Daniel Franko Interview

Daniel Franco

There aren’t many games that manage to splice a literal frantic running pace with their RPG mechanics as successfully as Erin: The Last Aos Si. It’s a game filled with interesting imagery and a potent sense of world that plays off of both a retro sentimentality and offers something new. My Boxed Universe manages to grab a few moments of Daniel Franko’s time to talk to him about the game and its creation.

MBU
First and foremost, thanks for taking the time to sit and answer some questions for us today. For those who perhaps haven’t come across your work, can you introduce yourself for our readers?

FRANKO
My pleasure! So, I am a bipedal creature, often compared to a human. I love technology, games and movies and I sometimes delve into game development. Erin is actually my first game. The only other instance of me working on something close to a game was a short Half-Life single player campaign back in 1999.

MBU
You’re the guiding hand and overall father of Erin: The last Aos Si, can you break down the game for us and tell us about it?

FRANKO
Sure, Erin is a tactical turn-based strategy in its core. It is additionally sprinkled with some RPG elements and set in mythical Scotland. I think that what differentiates Erin from other games the most is the control system. I wanted to avoid mindless button mashing by creating a rather special rune system that is suppose to mimic a spell caster’s actions … if spell casting was a real thing.

MBU
How long was Erin in development?

Erin 4

FRANKO
Too long. It took me around 10 months to finish the game. I did not know much about game development when I started. I had some background in development of large scale database systems but terms like delta time, ticks, sprites, views and their practical use were mostly unknown to me. So a large portion of the dev time was taken by reading books and watching online courses. Thankfully, I picked Game Maker as the engine for my game which saved me a lot of time as I did not have to start from scratch. What surprised me though was how long it took me to transform a “Finished game” to a “Releasable game”. Play testing, balancing and bug fixing took me around a month and a half.

MBU
Had you experimented with the RPG genre in the past?

FRANKO
Not in form of a video game. I have some hazy childhood memories when my friends and I were working on some tabletop games that were RPG-ish. I think it was a direct reaction to the first Fallout we played at that time.

MBU
Do you enjoy RPGs?

FRANKO
RPGs and action RPGs are on the top of the list of my favourite game genres. The only problem is that it takes quite a lot of time to properly get into an RPG, experience the whole story, delve into all side activities, talk to each NPC. And time is something I have less and less recently. That said, I’ve just finished the third Witcher after 188 hours.

MBU
What do you look for in a game?

FRANKO
Hmmm, for me it’s mostly two things. Responsive controls and believable worlds. A game can be ugly, old, short or unoriginal but as long as it controls well and have a setting that makes sense I’m hooked.

MBU
What titles and elements helped to inspire Erin?

FRANKO
The basic concept of Erin was actually defined by a brain storming session that asked questions like “What kind of gameplay can be best enjoyed on the go” and “What kind of controls are best suited for touch screens” rather than taking elements from other games. That said, some of the core mechanics were adjusted based on great game design examples taken from Final Fantasy series, Paper Mario, Child of Light, Hero Emblems and Dark Souls.

MBU
Erin uses an interesting mix of rune combinations and touch-button prompts to trigger spells, what made you want to include both?

Erin 3

FRANKO
As I mentioned earlier, the goal was to take the act of spell casting into the real world. A sorcerer would have to remember how to cast a particular spell. He or she would have to utter the correct combination of words. The second part of spell casting, implemented as a quick time event, is supposed to reflect the skill of the sorcerer.

MBU
There’s a potent sense of world that’s very engaging in this title, and it’s nice to see a fantasy set within a more grounded sense of reality and folklore. What drew you to set your tale in Scotland (yes the world map is actually Scotland!) and use its mythology?

FRANKO
I moved to Scotland a couple of years ago and it is almost impossible to escape the sense of Celtic mythology that oozes from each corner. Just one trip to Scottish Highlands can show you how criminally underutilized the local mythology is. Using the local folklore in Erin was a no-brainer.

MBU
I imagine you were proud of the idea to weaponise a Haggis?

FRANKO
Researching the creatures of Celtic mythology was extremely entertaining but as you can guess not all of them are described vicious beasts. That is why I had to play a bit with the “official” descriptions and bend them where necessary. Ferocious Haggis is indeed one of my favourites.

MBU
How has Erin performed in the mobile market so far? Has it lived up to your expectations?

FRANKO
The mobile market is extremely oversaturated with more than 500 titles released daily and it is unlikely to publish a hit that will be downloaded by millions. I knew this from the beginning and managed my expectations accordingly. Erin has now around 20,000 downloads which is in my eyes a success.

MBU
Have the reviews been kind?

FRANKO
Both professional reviewers and players are praising the game for its innovative approach and loads of content. What more can a game developer ask for…

MBU
Erin uses a ‘try before you buy’ demo format coupled with a variable ‘pay what you value’ scheme that adds up to a very accessible format. What made you make these decisions and do you think it’s paid off for you?

Erin 2

FRANKO
I grew up in the era of shareware games and wanted to somehow reflect that into my work. I think that players should have the option to check if they like the game or not. I also understand that everyone has a different budget for gaming. My approach allowed me to get the game to more players and most importantly allowed me to avoid in-game adds and nonsensical microtransactions.

MBU
Erin takes the player on a long journey, but was there any material that didn’t make the cut?

FRANKO
Very long journey… it actually takes around 25 hours to finish the game on the easiest difficulty. Some testers nearly lost their mind when I asked them to replay the game multiple times after updates. But yes, there was quite a lot of ideas that were cut out. The biggest one was multiplayer. Players were supposed to help each other during boss fights, that were initially much more difficult. I also wanted to make the world less linear.

MBU
Can we expect a spiritual successor in the future?

FRANKO
I would love to revisit some of the game mechanics and improve the gameplay but nothing is planned for the near future.

MBU
There’s a fun cutscene that plays out when the game begins. What prompted you to film this and how long did that take to do?

FRANKO
On many occasions I asked myself how would other devs tackle a particular aspect of the game and then I did something different. So when I was thinking about some sort of intro cutscene a set of animated strips came to my mind. And at that point I decided that a live action version would be much more interesting. So I did some research, put together a home made steadicam and took my girlfriend to Glentress Forest near Edinburgh. It took us just a half of a day to shoot everything and around a week to put it all together and add visual effects.

MBU
You’ve also included a time-lapse video to show players what went into the game, that must have taken a lot of pre-planning going into the process. When did you decide you wanted to do this?

FRANKO
I knew from the beginning that I want to include some sort of “making of video”. I love those as bonuses on DVDs and Blu-rays as they let me appreciate the hard work that went into creating something seemingly trivial. There was not that much of pre-planning, the hard part was to make a consistent, entertaining and short video out of dozens of hours of footage. As you can imagine, not everything in the game development process is visually interesting.

Erin 1

MBU
Did you do much to promote Erin before launch?

FRANKO
My marketing budged was close to £0.00 so nothing fancy happened in the promotion area. In addition to that I was silly enough to keep quiet throughout the whole development process. I know better now and it is obvious to me now that sharing the progress with others is vital.

MBU
Are you working on anything now?

FRANKO
Yes! It took me a while to pick my next project and it took me even longer to chew through many unsuccessful prototypes, but I’m finally in a production phase of a new game. It will be a mesh-up of Lander (1979) and Portal. The current version runs on HTC Vive and is powered by Unreal Engine 4. I’ll post more information on my twitter (@daniel__franko) soon.

MBU
What advice would you pass to any potential independent developers out there?

FRANKO
Dream big, work smart, don’t listen to pretentious advice.

MBU
Thanks again for your time today. For readers who want to learn more you can find Erin on iOS HERE.

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