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Project Phoenix Interview – Delving Into Hiroaki’s Mind

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Now that the Project Phoenix kickstarter has ended, it successfully raised over a million dollars, and crossed several of its stretch goals. Project Phoenix caught our eye as it’s the culmination of talent from both Eastern and Western developers, and a blend of genres. I had a chance to shoot some questions at their boss, Hiroaki Yura, and he was kind enough to spare some time with me.

hiroaki yura picNiche Gamer: First, could you briefly go over what Project Phoenix is about, and share your vision for the game, for those who haven’t been following your project?

Hiroaki Yura: Project Phoenix is a Japanese RPG that blends in RTS elements into its combat system with game development by a team consisting of both Western and Eastern developers.  The game takes place on Azuregard, a high fantasy realm that includes many other mythic races as elves, dwarves, and orcs.  The story focuses on Marcus Stern, a Templar who encounters an angel named Ruffles and joins with an elven princess and a battlemage to put a stop to a conflict that threatens to engulf the land.

As you can see from our Kickstarter efforts, our goal is to revive the JRPG genre and it’s a pretty audacious effort with all the elements we have in mind, but we’re excited and looking forward to delivering an awesome experience!

NG: Project Phoenix is a very ambitious project spanning multiple continents, languages and genres. Was it difficult to get everything going in the beginning?

Yura: We currently are in the process of getting everything going, but the biggest asset that our entire team share is professionalism and commitment to Project Phoenix.   Many of the people on Project Phoenix are either personal friends of mine, people I’ve worked with before, or are friends of friends who are enthusiastic and passionate about games.  Many of them are among the most respected people in their fields and are professional in being able to deliver solid work products.

NG: You talk about being bi-lingual and working with developers from both ends of the world – is there a language barrier between team members, and does this affect development at all?

Yura: One of the key advantages in working with so many people from such diverse backgrounds is that it allows us to meld so many disparate elements together to come up with a game that is creative and innovative.  Needless to say, I really enjoy working with them, especially when the ideas start flowing!

In terms of language barriers, you are correct in that I am bilingual and that makes the process much easier.  As the Director, my job requires me to communicate with all staffers and make sure everyone understands each other.  So if the Japanese staff presents me with information relevant to our English-speaking staff or vice-versa, then I’ll make sure that the staffer’s point comes across and that the listener understands so that we’re all on the same page.

We also have several bilingual artists and creators and of course, that only helps the whole process.

NG: A random question – how hard was it to get Nobuo to sign on? This is his first indie project after all!

Yura: Well, it did help that I’ve worked with Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu for the first time 10 years ago.  When we started this project, his name was the first that came to mind because of how well his music fits the story we’re trying to tell.  On his end, he is always looking to challenge himself with new projects and prove that he still has it, so when he saw how ambitious we were, he was more than happy to come on board!

NG: Let’s talk about the gameplay – it sounds like a literal mix of RPG and RTS, dropping micro-managing for a bigger scope. Can you explain a bit further how you’re working on blending both popular genres together for a new experience?

Yura: Certainly!  It is a mix of RPG and RTS.  RPG in that you have character advancement and RTS in that the battle system allows you to control units in real time through a point and click system.

Where we’ll differ from many other RTSes is in the fact that people will not have to gather resources or micromanage units.  Our plan on achieving the latter is by giving individual characters the ability to form up into squads to keep gamers from having to over-exercise their span of control because that’s not fun.

With that in mind, your squads can have certain settings in place so that they’ll behave optimally… even when you’re not controlling them!

Finally, we’re also looking to increase the effect that terrain, obstacles, and other battlefield features have upon those looking to exploit those elements to gain a tactical advantage and that offers much more interactivity than what people have had previously.  That’s something I’m very excited about for sure!

NG: With the game being a hybrid of strategy, RPG and having a unique control scheme, do you think it will be difficult in adapting that to a controller?

Yura: Yes, the it will be a big challenge to make the adaptation work on a controller but I’m pretty sure my team of talented game designers will find a fitting solution.

NG: So you describe the combat as squad based, real time strategy with strong RPG elements. You further describe it as using a point and click system; could you describe combat progression a bit, whether they be story or random battles?

Yura: An example would definitely work best here.  So let’s say you have a mission in which your goal is to prevent an Orcish raiding party from destroying a village.  Well, your troops would probably be deployed in the village and your first action might be to send your Pathfinder to the crest of a hill to use her keen and sharpened senses to scout for trouble and see what the orcs are up to while you command the other squads to patrol the outer section of the village.

Now, let’s say that you’ve discovered that the orcs are advancing onto the village by way of a rope bridge.  Well, you can use the bridge as a chokepoint, but if they’ve brought too many ranged units with them, it might be better to just cut the rope bridge.  This may force them to take an alternate route where you can better set up an ambush because there’s more brush in the area.  Moreover, if you force them to attack you through a narrow pass, you can even move a boulder in their way to cut off support from the core part of their army and, in doing so, make the battle much easier for you.

NG: You’re planning on the game being a single player experience, but you have thought of adding in multiplayer later if the stretch goal is reached. Would this compromise the single player experience at all or would multiplayer be a separate entity?

Yura: We are looking into do something like a drop-in co-op system plus a PvP type gameplay so both!

NG: Some of your team members have yet to be announced or fully revealed – like Take-B. Will the mysterious Take-B ever have his identity revealed? When can we expect to know the other talent behind the game?

There are some employees like Take-B whose work might be compromised if his identity is revealed, so we may decide not to reveal who he is to protect his professional future and all we’ll say is that he does work for a well-known Japanese game company.

As far as other talents go, we’re still in the process of organizing and recruiting more people and once they have firmly committed and are on board Project Phoenix, we will make the announcement!

NG:  I wanted to talk specifically about the stretch goals, and why you seem to not have as much content promised behind stretch goals as compared to other game kickstarters?

Yura: We are doing our best to balance the excitement and pragmatism of our stretch goals.  One of the issues we’ve observed from other Kickstarters is that they over-promise and under-deliver, resulting in delays or production issues or a poor quality product.  On our end, we want to deliver as good a product as possible without straining our resources and the stretch goals that we’ve come up with strike the balance we seek given what we have.

NG: Coming from this, one of your stretch goals is having fully detailed cities and towns, does this mean in its current build the game will have more basic cities and towns?

Yura: The current idea is that towns are going to be less expansive, consisting more of a series of menus that leads you to points of interest rather than the ability to fully explore the town on your own terms.  Obviously, exceeding the detailed cities stretch goals means we can devote more time to making the towns explorable instead of simply navigating through a menu system.  The result is a greater level of immersion that backers and gamers should appreciate.

NG: The game is coming to Playstation 4 via an undisclosed publisher, do you guys think you’ll be able to do a simultaneous release across both platforms?

Yura: One thing that we would like to emphasize is that aside from the physical copies we’ll be mailing out, much of the game will be distributed digitally, using platforms like Steam.  In looking at our Playstation 4 release, we have the same general attitude and mindset and will seek to also do a digital release through console.

We are aiming to release on all platforms and all localized versions as a simultaneous release so we won’t spoil the story and game for some people.

NG: Finally, do you have anything to say to the fans and backers of the game in regards to Project Phoenix, and what to expect in the coming months?

Yura: Thank you so much for your support!  In doing so, you helped us break past the $1 million barrier!  All of the feedback, passion, and enthusiasm we’ve received so far have created expectations that we’ll strive to meet because it’s what the fans and backers deserve.

Looking at things a few months down the road, we’ll be going into game development mode.  Each week, we’ll update the Kickstarter site with a developer diary so that people can ask questions of our developers and get a peek into the creative process.  Beyond that, our forums will be up very soon and we look forward to interacting with our fans there, or on the Google Hangouts!

So that’s it, if you still haven’t pledged to their awesome looking game, you can still do so even though their kickstarter has closed – by going to their site and pledging here.

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Owner and Publisher at Niche Gamer and Nicchiban. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry. Pronouns: Patriarch, Guido, Olive.