RPGWatch Indie Showcase / Aeons of Sands: The Trail
This installment of our Indie Showcase explores Aeons of Sands: The Trail. Thanks to our member Pongo for recommending the game! Also thanks to Marco and Florian for answering our questions and for all the great media to make this article look as good as it does!
RPGWatch: Tell us a little about your background and experience?
Florian is a Software Architect and Software Developer and responsible for technical direction, game-mechanics and programming.
I (Marco) am a draftsman and illustrator by trade and a social narrative artist; I'm responsible for game direction, story, visuals, testing and audio editing.
RPGWatch: How long did it take you to develop your game?
6.5 years, and we're still going, with post-release support.
Concept and engine prototyping from 2012 to 2014, plus six months for the first draft of the game's story (the bulk was more than 80,000 words, and it grew ever since).Then 3 years of production: all the graphics and mechanics, and a lot of testing and polishing.
RPGWatch: What games inspired your game?
We were both inspired by video games of the late 80's and early 90's, like the RPGs of the Gold Box series, Perihelion or Tangled Tales.
These games managed to make a lot of the game take place in the mind theatre of the players, they were amazing at it.
We wanted to combine this conscious theatre with a more flexible, deeper narrative, with more mature background themes.
The tone we use is often deceptive in relation to the paths we present to the player: Aeon of Sands is a about the choosing process as well as a game of choices.
The game - among our influences - that probably comes closest to what I'm describing is Infocom's Journey.
RPGWatch: What's the target audience for your game?
Aeon of Sands is for players who like to play through a story, who like curiosities and have an open and curious mind.
You enjoy the game the most when you take risks in your story decisions, rather than going the straightest, most promising way to "win" a likely advantage.
You can still play it as a simple dungeon crawler, but you would probably miss much of its value as an adventure. That is because the game is not meant for players who want to maximize their character(s), it's more of a real RPG where you've got a hard to play role.
Even a risky or bad decision can turn out to be a lucky circumstance later on. Everything is interrelated and interdependent.
There is a certain amount of stats growth to keep up with the increasing challenge throughout the game, but the actual growth is only experienced, if at all, as a hero story sheet.
Mechanically, we've designed it to be accessible to all players with a minimum of real-time action experience.
RPGWatch: How would you describe your game to an interested player?
Aeon of Sands is the slow-paced adventure / real-time action RPG of a fool, set in a mostly grid-based, hand-painted wasted land.
It feels like a wild conversation between the narrator and the player, in which consequences to the player's choices span from the gritty to the nutty to the insane.
The core of the game are choices! They bring you places, they matter.
All of that plus the exploration and combat.
RPGWatch: In a huge RPG market, why should players give your game a chance?
Well, it's true, there are great games that explore role-playing, but - in my opinion - current RPGs often treat players like superhumans and the chosen ones.
We didn't want that: Aeon of Sands puts the player in the clothes of a man who is weaker than most others and lets him experience an adventure and complete a story while remaining true to himself.
That's something most current RPGs shy away from.
There is nothing procedural in the game here, because the decision tree is fixed, but how your story evolves depends on whether you choose this or that. You won't see what would have happened if you had decided otherwise.There are no good or bad decisions, no black or white. There is only the unknown!
RPGWatch: Your game has gotten some positive feedback. Is there any player comments you found especially noteworthy?
We noticed there are mainly three kinds of comments:
The critical ones: are often rooted in players' expectations and misconceptions about the nature of the game, but they have helped us a lot to polish the edges of Aeon of Sands.
Then there are those which make us smile and people who are grateful because they enjoy the weird twists and curiosities we've placed in the story and the game.
A fitting comment: "Just confirms how sweetly twisty this game is."
Finally, something interesting and cool, the positive feedback from pre-teens at game fairs: they actually nailed the game controls very fast and they enjoyed it and had fun! Totally worthy.
RPGWatch: I haven't played Aeons of Sands yet, but the two games that come to mind when I see the videos and screenshots are Stone Prophet, because it was unlike say The Legend of Grimrock in that it was very open and set in a desert world, and Dark Sun, because of the way the monsters and scenery look.
Did either of these games influence Aeons of Sands? Why did you decide to set the game in a desert world?
I've only recently played the Stone Prophet, and never the Dark Sun. But I was very aware of their vision and had collected and cut out the pictures of the magazines at the time they were published. I loved them.
They prompted, for sure, along with Perihelion, my research, while Florian was more influenced by his experience from Africa and Arabia of the 80's.
But practically, the actual inspiration from Aeon of Sands comes from pulp novels, like J.G. Ballard's The Wind From Nowhere, and higher literature.
We have an Art Book (for a free sample, see: https://store.steampowered.com/manual/1025290) out in which, among a TON of art, I share my reading list for Aeon of Sands, if you are interested!
RPGWatch: Most games using Aeons of Sand's mechanics, like The Legend of Grimrock, are classical dungeon crawlers. Aeons of Sands, however, has a branching dialogue system and looks more "open." Would you still describe your game primarily as a dungeon crawler?
We describe Aeon of Sands as a roleplaying game set in a post-apocalyptic desert world. It combines real-time exploration gameplay with classic gamebooks where you create your very own non-linear story adventure.
We don't use the dungeon crawler label in there, because it points to mechanical oriented games like LoG. Although there are many secrets, fights and puzzles, it's just one facet of the whole.
AoS creates a new roleplaying world, with its own rules and experiences.
RPGWatch: Do you have future plans to support your game? If not do you have plans for another project?
We will continue to support AoS and also have some ideas on how we can give lovers of the game and the genre additional challenges.
In more detail, we are planning to add more gameplay modes to the game. We're thinking of an "Iron Man" mode, a "New Game+", and to add the "missing maze"...
We also want to extend the evaluation of a run at the end of a playthrough, so that the player can retrace his decisions.
Bug Fixing and support, of course.
Maybe we'll release AoS on another platform, but nothing is carved in stone yet.
RPGWatch: Thanks for the time to answer our questions. Do you have any final words for players who consider starting this game? Any words of advice maybe?
Dare to explore a world and experience a story without having full control over your main character and XP with levels. Experience a role to play and fill and be open to the new...to expand the genre.