The game was announced at E3 last year and won immediate praise for its desolate art style and unique multiplayer aspects. Ashen's world submerged in darkness. The only light comes from tectonic eruptions that blanket the game's majestic landscapes in thick ash. It's your job to navigate Ashen's vast open-world, develop a settlement and survive its dark creatures.
I recently caught up with Derek Bradley of Aurora44 Games to discuss Ashen's art, its challenging 'high-risk' gameplay, passive multiplayer and much more.
Jez Corden, Windows Central: How would you describe Ashen to the uninitiated?
Derek Bradley, Aurora44: Ashen is an action RPG set in a dark, unforgiving world. It's a sunless world populated by towering giants and strange creatures of the dark. But no matter how bleak things look, there is always the chance of meeting another fellow traveler to join you on your journey. Together you might just make it through.
Jez: I've tried to draw comparisons to existing games and media, but Ashen's art style is quite striking and unique. How did you guys get together and come up with the concept for Ashen?
Derek: When we were coming up with the idea for Ashen we focussed on the things that are missing in games, the things we want to see more of. It's something we dreamt up by asking ourselves "what do I want to play?". We still use the same technique when developing Ashen today. We were originally working at Weta Digital on movies like The Hobbit. One day we got together and pitched game ideas at each other. It's a simple story, but that's how it all started.
Jez: How did you guys come to be on the ID@Xbox program, and what are your thoughts on the program so far?
Derek: The folks at ID@Xbox found our game online and contacted us. The ID@Xbox program is a great platform for developers with new and interesting ideas to get their games out there. They are a team of passionate gamers, doing everything they can to support the bleeding edge of indie gaming. We wouldn't be where we are without them.
Jez: Ashen's E3 trailer seemed to generate quite a buzz, what has response to the game been like so far?
Derek: The response has been excellent! I had expected more people to be uncomfortable with the fact that there are no faces on our characters, but everyone seems to have taken it in their stride.
Jez: On Ashen's website, the game notes passive multiplayer as a feature. What form does this take in-game? How does it affect Ashen's gameplay?
Derek: The passive multiplayer in Ashen the most important part of the whole experience. Simply, when you run around in the world of Ashen, you will frequently come across another player without needing to do anything. If you stay close enough together, you remain connected. If you run far enough apart, you disconnect. So those are the technical details.
The most important part about multiplayer in Ashen is that it is the primary way you add NPCs to your town. By achieving a significant goal together (like defeating a boss or discovering a secret), you are given the option to invite them to join your town. When you do this, they disconnect and become an NPC member of your settlement.
Jez: The multiplayer portion sounds fascinating. Does Ashen feature any form of PVP or competitive elements while connected to other players? I recall in the trailer that one player gets stabbed while another presses on, for example.
Derek: There is no PVP in Ashen, but making sure you can rely on the people you meet out in the world is very important. The wrong people can easily lead you into very dangerous situations.
Jez: Can other players visit your version Ashen's town?
Derek: Other players can't visit your town. If you take someone else to your town, they disconnect upon entering – becoming a permanent NPC. Those NPCs provide services, character progression, town progression and story insight.
Jez: Roughly how large is Ashen's open world?
Derek: Ashen has a very large open world. You will certainly have a lot of opportunities to get lost in its twists and turns.
Jez: The game's official website discusses foraging and blacksmithing, does Ashen have crafting features?
Derek: Ashen does have some light crafting. Blacksmithing is a good example of this. Your weapons can be upgraded by bringing the right ingredients to the town blacksmith.
Jez: How does Ashen handle character progression?
Derek: Character progression in Ashen can be found in our Talisman system. Talismans that can be found or crafted, unlocking character perks. These Talisman perks are very much story driven. They will do simple things like increase your carry weight or give you access to more complex things like an animal companion.
Jez: In the trailer, we can see players wielding melee weapons, is Ashen a strict melee combat affair? Can players control their gameplay style in any way?
Derek: There are melee and ranged weapon options in Ashen though we haven't shown ranged weapons yet. Catering to different play styles is very important to us, so you will be able to find multiple ways to tackle any problem.
Jez: Is there any visual character customization planned?
Derek: You will be able to change the look of your character though we are being careful with this. We want players to be able to customize and feel comfortable with the character they play, but we also want to make sure characters fit in the world of Ashen.
Jez: Ashen's website also mentions non-linear story progression. Without giving too much away, can you describe a scenario where one person might experience something different to another player, and what in-game actions might trigger that?
Derek: Many of the things you choose to do will mean that you aren't able to do something else. It is similar to choosing just one thing to save from a burning building, your TV or your guitar, for example. Each person will choose differently, and leaving something to burn will change your game.
Jez: Given Ashen's high-risk combat, how does the game handle dying? is there any form of perma-death for example?
Derek: There is no perma-death in Ashen. We do have a respawn system, but there are many things you can lose when you die in Ashen. If you are in multiplayer, for example, death means that you disconnect from each other. You may never meet again.
Jez: Is the combat high-risk in the sense of its difficulty, similar to Dark Souls?
Derek: The combat will be difficult in the sense that overcoming one enemy is fairly easy, two are a challenge, and a group of three will be very tough. So we have focussed on creating a challenging world that encourages cooperate with others. Alone, the world is very harsh. With a companion, it is a lot easier to overcome the odds!
Jez: Finally, when can we expect to get our hands on Ashen? What platforms will it distribute on?
Derek: I'm afraid we don't have a launch date yet. I will be sure to let you know when we do!
Ashen is lifetime console exclusive to Xbox One. The game will also come to PC on the Windows 10 Store and Steam.
Thanks to Derek Bradley of Aurora44 for joining us!
ID@Xbox continues to lead the charge when it comes to innovations in gameplay and style. Ashen not only joins the likes of Below and Cuphead in the Xbox One's killer indie offering, but it looks as though it'll help boost gaming for the Windows 10 Store as well. Stay tuned for all the latest info!
For more upcoming Xbox One titles, check out our most anticipated Xbox One games for 2016 and beyond right here.
Don't forget to follow Ashen on Twitter, and let us know your thoughts on our Q&A in the comments!
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