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Indie Blend: Black Sigil

Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled, an RPG that harkens back to the 16-bit era, is the first game out of Montreal-based development Studio Archcraft. Blend Games recently had a chance to interview the CEO of Archcraft about their debut project.

Cinema Blend: Ok, I'll go ahead and start with the easy questions. Who are you and what was your position on the Black Sigil Team?

Studio Archcraft: My name is Vincent Dehaut, Studio Archcraft’s CEO. I handled a wide variety of tasks everything from business and management to design and development for Black Sigil.

CB: What is Black Sigil, and how would you describe it to somebody who hasn't paid attention to it?

SA: Black Sigil is a console RPG in the spirit of the Super NES era. In a way, Black Sigil pays homage to the classic games most of us grew up with.

As for the presentation of the game itself, it offers an impressive ability to create an immersive and interactive experience on the Nintendo DS. It is complete with beautiful and vivid environments, complex worlds, and a groundbreaking original storyline that combines exploration and combat to create an epic tale.

CB: What makes your game different from other RPGs?

SA:The original story and the battle system of Black Sigil make it different than other RPGs. Black Sigil’s story is extremely engaging, and we’ve made a point to ensure that everything is relevant. Obviously, I can’t give too many details without revealing spoilers, but Black Sigil’s story is definitely worth taking the time to read. The battle system employs an original tactical aspect which requires the player to observe the positions of his or her characters, and also the positions of enemies which gives the player more control while staying true to its classic RPG feel.

CB:According to your website, the battle system is classified as an "Active-Time Tactical Combat RPG." What exactly does that mean?

SA: “Active Time” implies that the battle takes place in real-time, meaning they are not turn-based. However, this is not an action game. While there is an advantage in having quick reflexes, or a pre-determined battle plan, the player still has enough time to create a strategy on the fly.

In regards to the “Tactical” aspect, this means the player has more control over the characters when in battle. This allows for the player to protect a more vulnerable character or even formulate a more effective attack scheme. Overall, this “Active-Time Tactical Combat RPG” creates a fast-paced and deep battle system which is a lot of fun.

CB:How long has the team been working on it, and how large is the team? I know that it originally started out as a Game Boy Advance project, what prompted the move to the DS?

SA: Black Sigil has been in development for around six years with a year of preliminary design work prior to that. We’ve had around a dozen people in total working on the game, though not all at the same time.

We decided to move the game to the DS pretty much as soon as it was introduced, as we wanted to release the game on the current-generation console. The DS offered some intriguing advances beyond the GameBoy, including the touch screen.

CB: What's the story about? What were your major influences when it came to writing the story?

SA: Without going into major spoilers, the game is set in Bel Lenora, a world where people are born with magic at their command. Years ago, a single man named Kairu walked the land with no magic in his veins. He brought death and tragedy in his wake, and thus was banished by a brave General at a great cost. It has been fifteen years since his banishment… and once again, a young man with no magic walks the land of Bel Lenora!

Despite the increasing frequency of monster attacks and the mistrust from those around him, Kairu has lived a happy life in his adoptive family, with the Duke’s daughter Aurora at his side. But dark times are approaching, and the people’s fear is increasing…

I’d also like to name some of the great literary works as influences, but what we really did was try to make our own story, instead of drawing inspiration from other people’s work.

CB: How difficult was it to find a publisher? It's gotta be difficult to pitch a niche 16-bit RPG to, well, anybody.

SA: Actually, it was fairly easy to find publishers interested in the product. Black Sigil’s graphics are amazing, and once we were able to put the product in the hands of publishers it convinced them of the quality of the title.

Ultimately, we decided to go with Graffiti Entertainment, which was one of the earliest interested parties. Obviously, I can’t go in the details of our business relationship but this turned out to be an excellent decision for us.

CB: By looking at the various screenshots you've released, it's obvious that you guys were influenced by SNES RPGs, specifically the Squaresoft ones. How did you guys manage to work your own style into it (both visually and in the story telling) while still keeping the throwback feel?

SA: Simple; lots and lots of work and creativity! We spent literally years creating all the graphical assets of the game with the intention of giving our own look to things.

CB: In regards to the last question, there are places around the internet (NeoGAF, for example) who claim that you've copied the sprites or the backgrounds from various games, however nobody's really done any comparison pictures to back them up. How do you wish to respond to these people, and did the conversation ever come up during development that maybe X screen looks a lot like Y place in Z game?

SA: Our graphics are similar in style to some SNES-era games. This was a design choice on our part, so obviously Black Sigil is going to be reminiscent of those games. That said, Black Sigil was intended for publication from the start, and we made sure to avoid the obvious pitfall of using assets that didn’t belong to us.

During development, we did find a few assets that were too similar to other games, and we modified them. It was something that we were all aware could happen – after all, there’s only so many ways to draw an eight-pixel by twelve-pixel barrel.

CB: The 16-bit era ended a decade and a half ago, and since then, there have been numerous advances in the RPG genre. What, if anything, have you taken from the past 15 years of video gaming and how will it help set Black Sigil apart from those very SNES games we grew up on?

SA: We focused on making the best game possible with the resources available. We didn’t sit down one day and decide on which modern elements to include. That said, we were all gamers, and so we knew what worked for us and what didn’t. If I have to name one specific element that we learned since the SNES era, it’s the importance of a satisfying ending.

CB: During development, were there any features/story elements/hidden dungeons that you had to cut from the original vision, and how did you choose what did and didn't make it? Did you have to cut anything from the move from GBA to DS?

SA: We’ve made surprisingly few cuts to the final product from the final version of the design documentation, and nothing was cut solely to finish the game faster.

CB: What's next for Studio Archcraft?

SA: First, we’re going to finish preparing the European version of Black Sigil. We’ve also begun work on a second project, although it’s way too early to reveal anything at this point. Finally, we’re currently doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work to improve our efficiency as well.

CB: And finally, being a smaller game, I'm going to assume it won't get a Halo 3-sized order. Where will be game be available? A quick search of the internet shows that is really the only place that even has it listed for sale. Will Black Sigil grace the shelves of Best Buy or GameStop or even Wal-Mart, or is Amazon the only place to get it?

SA: Well, we can still hope for Halo-sized sales. As to distribution, that’s a question best suited for Graffiti, but the idea is to ensure that Black Sigil is available everywhere possible when it’s scheduled for release on April 14, 2009. Check back to for updates on Black Sigil.

CB: Thank you for your time, and I look forward to playing Black Sigil when it releases this April.

SA: Thank you!