Interview: How Taiwanese developers made art out of a horseback archery game

Developers Lee-Kuo and Chia-Yu Chen faced a major problem when designing their new game A Ride into the Mountains for iOS and Android: How do you simulate horseback archery on mobile without making it feel like a training exercise?

“The biggest challenge during development was to determine what design can make the player feel the experience we expected,” Lee-Kuo Chen told GameZone. “We wanted them to feel something, but that ‘something’ is very subjective, personal, and vague. We didn't have confidence about that during the whole development.”

The pair hails from Taipei, Taiwan, where they worked at the same game company together before venturing out on their own. Chen said that while they share a similar taste in indie games, they’re both very different gamers, and that led to their unique vision for A Ride into the Mountains.

“He's more into artistic games — [such as] Journey — while I'm very hardcore that I would almost finish every game I play — [like] Super Hexagon,” said Chen. “In the end, we created a game [that’s part] artistic and part action-feeling.”

A Ride into the Mountains

Chen said, “I’ve always loved martial arts and traditional cold weapons. Chia-Yu has a dream to live in a solitary retreat.” Those seemingly disparate elements combine so that players hone their archery skills and study enemy patterns but can also appreciate nature in the calm moments in between.

The silent figure (Zu) that travels and cares for his horse is reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus  for a reason: The developers credit Darwin Yamamoto's "Pixel of the Colossus" artwork as inspiration.

“In our design, the enemies represent some kind of pure evil,” said Chen. “Like good, they come from nowhere. They exist and live with nature in a balanced way.

“The story/experience didn't come from a specific culture, but since we are Asian, it's natural to express our thoughts in a Eastern way,” he said. “And we did add some elements from our own culture. For example, we [used] Taiwanese aborigines apparel as a reference to make Zu's costume.”

Controls for A Ride into the Mountains consist of two parts: the touch-based pull and release of archery and the riding itself.

“Riding is more difficult,” said Chen. “Eventually we chose tilt. The reason we chose tilting to move is because we wanted to make the player ‘feel’ they are riding a horse. With tilting, you hold the device with both of your hands, then tilt to move left/right, or speed up/down, like really holding the reins to direct a horse.

“It is not very easy to learn at the beginning,” he said. “Some people just don't get used to tilting, but we thought [we’d] do our best on the controls. However, if you get through it, you can have a zen-like feeling playing it.

“Based on the comments we got from the players, most of them did [have that] special experience,” said Chen. “And that is what we're most proud of.”