Saturday, October 29, 2016

Local game designer aims to make a splash with combat game and graphic novel

Posted By on Sat, Oct 29, 2016 at 8:22 AM

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The explosion of new board game designs has aligned perfectly with Kickstarter. With hundreds of new titles being produced a year, many a game design team has turned straight to the crowd funding site — sometimes producing runaway hits.

I found out recently that Pueblo West resident and founder of Incarnate Games, Jason Allen, had made his team’s bid for gaming stardom on Kickstarter with their new title, Ascended Kings — and an accompanying graphic novel — produced by artists who have worked on prominent DC Comics titles. I tracked him down and asked him a few questions about the game’s concept, the rich narrative universe spun around it and his plans for Incarnate Games.

Take us inside your game. What’s it about? What inspired it?
Ascended Kings literally came to me in a dream three or four years ago. I saw four heavenly, exalted warriors who were companions on a quest for a holy grail of knowledge and ultimate power. In the dream, they all entered a sepulcher full of tombs and weapons, then all the exits shut, locking them inside.

I told my roommate at the time about the dream and we got to talking about how four people on a mission who were suddenly turned against each other would make a crazy game. So we decided to make the game where two to four Ascended Kings meet in an arena. Walls of fire are closing in randomly from each of the arena’s four sides, so it’s impossible to win by “kiting” an opponent. The objective is to kill each other and take possession of magical stones called Bloodstones. It’s a battle all the way to the end.

Along the way, you get to make some very interesting choices: you can use your turn to fight or plan ahead for future moves, picking up special gems and cards that you can use in combos to help your strategy. And because you return as a Revenant with special abilities if your king is slain, you're never really out of the game.

You imagine this game as part of a bigger narrative universe. Talk about that.
Ascended Kings is to be the first installment in the Omega Mundus series. There’s a lot of imagineering around this, but the basic concept is this: The universe in which Ascended Kings takes place has a Corpus Mundus — the visible universe we’re used to — and the Pneuma Mundus, a spirit universe in a fifth dimension. The battle takes place in Pneuma Mundus.

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In the backstory, a powerful alchemist named Apsu around the Babylonian era found a continent in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that had been protected by an unknown force. This is where he met the natives and discovered Ylem — the original substance from which all things are derived. He was able to return Ylem to its place of origin, (Pneuma Mundus). In doing so, the land and natives went with it and were ascended. This land is known as Empyrnea in the game universe.

Apsu gifted four Bloodstones to each of the kings of Empyrnea — each of which presided over their own culture and belief systems — making them immortal. They ruled for thousands of years while Apsu resided in Aeterna, the capital city. Ascended Kings takes place after the death of Apsu. His death caused the Bloodstones to lose power, the kings to become mortal, and brought Empyrnea under attack.

A governing body called The Enclave has assumed power and called a secret meeting of the four kings. They have discovered a way to repower Bloodstones…with the blood of ascended kings. This cues the battle that is central to game. Whoever wins will reclaim immortality and hopefully be able to save Empyrnea. But there are some dark things going on behind the scenes that will be revealed in future experiences from Incarnate Games.

I understand you collaborated with artists that worked on prominent DC Comics titles to create the art and a companion graphic novel for the game. Tell us about that.
Ascended Kings®: The Fall of Empyrnea is a 60-page, fantasy hardcover graphic novel based on the arena combat board game and centered on the four kings of Empyrnea. The graphic novel follows each king separately before weaving the four story arcs together in an arena combat climax. Each king originates from a completely different land and culture and has dominion over a unique form of energy. We tried to add multiple layers of detail and story that ultimately make gameplay richer and more engaging.

This installment is only the first in a very large fantasy epic, which will include more graphic novels and games. We’re out to surprise people in the future and are hoping that a successful KickStarter campaign lays the cornerstone for the franchise.

The story concepts were by Jason M. Allen (me) and Nick Macari; the script was written by Nick Macari, and the artwork was illustrated by comic legends Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon, artists from A Game of Thrones and The Legend of Wonder Woman. The book is not required to play the board game, but it is a perfect companion for immersing yourself in the Ascended Kings universe!

You said you took a prototype of Ascended Kings to GenCon this summer. What was that like?
Being able to go to GenCon 2016 was a huge opportunity for us. All things considered, we did very well and had a full-size booth, life-size stand-up foamcore cut-outs of our king characters and an amazing prototype we had made through Virtual Packaging. 

We generated a lot of attention for our booth and had so many people crowding around our table to see the demo of the game that we barely had enough space! We hope to be going back for the historic 50th anniversary of GenCon 2017!

Can you tell us about some of the unexpectedly rewarding or difficult parts of the game producing process up to this point?
The most rewarding part of this process was seeing our ideas manifest into form. This is why we are called Incarnate Games and why we chose the tagline, Art into Play™. This essentially means that we focus very highly on artist autonomy while game ideas are brought from blank canvas to finished product.

It was the most amazing experience to finally hold the miniatures in my hand, which had at one point just been ideas. We went through multiple stages, from silhouettes and tonals to sketches and final illustrations to orthographics and 3D models — finally to the finished miniatures!

One of the more difficult parts was trying to avoid rework.

I imagine most Kickstarter teams have day jobs and create games on the side. Incarnate Games is a funded startup. How did that come about?
Incarnate Games, Inc. (a Colorado S-Corp) was very fortunate to obtain startup funding through private investments. I met my investor, Steve Waite, through a colleague of mine a couple years ago. I showed him my project and my plans for the future and he was very glad to support my team in our efforts to execute what we wanted to provide to the board game community.

Steve is also co-owner of Incarnate Games. While we did start with the initial funding to develop the game, we have brought the product to Kickstarter, as the manufacturing costs are significant. The Kickstarter platform offers a lot of great ways for us as creators to provide incentives to our backers while also being a great marketing tool.

Draw us an ideal picture of what Incarnate Games looks like in 2020.
The ideal scenario four years from now is to have our own brick-and-mortar studio built somewhere here in Colorado. While we have some ideas where that might be, we aren't completely decided just yet. However, in terms of development: I will be looking to build a software development team to create a platform for artists that nobody has really seen before.

Creative control in the hands of the team as a whole is a huge priority for us, and people will be able to see and experience that not only in the games and stories we release, but also for mobile games and eventual integration with emergent technologies.

Nate Warren is a Colorado Springs-based copywriter who offers both the veteran gamer and the uninitiated a local window into the burgeoning and wildly creative world of hobby and designer board games enjoyed by fanatics and connoisseurs — around the corner and and across the globe.

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