The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Skulls of the Shogun

Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We like that. This week, Skulls of the Shogun lead designer Jake Kazdal discusses developing a game for four platforms at once, and what happened to that "launch alongside Windows 8" promise.

The Joystiq Indie Pitch Skulls of the Shogun

What's your game called and what's it about?

Skulls of the Shogun is an arcade-strategy game coming to XBLA, Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Windows RT (Surface) very soon. It's an original title, developed by a small team of highly experienced AAA developers over the past 3.5 years. It's a mash-up of tactical turn-based strategy, with a feel that is very arcade-like and action-packed. No grids, very few menus and quick, snappy rounds give it a very unique and charming aesthetic, easy for action gamers to adapt to, but with all the depth a good strategy game lover needs.

Why did you choose to go exclusively Microsoft? Is there any chance of Skulls of the Shogun launching through Steam or anywhere else?

Microsoft's XBLA group is full of old friends and co-workers from my past in this industry, they're close by so we can zip over there for lunch and meetings, and they have my favorite game console, along with a phone and a tablet and a new operating system.

For a micro-studio like us to be able to launch on four platforms simultaneously was a huge incentive. We own the IP and would like to do more with it in the future (not only gaming) but Microsoft is the publisher for these versions and that has kept our hands quite full for now.%Gallery-171897%

What happened to the plan to launch alongside Windows 8?

Quite simply we have two engineers and are developing a game on four platforms. It's been an insane amount of work, and both Ben and Borut have been absolute Terminators working alongside our in-house test team, but with two all new platforms and unproven development tools it's been attempting to hit a moving target. Factor is us being the first to do all cross-platform functionality; we've been in brave new jungles with machetes in hand.

It's incredible the amount of work we have pulled off, but we weren't quite fast enough to hit the launch of Windows 8. That being said, it's coming very soon. We should be able to announce a final launch date within weeks.

The Joystiq Indie Pitch Skulls of the Shogun

Skulls of the Shogun has received a fair amount of pre-launch attention through Indiecade and the Microsoft deal. How has this spotlight affected the development process?

It's been great! We've received a lot of attention from gamers and the press, and once we finally launch (very soon, I swear) I hope the wave of awareness we've been able to build so far will capitalize on that buzz.

What inspired you to make Skulls of the Shogun?

A deep, intense love of the faster, more arcade-style maps in games like Advance Wars and Shining Force, years of living in Japan and being a huge fan of classic 60s anime. We put together a crack team of guys tired of the routine at the big AAA studios and got some funding. We really thought mashing together the best of quick-paced turn-based strategy with a fun, lighthearted aesthetic more reminiscent of an arcade brawler was a fun challenge to tackle.

What's the coolest aspect of Skulls of the Shogun?

I think the fundamental gameplay system: It's got a ton of depth, but wrapped in a simple, clean, charming shell. People are able to play it for the first time, and within just a couple of minutes are able to grasp the system and start really embracing the battle system, laughing at the dialogue, and just really enjoying the experience. It's different, and very, very fun.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

We've all worked at the large studios for years. I spent almost 15 years in the field working for studios like Boss Games, Zombie Studios, Sega of Japan and Electronic Arts in Los Angeles, where Borut, Ben and I all worked together on the cancelled LMNO game collaboration with Steven Spielberg. It was time to go small and control our own destinies, and make the game we wanted to make.

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

I suppose so. I have a lot of great friends deeply involved in the indie community and it's refreshing to have so many people to talk to about our challenges and concerns. It's definitely a great time to be a developer, with a small team and a lot of passion and experience you can craft amazing experiences, a great alternative to the huge budget AAA stuff. I still play lots of AAA but love the better indie stuff just as much.

The Joystiq Indie Pitch Skulls of the Shogun

Sell Skulls of the Shogun in one sentence:

Undead Samurai, burp jokes, amazing music and fast-paced turn-based action strategy that can be played across four platforms!

What's next?

Some well-deserved downtime. This project has been going since my first son was born and I now have two sons running around talking. It's time to spend some time with them.

Skulls of the Shogun will come to XBLA and Windows 8 devices... eventually. Keep a sharp eye out for that release date any day now. Keep a sharp sword, too. Just because.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.