Interview with High Tale Studios

Acorn Assault Rodent Revolution was announced for Xbox One via ID@Xbox at this year’s E3. A title that puts you in the furry feet of squirrels fighting the French Revolution, it’s a strategy game with a unique premise and we were fortunate enough to interview the developers, High Tale Studios – founded by Amish Patel and Derrick Canfield- earlier this week.

XboxOneUK: You founded High Tale Studios in 2012. What brought you bother together and inspired you to form your own studio?

High Tale Studios: Derrick graduated in late 2010 with a degree in game development and decided to work with some of his graduating class on a side project which ended up falling apart. After the group fell apart he continued on with the project. Amish’s passion for games early in life drew him into programming, but unfortunately there weren’t any game development degree programs out there. After over ten years of working on enterprise software the gaming scene had shifted and the barrier to entry was lowered. After writing his first game for iOS (Road Raging) he got pumped for game development and started designing his next game. We knew each other through a mutual friend who suggested we might want to work together. After meeting and realizing that we both had a passion for game development we began work on ZomNomNom which led us to creating our own company to release our titles under.

XOUK: At first you were without an office and worked from ‘pizza shops, living rooms, and make-shift home offices’. Although it definitely doesn’t sound ideal, was there anything from this time that was beneficial and you now miss?

HTS: Actually Amish owns the pizza shop we worked out of which was awesome. Free pizza and beer is excellent game developer fuel. In all honesty we never minded working out of such non-conventional places. As long as we were churning out code and making a fun game we were happy and we still have that environment in that respect today.

XOUK: For the next question I’ve just got to ask: where did the French Revolution with squirrels idea come from?

HTS: We had the core mechanics of the game worked out and feeling good but didn’t have a premise to fit around the game. Our good friend and concept artist, Tony Ornelas, threw the idea out in a meeting and we were instantly sold. How could you not like the idea of squirrels in powdered wigs? At the time we couldn’t name a single game that used the setting of the French Revolution but working on a serious game didn’t quite fit our style. The idea of squirrels dressed in human clothes instantly lightened the mood.

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XOUK: Acorn Assault Rodent Revolution first launched on OUYA as Acorn Assault; after positive fan feedback you’re developing the game further with a storyline and technical improvements. Is developing with fans’ expectations in mind a different experience to how you’ve worked before? Or does it not enter into your thinking too much?

HTS: We developed our last game ZomNomNom behind closed doors and released it to the world when we thought it was done. We kind of did something similar with Acorn Assault, but after getting such positive feedback from the community once we launched, it inspired us to work with our fans to improve the game. So yeah, we definitely think a lot about what our fans have to say.

XOUK: There currently aren’t many turn-based strategy games on consoles, what drew you to this genre?

HTS: We have always been a fan of couch co-op and local multiplayer games and recently a lot of games have been ditching lately. We have had a lot of nostalgia piling on the same screen to play against our friends in Halo and aa_ss0having some friendly trash talking which you don’t quite get online. Acorn Assault brings back that kind of gameplay we all loved and allows us to bring it to a new audience.

XOUK: And where there any previous turn-based strategy games that you’ve taken influences from for creating your latest game?

HTS: There was a few games that we drew some inspiration from where we took the best parts of each to help form what Acorn Assault is. The game is a mixture of the mechanics of Triple Town, the competitiveness of Hearthstone and the strategy of Heroes of Might and Magic.

XOUK: Acorn Assault Rodent Revolution features a dynamic soundtrack – how important do you feel having a well-made soundtrack is for a video game?

HTS: We feel that having a well-made soundtrack is essential to make our silly concept of squirrels dressed in people clothes fighting the French Revolution seem a bit more tangible. We were lucky enough to get our composer, Matt Norton, whose idea it was to mix earthy natural tones with music that would have fit in the time period.

XOUK: Acorn Assault Rodent Revolution will have boss battles that the original Acorn Assault didn’t. What’s the process been for creating these culminating encounters?

HTS: The inspiration for each of our characters came from actual figures in the French Revolution. Since it’s been awhile since our high school history classes we spent some time reading articles and watching documentaries on the period. Each boss’s ability was heavily inspired by their real life counterparts.

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XOUK: There are behind-the-scenes photos of you all working at the studio – do you each take one certain aspect of the game to work on or collaborate on each part?

HTS: Matt just focuses on the music and sound direction. Derrick and I both have our own primary focus but we both have our hand in every aspect in game development.

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ZomNomNom

XOUK: ZomNomNom was your first game, a mobile-only title that featured touch-based controls as opposed to a displayed control scheme. Acorn Assault Rodent Revolution also seems to have a tight focus on good gameplay. Is this coincidental or, as a studio, do you aim to make games that play well?

HTS: Gameplay is core to all of the games we work on. We make sure to build the story and setting on top of the mechanics rather than the other way around. We have an internal game jam at the start of the year which we affectionately call “Jamuary”. During our jam, we create prototypes purely on gameplay.

XOUK: If you could put squirrels into another time period what would you go for? Or do you already have further plans for the furry critters?

HTS: While we are still focused on development for Acorn Assault Rodent Revolution, we definitely have some ideas for future titles and our rodents.

Amish and Derek, many thanks!

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