Interview: Eric Foster of Horrible Unicorn Game Studios Talks Legacy of the Copper Skies

Posted on by Ryan

For many projects these days, whether it’s a video game, a movie, or even potato salad, crowdfunding with Kickstarter and Indiegogo has become essential to the success of numerous projects over the last few years.  For many games now though, there is a step before the crowdfunding platforms, and that is the Square-Enix Collective.  The Collective is a platform managed and curated directly by AAA developer Square-Enix, where developers have the opportunity to pitch their game ideas to Square-Enix, get feedback from them and the community, and hopefully get financial backing from Square-Enix on the crowdfunding campaign when it goes live.

This is the path that Horrible Unicorn Game Studios chose for their upcoming title Legacy of the Copper Skies.  HUGS was founded in 2014 in in Kitchner-Waterloo, Canada, and is comprised of industry veterans who have worked at big name studios including Warner Brothers Games, and Relic Entertainment.  We recently had the opportunity to chat with CEO and Creative Director Eric Foster about his studio’s upcoming title.

Gaming Conviction: People who have never heard of you before may not know this, but you were previously a Producer and Level Designer at Relic Entertainment. How different is it going from that atmosphere creating AAA titles such as Warhammer 40K: Space Marine and Batman: Arkham Origins to heading your very own studio developing its first ever game?
Eric Foster: The differences are like night and day. The passion and personal attachment you get working on your own game is so intense compared to working on anything at a large company – at least, for me anyway. When you get to make something you genuinely love it’s so different. I don’t even notice the overtime anymore because I love it all. The stress level increases tenfold though.

Being indie you also have to do a lot of things you’d never have to do at an AAA company. Those companies are so large that they have dedicated people for many things. On the other hand, we’re so small that we need to handle all of those extra things by our self – which is awesome, but also time consuming. That said, if I had the chance to do over the decision to start this company I’d do everything the same way.

GC: What was the thought process in coming up with the basic idea for Legacy of the Copper Skies?
EF: We actually had this idea floating around for a while. It originated back when I was in university, but had to be put on the back burner when I was hired at Relic. It started with the idea that creation and destruction were these two forces that needed each other. Neither is good or evil, but both requires the other to do their own thing. The idea of two forces being so different, yet needing each other and co-operating with each other is what inspired this. That idea eventually took on the form of two playable characters. The rest of the game is built around these two characters and their mechanics.

GC: What was your initial reaction to hear that you guys had been approved for the Square-Enix Collective?
EF: We were pretty pumped and even went out to celebrate shortly after. It’s a huge thing for us since we’re pretty big Square Enix fans, so being associated with the company in any way is pretty cool. Should have seen us when they announced the Final Fantasy 7 remake… Think I almost fell out of my chair.

GC: What is your target audience for the game?
EF: Any and all action adventure fans. Our game was mostly inspired by elements from the Legend of Zelda series, so we’re hoping their fans can enjoy Copper Skies as well.

GC: What made you decide on having dual playable characters?
EF: We went dual playable characters for a variety of reasons. For one we felt it would help us create some really cool gameplay, puzzles, and scenarios. It was a decision we made early. It also fits with what we wanted to do narratively and thematically, and it’s not something that’s done very often.
GC: Tell us a little bit more about the 2 main characters Tir and Isen?
EF: Sure.  First there’s Isen, the sole sentient robot of Grimstad. Curiosity and logic are her virtues, and she has a strong inner desire to create and tinker. To her, the world is a giant collection of spare parts, and it is her job to transform them and create order. Every inch of Grimstad and all its well-oiled robotic inhabitants were created by Isen from scratch. Sadly, that work is quickly coming to a close and she’s finding that there is less and less for her to do. She’s constantly searching for more… something new, something different – something that excites her again.

Then we have Tir, a hunter of great strength and primal instinct. Tir craves the peacefulness of solitude in his remote forest home, but does venture out from time to time. During these outings he spends his time defending his people from the shadows of the strange monsters that are often born into his chaotic world. He works tirelessly to ensure that his world maintains a balance between the natural areas and those that his people have claimed. Unfortunately for Tir, he is feared by his people. To them he is just another powerful beast no different than the other monsters. They’ve seen his temper and his power, and they fear it. Tir doesn’t mind so much though, as this means that they’ll leave him alone.

In each case, they are the overseer of their world, the keystone that keeps everything running smoothly.

GC: Can you tell us about some of the abilities that players will learn as they progress through the game?
EF: Unfortunately it’s a bit too early to into too much detail on this. We’ll add and subtract abilities many times between now and when the game ships out. But one of the big abilities we’ll add is the ability to rewind time and play both characters at once. Basically, as the player progresses through the game they’ll eventually unlock the ability to essentially rewind time. This will allow players to play both characters at once. They’ll setup actions with one character, rewind time, and then play as the second character to finish the series of actions. Kind of like one character calls out the plays, and then they both execute it.

GC: Do you see the game breaking any traditional stereotypes of the Adventure game genre?
EF: There were a few genre tropes or stereotypes we wanted to avoid, as well as areas we felt we could add something cool to. The most noticeable thing we want to improve is probably narrative. A lot of the games in this genre have narratives that boil down to elements like silent protagonists, villains who have no motivation, a world that only serves as a backdrop for gameplay, and NPCs who just wait for you to talk to them to justify their own existence. What we want to do is have a strong narrative that supports gameplay but also stands on its own. Have two strong lead characters, characters who have flavour.

GC: What kind of things have you all as a team learned throughout your experience in developing the game so far?
EF: This is kind of a big question. There are tons of things, from tech to design to marketing. Going indie means doing a lot of new stuff constantly. One big thing we’ve learned recently is how crazy it is when you get bombed with no votes in some weird voting event. (For more context: http://collective.square-enix.com/news/39/you-might-have-noticed-some-changes-to-votes-dot-dot-dot)

GC: Where can our readers find more information about the game?
EF:
The best resource right now is our Square Enix Collective page. If you like what we’re doing, feel free to head on over there and vote yes: http://collective.square-enix.com/projects/136/legacy-of-the-copper-skies