Interviews

Interview: Ackk Studios’ Andrew Allanson

Ackk Studios is an independent games developer based in Hoboken, New Jersey. Formed officially in 2011, it is helmed by the Allanson Brothers, Andrew and Brian. Along with programmer Ian Bailey, music producer Jose Alfaro and artist Brigid Allanson, Ackk Studios is currently in the process of developing YIIK: A Postmodern RPG that is coming to PS4, PSVita, Wii U, Xbox One and Steam with a current estimated release date of February-March 2016. They have also developed Two Brothers, available on Steam right now, with its updated version “Chromophore: The Two Brothers Director’s Cut” scheduled to be released in the coming months.

Interview commence:

Ashley Harrison – Whilst I’ve been following you for a while on Twitter, there will likely be some readers who are unaware of you. In short who is Ackk Studios and what do you do?

AckkStudios – Ackk Studios is an indie game company who mostly develops RPGs.

AH – How many people are there working at Ackk Studios, and what roles do they fulfil in the development of your games?

AS – Ackk Studios is helmed by myself and my brother Brian, working with our sister Brigid, as well as Ian Bailey. I handle composing, script writing, dungeon super vision and team management. Brian is the programmer and lead artist of the team.  Ian is our level designer and Brigid is our 2D illustrator.

AH – How long have you been developing games personally? Was Two Brothers the first or were there games that you developed before that?

AS – Brian and I started programming games at the age of 10 and 8 respectively. We’ve worked on a lot of games outside of Ackk Studios with other teams.

AH – Two Brothers initially launched with a Kickstarter that raised $16,257, smashing the Kickstarter target by just over $10,000. What were the benefits and drawbacks of using Kickstarter as a way to “get the game of the ground” so to speak?

AS – It’s like having a bunch of different bosses. Each has very specific desires for the game, and many can be very vocal if they are afraid you’re going in a direction other than what they had assumed you’d do. That can be stressful. That’s the biggest drawback!

AH – The Kickstarter reached its target when its campaign still had 24 days to go. How did you feel when this happened?

AS – It was great. It didn’t feel real. It really, really felt like it was happening to someone else!

AH – With many Indie games now adopting a retro styling to them in throwback to the gaming days of old, what caused you to adopt fully Gameboy style graphics for the game?

AS – Brian was inspired by the Gameboy Demake fad from early 2010. So, he started drawing art with a Gameboy palette, and it just sort of fell into place.

AH – Two Brothers takes a very interesting look at death in games, where instead of dying when you run out of health you instead crossover to the “afterlife” where you can continue the game. I’m a huge fan of this mechanic, why was it that you chose to implement it?

AS – The idea was a commentary on how forgiving death is in video games. When you die in a game, nothing really happens… it did back on the NES. It HURT to die, and you lost a lot. Now, you basically just continue from where you left off.

AH – Looking at the user reviews for Two Brothers on Steam, opinion on the game seems to be very much split; however the Steam page has the reviews tagged as mostly negative. How does it feel knowing how much you put into the game to see that?

AS – The negative reviews can be very painful. The biggest issue is a lot of the problems people had with the game are the fault of Multimedia Fusion 2, the tool that we used to create the game. If we had known the problems would be this wide set, we wouldn’t have made the game, or used that tool.

AH – In Two Brothers, there is a huge amount of fourth-wall breaking. Within the first 5 minutes, you come across a fish that bears a resemblance to the Wind Fish from Link’s Awakening, a Pokemon reference when leaving the inn, and even Emily Rogers having a cameo in town. What caused you to put such references in; was it just designed to be a little bit of fun?

AS – I’m not really sure! It all happened so long ago.

AH – Chromophore, the Director’s Cut of Two Brothers, is just around the corner. What changes can we expect in Chromophore from Two Brothers?

AS – You can expect a lot of changes. We’ve remade the entire game engine, relayed out the levels on a grid, and changed up the combat system.

AH – Did the reception to Two Brothers have any influence on your decision to create Chromophore, or was that a decision you made with no external factors?

AS – We decided to make Chromophore because we felt people would kill us if we didn’t bring the game to Wii U, and the only way to bring it to Wii U  was to remake the game in Unity. Plus, we never liked the name Two Brothers, so it became Chromophore.

AH – You’ve noted that Chromophore is being built in a different engine to what you built Two Brothers in. How have you handled the transition between them, has it gone smoothly or have there been any problems because of it?

AS – It’s been a bit of a nightmare really. It’s tedious to recreate something you JUST finished a year or so ago.

AH – You’re currently developing the second (or third, depending on how you see it) game under the Ackk Studios name, YIIK. When describing it to my friends, I describe it as a “hipster 21st century Earthbound”. How would you describe it yourselves?

AS – I like your description! I’ve been using that.

AH – What made you design YIIK as an 3D RPG game, which is about as opposite to Two Brothers as you could get?

AS – Brian wanted to make something that felt a bit like Mega Man Legends, so after messing around with different styles, YIIK was born.

AH – What game, or games, would you say have had the biggest impact on YIIK itself?

AS – YIIK mostly draws inspiration from Lufia 2, Mother 2 and 3, Super Smash Bros, Paper Mario and Golden Sun.

AH – The characters within the game all have their own unique looks, what processes have gone into designing them? Are they modelled after anyone in real life, or are they just characters that you have just thought up yourselves and then designed?

AS – No one is based on any real person, specifically. Maybe some people who passed us on the street and looked cool.

AH – I’m a huge fan of the music in the pre-alpha version, with the theme inside Alex’s house being a personal favourite. Is there any direct source of inspiration for the music, and what else can we expect from the rest of the themes?

AS – The music is mostly influenced by swing music. Django Reinhardt in particular, and a few other French jazz legends. Mostly we wanted the music to always feel like it was moving the game forward. As for the rest of the soundtrack, you can expect a LOT of variety. It’s a big soundtrack with a lot of different moods. The music in the pre-alpha is some of the lamest, so I think you’ll be impressed with what comes later.

AH – The majority of games nowadays offer some kind of collectables, such as Final Fantasy X’s Al Bhed Primers, or the Riddler trophies in Batman Arkham Knight. Will YIIK feature any kind of collectibles?

AS – Ah, yes. You can collect the bar codes off of a cereal in the game that gives you a chance to meet the Back Alley Boiz, an in game Boy Band… You can even audition to join them and get a weird ending!

AH – You’ve mentioned on your Twitter that you have programmed the enemies in a similar style to Final Fantasy XII with the ‘gambit system’. This isn’t a system that has been imitated by many other games, so what made you go with the decision to do this?

AS – The enemies in Final Fantasy XII always seemed very smart, and the battles were great in that game. As a result of that, we looked to it to figure out how to set up our own AI for YIIK.

AH – Each of the characters within the game has their own signature weapon, such as Alex with his vinyl, and this will affect the way in which the characters behave in battle. Are you able to give a little more detail about how each battle weapon will work?

AS – I’ll give two examples! Vella is obsessed with video games. So, all of her mini games are arcade based. Additionally she is a musician, so some mini games happen on her key tar. Claudio fights with a wooden sword and hacky sack. His gameplay feels like a combo of DDR and Sabin from FF6.

AH – You’ve given a provisional release date of Winter of this year, and are starting to demo the game to the public, which I presume means that development is beginning to near a close. Compared to the original plans that you had drawn up for YIIK, how different is the product that you have now?

AS – The final product is exceptionally different, and considerably cooler.

AH – A common feature in many JRPGs is little mini-games designed to be a bit of fun and waste time in the game. Will YIIK have anything along those lines?

AS – Sort of… you’ll see.

AH – Each of the characters in YIIK has their own voice actor – how did you go about finding the actors to voice the characters? Were there certain qualities in particular that you looked for depending on the character they were voicing?

AS – The game was cast by Brittany Lauda, a very talented casting director who has worked on a variety of Anime and Video Games. She read through the script, we talked about who each character was, and how they should feel when they speak. She then auditioned hundreds of actors, picked her favorites, and together we whittled it down.

AH – What made you want to get into the game development industry?

AS – It’s the only thing that ever made sense to us. Coming from a family of artists, we were both naturally talented at drawing, and we were very interested in programming. Once we realized video games were just programmed drawings, it all clicked together for us.

AH – What advice do you have for any aspiring games developers in the future?

AS – Whether you decide to be a coder or an artist, make sure you can at least do a bit of the other. All artists should understand programming, and EVERY PROGRAMMER needs to understand art. If you’re a programmer and you can’t understand syncing animations, or good framing for a camera, stop. Learn that, and try again.

AH – Do you have anything else that you want to say relating to YIIK or anything in general?

AS – We’ll be at Pax Prime, Tokyo Game Show, and EGX with a brand new demo!!!

Interview Finish

I would like to thank Ackk Studios for taking the time out of their undoubtedly busy schedule to answer these questions for me today, and I wish them all the luck in the world for the releases of Chromophore and YIIK within the coming months. If you would like to find out more about Ackk Studios, or gain more information leading up to the release of their upcoming games, then you can find them on the following platforms:

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