originals\ Sep 25, 2012 at 10:00 am

Akaneiro: Demon Hunters interview: Red Riding Hood heads to Japan, and she's bringing friends

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American McGee's studio, Spicy Horse, is in love with fairy tales. From last year's Alice: Madness Returns to smaller games like Crazy Fairies (now available), it's clear the people there love the dark and mysterious.

And next on their list is the famous Little Red Riding Hood.

"Through merging a much-loved Western fairy tale with Japanese history, folklore, and art, we've achieved a really unique feel," Ben Kerslake, the creative director for Akanerio: Demon Hunters, told us. "Secondly, we've built an order of demon hunters around the Red Riding Hood character. She serves as sort of an exemplar and founder for the Order — almost a deity."

The idea of taking Little Red Riding Hood to Japan has been floating around the studio for a while, but they didn't always have a genre picked out. "When Spicy Horse switched focus to online games with role-playing game mechanics, I thought the high concept was a great fit for an action-RPG," said Kerslake. "I've always wanted to work on an action-RPG, and I'm a big fan of Japanese culture and art. It went in a slightly different direction to our other current titles, but I feel that the diversity has value for the studio. We all knew it'd be a more difficult game to make, but the concept was just too good to pass up."

In the game, a single demon hunter and member of the Order of Arkane travels to Yomi Island, where there are rumors of a rising army of "Yokai," or Japanese demons. It's also the location of a gateway to the underworld. Kerslake says investigating this threat will drive the player forward, as will learning the motives of the Order itself.

Players begin by repelling the Yokai in the forest near Yomi Village and undertaking a series of missions and sub-tasks in differently themed areas, each concluding with a boss encounter. The basic gameplay doesn’t stray far from traditional action-RPGs: killing enemies; collecting loot; and mastering techniques, weapons, and armor.

Kerslake said that after a mission is complete, players can monitor the “threat” building in that area, and that’s part of what will keep people invested. “Depending on the threat level, new content will be available, along with harder difficulty settings. Mastering threat management to maximize earnings and success is an important part of the game.”

Maintaining a low threat level yields a steady flow of income, but high threats are more rewarding in both experience and items.

“Our hope is that by the time the player is ready for more, we'll have a new region of the world to provide as a content expansion,” said Kerslake. “[That’s] one advantage we have over a larger or more production intensive game.”

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Players can gather ingredients to build better equipment, experiment with ability combinations, and keep the company of Spirit Helper pets. Kerslake said these aren't fighters, but they do provide a passive effect bonus, or "blessing." Spirit Helpers gain power and evolve as they level up. In addition, "hireling" A.I.s can support players in combat.

It’s also possible to customize your characters' appearance without jeopardizing stats or combat effectiveness, a feature not present in most action-RPGs.

"It's really important to us that the player can look and play the way they prefer without those two goals being at odds," said Kerslake. "If you want run around as a purple ninja with some hand scythes, go for it. If you want to dress up as a geisha with a massive sledgehammer, the freedom is there. You can even recolor clothing as you prefer."

Akaneiro is coming first to PC, Facebook, and Android tablets, which will “expose the game to a wide audience that we can communicate with directly” — but Kerslake said it won’t remain exclusive to those platforms. The game also supports cross-platform play. As for the decision to adopt the free-to-play model, he said, “All I can say for certain is that we're considering what payment models will suit the game best and not exclude anyone. The game needs to support itself, but not at the cost of gameplay integrity. I don't want people paying to circumvent or rush through content that we've spent months building. As with all other aspects, we'll be looking to our community for guidance during the beta.”

Spicy Horse is accepting applications for the closed beta now on its website, and it hopes to begin in November, updating players who signed up on development progress and release plans.

“Our eventual plan is to support both co-op and player-versus-player multiplayer,” said Kerslake. “During our closed beta, we'll be testing this internally with a smaller, select group of users. It's very important that we carefully introduce this part of the game without it negatively affecting solo player experience and [make sure] that it's secure against exploits and cheats. We also provide the option to summon a ‘spirit ally’ — that is, an A.I.-controlled follower that's based on the character of another player or friend. This way, you can still enjoy some level of co-op and PvP without relying on friends being actively online."

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“The [time of] launch will depend on what we learn during closed beta and what sort of feedback we get from the community,” said Kerslake, but for now the studio is focusing on bug hunting, the refinement of features for the beta, and optimization of the user interface and game overall — which Kerslake said has been the biggest challenge because they’re developing for different platforms simultaneously.

“There's also the challenges that you have to face when building an online game, which has been a huge learning experience with a steep curve,” he said. “The other challenge is having people appreciate what the game can be beyond the art and presentation hooks. We worked hard on that aspect, but beneath the pretty surface beats the heart of a true action-RPG.”

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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