Interview With Witching Hour Studios

What programming language(s) or game engine was Ravenmark built in? Was there any aspect of the game that became particularly challenging to implement?

We used cocos2d for the main framework, and Tiled to create the isometric maps. The latter was a complete pain in the derriere, though – only when we got around to actual map design did we realize that there was probably a good reason why no other 2D TBS on iOS was using isometric views! We struggled with the issue of placement of terrain objects on the map, as we needed to ensure that such objects did not obscure player view (and thus control) if they overlapped.

Tell us the story behind your selection of Josh Whelchel as the composer of Ravenmark’s music. When did you first learn about him, and just how important do you feel a good soundtrack is for a videogame?

Josh composed the music for Mark Pay’s The Spirit Engine 2 – a pretty low-key indie game that Ian played and loved. He shared the music with the rest of us, and we dug it, so we cold called Josh way back in mid-2010. After sharing our story and plans with him, he jumped right on as our composer, and the rest is history. A game’s soundtrack, to us, makes the difference between a good and a great game, and it’s a real shame that more people are starting to tune out the music in favour of their own tunes. Whatever happened to respect for the craft?

When I think of all the TBSs I’ve ever played – Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, Shining Force, Advance Wars, etc. – the thing that unifies them all in my mind is the concept of controlling units sequentially. What made you decide to stray away from that formula and have unit actions play out all at once in Ravenmark’s Standing Orders system?

It wasn’t like our aim was to deviate and reinvent the wheel for TBS, but simply put, it was a consequence of Ravenmark’s system being designed for multiplayer play from the start! At some point in the future we hope to implement hot-seat multiplayer, and possibly asynchronous multiplayer through Game Center.

Revisiting that list of TBSs again, one of the things that always got me excited as a player was watching battle cutscenes with sprite animations and special effects. Ravenmark, by contrast, relies on art stills for the actual confrontations. Did the team view this as a liability at all, or do you think there’s actually an advantage in leaving things up to the player’s imagination a bit? Are the battle stills a tradition you intend to continue, or are we likely to see more elaborate skirmish scenes if the first Ravenmark campaigns are successful?

We never saw it as a liability, but an opportunity to show off the lavish art that the artists on our team could provide. Animations might have provided the visceral notion of attack that gamers are used to, but we thought we would try a different method to evoke the idea of epic war in a player’s head when two elements attack each other. As long as we do updates for this iteration of Ravenmark, the battle stills are likely to remain.

You announced 11/11/11 as Ravenmark’s solid release date way back in August I think. Just how brave was that kind of announcement – was there ever a moment where the team wished you hadn’t set the release date in stone, and did meeting your deadline require any extraordinary sacrificial efforts?

I’ll be upfront: it’s insane to announce such a thing without even knowing if or when you’ll reach beta! Having said that, for practical reasons, we had to lock down a release in November, as we don’t have the luxury to operate on “Blizzard time,” a.k.a., “It’ll be released when it’s done.” So yes, sleep and sanity have been a bit of a scarce commodity here in the office, but it looks like we’ll pull through.

And finally, let’s get some more detail on your post-release update plans. iPad owners will have to wait a bit for a universal update it seems, and players who purchased the game on release day will see that a third campaign is on the way. Will additional campaigns after that come in the form of content updates, or will you go the full-blown sequel route and release a brand new game separately at some point?

As mentioned, multiplayer is definitely something in the pipeline but we can’t say for sure when that will materialize. We hope to release a universal update by Christmas, and the third campaign, “Suneaters,” by January. Beyond that, we have something like four or five more campaigns planned, but honestly, what we develop post-release will depend on Ravenmark’s performance in the App Store. Most importantly, fans should rest assured that whatever happens, we will wrap up the story one way or another!

Huge thanks to Brian for completing this interview, and to everyone at Witching Hour Studios for creating a darn kickass fantasy TBS! Remember to check out our in-depth review and see what all the fuss is about if you haven’t yet. And if you’re already hooked on Ravenmark, be sure to keep an eye on Witching Hour’s Twitter feed, Facebook page, studio website and dedicated series website for the latest news! We’re also counting down the hours until Josh Whelchel’s soundtrack release goes live!