Anyone who may be heading to this year’s EGX convention, will find one particular group of game developers hoping to spread awareness for their debut title, during the UK’s largest gaming related event. Andrew Livy is the Studio Lead, Head of Programming, and general jack of all trades of CooCooSqueaky. Livy has spent much of his career making games for other people and organizations that he hasn’t been particularly thrilled with. In less than a month he hopes to change this trend in his professional life, when he and his team attend EGX to promote their game, and the accompanying Kickstarter campaign for Tears of Avia.
Tears of Avia is a tactical turn based RPG where players select classes and a variety of skills to create a synergetic party. So far CooCooSqueaky have released previews of 5 available character classes, the full skill tree for their Ranger class, and artwork featuring a mix of anime styled character portraits, tactical battles, and what appears to be an explorable able 3D over world. We sat down with Livy who offered up some additional details on his game development background, and what players can expect from the narrative and characters of Tears of Avia.
Jesse Tannous: Has your work history developing educational games had any effect on your approach to Tears of Avia?
Andrew Livy: So, a bit of history. When I was young and fresh out of University I wanted to land myself a job in the game industry. Except, it was super hard to even get anywhere close to a foot in the door. Funds were low so I had to find some kind of job in a pinch, so I applied to work as an IT Technician in a local school. As luck would have it, they were building a virtual reality suite at the place, but had no software to run on it.
That’s when I picked up Unity (back then it was Mac only) and Maya. I developed immersive experiences for the students at the school and I did everything. As a one man band I would do all the programming, modelling, texturing, sound engineering, you name it. I learned a lot from that but I was still nowhere near making the sort of games that I wanted to be making.
However, an opportunity came along to do eLearning work at a University and so I took it. This time I was developing in flash. I quickly learned that many educational institutions and companies that deal with eLearning are incredibly dull and uncreative places. It’s not entirely their fault though, they really want to make cool immersive experiences, but mostly lack the budget or are constrained by tough requirements out of their control, so every single app ended up being boiled down to a multiple choice questionnaire. Boo.
I really disliked this sort of work, I was mindlessly composing multiple choice questionnaires over and over, so I kept looking for a job in the games industry, and I eventually landed a job making PC and Mobile games for a studio where I worked on a number of LEGO titles (among many other projects).
This was a pretty cool break, but I was still itching to make something better. I’m not a massive fan of mobile games, I could never really get into them. They’re awesome for pick up and play gameplay, but they seem to lack the sort of immersion that PC/Console games can provide and that’s what I really wanted to get into.
Over the years I’ve worked on all kinds of technology and worn many different hats, which has given me a Swiss army knife of skills to play with. This puts me in a unique position where I can talk to pretty much anyone with any role in the game biz and can relate to them incredibly closely.
It makes communication simpler and I can get stuff done insanely fast because of this. If I specialized hard into just AI programming (for example), I would have a super narrow view of the world and would be absolutely clueless about anything anyone else does, especially artists. I couldn’t think of anything worse!
Having a wide range of skills means it’s a lot simpler to tie things together and really slims down on excess overheads.
JT: What more can you tell me about the dynamic story system that Tears of Avia will be implementing?
AL: This system sort of grew and evolved as we were working on the prototype. At first it was just a straight up Tachi-E style Japanese story system, but very linear. I didn’t really like this so thought hard about ways to make it better.
The approach we ended up settling on was to take the characters we came up with and associate disposition with them. By doing this we established relationships and dynamics between the characters straight away. There’s a fair few characters the player can roll around the game with, some of them get along really well, but put the right people together and you’ll get a clash of interest. Some characters really despise one another, others have deep jealousy; some characters secretly admire other characters.
This would be all well and good if we were running a linear story start to finish, but your story focuses around the characters you play with. Take a team seething with hatred and jealousy to a dungeon, the story you encounter while there will have a totally different dynamic than that of a team that get along really well.
The story is even managed in such a way that it differs to the party level itself. For instance, completing a battle with a full party of five characters will result in a slightly different story than if you ran with only three (of the same) characters. Scrape through with just one character and you’ll get a monologue instead.
We wanted to really maximize replay ability. If you finish the game with a nice happy party, try going through it again with a really uncomfortable party, it should feel different even though you’re still loosely following the same main story arc.
This brought us to the next thing – what if, we made sub story arcs and side missions unlock through the conversations you experience? This would be far more natural and free flowing than if you went to specific NPC’s and accepted quests. So much of the side content you experience in Tears of Avia is tied to the party that you roll with.
JT: Where did you meet your fellow team members? How did this studio form?
AL: Much of the studio is comprised of members from around the world. We have people working with us from Singapore, Indonesia, Germany, America, Canada as well as the UK. I met Pinax by asking Danny Choo if he could put me in contact with an artist capable of the style I was looking for. Pinax has been wonderful to work with, and has been core in the artistic direction of the game.
I poached Sakuyan from another project I was working on in my spare time. We worked really well together and I asked him if he would be interested in doing the animation in the game and the rest is history. I found Vasburg in the depths of twitter. I came across a post where he did some icons in a very painterly style and I knew immediately that he was the man for working on our user interface. His painterly style gives us a very hand crafted appearance, which compliments the direction we’re going with the game.
Rich and I have been working on mobile games for a good number of years. He formerly worked for codemasters, I think he did some work on micro machines (which is a game that I put loads of hours into when I was younger). He’s an absolutely solid environment artist and has been working on all of the environment art.
I still needed sound for the game. I enjoy sound production as a hobby, but really needed someone who could nail the specific style we were shooting for and most of my musical friends specialize in dance music (particularly hard dance). So I sifted through an absolute bucket load of portfolios until I stumbled across Andrew, we work really well together and I think he’s doing an absolutely ace job in pushing forward the audio in the game.
I also work with loads of other people who hop in to help take up the slack in areas here and there on an occasional part time basis as well as outsource things such as the voice acting to external companies.
JT: What compelled you as a group to create Tears of Avia as your debut title?
AL: Tears of Avia started as a little web game that I put odd moments of my spare time into. I tinkered with it here and there while working day jobs, it was mostly a dumping ground for me to test ideas with. Eventually I came to realize just exactly what it was I wanted to make and then canned all of the web game and started fresh. I did this because I wanted to minimize bloated code and I was in a good position as I had a fairly good understanding of what it was I wanted to make. It was at this point I decided to make it a standalone game and started seeking out the team.
The rest is history, now we have a basic prototype that we’re going to show at EGX next month and will be launching our Kickstarter campaign at the same time. We really hope people will support us and help us finish building the rest of the game.
The title is currently set to be developed for both PC and Mac. Those interested in staying updated on the progress of Tears of Avia should visit the official website, or subscribe to the Twitter and Facebook pages.