Turn based tactic games are a special kind of beast, you have to have deep customization in order to offset the potential monotony and annoyance of waiting for yoru turn. Not only that, but it also helps to have beautiful graphics and memorable lore to keep the gamer captivated; it’s something that developers of real-time time games often have the luxury of ignoring since the gamer is focused on the actions at hand. I find it refreshing that indie-developers have increased the quality of turn-based games significantly in the past few years, thanks in part to better developer tools and easy to use engines like Unity. Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire is one such high-quality indie project. Gamers of middle-eastern background will immediately recognize the Arabic title of the game project, and yes the game does have eastern elements in the lore. Fans of the Dune universe will also notice the echo’s of Frank Herbert’s work in the game. Well, those are just my superficial impression of the game based on the preview material, so in order to get some more juicy detail I fired and email to the good folks over at Whale Hammer Games, and they were kind enough to oblige me.
Cliqist : Tell us a little about yourself?
Peter Castle : Hi!
I’m Peter; I’m the writer and producer at Whale Hammer Games. We’re a three person developer working on Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire. I introduce myself as a writer these days, but I’ve also studied 3D animation and visual effects. When I’m not working on a project I love to travel. I’ve spent time in Europe, the Middle East and the subcontinent. Tahira is heavily influenced by the places I’ve seen and the people I’ve met on those trips.
My role as producer means that I’m the link between our artist, programmer, composer and sound designer. I make sure everyone’s working on the right thing at the right time. It works well with my position as the game’s writer because I have a wide view of the project and can guide the others so all the pieces fit together properly.
Cliqist : Tell us a little about Whale Hammer Games, what’s the story behind the unusual game?
Peter Castle : There are three of us at Whale Hammer Games. We have Tom who’s our programmer. He’s an old school friend who studied software development at Uni. We have another Peter (just to make things nice and confusing), called Peter Simpson who’s our artist. Pete worked as an illustrator and Photoshop artist before leaving to write his book, Practical Anatomy for Artists in 2010. I met him a few years later when we were both studying 3D Animation.
We founded the company in mid-May 2013. I’d just gotten back to Australia after spending five months travelling through Nepal and India. Tom and I had always been planning to work on a game when I got back. I gave Pete a call and he was interested as well, so we got together, jammed three desks into a tiny room and started brainstorming.
When we started out, we knew we wanted to make something that addressed real world issues. I mentioned before that Tahira’s setting draws from my travels. Of the places I’ve been Syria left the strongest impression. We encountered so much hospitality and kindness. In Aleppo, a man we had never met before spent the whole day showing us around and insisted we have dinner with his family. When the war was beginning to spread across the country, I emailed him to ask if he was okay. He replied, saying everything was fine, his family was safe and soon enough things would settle down. Six months later I sent him another email. I haven’t had a response for three years, despite many more emails being sent.
It’s a feeling of utter bleakness and impotence watching a situation in which your friend needs you and you can do nothing. Almost as distressing is the continually perpetuated idea that your friend and the people he cares about are somehow worth less than everyone else. That’s why Tahira’s story is one about refugees who have lost their homes. They are victims of circumstance. We want to put people in their shoes so they can empathize with them.
Cliqist : Explain in your own words what kind of game is Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire?
Peter Castle : Tahira’s a game that mixes a well told story with intricately designed turn-based tactics combat. Each of the combat levels in the game is unique and progresses the story of the game. You’re not just going to fight a contained battle in a little square with seven other enemies. In one battle you race to rescue civilians before they are killed by the enemy, in another you have to hold a town for a certain period of time.
Outside of combat you can walk around some of the environments and talk to the people in them. These sections are partly inspired by Bioware’s games. We want to give you chances to talk to your traveling companions and to bond with them. All of our story telling is done with the sprites, we don’t have any cut-scenes from a different perspective. We decided to do it this way so Tahira feels like one cohesive experience, rather than a mishmash of different games stuck together.
Cliqist : Tahira is about a “Journey across a dying planet, in an age of darkness after the collapse of space faring civilization”, can you elaborate?
Peter Castle : Tahira is set after the collapse of the galaxy spanning Astral Empire. The world our story takes place on was once a partially terraformed outpost world. After the Empire collapsed, the world was plunged into a dark age.
We wanted to explore how the destruction of such an influential civilization would have ramifications that lasted for thousands of years. In Tahira’s world you’ll encounter relics from the past, like Tahira’s staff and the weapons used by the army that destroys Tahira’s homeland. But you’ll also encounter ideas and philosophies that have developed as a reaction to the Astral Empire and its collapse.
The people who live in Tahira’s world can still feel the distant memories of a greater time and those memories reach from the past and cast themselves as a shadow over all that remains.
Cliqist : “Banner saga set in middle-east” is the most common comment I have received from gamers that have watched your preview video, is that a fair characterization or are the similarities superficial?
Peter Castle : I understand the comparisons and honestly we find them quite flattering. The guys at Stoic are great people and they created an amazing game. We definitely took inspiration from their beautiful rotoscoped animation style and the idea of mixing story and turn-based tactics combat.
That said, beyond those similarities, Tahira is a very different game. As I mentioned earlier, each of our combat levels is unique, often taking place on large environments with multiple objectives. That’s something we didn’t quite get into the trailer, but we’re working on an Alpha version of a larger combat level to send to press and Youtubers next week. The combat systems are fundamentally different as well.
The way the game treats story is quite different to The Banner Saga as well. Everything you do in the game is from Tahira’s perspective, including walking around the levels, conversing with people and even seeing some of Tahira’s dreams. The world is a character in our game, but it like everything else is secondary to Tahira’s story.
I do understand the comparisons, but once people have played both they’ll see that the similarities are only skin deep.
Cliqist : What length is Tahira and is it replayable?
Peter Castle : We’re aiming for Episode One of Tahira to be four-five hours long. It’s definitely replay-able. We plan to ship with a couple of different difficulty settings. The upgrade system gives you distinct choices which means you can change the way your characters play in a second play through. I’m also putting in as much choice in the dialogue as I can. For the most part it won’t change what happens in the plot, but it will change the way characters talk to you and what stories and information they give you.
Cliqist : What kind of difficulty can gamers expect in Tahira, would there be settings for both casual and hardcore gamers?
Peter Castle : Yep! Gamers can expect both to be in the game, if not more. I think it would be great to have three difficulty settings. One that works for people who are fairly new to turn-based tactics games or just want to move through the story without too much difficulty. A more difficult setting that is challenging and requires you to learn some of the nuances of the combat system. Then finally a hardcore difficulty mode that really pushes the most experienced players. We have quite a few options to tune the difficulty because of the scope of the combat levels. We can adjust the stats, the layout of the levels and the win conditions in each scenario. We’re planning to run a Beta near the end of the year with our backers and that will be when we really start to shape the different difficulty settings.
Cliqist : Why should people back Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire Kickstarter?
Peter Castle : Tahira is a work of passion for everyone involved. Our artist wakes up at 3am every morning, bakes for five hours then comes into the office and draws for eight hours before going home and starting again. We’re working this hard because we truly believe what we’re making is meaningful.
We have a really talented group of people working on the game, which I think is evident when you watch the trailer. Everyone involved is putting everything they have into Tahira and we can promise that we’ll keep doing that until release and beyond.
We’ll be in your debt if you back us, thank you!
Cliqist : Can you close us out with a Tahira: Echoes of Astral Empire related haiku?
Peter Castle :
An army looks to the stars
A princess rises
Thanks to Peter for taking the time to answer some of our questions, if you are interested in Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire be sure to check out the Kickstarter before it concludes on March 20th.