Interview With Witching Hour Studios

Who are Witching Hour Studios, exactly? How many people did you start out with, how many have you picked up along the way, and did you all have previous game design experience or just go on instinct while developing your debut iOS title?

Witching Hour Studios was founded by three friends – Ian, Brian (myself) and Kevin – from the sunny island state of Singapore. One dude from an advertising background and two business management graduates, with collectively no game development experience whatsoever. Sounds like madness trying to form a game studio, right? But hey, BioWare got started by two doctors, so we figured we could follow suit. And take a boatload of risk along the way…

We started with just the three founders, and picked up three artists and two programmers along the way. The programmers had mostly worked on smaller-scale game projects prior to Ravenmark, so it’s not like we managed to snag anyone with real triple-A experience. Everything you see in the game was created by natural instinct, fed to trial and error!

Your dev blog makes a brief reference to Ravenmark starting out as a table-top strategy game. How did that idea balloon into a full-blown videogame, and why did iOS become your platform of choice?

The genesis of Eclisse, the world of Ravenmark, can be traced to a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that our creative director Ian has managed for over eight years. About two years back, the campaign world had been adapted to set the stage for a table-top board game, and this board game actually contained around 80% of the features that can be seen in the final game! Stuff like the advantages between Element Types, Wheeling, Formations and Attached Elements/Commanders were all there.

Kevin introduced me to Ian in late 2009 after our graduation from college. When Ian mooted the concept of his board game and the campaign world, I thought it would be an utter waste if it were only to be experienced by tabletop gamers. The potential to be had, if we could create a gripping plot set in a world brimming with well-developed history and lore…

So we elected to pool our life savings to form a company and seek out talent that would help us turn the table-top combat system into a TBS, as well as artists who could bring the tale of Ravenmark to life. Given our newbie indie status, and our desire for this game to reach as many people as possible without having to wrangle our way through a publishing deal on a console, iOS seemed the natural choice for us.

How long did the scenario writer(s) spend developing Ravenmark’s world, and what kind of writing experience did they have beforehand? For a story so well developed, why tell it through a videogame rather than get it published as a novel or screenplay?

As mentioned earlier, the world itself was built completely by Ian, but it was more of an idea occupying space in his head that had yet to be put to paper. After we agreed to work on Ravenmark as a videogame, Ian created the outlines for every nation, element and storyline character, and their interactions were mapped out on a giant plotline.

Then it was left to me to pull everything together in the story’s script. Scary, because the only writing experience I have is college writing and a six-month stint as a food journalist! Also, the Codex (where all the lore of the world resides) was largely penned by Mun, another friend of ours who took Ian’s outlines and fleshed out something phenomenal. We attribute it to his vast knowledge of politics and philosophy.

I always felt that videogames stand as an incredible medium that pulls an audience ever closer to a story through its interactivity. We have thought about telling the tale of Ravenmark as a graphic novel or book series, but… One step at a time!

The first few campaigns introduce the player to the Brothers Septim – Calius and Rebus – but they seem like mere specks in such a wide world! Where will these men fit into the wider story, and will the player always see things through Calius’ eyes, or will there be some viewpoint switching in future campaigns?

Although he appears typecast as the lead character, Calius is meant to provide the “everyman” perspective of the insane drama unfolding around him. The first two campaigns available at launch focus on the events leading to the invasion of the Empire of Estellion. Future campaigns available in updates will show the invasion from the perspective of hero characters of other nations. Coming soonest is the Suneaters campaign, which lets players fight on the side of the rat-eared invaders, led by their fanatical leader Alejo de Porres.

How does one with a great videogame idea shop for a programmer, exactly? Did you put out a Help Wanted ad in game development forums, snatch a programmer off a freshly finished project you liked, or work through personal connections?

We spent over six months looking for programmers with the right spirit towards indie game development. Over here in Asia, it feels like virtually no programmer worth their salt is willing to work for you unless you have a triple-A brand name, or you pay through the nose. Eventually we lucked out and snagged one with iOS development experience, and another who’d gotten some development chops at DigiPen.