RPGamer Feature - Skyborn - Interview
Developer: Dancing Dragon Games
Publisher: Dancing Dragon Games
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Steampunk novels tend to be a dime and dozen as of late. The resurgence of steampunk has been shown by authors such as Philippa Ballantine, Stephen Harper and Cherie Priest who are attempting to push the genre in new ways. However, in the realm of video games, steampunk exists but it does not have the same branding the way it does in literature. While the motifs are used, the genre is not given its due when developing a game. Phil Hamilton and the team at Dancing Dragon Games wish to change that with their recent release Skyborn, which has players exploring a steampunk setting that is true to the genre. We had the chance to have a chat with Phil on the how the development of Skyborn took flight and the uniqueness of the steampunk genre.

Sam Marchello (RPGamer, PR Assistant): Howdy, Dancing Dragon Games! It's been a while since we've last spoken. Can you reintroduce yourself to our audience and remind them of your previous work?
Phil Hamilton (Project Lead, Dancing Dragon Games): Hey there! Well, I've been making games for many years, starting with my first amateur project, Legacies of Dondoran. If you've played or heard of Deadly Sin or Deadly Sin 2, those were my first solo commercial projects. I have since partnered up with a valued colleague and formed a new studio.

SM: Tell us a bit about Skyborn's conception. It seems like it was a far more ambitious project compared to your previous titles. What makes Skyborn a unique experience that RPGamers likely wouldn't find in the Deadly Sin series?
PH: As I mentioned, I've been working collaboratively. I had hired Brittany, Skyborn's other developer, platformer as a freelance artist for both Deadly Sins 1 and 2. Actually, Skyborn started out as highly experimental. I was, and still am, developing a plat former adventure game, and I had some free time to kill. I proposed a joint venture with Brittany, using her creative direction in order to appeal to a broader demographic than I reached in the past. To be honest, it was a complete hunch. I knew she was a talented artist, but I never imagined we'd develop the amazing synergy that we did. I think it's important to note that even though she and I have very different skills, the game is true collaboration in every sense of the word. We edited each other, bounced ideas about just about everything, and thus, I think the credit (or the blame!) should be split evenly between us both.

As Skyborn's storyline is actually Brittany's brainchild, Skyborn's general character interaction and atmosphere are more of a centerpiece than in the Deadly Sin games. As the game designer, it was a challenge for me to take a big raw script and turn it into a game that flowed, but eventually it turned out to be a great way to make a game. We did focus on graphics, music, and mechanics, but I think Skyborn's characters are its main appeal. I find myself enjoying the cut scenes far more than the classic JRPG action. Claret is a fantastic protagonist, and THAT is a feat in itself!

SM: Skyborn takes place in a steampunk universe and it's certainly a key component to the construction of the world. What influenced the creation of Claret's world?
PH: As we were brainstorming, we concluded that the Steampunk motif is under-used and well, awesome. In terms of how the world setting was created, the storyline drove everything. The over-arching conflict is the struggle between the Skyborn race and everyone they oppress. Since they use magic, and humans use technology, the two worlds merge to form the giant, world-sized city where most of the game takes place. The city is actually layered somewhat like a wedding cake, with your place in society being directly proportional to your altitude.

SM: In terms of the game's story, could you share a bit about it? Is Skyborn's universe something you may revisit in the future?
PH: The game world is ruled by the winged Skyborn people. The game's main city is actually the recently conquered territory in the war between Skyborn and human, in which Skyborn were the victors. Claret Spencer, the game's heroine, finds herself involved with a highly controversial and charismatic figure tied to a resistance movement, and will unlock many secrets of the past, the world of magic, and new technology, in order to bring the Skyborn's tyrannical rule to an end.

That's where the characters come in. Their interaction is fun, funny, and addictive. By the end, you really get to know them, and identify with them.

As far as revisiting Skyborn's universe in the future, it would be a shame not to do so, but at the moment there are logistical concerns that make it impossible, at least for a while. In addition, there are questions of the continued viability of the RPGMaker medium, which is why I'm teaching myself Unity3D full stop.

SM: What kind of experience do you hope that RPGamers receive when playing a game like Skyborn? What would you say are some of the major themes?
PH: Have you ever had a favorite TV series where you have fallen so hopelessly in love with the main cast that you'd do anything to meet them? Maybe you even dream about writing your own fanfic? I think Skyborn delivers this to someone who would like a light-hearted adventure such as this. The obvious major theme, atmospherically, is its Steampunk motif. The way people dress and talk, the way the city looks, it all serves that desired world setting.

One major theme, mechanically, is that it's just easy to play. The mouse interface makes it very casual-friendly, and the goals are very clearly laid out. Default battle difficulty is quite generous to the non-hardcore gamer, and if you lose, you actually get infinite retries. Dungeon exploration is made more rewarding in Skyborn, as there's no such thing as a dead end. Exploration points are bonuses scattered around the world that reward the explorer. Battle encounters are not random, they are activated by coming in contact with a visible monster on the map. Of course, challenges are readily available for someone looking for tough battles, and rare secrets.

SM: In terms of Skyborn's production, how many people were involved on the project? How long did the game's development take?
PH: There were three main staff members: Myself, Brittany, and the creator of the engine of Deadly Sin 2 and Skyborn and master of Ruby scripting, Justin. We hired out several support staff, such as our creature artist, Annie, and our tileset artists, Celianna and Lunarea. Skyborn had a pretty big QA team as well.

The production cycle was 6 months. I basically did nothing in January but work on Skyborn, eat, and sleep.

SM: What would you say was the most challenging aspect of creating Skyborn?
PH: Definitely taking a script and turning it into a game. A video game requires more than just a nice story, it requires game flow. It should be noted that this challenge turned out to be the primary reason for the great synergy between Brittany and myself — once we figured out how turn ideas and scripts into a reality, everything fell into place.

SM: In terms of compositions in the game, did you compose all the music featured in Skyborn or did you did you enlist the help of other musicians?
PH: Composed it all myself of course! I did use a few tunes from Deadly Sin 2, but Skyborn brings a nice new OST.

SM: Do you have any upcoming projects that you'd like to share with our readers? What else can we possibly expect from Dancing Dragon Games?
PH: Yes. As I mentioned before, I've been working on a plat former. It's currently named Prometheus, though that might have to change due to the new “Aliens” movie being named Prometheus.

It is a drastic departure from the JRPG. It's inspired almost entirely by two games, Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

RPGamer would like to thank Phil Hamilton for sharing with us the development process behind Skyborn. For those interested in giving Skyborn a whirl, the game can be purchased over at Dancing Dragons Studio for $14.95. Be sure check out Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke's official review to see what he thought.

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