RPGamer Feature - Bonded Realities - Interview
Bonded Realities
Developer: Red Crest Studios
Publisher: Red Crest Studios
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The Xbox Live Indie Marketplace is full of all kinds of games, many of which are of dubious quality. Often it's hard to distinguish the good from the bad, making it a place that only few venture through to find the new and interesting gems. RPGs in particular are tricky to find in Xbox Live Indies, but they seem to be becoming more popular. I recently had the chance to chat with Michael Ventnor of Red Crest Studios about his recent project Bonded Realities and the challenges he faced while creating this delightful little gem.

Bonded Realities Giveaway: Huge congratulations to Elijah Ford and Tom Taylor for winning our giveaway. The codes will be e-mailed to you shortly!

Hello, Red Crest Studios! This is Sam Marchello from RPGamer. You recently released the Xbox Live Indie RPG titled Bonded Realities. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your company, and how this project came to life?
Michael Ventnor, Creator: I'm Michael Ventnor, founder of the 1-person Red Crest Studios. The Red Crest brand was officially started only a few months ago, so Bonded Realities predates it. But as interest in the title grew, people were asking for an official studio name rather than my personal name. I had the name and logo in mind for a long time beforehand, and was planning on establishing it if the game became successful, but I fast-tracked it.

As for Bonded Realities itself, I decided to make an RPG because I thought it would be easy, since the mechanics are so well-defined. Turns out that wasn't the case (I don't know what I was thinking), but I still wanted to finish because I had a feeling something good would come out of this.

This game seems very heavily inspired by Earthbound. Is this fair to say, and if so, what about Earthbound was most appealing to you?
MV: It is a fair assessment; what else is there to compare it to? There aren't many other successful RPGs that feature a consistent happy tone, interesting and heavily characterised enemies and self-deprecating humour. I haven't played Earthbound in ages, but since then I've played quite a few RPGs that, while still very good overall, didn't share the same spark with me. There's something about random and cute humour in any form of entertainment, not just games, that I enjoy.

The game also seems to be centered on childhood memories and the importance of imagination. Why was this theme the focus of Bonded Realities?
MV: Mostly because it allows total creative freedom! I wanted to be able to add whatever little new ideas I thought up without having to change the story to explain them. So if any player has a moment where they think to themselves, why am I fighting a hangman drawing as a human-bat hybrid with whiskers, the answer will be, "Because that's the way this world is. Deal with it."

Secondly, it also allows very good story progression. Rather than give away your complications and objectives at the start, the game starts as a seemingly normal day, but with a sudden and mysterious problem occurring, transporting you to a new world. As the story continues, it unfolds from a simple accident to a grand conspiracy of world domination, with all the important details being revealed one at a time. I like stories that have that sort of progression.

Thirdly, having a child's mind trapped in an adult body allows for some funny dialogue. I tried to take advantage of that wherever I could.

One aspect of Bonded Realities I struggled to enjoy was the combat system. What about the combat system would you most like to keep and most want to fix?
MV: Mostly the problems with the battle system are a result of good intentions gone awry. One problem I've had with some modern games is that I find them difficult to grasp, for example, the control scheme is too complicated or the interface doesn't display the options or information you want in a clear way. I intended to solve that by putting a lot of work into a clean interface, and making battles very fast-paced to keep up the game's momentum. The interesting designs and attacks of each enemy would give you something new to look at as you moved forward, keeping things fresh.

But that didn't go according to plan. Some players enjoyed the combat, others hated it.

So I read all the feedback in press sites and comments, taking note of what the complaints were. After doing so, I thought up new designs and mechanics that solved these problems, that I could implement in a possible sequel. If the first game earns enough such that I can afford to make the sequel, adding these new designs to the engine will be among my first tasks.

One very enjoyable aspect of the game was its soundtrack. Where did you find such talent to create such a versatile score?
MV: It's quite ironic that the most highly praised component of the game is the one which I didn't make! I searched the internet for music licensing websites that had a large catalog and, importantly, were cheap and easy to order from. After doing so, I had to decide which of the songs to use in game. First of all, regarding the scene where I want to use the music, I try to remember as many games or TV shows as possible which had a similar setting. Then, I tried to find any similarities between their background tracks, such as the tempo and instruments. Notice how, for example, many games with a lava or fiery scene have Indian instruments like sitars. Then, I tried to find a song which matched whatever criteria I came up with.

Browsing through the songs taught me a lot of interesting musical terminology, which should make searching for good songs easier in the future!

How long did it take you to complete the game? What are some of the challenges you faced while creating the game?
MV: It took about 7 months to make the game from scratch. Most of the challenges came from a lack of organisation. During the middle of development, I often didn't have a set plan for which part of the game I would work on. A lot of features within the game, such as the level designs, were improvised. It was a relief that I got better organised later on, planning the remaining features much more carefully. It's certainly a good lesson learned for future titles!

What have you thought about the response to Bonded Realities so far? What changes would you like to make either via a patch in this game or in a new RPG?
MV: I would've liked a better reception, but at least I've learned what people expect from RPGs nowadays. I will be releasing a patch soon which makes the game harder.

Hopefully the game at least sells enough to fund a sequel. In response to the feedback, I want to totally overhaul the battle system with unique mechanics. PP as we know it would be replaced completely, which also inspired an interesting way of removing random encounters. These ideas will need to be tested in practice to make sure they are fun, as currently they are just words in a text file while I work on other, smaller, titles.

How difficult would you say is it being an independent company trying to promote your games to a mass audience? How has the crowding of XBLIG helped or hindered your game so far?
MV: It's hard for an indie dev to get anyone's attention if they haven't made a hit yet. You still need to do what you can, by contacting press sites and releasing screenshots, but grassroots marketing is what works best for new indie devs, such as spreading the word through forums.

After release, you have very little time to make a positive impression, because the New Releases list is the most prominent category on the Indie Games section. When your game falls off of that, it becomes very hard to find if it hasn't been very successful. So the crowding of XBLIG is usually a hindrance.

What is your philosophy when it comes to designing games?
MV: My philosophies always change a little as I learn, by playing more games or by having my games critiqued. I feel that good games present the player with just a handful of mechanics, but provide many different challenges and scenarios to use those mechanics on. They are full of surprises and variety without becoming overwhelming.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers before we wrap this up?
MV: I've received a ton of positive feedback about the game, so if you haven't tried it yet, please give it a go. Regardless of whether you liked it or not, I want to hear your feedback. I don't bite!

RPGamer would like to thank Michael Ventnor for all his insight and enthusiasm. For those who wish to download Bonded Realities, check out the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace and for 80 MS Points ($1), you can try out this charming adventure.

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