Sitdown at Spacetime: The Making of Arcane Legends
Spacetime Studios’ office is a beautiful place, but you’d miss it if you didn’t know it was there. Housed in one of the tall, white office buildings that line the highways in Austin, it remains a well-hidden gem from the outside world, where ideas and games and coding all symbiotically co-exist, and hits are made.
I’m lucky enough to arrive just as CEO Gary Gattis is signing for a package, and we exchange small talk before he goes back inside. We’ve met before, but the last time I was here was more than a year ago, and Spacetime was in a smaller office then. They’ve grown, just like their library of titles, and as such, have moved into a bigger space.
Walking into Spacetime’s office space, their walls are lined with posters and art of their games, but also with newspaper articles and awards they’ve won. It’s a clean setup, and you can tell there’s a real sense of pride about what they’re doing between these walls.
I walk into a long conference room where Gary is sitting. Half of the room is covered with incredibly detailed concept art, and the other half is blanketed with bizarre doodles on dry erase boards. All sorts of strange characters live here, from men with disproportionate noses and heads, to, well, animals with disproportionate body parts (and extra appendages). I sit down.
I reintroduce myself to Gary and his memory is (hopefully) jogged. More small talk, this time about my career as a music teacher and his son joining the band program at his school. Finally, Gary pops the question.
“So, what’re we here to talk about?” I mentioned that I wanted to talk about the creation of Arcane Legends, from idea, to early concepts, to actual fruition and publishing in the Google Play Store. “Cinco’s the man you’ll want to talk to, then.”
Cinco Barnes is the Chief Visionary Officer for Spacetime Studios, but aside from that, he’s also a hilarious person, eloquent speaker, and shredding guitarist (or so Gary says). He hosted his own Tosh.0-style show before Tosh.0 was ever on the scene, and he emceed Spacetime’s presentation at the Big Android BBQ 2011.
So yeah, if there’s someone you want to talk to, it’s Cinco.
He’s the kind of person that immediately makes you feel like you’ve known each other your whole lives, and he did just that to me. He bounded in with an almost infectious excitement, but also a warmth that immediately puts your apprehensions at ease.
But I want to know about Arcane Legends, so that’s what I start with.
“Arcane Legends is the fourth in the legend series of games. We started years ago with a game called Pocket Legends, and Pocket Legends did extremely well for Spacetime Studios.
We followed it up with a couple of other Legends titles, refining the kind of gameplay, the sort of experience that you could have with the various features of the game and wound up in a position for Arcane Legends where we could take the best of everything in an extremely fast, extremely responsive, action-oriented combat system.
Arcane Legends is our best in class, mobile MMO. Arcane Legends really is, so far, our finest game, our finest multiplayer game, our finest MMO, and by far, one of the best mobile games I think, anybody’s gonna play.”
It’s quite inspiring and almost riveting to listen to Cinco speak about Spacetime and their plans. It’s clear from the start that he’s an integral part of everything, and based on how well he knows his Spacetime history, there’s no doubt that he’s been there every step of the way.
The games made by Spacetime are, without fail, top of the line. Played in hundreds of countries by millions of people, they can log a quarter of a million concurrent users over the weekend, which is impressive, considering they only employ just over 50 people.
When it comes to Arcane Legends, though, I’d noticed some striking similarities to Spacetime’s first installment, Pocket Legends, namely the medieval fantasy world. Sure, the differences are clear enough (like having animal characters in Pocket Legends and humans in Arcane Legends), but there was still something I was curious about.
Did Spacetime ever think they were cannibalizing their own user base? Or more importantly, did they think Arcane Legends was different enough from Pocket Legends to stand on its own and be successful?
“Well, we have a style as a studio and that’s something that I’m very proud of. We do medieval fantasy, we have sort of a snarky, kind of funny look at what medieval fantasy is all about. And when we decided to make Pocket Legends, Pocket Legends is very much like Arcane Legends is today.
And [the Pocket Legends world], though, that world is still a medieval fantasy world that’s more of a story book, more of fractured fairy tales, and less of a serious and dark fantasy. And that’s something that as a studio we do.
So we decided that we were going to go back to medieval fantasy for our fourth Legends title. We knew we needed to do some stuff to freshen it up and so we took a little bit more of a serious approach, not to the tone but to the way we told the story. In Pocket Legends, the story is told in a pretty haphazard way, where it’s just a quest dialogue and a handful of cinematics.
For Arcane Legends, we wanted to treat the story with a lot of respect because we worked very hard in order to create characters that you could understand, with motivations that made sense, so we invested really heavily in the cinematics system, in conversations.
Largely what we wanted to do was we wanted to bring the focus back to, you know, a believable story of motivations, and having evil characters who, at their root, have dysfunctions that you can understand, and that as a hero your opportunities to win the day are pretty clear, and that’s the way the story begins. But as we get deeper into this story we have a lot to reveal.
All of this is told through our eyes, and it takes on a kind of a snarky and funny and fresh vision. We’re in no way sitting around thinking that we’re inventors.
As originators, we feel like we have a voice but we don’t get caught up with trying to do something no one else has done before in story. We do something that matters to us and then we just be honest about it.”
Looking at the three current character classes in Arcane Legends, it’s pretty obvious to any veteran MMO-player than Spacetime built a tank, a caster, and a damage dealer.
It’s certainly familiar, if not a bit par the course, but both newcomers to MMOs and experienced players will understand the rock-paper-scissors design of the warrior, sorcerer, and rogue.
Still, with a company as innovative as Spacetime, I wanted to know if they didn’t think they were “playing it safe” with their character design.
“So each of these classes represents, from our perspective, it’s a classic trilogy, so the trinity rather, the classic trinity of those three classes makes it fun for us to create content where there’s monsters that are going to eat a lot of health points, so it’s important to have a tank.
There’s gonna be monsters that are going to have a lot of defensibility, that are going to need to be locked down and you need to crowd control, because you’re going to need to put certain DPS moves on them in order to defeat them. That’s all really fun.
And keeping it to those three, making a chord out of the tanking, DPS, and support feels like we can make a bunch of different kinds of content that make the player groups really entertained, entertained as groups of three and four, or entertained as one or two as well.
It’s that level of interdependence that’s really fun for us when we play and we just wanted to stay with that, plus it opens us up to being able to offer other character classes in the future. As it stands these three, these three are really good, a really solid beginning.”
For any followers of the Legends series of games, one thing that immediately jumps out when you start playing Arcane Legends is how quick the combat is. Compared to earlier title Star Legends, which was all rounding corners and targeting one enemy at a time, Arcane Legends is all flash and bang, with quick, hack and slash gameplay, as furious as your thumb can deliver it.
When questioned about the change in action and gameplay speed, I got some revealing and well-thought answers.
“We love a tactical gameplay, that’s core to our earlier MMOs Pocket and Star Legends. Both have a single lock target and that lock target then becomes more of a strategic process where you’re waiting for cooldowns in order to apply the right debuffs on your target, in order to do the right damage and combos, so on and so forth.
In that process of play, is really fun but it’s much more strategic. It’s much more intellectual. And after going through Dark Legends, the thing that we wanted to achieve with Dark Legends was something really splashy. Something that would feel home on a console or game controller just smashing guys, but still it’s an MMO.
When we got to Arcane Legends, because we enjoyed the Dark Legends combat so much, what we decided to do was have the core combat feel splashy and arcade-like, but add a depth where I can choose ranks of a variety of different skills and still play my role and be a good functional part of a team that is trying to survive and succeed but have that sense of connection to my avatar that I don’t have in other games.
I mean, I’ve played a lot of MMOs. I’ve played both our competition on mobile devices and playing PC games and what we offer is different. We reduced the complexity and add what I think is a very elegant level of simplicity for the style of combat that we have.”
More screens, more better
One of the most significant things Spacetime Studios accomplished in the past was their multi-screen strategy. Instead of only limiting their games to phones and tablets, they successfully published their games as apps in the Chrome web store, allowing anyone to play a Legends game not only from their handheld device, but also from their computer.
This three-screen was a huge hit (and a huge deal!) because players weren’t separated based on what device they were playing on. Players playing on their computer existed in the exact same world as their mobile counterparts, and you could just as easily stop on one screen and seamlessly pick things up on another.
That was then, though, and seeing a multiple screen release for a Spacetime Studios game is all but expected. Still, I was wanted to know why they did it, and if they think it’s the future of not only mobile gaming, but gaming at large.
“It was the future when were making Star Legends and we were there up in front of everybody else. We’ve benefited from having knowledge that other people don’t have by going places before they do.
Going there with the mobile MMO to begin with taught us lessons that still I think a lot people have yet to understand and then going multi-platform has also taught a lot and benefits on a number of levels were just undeniable.
From the perspective of just being a service industry, we serve the public that comes in everyday 24 hours a day to play our game and being to able to get a sense of the players’ experience from small, medium, large scale device, whether they’re locked to their PC playing in Chrome, on the big screen, or that they’re running around on their mobile device, all of this helps us a lot to understand the customer’s experience and the fact that we support all these different platforms is largely an expression of our technical muscle.
Our engine is extremely flexible and looking for opportunities to draw audiences from all these different places is great for business. Being able to go out on Chrome, being available on your Android device, being available on iOS, and the mini iPad or whatever.
All of this is excellent for a company such as Spacetime that wants to catch a really broad net and bring in lots and lots of customers. It’s a very good strategy for us overall. I think that the one thing that we offer that other people don’t who do this on multiple platforms is that when you convert to Spacetime account, you play exactly the same game on every device.”
Throughout the entire interview, it’s obvious that Cinco (and probably everyone else) takes a great level of pride in what they do, not only making games, but marketing them, creating them, designing them, and everything else that comes with being your own development studio.
This truly is a remarkable place doing remarkable things, and when asked for final thoughts, I think Cinco summed it up nicely.
“It’s always great to talk about Spacetime. I’m really proud that I work here and that my partners and I, we’ve gone through a lot.
And the team that has been here that has put out so much effort and has given so much of their time and their talent, it’s humbling. Not only are we working on stuff that we care about, that we love and that we’ve invested in, it’s ours.
It’s something that we built and that we sweated and that we fought each other in order to have in this game. And it’s important.
And for us you know who’ve gone through the ringer, who’ve made licensed games and big games, we can look at each other in the face and be proud that all that we’ve gone through is for the right reasons, and it just makes me proud.
It’s just awesome to get the opportunity to talk about it.”