RPGamer Feature - Boot Hill Heroes Interview
Boot Hill Heroes
Developer: Experimental Gamer
Release Date: TBC 2014

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The nostalgic Spaghetti Western RPG Boot Hill Heroes — Part 1 recently hit Steam Greenlight and is set to be launched on Windows, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Mobile sometime in the near future. In preparation for its release, we caught up with Experimental Gamer's Dave Welch about Boot Hill Heroes' origins, development cycle, and future releases.

Trent Seely (RPGamer, Editor): Greetings, and thanks for taking the time to chat with us about Boot Hill Heroes. Can you provide a general overview of what kind of RPG Boot Hill Heroes is and how its development first came about?
Dave Welch (Experimental Gamer, Developer): Imagine everything we love from the classic console RPGs of the 90s (Final Fantasy, Earthbound, Chrono Trigger) but reimagined in a gritty, spaghetti western film setting featuring gunslinging outlaws, brave lawmen and the untamed wilderness. Instead of evil wizards you have desperados, instead of dragons you have bears, instead of swords you have guns. That's Boot Hill Heroes in a nutshell. But I wouldn't just call it Dragon Quest in the Wild West either, as I wanted to implement a number of modern mechanics to breathe new life into that genre. Thanks for giving me this chance to talk about them!

Boot Hill Heroes originally came about when a game developer and his roommate spent a bitter winter in Chicago playing RPGs together. We grew up playing RPGs and like everyone else who loves this genre of gaming, we had our own opinions about what worked, what didn't, and what we'd like to see. This led to hours of long discussions. Boot Hill Heroes was born out of this discourse.

We had a mutual appreciation for Wild West films, especially spaghetti westerns, and felt this setting had not been fully explored as an RPG. We wanted to experiment with telling a fantasy-style story but in a realistic, historical setting. We also wanted to have something that included cooperative gameplay. After all, most RPGs are about a group of friends going on an adventure together, so why not let players join together in the same way? These were the earliest requirements for the game that everything else evolved from.

TS: The first part of Boot Hill Heroes is about to launch. Why have you chosen to segment the experience? Do you expect many changes to the game's formula in part two?
DW: There were a lot of good reasons to split the game into three parts. Early on the game showed that the length of the game would far exceed what we had planned and what we could make in a reasonable amount of time. By releasing it in parts, it gives me a chance to learn from any mistakes I make along the way rather than put all the eggs in one basket. The decision was made easier since the story smoothly splits into three acts, with each part telling its own story while contributing to the overall saga.

Ideally there will be no fundamental changes to the game's formula, the player will simply be able to pick up where they left their save file and just continue their adventure. Since it's not an entirely new game, I expect the turnaround time for the next two parts to be relatively swift.

TS: This is Experimental Gamer's first major release. Has the development of Boot Hill Heroes been smooth sailing? Have there been any unexpected hiccups in the road to publishing?
DW: Yes, it was probably far too ambitious a project for anyone relatively new to game development. I had worked on games before, but nothing of this scope. As you can imagine I woefully underestimate how long I expected certain things to take. It all worked out in the end, but I didn't like making promises I couldn't keep.

TS: You've labelled Boot Hill Heroes a "Spaghetti Western Fantasy." What is it about the Wild West motif that you were so attracted to?
DW: I was attracted by my interest in experimenting with common fantasy RPG elements by reimagining them in a real, historical setting. In fantasy, anything is possible because of magic. You don't have to be able to explain everything. But in a real world and a historical setting (albeit a cartoonish version of the real world), you are bound by certain rules. It's a challenge to have to work within those limitations, but I also believe in what Orson Welles said, "The absence of limitations is the enemy of art." So the real world and historical bounds of the setting helped guide the direction of the story and gameplay. It also served as kind of a check against scope creep.

TS: One of Boot Hill Heroes' more unique features is the 1-4 player local co-op. What inspired you to incorporate multiplayer in your RPG and how do you think it affects gameplay?
DW: The original inspiration for co-op was Final Fantasy III/VI. I don't think everyone knows that game has co-op. It's tacked on, but it's there. And I can't think of any good reason why every RPG should not have at least the capability to allocate characters to controllers.

But since I was designing Boot Hill Heroes with co-op in mind from the beginning, I wanted to go further in making the experience smooth and fun for multiple players. The menus were most difficult. Not only can any player open up a menu to modify or check their characters without pausing the game, but up to four players can do this simultaneously without interruption. The result isn't perfect, but I think it holds up.

Combat was also designed with multiple players in mind (although it still works fine with a single player). Instead of waiting for your character's turn before acting, you can make decisions about your actions at any time. Even if you've chosen and action and are waiting for it to execute, the circumstances surrounding the battle may change at any time and you may wish to change your actions — so you're always involved in some way.

TS: The battle system of Boot Hill Heroes appears to deviate from the traditional turn-based approach. Could you detail how it works and why you designed it this way?
DW: This battle system was designed to keep things lively when playing with up to four players, but it's just as engaging on single player. Victory is determined not only by what actions are chosen but when they are executed. You must stay on your toes on and strike while the iron is hot!

Your characters learn a number of Vantages (actions) but can only equip four at once to bring into battle. Each vantage has a set power cost and power generates in real-time during battle. If a character meets the power cost of a chosen Vantage they will execute it. If not they will charge that action and execute it automatically when they have enough power. This Total Biscuit video is an outdated look at the game but is still a good demonstration of how combat works:

I also wanted to have a bit more realism than many RPGs where characters just take turns smacking each other with swords, and incorporate defensive stances and evasion. Since there are no healing items to recover damage, the player instead focuses on how they can anticipate their opponent's attack and defend or evade it entirely by using various stances.

TS: I understand that there is a job system in Boot Hill Heroes based on what hats the characters wear. What inspired you to incorporate a job system? What kind of hats can we expect to be available for the game?
DW: The inspiration was the Merrie Melodies cartoon "Bugs Bonnets" where a hats fall on Bugs and Elmer Fudd, changing their personalities to reflect each hat. This seemed like a fun way for characters to learn new skills while also showing progression by changing the appearance of the character. Some hats you'll find are the Coonskin (wilderness lore), Headdress (mysticism), and Derby (gambling).

TS: One of Boot Hill Heroes' most noticeable features is the colorful and detailed graphics. Why did you choose this art style for the game?
DW: It was difficult to find a balance between the realistic earth tones of the setting while still keeping it colorful and pleasing to look at. So the compromise was to emphasize yellow and orange while also giving the different environments a distinct color scheme.

I didn't want to go with the typical top-down view featured in most RPGs. Earthbound uses a view called oblique projection that I wanted to use because of how much character it gives buildings and environments.

The most detail can probably be seen in the number of unique NPC characters in the game. There are several hundred NPC characters in the game and each one has a unique sprite and name. I wanted each character to feel distinct rather than be a generic townsperson. It adds to the flavor of the game.

TS: Your successful Kickstarter campaign was oriented around providing suitable audio for Boot Hill Heroes. How do you feel Jake Kaufman's work has affected the overall experience?
DW: We couldn't be more thrilled to have the terrific and prolific video game composer Jake 'virt' Kaufman behind the grand soundtrack. Jake is known as the musical genius behind titles like Shantae: Half Genie Hero, DuckTales Remastered, Double Dragon Neon, BloodRayne: Betrayal, Retro City Rampage and too many other masterful soundtracks to name here.

I was grateful to be able to work closely with Jake on the music and I believe that just as the music was crafted for the game, the game was partially shaped around the music. For example, I spent a lot of time editing cut scene scripts to better follow the emotional gravity of the music.

TS: You've indicated that Boot Hill Heroes will be coming to Sony's PlayStation Mobile platform, including Vita, with exclusive content. What is the timeline and plan for this part? Any hint as to what the exclusive content will be?
DW: It's in the review process, so it should be on PlayStation Mobile in a matter of weeks. The extra content includes a side chapter where the heroes must investigate an Indian attack on settlers in the mountains of Crazy Bone Pass and eventually track down an escaped outlaw. I'm really happy with it because it expands on the story and theme without being essential for those who cannot play it. It's about three hours of extra content, although the final boss is devastatingly powerful.

TS: Is there anything else you would like to share with us today?
DW: Yes, Boot Hill Heroes has a Steam Greenlight page and will be on Steam as soon as it has enough votes. So if you're interested in the game, please vote for it. If you're not interested in the game, don't vote for it — but maybe you know someone who might be that you would suggest it to. And please spread the word. The game is finished and Greenlight is the last barrier to release.

RPGamer would like to thank the crew at Experimental Gamer, especially Dave, for taking the time to chat with us about Boot Hill Heroes. For all the latest information about the game, check out the Experimental Gamer official website and follow Dave on Twitter.

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