Interview With Pixel Hero Games’ Nader Alikhani

Speaking of combat, what are some of Tempus’ abilities? And how does he evolve during the journey?

Tempus is able to make use of his prosthetic arm to manipulate energy, manifesting weapons, shields and energy blasts. In combat Tempus has three ranges – close, medium and far – and can perform light and heavy attacks at each range. The actual attack Tempus performs is context sensitive, and will vary with his distance from the enemy. We’re really trying to get a tactical element into the combat, where keeping track of Tempus’ position and adjusting his range depending on the enemy will have an impact on the outcome.

Over the course of the game Tempus will earn experience points that are allocated automatically depending on how you’ve been playing the game — encouraging the combat style the player has been developing and unlocking new skills. You can also go through and create additional custom combat styles at any point! Hopefully players will be encouraged to have fun, and if they want, modify the character’s skills in a variety of ways.

We’ve seen a number of developers use the episodic approach for ambitious projects, so Spiral has plenty of company there. What are the advantages of an episodic release from your perspective, especially when it comes to content design and project work flow? And there must be some drawbacks – do you worry about things like keeping the fan base excited while you’re trying to focus on creating the next episode?

The greatest advantage is that it allows us to break a much larger game into chunks. Making this game outright would be a two-to-three year project for a small studio and that would have been virtually impossible to achieve. Releasing episodically allows us to develop our core game, and focus only on what we need to produce each episode, and as a company we can get a product out to market and start earning money to support ourselves much sooner. It also allows us to make changes to subsequent episodes much more quickly based on what our consumers want. That is something traditional boxed games cannot compete with, and from a consumer’s point of view something I find really interesting.

Naturally, the biggest drawbacks will be making sure we get the right amount of content to the user, at the right price, and on a consistent enough basis. We’re focusing a lot over the next few months to make sure that players will have at least three hours of quality story gameplay (as well as an infinite arena mode) to play in the first episode. It’s very important to us to make sure we can achieve a balance between keeping the fan base happy with what they are getting, and what we can realistically keep producing on a consistent basis.

What range of iDevices will Spiral support? Has the introduction of the New iPad and its ultra high-res Retina display thrown any unexpected kinks in your original plans?

At the moment we are looking to have the game working on any iOS device capable of running the Unreal Engine, which would be the iPhone 3GS, iPad and up. We’re trying to make sure that the core gameplay functions on every device, avoiding a scenario where the gameplay is radically different on more powerful devices; the team feels really strongly about making sure everyone gets as close to the same playing experience as possible. However, on newer devices like the 4S or New iPad, we are taking advantage of the extra horsepower to add layers of visual polish and make the game even prettier.

One last question before I let you get back to work on Spiral. Pixel Hero had a pretty successful visit to GDC in March, but one could imagine any number of ways a big conference might turn out disastrously for a new studio. Do you have any pointers for making the most of an expo? Do you find that press will magically flock your way as long as you’ve got something really cool to show off, or is content only half the battle when it comes to these conferences?

Of course having a cool project to show always helps! However, picking expos that are targeted around smaller developers like GDC is particularly important. I think it would be safe to say we would still be completely unheard of if we had tried to announce the game at an event like E3. We also planned exactly what gameplay we wanted to show far ahead of the expo, and were prepared to speak comfortably and confidently about it. Even that didn’t stop me having nightmares before GDC, worried about whether or not the game would be well received!

Other than preparation and nagging and begging the press for a few months leading up to the expo, the best thing we did at GDC was not be shy about letting as many people look at and play the game as possible. Some of the events outside the conference are great places to meet other developers and members of the press, and everyone is generally excited to see what other people are doing. We got a lot of attention from people who contacted us after being told about the demo by other developers. The games community is an incredibly supportive place, where people like to see each other succeed, so it’s good to take advantage of that!

Big thanks to Nader for taking the time to answer our questions at length! For the latest Spiral news, be sure to keep an eye on the Pixel Hero website, Facebook page and Twitter account.