RPGamer Feature - Aphelion: Episode One – Graves of Earth Interview
Aphelion: Episode One – Graves of Earth
Developer: Lunatic Studios
Publisher: Lunatic Studios
Release Date:

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The Xbox Live Indie Arcade has a plethora of games with a variety of concepts. From I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 to Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, the marketplace has something for everyone. Although the amount of RPG content on Xbox Live Indie Arcade is still rather small, many groups out there are attempting to create the next great bite-sized RPG. Lunatic Studios is one of those groups who has set out to make their mark with their episodic RPG, Aphelion. Currently, Aphelion: Episode One – Graves of Earth is on Xbox Live Indie Arcade, with Episode Two already underway in development.

RPGamer had the chance to talk to Joshua Spinell and Matt Kleen of Lunatic Studios to get a feel for Aphelion. They were happy enough to respond to our interview questions and to provide insight into their project.

Hello Lunatic Studios! I hope you're all doing well. Would you mind to take a minute to tell our readers a bit about who you are and how you got started?
Lunatic Studios: This is our first official title, although a few members of Lunatic Studios have worked on various other game projects big and small. It started out with just one person, but grew rather quickly. Prior to Aphelion some of the group had experience at other game studios or worked on other indie games, but for most this was their first foray into the gaming industry.

Please tell us about Aphelion. What was your inspiration for the series and what were some of your influences?
LS: When we started, Xbox Live Indie was completely absent of RPGs, and we wanted to fill that void. RPGs in general have been pretty limited the past few years, and we wanted to create a game that we as gamers would be interested in playing.

Mass Effect, Star Ocean 2/3, and Xenosaga are major influences in Aphelion.

Can you share with us the main plot premise of Aphelion? Who are the game's main cast of characters?
LS: Aphelion focuses on the conflict between humanity and an enigmatic race called the Crimson. The game starts with the Crimson committing an Alpha Strike against humanity. The player takes control of Savion, an enlisted soldier for the military of a human colony. You are assigned to protect a scientist that may hold the key to defeating the Crimson, but you begin to unravel a conspiracy that has the potential to destroy everything before the Crimson even get a chance.

Joining Savion is Ashley, his technician best friend, Rita, a young cadet, and Drake, a thief and generally bad person.

How customizable are the characters in Aphelion?
LS: To us, gameplay customization is extremely important. Even at Lunatic no one plays an RPG the same way.

Ability Chart: The Ability Chart allows for dozens of different possible builds per character allowing the player to really choose their own playstyle. When we did internal game-testing and each tester found a completely different way to set up their characters.

In terms of items and equipment: There's a couple hundred items in Aphelion Ep. 1, including about 50-60 crafted items. Different characters can also wear different classes of armor, where each type of armor has a stat specialization. Ashley and Rita can also use two different types of weapons allowing them to either focus on damage or on healing. In addition, each weapon has various modifications on them allowing the player to push Savion and company even further.

Unlike some of the other indie RPGs that exist, Aphelion's graphics seem to be trending away from the retro look. What made you decide to go with the presentation that you did?
LS: The retro look didn't have much appeal to us, nor did it really suit the gameplay style we wanted. We wanted to be able to tell our own story, not to mention that we couldn't really do all of the combos in Aphelion with a Dragon Warrior III style.

You've mentioned that the series is going to be episodic. How many episodes do you have planned, and when can we expect to see Episode II?
LS: Episode 2 is the conclusion of the story, and it will tie up the loose ends and questions that are asked in Episode 1.

In Episode 2 we're greatly expanding on combat by making enemy AI more complex and creating a lot of new tactics and scenarios. Additional elements of gameplay will also be included in Episode 2 such as side-quests, and lots of other fun stuff. We’ve also taken all the feedback from players and reviewers regarding Episode I and turned that into a checklist of things we will fix or change for Episode II.

Is Episode II looking to be about the same length as part I? Does anything from the original tie into the second (not really sure what's possible via XBLIG)?
LS: Episode II will be approximately the same length as Episode I, although it's hard to tell at this point in development. It definitely will have more content than Episode I, and we're really excited about it. Unfortunately it's impossible as developers on XBLIG to have one game load information from another. Because of XBLIG's size 150 MB size limit, the game had to be split in half to fit.

What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced as an independent developer?
LS: An RPG the size of Aphelion is general is a massive undertaking for a small studio. There's over 200 sprite sheets and NPCs for example.

Do you guys see yourself porting Aphelion to either PlayStation Network, iPhone or PC at some point?
LS: We do have plans to port Aphelion to other platforms, but it's too early to officially say where. Make sure to follow us on twitter @LunaticStudios for any news relating to ports and future projects.

So when can RPGamers expect to play Episode II or do you have any other non-Aphelion related projects in the works?
LS: Episode 2 will be out Winter 2010. We will also be announcing a future non-related game in the near future.

RPGamer would like to thank Joshua Spinell and Matt Kleen for taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions. You can purchase Aphelion: Episode One - Graves of Earth on the Xbox Live Indie Arcade Marketplace for 240 Microsoft Points ($3). Look out for Episode Two, coming Winter 2010, and also check back with RPGamer for a review of title soon.

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