Interview with Chris Warren from Himalaya Studios about Mage’s Initiation

As we come to end of 2011, it’s time to start looking at what video games 2012 holds. Oddly enough there aren’t any real console games I’m excited for. Instead most of interest lies on ye olde personal computer – specifically point and click adventure games. There’s a lot of great games for the genre hitting in 2012. Case in point – Mage’s Initation. I first heard about the game several months ago. It promised to be an adventure/RPG hybrid and that alone captured my imagination. As the months passed however, there was little to be heard about the game. There was only the official pre order page for me to go off of. With 2012 inching ever closer, I decided to take it upon myself as Editor-in-Chief of this site to see what information I could gather about the game.

Thankfully, Chris Warren of Himalaya Studios was kind enough to not only answer a plethora of my questions, but really help flesh out what sort of game Mage’s Initiation will be when all is said and done. Below are my questions and Chris’ responses. It’s a pretty in-depth interview, so even if this is your first time hearing about Mage’s Initiation, by the time you are done reading this article, you’ll definitely know if it’s something that you’ll want to preorder or not.

Diehard GameFAN: Tell us a little bit about the story and characters we’ll encounter in Mage’s Initiation.

Chris Warren: The game is a Role Playing/Adventure Game hybrid with a fantasy setting. The plot centers around a 16- year-old boy named D’Arc who has lived, for as long as he can recall, in a Mage’s Tower that overlooks the township of Iginor. Legend says that in the time of “the Old World”, the four Elements deemed that humans were growing too powerful and that they threatened to offset the natural balance. So the Elements took control back by unleashing their fury upon the manmade structures and technological marvels, nearly crushing an entire civilization.

In the aftermath, a new class of humans emerged from the survivors – the Mages. They were bestowed
magical abilities, inextricably linked to the four Elements and tasked by nature itself with maintaining
the natural order and guiding humankind’s magically-challenged majority along the right path. The
Mages’ sole purpose was to prevent power-struggles from occurring between humans and the Elements
ever again.

Very few humans are born with magical life-force and any affected children are quickly sought out by the Mage Masters as potential Mage candidates. The children are whisked away from their family homes to faraway Mage’s Towers in distant lands, never to see their parents again. There, they undergo years of intense study and mental training in the magical Elemenral arts. If the parents are not willing to relinquish their children, they are taken by force under the cover of night and cloak of magic. D’Arc, the protagonist, is one such displaced child, having been taken from his family ten years prior. The story begins as D’Arc approaches his initiation to qualify as a fully-fledged Mage. The four Mage Masters of Iginor’s Tower assign him three tasks. D’Arc must return with a symbol of each to signify that he was victorious in overcoming the challenge.

It just so happens that Iginor’s relationship with their formerly peaceful Flyterian neighbours (a half-human half-avian race who dwell in the mountains) has become strained and hostile. There are rumors of Redcap Goblins dabbling in Demon-summoning deep within the forest, and a sinister political plot is afoot, as a number of individuals with conflicting motives vie for power, riches, and control over sleepy Iginor.

DHGF: Himalaya is mostly known for its point and click adventure/hidden object games. Mage’s Initiation promises to be an Adventure/RPG Hybrid. How will that work and what aspects from both genres will be in the game?

The majority of our development team started out at AGD Interactive working on Point & Click remakes of King’s Quest 1,2, and 3. We also developed a remake of Sierra’s RPG/adventure game hybrid, Quest for Glory 2: Trial by Fire, which is similar in style (but not identical) to the way Mage’s Initiation will function. So we have some prior experience with this style of hybrid game. Many of the details are still being fine-tuned and some features might be added or dropped completely for the final product.

One thing the game will feature, however, is multiple character classes. At the beginning of the game, the player undergoes an initiation test which will determine their “Element” class. The player gets assigned an Element; either Water, Air, Fire, or Earth and will play the remainder of the game using spells, skill- sets, and assuming the thought patterns associated with his Element.

The Adventure aspect envelopes the game design, and this title will play out like a traditional Sierra On-
Line Point & Click adventure game from the 90s (albeit in high-res). It features a strong story, a wide variety of NPC characters, and an intriguing plot that is gradually revealed to the player as they make progress. There will be inventory-based puzzles, logic-based puzzles, traditional fetch quests, and even a few mini-games where you can earn money, respect, or favours from NPCs.

DHGF: What are the differences between the four mage classes in the game and how will the game change based on your class?

CW: Every Mage class will have a set of magic spells that are unique to their Element and they can use these unique spells to solve puzzles in multiple ways. For example, say there’s a gold coin on a high tree branch that’s out of reach. Fire Mages have a spell called “Combustion” which could be used to ignite the branch from afar, making it burn through and causing the coin to fall to the ground. Air Mages have a spell called “Float” which would allow them to vertically levitate off their feet to reach the coin. Earth Mages have a spell called “Tremor” which summons a small earthquake and could be used to dislodge the coin. Finally, Water Mages have a spell called “Jet” which could be used to shoot a stream of high-powered water at the coin and knock it down.

Each class of Mage also has a few Element-specific quests/side-plots that are only playable for that class.
We hope that these things will add some nice replay value.

DHGF: Unlike a lot of adventure games, protagonist death promises to rear its head in Mage’s Initiation. Can you tell me why you decided to go that route and what some of the death scenes will be like?

CW: A lot of modern adventure games tend to be lacking in the challenge department and there’s a tendency for the companies that produce these games to gravitate ever-closer to a casual audience in order to increase their market share and profits. The old Sierra games were well-known for being notoriously hard — even merciless, sometimes, to the point of cruelty. But this old-fashioned “challenging” kind of gameplay is often seen as a big risk for modern companies who worry that making their adventure games overly difficult and catering to the die-hard niche audience will push away all the supplementary casual gamers who might otherwise have bought the product.

Being a smaller company, we can afford to be more experimental in our approach. I believe that adventure games do not constantly need to be revolutionized with new gimmicks or bells and whistles.

Those things are just eye candy and cannot hide a weak game. Rather, I think the adventure genre needs to return to its roots from a design standpoint. Deaths and adventuring really go hand-in-hand, when you think about it… so it could even be seen as a staple of the genre. In fact, removing deaths from the adventure genre arguably achieves the same result as removing them from a First Person Shooter!

Not only that, but death scenes create tension AND humour. They create multiple ways to think about solving puzzles and make you consider alternatives. I think providing a gameplay experience that doesn’t merely hand-hold and serve things up on a silver platter contributes to attracting smarter players.

I also prefer to draw an audience based on the quality of the game’s own merits, rather than creating something that attempts to please everyone but ends up disappointing both sides. Most of our existing fan-base consists of hardcore Sierra adventure gamers, and we are familiar with the exact kind of gameplay they appreciate. So, rather than “casualizing” our adventure games and contributing to the ever-expanding problem of trying to introduce as many casual players as possible (to the chagrin of niche gamers), we will instead keep our adventure games challenging and cater to the casual market with a separate line of casual games specifically geared for that market. This way we can cater to both audiences with relevant products and without introducing a mish-mash of cross-over features.

We haven’t actually started making any of the death animations for Mage’s Initiation yet, but I believe there will be an assortment of different ones; falling from great heights, being obliterated by certain spells, getting finished off by mythological creatures, and maybe a few funny ones as well.

DHGF: Mage’s Initiation is heavily influenced by old Sierra adventure games for the PC. Since Sierra has been gone for a while and an entire generation of gamers haven’t played Gabriel Knight, Phantasmagoria or Hi-Res Adventure titles, what about Mage’s Initiation will draw those younger gamers in?

CW: We plan to release the game on Android and iPhone smartphones (and possibly tablets) upon release. In addition to our existing PC-owning fan-base, 2D adventure games such as Mage’s Initiation are perfectly-suited to touch-screen devices. Most young people own smartphones and a majority play games on this platform. Expectations for 3D graphics and the latest technology are not high and many of the top-grossing and most popular titles in this category have been 2D. This presents a good opportunity to introduce our adventure games to a new audience on a platform that’s well-suited to the genre, and upon which 2D graphics are seen as complimentary to what smartphone users expect.

DHGF: How long do you think it will take the average gamer to beat the completed version of Mage’s Initiation?

CW: It’s kind of difficult as this stage of development to determine how long the game will end up being. We’re still in the process of adding filler puzzles and additional side-quests which will append gameplay time. Additionally, once death scenes are implemented, that will account for a lot of multiple paths which makes variable the overall gameplay length. At a guess, I would estimate that Mage’s Initiation will probably be similar in length to our King’s Quest II: Romancing the Stones remake, once finished.

DHGF: You’ve been working on Mage’s Initiation for roughly ten months now. How far into the game are you and what’s been the hardest part during the development process so far?

CW: 2011 has not been an easy year for us and we have been preoccupied with another matter for the larger part of the year. As such, progress on Mage’s Initiation hasn’t happened as quickly as anticipated.

The 2D character animations have proven to be a time-consuming task. Unlike our previous game, Al
Emmo and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine
which used pre-rendered 3D character sprites, Mage’s Initiation has character frames that are all created individually by hand.

Another difficult thing to achieve has been trying to find a good balance and purpose for the statistics and combat system.

DHGF: Although Mage’s Initiation won’t be out until late 2012, you’ve already announced a pre-order package for the game. For people learning about the game for the first time in this interview, can you tell people what they will get for pre-ordering?

CW: Certainly. We’re trying to get an idea of pre-order numbers in advance, so we’ll have some idea of how much stock needs to be produced without ending up with a bunch of surplus items in inventory. I should also mention that this offer is only available to customers who pre-order, but the pre-order sign-up process doesn’t require any obligation of payment. It’s just for notification purposes about when the pre- ordered copies will be ready to buy. People on the pre-orders list can either choose to pay for their pre- ordered copy at that time, or they can otherwise unsubscribe from the list at any point.

Here’s what’s included:

-A Cloth Map of the land of Iginor
-Three Collectible Trading Cards
Mage’s Initiation Game Poster
-Ancient Spell book Page
-Game CD and Packaging

We’ve been shooting for a 2012 release, but at this point, the game’s development could easily pass into
2013. Unfortunately, we’ve experienced quite a few setbacks in 2011 that slowed things down a bit.

DHGF: Where will people be able to purchase Mage’s Initiation? Will it be strictly a digital download release or will gamers be able to find it in brick and mortar stores as well?

CW: We will sell the game via our own company website and presumably on other online distribution networks as well. It has been too early in development to discuss any of those details yet, though. We will also print a number of Limited Edition CD copies for the game’s initial pre-order release, which will also ship with several collectible items. Whether another retail CD version gets released at some point after that will depend what offers are made to us at that time, but it’s something we’d consider.

DHGF: After Mage’s Initiation is completed, what comes next for Himalaya Studios?

CW: We have a few ideas and plans floating around, but a lot depends on how well our games sell, in addition to some outside factors. We’ve been planning for a while to take our company to the next level and we are seeking investors. The future path of Himalaya Studios will be largely defined by the outcome of that.

There we go. If anything, I’m crossing my fingers that Mage’s Initiation does come out in 2012. If not, at least there’s a game I already know I’m interested in for 2013. I’m sure we’ll speak with Chris again as the game inches closer to a finished product so that we can check back in and see how things have progressed. In the meantime, if you’re interested in adding your name to the pre-order list, click here. To learn more about Himalaya Studios and their games, visit their official website.



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2 responses to “Interview with Chris Warren from Himalaya Studios about Mage’s Initiation”

  1. Gonchi Avatar

    As a Quest for Glory fanatic, I’m really looking forward to this game. There just aren’t enough titles out there that blend classic P&C adventure with RPG elements.

  2. LabrynianRebel Avatar

    I still don’t understand how King’s Quest and Monkey Island are the only point&click adventure games that people remember. Quest for Glory was where it’s at!

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