I recently had the opportunity to sit down with John Smedley, the CEO of Pixelmage Games to discuss his upcoming title Hero’s Song at PAXWEST 2016 in Seattle. John, along with Bill Trost, Creative Director and John Handy COO introduced me to their 2D pixel art style epic fantasy world that is Hero’s Song. I even got to meet Patrick Rothfuss, the Writer working with Pixelmage on the Story generation when he passed by to also take a quick look at what John was showing as we clustered around a small laptop in a hotel lounge. John proceeded to demo a game that hearkened to the old school look and feel, however as the demo proceeded, it was clear that there is a lot more going on than the art represents. Pixelmage games is founded on the concept that games need to be true to the art form of gaming, with a passionate audience that is focused more about the game play than the graphics. Games have to tell a story, think Dungeons and Dragons table top with depth and complexity similar to Everquest. Hero’s Song takes those aspects and rolls them out in a game that allows single and multiplayer game play. Let’s dig into those aspects.
Hero’s Song is going to be a Buy to Play game, $20 ($15 if you invest in the Indiegogo campaign currently underway) is all that will be required to pick the game up to allow you to play and host your own server if you so choose. Players will be able to play by themselves, even offline, if they host their server on their own PC. Or players can host a server on a hosting site, configure it to be public or private allowing up to 2000 people to be associated with the world you create but only 200 of them will be able to play at one time. While those numbers seem small in today’s world of MMO’s, considering the average multiple player experience is around 20 at a time even if 1000’s are logged in, 200 feels like a lot to me.
Once you decide to create a world, you will enter a screen that has you choose Gods that will determine everything about the world you are about to explore and adventure in. This aspect immediately felt like a DM setting up a campaign in D&D or a MUD. Depending on the size of the world you want to create, you select 3 Gods (25×25 km), 5 Gods (50×50 km), or 7 Gods (100×100 km) that brings with them the Races, Terrain types, levels of conflict, amount of magic and more into the world. Adjusting the influence of each God will determine how much they affect the world during the history generation phase. History is simulated for 10,000 years where lore is determined, blood lines and traits are created. Magic items are ceded into the world and well as the rise and fall of races. Your God choices could result in no Elves being alive when you join your world, just remnants, ruins of their civilization. So choice wisely. The initial history of the world that you see during creation can be discovered in greater detail in the world as books or oral history you discover as you talk to NPC’s. That is some serious story telling.
There is also an underworld God that must be selected to determine how you will potentially escape death. You may be required to kill something, provide a blood sacrifice or just pay money. These tasks will always be difficult and if you can’t complete them then you permanently die. And dead is dead, nothing transfers, your possession can be found and be claimed by NPC’s and players alike. Keep in mind just because you die, the story isn’t over, the world continues. Create a new character, which is actually a character that already exists in the world, you are just taking control of it, and continue. You could be the one to find your previous adventurers body and pick up all they found or you may have to kill a few Orcs to recover your items if they found it first. That is the beauty of Hero’s Song, the game is about the story, the world, and not you as an individual hero like so many other games. And if you just happen to survive until you are level 50, well you do have the potential to ascend to be a God, now that is a story telling goal worth achieving.
Now that your world is created, it time to select a hero to play. With 21 classes to choose from, there will be something for everyone. Keep in mind depending on your world creation, not all races may be available. You are choosing someone in the world that has a complete family history of their own and may not even have all their limbs. Disfigured characters could be generated or you could become disfigured through gameplay, which is an awesome feature in my book, too many games want to keep you pretty forever, like no matter how much adventuring you do, you will always look the same. Not Hero’s Song, it is a survival game after all. You will need to eat and drink, rest, stop the bleeding if you get cut, so on. Also be aware of the weather, different creatures like different climates. You need to know who you might run into depending on where you are, Orcs prefer the cold and Goblins avoid the cold for example. There is a full day night cycle and light is very important, especially in dungeons. But just like the old school games, different races have advantages and disadvantages for things like light, dwarves with ultravision for example.
Classes are built to be unique play styles, not to be equal against each other or the world. Alchemist for example will have a difficult road ahead of them because they are not built to be adventurers. Witches need to travel in packs, covens, because it amplifies their powers when with other witches. Not to say a Witch can’t go it alone, they will just struggle with limited power. I hope you are quickly seeing this is not your typical MMO, this is a hardcore RPG with a focus on exploration and storytelling. Each class has a unique tree of skills you unlock as you level. Not all skills are combat skills however, such as making a campfire, an essential ability to know if you wish to survive in the wilds. Even the NPC’s are subject to the struggles of the world. They will bleed, need light, rest, to eat. They have their own hatreds and likes, and can and will choose to fight or talk based on those attributes.
The crafting system, which is always something near and dear to my heart is simple but deep, according to John, about 80 steps deeper than Everquest. The limitations of crafting is knowing where and when to get the ingredients and your limited bag space for supplies. Recipes will change your outcome based on the items you use, the difference of using iron or copper in sword for example. Using wheat instead of rice to bake bread. The challenge is finding that rare mushroom that may only bloom during a full moon at the top of the highest mountain. Are you the diligent Crafter looking to make the best, or are you just getting by with average supplies that are common? Just keep in mind with the limited inventory, you need to make sure you don’t run out of arrows, they are consumable and you will need to make more to keep firing that bow and they take up an inventory slot. Also if your class needs reagents to cast a spell, learn quickly where to find or buy them or you will be out of luck casting. The good news here is that resources are node based and you have a separate inventory for resources. How that all works and how much you can carry remains to be seen, but overall I am intrigued but what I was shown thus far.
Adding to the crafting system will be player made houses and towns. While there is not a lot of details on that yet, I was told that you will be able to build anywhere. Just keep in mind you will have to defend it as there is no safe areas. If a roaming band of Goblins decide they want to attack and set fire to your home, you will have to change their mind. Set up defenses, hire mercenaries to be guards and stand watch on it yourself.
I am just scratching the surface of the many aspects of the game. I hope you are getting just as excited as I am to see more in the coming months as John and the team continue to share even great detail about Hero’s Song. And while I can see how many people could be turned off by the choice of the art, once I began to fully understand the full concepts that make up the game, I came to appreciate the decision to go that route. The amount of tech and the complexity of the systems, from how the worlds are created to how the history is generated and all the story telling aspects, among others, would take a huge amount of resources to also have highly visualized graphics. Just think of the possibility to host your own server on your own laptop or even potentially a tablet and play Hero’s Song offline while traveling. A modular Pixel art system allows you to fully realize a world without a huge footprint of software that is normally associated with an MMO. I for one really like how the game looks and feels thus far, reminds me a lot of a Zelda type game, but with the complexity and detail of an epic fantasy novel series presented as a full D&D campaign.
I want to thank John S, Bill and John H for taking time out of their busy PAX WEST 2016 schedule to sit down with me, share their vision, current status of the game and to reminisce about all the old games we play(ed) and loved. It was great meeting you and I am still in awe of how you, the industry veterans treated me as if I was the special guest. And John, despite your dislike of Froglok’s, I will always love my little Wizard, so a special thank you to Bill for insisting they happen.
Enough rambling from me for now, please check out the Hero’s Song Indiegogo campaign and support if you’re interested. You can get more information about Hero’s Song on their Webpage and if you’re interesting in discussing the game more, jump over to the IMZY I created for just that purpose. I will be covering every facet of the game in greater detail in the near future, hope to see you here again.
NOTE: All images are shown from the Alpha build and are just an indication of what the final interfaces may look like.