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Interview: Aurora44 Talks Ashen, Their Influences, and The E3 Experience

Last month at E3, Microsoft’s press conference wasn’t just about big-name AAA titles, the console, and Fallout 4, but instead Microsoft took the time to unveil several indie games being developed by studios participating in the ID@Xbox program.  One such studio was Aurora 44, the developers of the upcoming action RPG game Ashen.   In Ashen, you play as a wander searching for a place you may call home in a world where the only natural light comes from volcanic eruptions which cover the world in ash.

This week, we had the opportunity to chat with the game’s Art Lead, Leighton Milne of Aurora44, about the game’s mechanics, the influences behind Ashen, and their E3 experience.

Gaming Conviction: At what point in the development process are you into the game?
Leighton Milne: We are in the Pre Alpha right now.

GC: What was your initial response to being selected to present your game during Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference?
LM: We have been in constant communication with the team over at ID@Xbox, and they have been a great support. When they first approached us with the idea of an E3 trailer, the team was super excited and motivated to produce a trailer for Ashen as it would be the first “real” showing of the game besides some images and gifs posted online.

Ashen Screenshot

A wander sits on a rock outside what appears to be an old fort or castle.

GC: How big of a role does Microsoft play in the production of the game?
LM: They really believe in our vision behind the game. Their main goal is to get Ashen onto their platform for the players to enjoy, and any support they can give in doing so they will do. They have been great to work with.

GC: Ashen looks a lot like a mix of Shadow of the Colossus and DayZ. Would you consider those games to be an influence of yours? Are there others?
LM: We have been influenced by the games we really enjoy as gamers. We love games like Journey, Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus. We really liked what happened in the  early Day’s of DayZ and how players crafted their own stories in a giant world, thats a really interesting concept to explore.

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GC: What was the influence behind the art style? There looks to be some play between light and dark.
LM: We wanted to create something Iconic with Ashen. Its highly stylized in its shapes, but has a layer of grit and dirt on top to make the world feel lived in and believable. Creating a stylized look in a dark setting was an exciting challenge for us.

GC: What made you choose to have the game played in 3rd person and not 1st person?
LM: We decided on the 3rd person perspective very early on. We really wanted to have a sense of scale in the world. Seeing the character gives context to objects within the world.

GC: You’ve previously mentioned that the open world environment is huge, could you go into more detail about this. What other games would you compare it to?
LM: The world is very much open and free for the player to explore. This ties back into the goal we have with the sense of scale in the world. There will be vast open plains to traverse as well as tightly woven ruins to explore. We want the world to feel real and organic, so things like rivers are used as natural pathways to direct the player. I would compare our game to a mixture of the open world of Witcher 3 with areas of tightly knit design such as the Souls series.

GC: Are some of the creatures we saw at E3 friendly?
LM: The Ecosystem of Ashen will be made up of many different creatures and characters. Some will be aggressive, some will only lash back once under threat, others will simply try to escape at all costs. Having contrast in how the creatures react to you is important to creating a believable world.

A wanderer carrying wood

A wanderer carrying a wooden shield

GC: How will the passive multiplayer work? Will there be any kind of Player vs Player environments?

LM: Passive multiplayer is a core mechanic in Ashen. 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. Working together and cooperating with others you meet to overcome the harsh world is the focus. Player vs Player brings an interesting dynamic. Its not something we are actively working on at this time, but its something we would be interested in exploring in the future.

GC: What type of weapons will there be?
LM: Well, there won’t be swords in the world of Ashen. This was a design decision we made at the start. The world is very low tech, and resources are scarce. From this point, most of the weapons in Ashen have a function over style theme to them. Weapons such as Axes, clubs,spears and shields are the most common weapons found and crafted because they take less metal and man hours to create.

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GC: Will the player be crafting items?
LM: The player can find components out in the world to bring back to town and craft with. Items such as weapons, armor and talismans will all be craftable from certain NPC’s

GC: We know that with most RPGs there is usually a tough grind when leveling up your character. How would you describe yours if you have one?
LM: Ashen is taking a different direction to the traditional progression leveling in most RPG’s. Items and equipment play a big part in how the player choose to play. Progression is tied closer to the players town and the NPC townsfolk than personal player stats.

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