RPGamer Feature - Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled Interview
Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled
Developer: Studio Archcraft
Publisher: Graffiti Entertainment
Release Date: 2008

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Back around 2006, details about a new Game Boy Advance game known as "Project Exile" began to emerge. This game gave off a strong SNES-era vibe as far as its visual presentation went, but little else was known about it. However as the end of the GBA's lifespan hit, the decision was made by the game's start-up Canadian developer Studio Archcraft to port the title over to the Nintendo DS instead of continuing on with the GBA version. Earlier this year, the newly named Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled was picked up by publisher Graffiti Entertainment. With the game expected to be out later this year, we decided to dig up a few details about the game, so we contacted Studio Archcraft and the rest is below.

Quite a few of us here have been following Black Sigil since it was "Project Exile" for the Game Boy Advance. How did this team get together and what inspired you to create Black Sigil?
Vincent Dehaut: Pierre Leclerc, the lead programmer, and I are long time friends. We had toyed with the idea of starting a game development studio since high school. Prior to starting Studio Archcraft, Pierre had attempted several programming projects, during one of which he met Maya Anderson, who became our lead artist for Black Sigil. Eventually, we just realized that there was no point in waiting to launch the studio, so we did.

Being such a small studio, what challenges have you had?
VD: The first and foremost problem was funding no publisher is going to fund a first project from scratch, so you need either a provable revenue stream or assets and/or people willing to secure a loan to obtain funding from banks. We had none of those, so we had to make do with basically whatever we could scrape together, and do all the work ourselves.

Our lack of experience was the other big hurdle reading books on game development and writing design docs during math class does not prepare anyone for the reality of game development.

Graffiti Entertainment's Mazes of Fate distribution was rather limited. How wide can we expect the distribution of Black Sigil to be? Will this be available online only or might we see Black Sigil in retail stores?
VD: The plan is to distribute Black Sigil worldwide, in retail stores so anyone interested in the game should run to their local game stores and make sure they know there's a market for it!

On a more serious notes, the current plan is to distribute in North America first, then in Europe and Japan as we finish the localization for those regions.

What has been the biggest challenge in taking Black Sigil from the GBA to the DS?
VD: The biggest issue was doing the actual programming changes. The related design choices were easy to make when compared to the work required to make the changes.

Other than adding data to the top screen, have any other additions been added to the DS version?
VD: The other large change is that the game is fully stylus-compatible: you never have to use the buttons if you don't want to. We thought about going over the game design itself, but we decided against adding new gimmicks just for the sake of making changes. We instead focused on improving the game and user interface, so that the DS capabilities are used to improve the game experience instead of diluting it in new "features".

What role will the DS stylus play in and out of combat?
VD: You can use the stylus for everything, or in combination with the d-pads and buttons. So, for instance, you can select your action with the d-pad, and select your target with the stylus. Or you can use the stylus only, or the D-pad and buttons only.

We've watched the trailer, but could you expand on the game's premise?
VD: It's hard to do without going into major spoilers, but a large part of the game is about discovering the various relationships between the heroes, the history of the world, the other characters, and so on. We tried to maintain a really tight story everything you see in the trailer is significant to the larger tale.

Can you share some information about Kairu and the game's other playable characters?
VD: Without going into story elements, one thing that springs to mind is that we've tried very hard to make sure every combination of characters can be used efficiently. You don't have any dedicated healer-type characters, so you're not forced to always keep a specific character in the party. The characters have a role where they perform better than others for instance, Kairu is tougher than Aurora, and stronger, but that doesn't mean his abilities are subpar. Aurora is among your weakest physical attackers, but she can still hold her own if she runs out of magic.

We've read that there are eight available party members. Does each character have their own unique set of skills and abilities or is there character customization available?
VD: Seven out of eight characters have a definite skillset the last one can be customized to a great extent.

Could you describe what active-time tactical combat is via a typical combat session? We've been wondering if battles take place in real-time or if there is a turn-based element to them.
VD: The battles are not turn-based if you don't input any commands, the monsters will eventually defeat you. However, you have some time to think about your actions it's not a button-mashing game by any means. You can play Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled as a traditional RPG you're never forced to think tactically, it's merely a bonus to you if you do.

How does the encounter system work? Are enemies visible on-screen or are encounters random?
VD: Encounters are random we like the tension that creates.

How would you rate the overall difficulty of Black Sigil? Is this a game that someone new to RPGs would be able to play and enjoy or will it be giving even veterans a rough time?
VD: We're aiming for Super NES era difficulty. Concretely, we made the game so that at any given time, the player can either go on to the next challenge, or have a way to improve his character a bit before proceeding.

Please tell us there is a quicksave feature. Please.
VD: There is a quicksave feature.

How are save points handled? Are there only certain locations that you can save?
VD: We've gone with the classic "you can save at specific save points, or anywhere on the world map." It's the only way to ensure that the player won't be stuck, unable to escape or continue forward. However, you can quicksave at any time that way, if you have to stop playing, you don't lose any progress.

We've seen screen shots of the world map. How large would you say it is overall? Perhaps an estimate of a number of towns and other locations.
VD: The map is quite large while traveling on the world map is not what takes the most time, it is a factor to consider when planning your next expedition. I would say there's around 50-60 different locations in the game, some of which change over time.

Are there vehicles that will assist with travel?
VD: Yes. There are several modes of travel available.

Approximately how long do you expect the beta testing process will take?
VD: I don't want to commit to any deadline on that we've made a lot of progress, but this is our first project.

Any hints as to Studio Archcraft's second project? Can you at least tell us if it's an RPG?
VD: It will almost definitely be an RPG. Beyond that... there's not much I can say. We're beyond the "Hey! I have an idea for a game!" stage, but we're not done with the official design documentation yet.

RPGamer would like to thank Vincent Dehaut and Pierre Leclerc of Studio Archcraft for taking the time to fill us in on Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled. While we have no solid details about when the game will be released, with beta testing going on now, we can only hope that it will be soon. RPGamer will continue to stay on top of the progress of Black Sigil and will hopefully have a hands-on impression as the game nears completion.

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