E3 2015 was huge for Xbox fans, and one of the games shown on the big stage this year was Aurora44’s open-world RPG Ashen. We were intrigued by the announcement trailer and had the opportunity to discuss the game a bit more with Aurora44’s Art Lead, Leighton Milne.
Brad: Ashen is an open world RPG, which seems like a daunting task for a developer’s first game. How did Aurora44 decide on this specific genre for Ashen? Have you run in to any challenges during the development cycle where you sit back and think “man, I wish we would have made this a more linear RPG!”?
Leighton: An open world RPG is a tall order. When we decided Ashen would be an open world RPG it was no small decision to make. It ultimately came down to a simple question we asked ourselves “what sort of game would we want to play?”. Since then we haven’t looked back!
We are also in an exciting time of great middleware solutions such as Unreal Engine 4 allowing much smaller studios to tackle much larger game ideas. So that has helped us to be uncompromising in our vision.
Brad: We’re getting a Demon’s/Dark Souls vibe in terms of combat, which you describe on your website as “high risk”. Is it safe to assume that the Souls series was an inspiration? What other games influenced you as a developer that can also be seen in Ashen?
Leighton: Absolutely! The Souls series has certainly inspired the team. The solid gameplay and challenging combat has had an influence on Ashen. The other titles the team are big fans of are Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, Shadow of the Colossus and Journey to name a few.
Brad: Looking over screenshots, most appear to show the hero wielding a one-handed weapon and a shield, but there’s one that looks like a staff or a polearm. Are there different “classes” to choose from, like a fighter type, or a spell caster? How will different weapons alter our approach to combat?
Leighton: Player choice is important in Ashen. How players want to tackle challenges will ultimately define which equipment they choose to wield. You can use any weapon you find on your journeys, they are not restricted by class. Each weapon will feel different, and cater to different play styles.
Brad: Aside from combat, what are some of the other things players can experience out in the open world during their adventure?
Leighton: Travel is one of the most interesting parts of Ashen. Exploration is one of the things we most enjoy, so you can expect secrets to discover and far off mysteries to stumble across.
Brad: The Ashen website also mentions something about “passive multiplayer”. Can you discuss that a little more?
Leighton: Passive multiplayer is a core mechanic in Ashen. We want the player to create bonds with fellow characters they meet while exploring, much like how they are formed organically in real life. From that point of view we want the multiplayer to be as unobtrusive as possible. There are no lobbies in Ashen… when you see someone run past you, just tag along if you want to stay connected.
Brad: You mentioned that there are no lobbies, and if you see another player pass you by you can decide whether or not to tag along, etc., which is really cool. Since there are no lobbies, how hard will it be for friends to play together? Is that even possible, or is it totally random who gets thrown in a game with whom?
Leighton: The people who you might run in to are indeed random and not under your control. We chose this direction because of the core idea of forging new bonds. Figuring out who to trust and who to run away from is the situation we want to create with the meeting of other players in the world. We understand friends love to play together so we are looking into ways for friends to join each other in the world of Ashen as well, but its a feature which is very much under development.
Brad: Aurora44 formed in 2013. Was Ashen the first project your team decided on at that point, or were there any other ideas thrown around for different genres?
Leighton: Ashen is our first and only project undertaken as Aurora44. In the early days while brainstorming, Ashen was our first idea we discussed. Over time the world has been refined and fleshed out, but the core idea has been there from day one.
Brad: You seem to be getting a lot of positive feedback online for your “faceless hero” characters, and we think they’re rad and unique. What made you go with the faceless approach?
Leighton: The faceless hero is a great topic of discussion, and we love all the feedback we are receiving because of it. The choice behind the faceless characters is to reinforce our core idea behind Ashen: forging relationships. We want the players to judge each other not on looks, but on actions. Faces by nature have certain characteristics and stereotypes bound to them, we want to cast those aside and let players actions make up their characters personalities.
Brad: E3 was huge this year, and Ashen was given a spot on the big stage during the Xbox presentation. How has it been working with the ID@Xbox team to bring your game to their console? Were there any other games shown at E3 that you’re particularly excited about?
Leighton: The ID@Xbox team has been excellent to work with. Not only do they strongly believe in the vision for Ashen and give great support when needed, they themselves are passionate gamers who have the genuine goal of making cool games they really want to play.
The games which really impressed us at E3 were Cuphead from the talented folks at Studio MDHR. The new announced Rare game Sea of Thieves and Fable Legends looked great!
Brad: What other games have you folks been playing lately?
Leighton: Our team are fans of many genres of games. Right now a few of us are deep inside the world of The Witcher 3. The latest Batman and the new Dota2 Reborn update has us very busy when we aren’t developing Ashen.
Brad: Last question, I promise! We get asked a lot what our name means (for the record, What’s Your Tag? is what we assume an Xbox gamer would use as a terrible pick-up line at a bar or something), and we want to redirect that question to you. What’s behind the name Aurora44?
Leighton: I’ll give it to you straight. One weekend in 2013 Andrew our programmer charted a boat, and invited us to go fishing. Little did we know that he invited us under false pretences. He proceeded to drive us out into international waters, where he lay out a cunning plan.
With the two of us as his captive audience he threw the fishing rods into the sea to show he meant business, and then dangled the boat keys over open waters, his idea was simple, we three come to this place, unmarked on any map, ungoverned by the laws of man, and devise the game of our dreams.
When we got home, we had fish and chips for dinner, which was wrapped in newspaper. One of us noticed the word Aurora on page 44 of that greasy newspaper, and so Aurora44 was born.
We want to thank Derek Bradley and Leighton Milne from Aurora44 for answering all of our questions, especially so close to E3. They’re hard at work developing Ashen, and we definitely appreciate them taking time out of their busy schedule to chat with us.
So lets hear it, XBROs. Are you excited for Ashen? Sound off in the comments, and let us know what ID@Xbox indies you’re looking forward to!
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s no stranger to sinking an absurd amount of time in to an MMO, but also has a deep seeded love for quirky indie games, pro wrestling, horror films, and his hometown of Baltimore, MD. Get in touch with him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.