At this year’s Gamescom, an unexpected surprise which delightfully caught my attention was a little known anime-inspired production by a French outfit called ‘Enigami’ (spelt ‘imagine’ backwards). Originally funded via Kickstarter, the first title from this indie studio was originally destined to appear on PC and Mac platforms only. But buoyed by the success and encouragement of fans, and wanting the best possible product, Enigami managed to secure the publishing support from Focus Home Interactive who since provided the necessary resources and support so as to ensure that Shiness is experienced by as many people as possible when it comes out in 2016. Coming out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux, as well as the aforementioned PC and Mac systems. the open-world action RPG sports its own unique custom-built language as well as a fighting system derived from fighting games like Dragon Ball and Naruto. To discuss some of this and more, I sat down with Hazem Hawash (CEO of Enigami, Producer and Composer of Shiness) and Karl Lallonier (Game Designer of Shiness) to find out more about their game.
How long has Shiness been in development for?
Hazeem Hawash – Okay, so Shiness was created twenty years ago in the mind of one my friends called Semir Rebib, who is now our creative director, and he made a comic book and once I’d read his comic book I told him that it could be very interesting to do a video game, but just for fun. “Let’s do an RPG for fun”. And there were a lot of people that got very excited by the work we did for free, and then we decided to create a Kickstarter campaign two years afterwards. After that, we continued to produce the game as a company, and now we can say that it’s been four years after we started production on the game.
Shiness is coming out on every current gen platform. What difficulties have you encountered in ensuring that Shiness meets its objectives of coming out on all the targeted platforms that you have announced? Surely there must have been some problems with regards to staffing, funding, or even with regards to resource management issues?
Hazeem Hawash – Okay, well for the PC version, Shiness has been developed with Unreal Engine 3, so it’s easy to publish a game with that engine, but we had some extra work to put the game on a platform like PS4 and XBox One, because our engine is not created to do that from the beginning so there is some extra work
Now, the thing is that a lot of people are viewing Kickstarter campaigns with a degree of scepticism, because the whole point of Kickstarter is that you don’t have external financial influence from big name companies. That happened recently with Red Ash where the developer didn’t quite meet its funding goal but still had a company jump in at the last minute. Given the fact that this game was ultimately funded by Kickstarter money, why did you still get a publisher involved when ultimately the people have spoken where “we would like to have more control” as opposed to something that is ultimately now being controlled by a publisher who are pulling the purse strings?
Karl Lannoiner – Well actually, we’ve been able to go for one full year with the Kickstarter money. But if we wanted to meet the goals that we’ve been setting, it would have been impossible to continue without further money and you have to find some help. As Hazem said, we needed some support on external things. It’s not only about money, it’s about support, communication, about lots of things that you might not be aware of when you start a company and all these issues… communication, press contact and stuff, even though you are aware that you will face problems, you have no clue when you start a company as to how big these issues will be…
Hazeem Hawash – At the beginning, the project had some ambitions, and thanks to Kickstarter we could hire some very good skilled people that helped us a lot and made the game a lot better. But our ambition was greater, and for that we had a new goal, and with this new goal we thought we could do an amazing game by working with a publisher. The publisher has helped us… they’ve given some extra money to finish the game, and they’ve given us some experience. We needed this experience to make the game really nice and I think the backers, the supporters, deserve to have quality on our game, and we didn’t think that we would have this level of quality if we didn’t have a publisher.
Shiness is a cell-shaded game that appears to be inspired by RPGs like Dragon Quest 8 as well as action adventure games such as Okami where you’re traversing environments that are quite enormous in scale. What difficulties did you have in appropriating the cell-shaded look towards a type of game, where even if it’s not quite the same as Dragon Quest 8 or Okami, still sort of way harks back to those kind of games as a form of inspiration?
Karl Lannonier – Well actually, it’s quite simple because this graphical style comes from the manga that our Creative Director has been doing, so we did not have any questions… This was basic mandatory stuff, and we did not have to think about how to include cell-shading, but how to create a game from this artistic direction. So it’s actually not that hard because our inspiration for fighting came from Dragon Ball Z and Naruto which are both already cell-shaded games with a very strong manga style, so we did not have to look in a lot of different directions.
Hazeem Hawash – But we needed to have our own style and that was very difficult to do, and thanks to the manga, we had a road map for the game and to see how the graphics should look. So it was very easy to work like that because the universe has been evolving for twenty years, and it’s a huge universe for us. So essentially, as what Karl said, it’s obvious because it’s manga, and manga as Japanese anime is cell-shaded.
The thing about manga however is that it has a very Japanese appeal, and apart from the big names, they have very selective appeal when it comes to the West. I know that manga is quite big in France, which is where you guys are from, but that still doesn’t mean that it holds appeal beyond that selected region. Bearing in mind that Focus Interactive are involved, how are you ensuring that Shiness is able to have worldwide appeal and be a commercially viable product?
Karl Lannoiner – Well, we do not think that our style is all that matters. It’s not only about having a manga style, it’s about bringing some good old Japanese RPG feelings to the players. Even though our main inspirations are Final Fantasy and Zelda, Final Fantasy (especially) is not famous, not only in France, and we strongly believe that these kind of games lack [market presence]. And that’s what we’re trying to bring to people. Of course our style is our own one, and it’s the cell-shaded stuff, but it’s not the only thing that matters, and we’re pretty confident about it.
During the demo, there was a second player involved, so obviously their existence implies that there’s a co-op function. Is this online co-op or? In other words, can the second player be controlled by a human or is it AI only?
Karl Lannoiner – For the moment, it is AI only. We plan to have a co-op mode in the game.
Online or local?
Hazem Hawash – We have developed local versus mode, and we are using it to test the battle in the game and to adjust balancing for the game. It’s already working, and we can go online with it, and we have a plan to do that. We also did some co-operative missions where you and your friends come back to old areas with new aims, so you have a lot of challenge and stuff like that. But you don’t do the main story with your friends. You just do some specific mission designed only for the co-operation mode.
But obviously one of the big weaknesses with regards to [co-operative] games like Left for Dead or Resident Evil 5 was that the AI was pretty awful. What steps are you taking that, from a two-player perspective, the AI is more than adequate to be able to support the player, rather than hinder his or her progress?
Karl Lannoiner – The AI is only involved when it comes to fighting, and the AI fighting is all customisable. The thing that the AI does during a fight is jumping in the arena and casting the spell that you want it to cast and that’s it. For all the roaming and stuff, you’re controlling one character, and the other two characters are only following you, so it’s not quite a big deal.
Hazem Hawash – It’s a mix between a fighting game and a fighting target game with a team that will… you have not the wall team in the arena. There is your friend comes into the arena, just to help you for one action, and they go back. And you can switch between each character so it will only be one versus one, and the AI was designed for this kind of feature and we have developed some tools in the studio to make the AI better. We have been inspired a lot by fighting games, 3D fighting games… like the training mode and stuff like that, so the AI should be very similar to a fighting game.
Will Shiness be a simultaneous release across all platforms, or will it have a staggered release?
Hazeem Hawash – We are working very hard to make it simultaneous.