Lunar Battle plus expertise in simulation is the perfect cocktail I’d say. It’s really in the DNA of Atari to make simulation games and arcade games.

CGM: How much of the focus will be on the city building aspect and how much will be on the space combat. What kind of mix were you guys aiming for?

Atari: Battling for the Mobile Market 5Mark Perloff: I’d say 50/50, but we really designed it for people who were inclined to like either aspect of the game. To just enjoy that section if that’s all they want to do. It’s balanced in such a way that if all you want to do is enjoy the space battles, the city building is just a way to increase you resources, which you can then spend on new weapons and items etc. Or you can use those space battles as a way to supplement, because every time you win a space battle you get additional items and resources you can then put back into the city building. Ideally we’re hoping they synergize in such a way that you want to create your next set of buildings, so you can get back and fight your next space battle, so you can go back and continue to explore and expand your base. We’d like people to be excited about both but it’s a 50/50 split I’d say.

CGM: I watched the trailer and loved the soundtrack. Synthwave is super popular right now with the whole retro 80s thing going on. What was your goal in mind when creating the soundtrack?

MP: I know that the developers were really inspired by lots of classic sci-fi like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica etc. As you play through the game, it sort of hits on a number of those classic sci-fi tropes. I find a real sort of fun irreverent twist on everything and part of that is the soundtrack. So it’s going to have a spaced out, synth vibe to it. It’s all part of the overall aesthetic of the game that goes for the classic sci-fi vibe.

FC: It shows the passion that not only the team but also the brand is able to generate. The passion to revive one of the best-known Atari titles and that’s the beauty of working with the brand.

CGM: Can you guys describe the PvP system? Is it always on, is there matchmaking? How does it work?

Atari: Battling for the Mobile Market 3MP: You unlock the PvP at a certain point in the game progression. You can eventually build a space station, which is like a floating hub that you can outfit the way you can your spaceship. So with various lasers, shields, hull etc. You use that in some of the PvE missions. In addition to that you unlock the PvP, which is sort of an asynchronous PvP. You’re not playing against someone else in real time. What you do is go fight another AI controlled version of someone’s space station and ship, which is determined by how well outfitted their ship and station are.

CGM: What games from other devs found their way into Lunar Battle. What inspired it, what themes or gameplay mechanics are present that were inspired by other games?

MP: The developers were really inspired by some more involved PC sim and management titles like Anno 2070, or something like Banished. We really wanted to go for a mid-core experience that was a little more involved than the standard mobile city building game, but obviously they definitely took a lot of the best factors from other mobile titles like the Simpsons game or Clash of Clans. There are bits and pieces of other games that mobile users would be able to recognize but also an extra layer of depth that comes from the influence of these PC titles.

CGM: Lunar Battle is both a PvE and a PvP game. What kind of DLC will players be seeing and how will that be managed? How are you guys monetizing this title?

Atari: Battling for the Mobile Market 2MP: There are a couple ways, but the developers made a point that there are no blockers in this game where you’re going to need to spend money. We hope that we’re incentivizing people because the game is so much fun. Monetize it. After you gather all the resources needed to create a building, that building is actually manufactured by these robots that do the actual labour, and those have a cooldown timer so if you want, after you build a certain number of buildings you can wait a certain amount of time or spend in-game credits which can be purchased to speed that up. Additionally, there are resource packs, which are boxes of random resources of different rarity levels, which you’ll find throughout the surface of your planet as you’re exploring which will refresh throughout your play time. These are also going to the IAP section of the game menu and they come with different rarity levels at different prices. If all you wanted to do was get the coolest most powerful crazy ship right off the bat, you could presumably purchase those items, but also you can get through it just by progressing through the game.

CGM: The mobile market is made up of a lot of people who want to casually play games as a way to kill time on their commute to work. On the other hand you have those gamers who take things seriously and prefer to invest a lot of time into their gaming experience. How did you tread that line between hardcore and casual?

Atari: Battling for the Mobile Market 1MP: You can lose a space battle, but there’s no real penalty for failure as you’re building your base so it’s really a matter of how much a player wants to put in, in terms of how they’re setting up the resources and where they’re placed throughout their colony. If you want to, you can really drill down and have the absolute most efficient, most well-run planetary colony the universe has ever seen. At the same time, if you just want to pop in for 15 minutes and place a few buildings, see what happens next with the storyline, go in and fight a few battles you can do that do. It definitely appeals to a wide swath of players, and I think the more you put into it the more you get out of it.

CGM: What is the end-goal of Lunar Battle? Obviously you want people to keep playing but there has to be a destination; there has to be an end point. What are the plans for end-game?

MP: There are a couple right now. Within the space battles there are 50 missions and there is a story line that plays out over those 50 missions. One thing for certain is to get to the end and see how the story progresses and how things end up after all the missions. Additionally, there is the exploration part because the beginning of the game much of the map is behind a fog of war so you slowly build out and see what the rest of the planetary surface looks like. That being said, it is finite, so we are planning a few additional things. We’ll definitely have monuments, buildings that are on a much larger scale and take much longer to build. Think of the Great Pyramids or something like that, and those can only be created after you’ve hit a threshold that’s very deep in the game in terms of the amount of lunar surface you’ve explored and the amount of resources you’ve gathered. So that’s one of the end-goals we have in mind. There’s also other stuff we’ve been cooking that won’t be in the game at launch.

Lunar Battle is currently available for Canadians on both iOS and Android operating systems. Check out the App Store or Google Play for more information.