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Heart&Slash Q&A–Customizable Individuality

On roguelike beat 'em ups, kickstarter, and individuality

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If you’ve kept up with the Kickstarter Weekly, you may have read my thoughts about Heart&Slash, a roguelike beat ’em up that recently received full funding on Kickstarter. The game is about a robot named Heart who fights back against outdated protocols in attempt to live freely and find love. In order to incorporate the themes of individuality into the gameplay, Aheartfulofgames infused roguelike elements into the beat ’em up genre, and they have 75 weapons and 60 body parts for players to experiment with.

I recently had the chance to speak with Aheartfulofgame’s lead developer, Juan. We discussed Juan’s experience working on the game part-time, launching a Kickstarter campaign, blending beat em’ up and roguelike genres, and more. Read on to learn more about Juan, Aheartfulofgames and Heart&Slash.

Could you tell me a little bit about the history of Aheartfulofgames?

Aheartfulofgames: We don’t have any history! We are so new… Honestly, we are still in the process of incorporating the company. But the core team members do have a history. Kike has the most experience in the game industry, having worked for EA and Bitoon before joining us. Thomas comes from the managing side of things. He worked at DigiPen Bilbao, organizing the RTIS side of things for quite a while now. I (Juan) come from working in the film industry, doing very different stuff from project to project. 

Aheartfulofgames is our dream–A studio we wanted to create so the three of us, and our collaborators, could finally make games for a living.

I know Juan has completed most of the work by himself. When did you (Juan) decide that you needed to bring on more team members, and how did you meet them?

Aheartfulofgames:The decision was made as soon as I realized I wanted to work on the the game professionally. For a while, it was no more than a personal project; therefore, it was ok for me to do most of it. But once I realized I wanted to make Heart&Slash a real, finished game, I knew I could no longer work on my own. I am very aware of my own limitations, and a lot of the work done in the game while I was alone is not of high enough quality. I wanted to solve that, so I went to some friends I really trust and recruited them (they didn’t need much convincing, since they already knew and loved the project). Thomas and Kike are old friends of mine, and I know they are excellent, professional and very hard working; so it was a no-brainer to work with them.

When we decided to look for artists, I remembered some very talented students I once taught at DigiPen, and we got in contact with them. Our budget is obviously minimal, but I’m a strong believer in sharing ownership of creative projects, so that approach has allowed us to create a bigger (and better) team than we could have allowed otherwise.

We couldn’t be happier with our team!!!

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You recently released an alpha on your Kickstarter page. How have your fans/backers reacted to the alpha?

Aheartfulofgames: Pretty well, actually, even if it was a scary thing to do. See, the alpha we released is a real alpha, not one of those “press” alphas that are very polished and controlled. It was actually (at the time) the most recent work-in-progress version we had, with some system plainly imbalanced, since we were in the midst of a huge code refactoring. But we do believe in transparency and in showing people the reality of our game, so we decided to go for it.

Of course, we’ve received much feedback and criticism (yes, we will change that camera, rest assured…), but overall people were able to see the potential in the game despite the problems it has now. It surprised me, because that’s not an easy thing to do (to properly judge a work-in-progress); but people have been incredibly supportive. 

We plan to keep updating the alpha each month of, so it can mutate from just an alpha to a proper demo (and that way we can keep gathering valuable feedback!).

I assume you want all of your stretch goals to be met, but which one do you personally hope (at the minimum) is met? Why?

Aheartfulofgames:The Endless Dungeon. We have a very cool gimmick ready for it, and it actually fits within the story and world of Heart&Slash. There’s stuff about it that is still secret (we have an announcement coming soon), but it will be a nice way to explore the combat and customization mechanics in a much more direct way. We will have much more freedom to mix stuff there, and I can’t wait to start designing that mode!

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Why did you decide to incorporate roguelike elements into a beat ’em up?

Aheartfulofgames:Two reasons. First, I wanted to explore flexibility in beat ’em up design. Most games in this genre have a super tight set of constraints (limited abilities and weapons) that basically impose a certain “style” for each game. One thing I love about rogue-likes is the modularity they offer, mixing stuff together that doesn’t fully belong and watching emergent gameplay styles come out of that. I have never seen that done with a beat ’em up and wanted to explore it. It already has given us a lot of nice stuff (the gameplay is already pretty varied) and also has started showing where the problems may lie ahead (you can’t simplify each weapon too much without damaging the combat, so we’ll have to broaden the scope on some of the weapons we have already implemented).

The second reason is pragmatic. I started doing this by myself, and it was impossible for me to deliver a content heavy, linear game. It was going to be either creating gameplay content (systems) or linear content (levels). The roguelike approach, when used wisely, allows small teams to deliver more complex games just by looking back at the old era of arcade games in which each playthrough was a discrete (and not very long) thing. It might have been abused, and I understand some people have concerns about this; but in the end, if you are to have an indie scene that remains flexible and small in size, people will have to accept this approach as one of the solutions.

I’ve been a fan of roguelikes since my teens (played about a hundred of them, never ascended in one), so this whole roguelike-like thing feels very organic and it’s an obvious design choice for me.

You mentioned Mega Man, Bayonetta, and ADOM as some of your influences. Could you describe how your influences have shaped Heart&Slash’s development?

Aheartfulofgames: Mega Man is more a stylistic reference. You know, the whole robots acquiring new abilities thing…

Bayonetta is just my favorite brawler (I love the speed of that game), and I will be extremely happy if we just get slightly close to that feeling and punch in our combat. It’s a tall order, though, since probably they had more people balancing and tuning the combat than we have in the whole team!

And ADOM is my favorite roguelike of them all, and one that, like Heart&Slash, is very story driven. It was either that or Shiren the Wanderer.

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In your Kickstarter, you mention that there will be 75 weapons and 60 body parts. Could you give a brief overview of some of the weapons/body parts and how they could be used? What are your favorite weapons/body parts so far (or are willing to discuss)?

Aheartfulofgames: My favorite weapon right now is the duelist gun. It’s a gun that comes with no bullets. You can buy three bullets for it, each at an increased XP price, and they are very, very expensive–including the first one. But the weapon kills every enemy–EVERY enemy–with one shot (as long as you don’t miss). This includes bosses. So this creates a great dilemma, since using the weapon will eventually leave the player with an under-leveled character that will have a tougher time against regular enemies.

Two parts I like are the Sprectralizer (basically a Bayonetta-like slow-time-on-precise-timed-evade that is the most direct homage to that game) and the Rocket Pack, which allows Heart to fly, and it basically breaks the game in many ways (but makes your standard jump more cumbersome).

Since the game seems to be about individuality, did you shape the gameplay to accentuate this trait? Will players be able to explore their individual play-styles?

Aheartfulofgames: Yes, well, they will explore individual playstyles. Since the drops are random, there’s also a need to adapt to what you are given.

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The presentation certainly looks unique. Could you describe how you created the art-style?

Aheartfulofgames: It was a mix of several things. First, I wanted color and cartoon violence, since I wasn’t comfortable making a hyper violent game anyways. Second, I needed an art style that would allow me to model and animate with ease (because I had never modeled or animated before starting this project!), so I had to use simple, easy-to-use tools. Third, I do like pseudo retro graphics (not retro, but inspired by retro) and have always had a soft spot for Jet Set Radio and cell shading in general.

So one day, while I was researching how to approach this, I found this amazing voxel editor tool (that had integration with Unity) called Qubicle. I downloaded the free version, tried it, and fell in love with the workflow.  That’s when I decided to use voxels under the cell-shading because of this tool.

Of course, I experimented to make the style mine. So even if some of the constraints were out of necessity, I have come to really like how the game looks (and it will look much better once we have better backgrounds and a custom shader!).

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Do you plan on releasing Heart&Slash on any other consoles?

Aheartfulofgames: I would LOVE to!!!!! I’m a console gamer, and I really want to see one of my games on consoles! However, we have still to engage in serious negotiations with the platforms holders, so we don’t know yet how easy this will be.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers looking to get into the game industry or launch a Kickstarter?

Aheartfulofgames: It’s hard, since we haven’t yet finished our game. I guess one thing that I would say, game-making wise, is to go for it all in. I don’t think it’s really feasible for most people (barring a genius) to create a complex game working part-time. I do think it’s both important to dream big and to be realistic, but the only way you can reconcile these two is for you to give up on something else. Two months ago, I left my job to devote myself full-time to this project. Although it was a scary decision back then (it could have gone horribly wrong), I’m now very happy I did.

And as for launching a Kickstarter, I actually think we have been very lucky. Even though we thought we were prepared, the reality is that we weren’t so (if we had the option to go back in time, we would probably delay the campaign a couple of months). Kickstarter is a weird beast, and getting noticed there is hard, especially if you don’t come with a built-in community. I think it’s a great platform to fund creative projects, but people should do the groundwork before launching (more than we did, at least), so they can be sure to hit 50% of the funding in the first two or three days. Otherwise, it can be a very painful experience! Some other Spanish studios are writing to us looking for advice, and this is what I’m telling them. Don’t rush. Prepare…

I’d like to thank Juan from Aheartfulofgames for participating in this email interview. While Heart&Slash has already reached its funding goal, it still has plenty of stretch-goals to meet. Feel free to check out Heart&Slash’s Kickstarter page here. You can also visit the Kickstarter page to check out the playable alpha.

Did you read anything about Heart&Slash that caught your attention? Did you back their game and hope they reach a particular stretch goal? Then feel free to tell us in the comments section below!

 

About The Author
Garrett Glass Senior Editor
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