Chris Picone - CSH Picone
Henry Winata - Semisoft Studios (founder, lead designer)
Watch the video:
Interview by Chris Picone, 27 January 2018
Joining me today is Henry, the brains behind Semisoft Studio, to talk about his team, the inspiration behind Legrand Legacy, and the Kickstarter campaign.
Henry: Hello! Ah, I am Henry. I am actually the CEO founder of Semisoft and the game- the lead game-designer for Legrand Legacy, JRPG that is coming out, ah, 24th January this year, on PC.
CSH: Without spoiling too much, what can you tell us about Legrand Legacy?
Henry: Legrand Legacy is a love letter to, ah, an homage, basically, to the 80s-90s, the golden age of JRPGs like Suikoden, Legend of Dragoon, Fire Emblem. So you’ve got a lot of features in there, ah, like the olden days of RPG, like we’ve got the turn-based combat, we’ve got the tactical war, mini-games, side quests, ah, recruiting, building up your headquarters. So you’ve got, like, the whole shenanigans of the golden age of RPG in there. It’s- it’s coming out on PC first and then it’s- we’ve got to port it to all the pretty major consoles: switch, x-box, and ps4 as well. It’s about a story about six unlikely … band of misfits, I might say. They’re thrown into a situation where they’re forced to go above and beyond, ah, their initial … basically … jobs, or what they’re supposed to be doing. You’ve got the whole cliché of, you know, a bunch of heroes trying to save the world, blah blah blah, but the story actually focuses a lot more on themselves, the heroes themselves, like the human side of them. Even though they’re not entirely heroes, per se, quote unquote. Ah, so yeah, that’s, ah, that’s the whole summary of the game.
CSH: Tell us more about this band of misfits!
Henry: Actually, ah, okay. Finn is suffering from amnesia, he was supposedly betrayed by someone in the past. He was sold to slavery, he ah … into slavery. And he’s a gladiator, he’s trying to fight himself out of his situation, basically. Aria is an overbearing… ah, kind of like your mum, in a sense, but… or a big sister, ah, if you’re familiar with the term, Tsundere, what she is, but she’s basically on an adventure trying to find this … some old geezer from the ancient king- ancient world. Supposedly, he’s supposed to be the key to ending the civil war that’s been going on, ah, in the world supposedly where she comes from. Eris, she’s a very sickly … I guess a sickly girl. She just wants to see the world, keeps a diary of everything she observes and experiences. Kael, he’s an enigmatic … supposedly, like you’re go-to guy, like a thief. Azzam is, ah, he’s your warrior, basically. He’s- when you meet him, he’s the champion of, ah, he’s the champion gladiator. And then Scatia is, ah, supposedly like, ah, three-hundred year old witch. That’s the, ah, like the mum of the group. Yeah.
CSH: Tell us about the studio - how many people does it take to make a game like Legrand Legacy?
Henry: We are basically 13 right now, ah, including myself, AJ, and Revinia. So we’ve got like, um, 4 artists, 2 programmers, 2 designers, 1 marketing, 2 producers, 2 game designers. Yeah.
CSH: 13 staff is pretty decent for a little indie developer! Did that cover everything, or did you still need to call in outside help?
Henry: Oh yeah, of course. Um, we had a lot of help like, ah, for the storyboard, the cinematics, the pre-rendering of the 2d backgrounds, the ah ... localisation for sure. We couldn’t just localise it ourselves, so … we even have a publisher, if you actually count that as outside help. Yeah, so we had a lot of help, of course.
CSH: Why did you end up picking up a publisher? That was a later development.
Henry: This is our first game. We don’t have any experience in marketing a game and, basically, publishing a game, um, world-wide. So we needed someone with experience, ah, we needed someone who knows how to, basically, you know, the, you know, the ropes of doing this, so, that’s actually the first and main reason why we wanted a publisher to help us.
CSH: What benefits did the publisher bring to Legrand Legacy?
Henry: Ah, the publishers- I mean the publisher, Another Indie, they helped us with ah, localisation, they helped us with some marketing as well, like media contacts, they helped us with ah, with events as well. So, they helped us a little bit in terms of, ah, the cost, that’s for sure. And, of course, like I said, contacts is also very important, I think.
CSH: Are there any limitations? Does the publisher get any say in the development of Legrand?
Henry: Ah, in our case, actually it’s more of a, “Hey, why don’t you try and implement this?” Because without this feature there will be a huge negative impact based on their experience, or based on their observation as well. They’ve been in the industry longer than we are, way longer than we are. So it’s more on towards that kind of ah, saying, basically. So it’s not like, “Oh, gotta change all this, gotta change this, gotta change this, gotta change that. Some really minor ones, yes, but it’s within a limited scope. So it’s okay, so far it’s pretty good.
CSH: How did you meet the publisher?
Henry: Ah, funny thing is, I think the first meeting we had was a, AJ, my partner, he went to this- this party in Roppongi in Tokyo, so it was during TGS. Ah, last TGS. Anyway this previous TGS, this most recent one. Ah, so, I was too tired because I was manning the booth the whole day and I let him take care of that and he went there and actually, he made some contacts and including Another Indie. So that’s how we met. And we started talking and apparently, Iain ah, he came to Indonesia before, so, it’s not his first time meeting an Indonesian game dev. So that helped quite a bit. That helped basically, I guess, breaking the ice. A little bit. So that’s how it all started, basically.
CSH: Back to the studio. How did Semisoft come about? Did you already know each other?
Henry: Funny story, I mean, like, um, I’ve always been like, ah, the go-to guy to play games, basically, amongst my friends. And, ah, one day my friends just told me, like hey, Henry, do something with games, y’know, since you love it so much. So, okay. I don’t know where to start, I mean I don’t know how to code, I don’t know how to draw or anything. And so, um, y’know, friends introduced, ah, me to ... actually, I got introduced to Aki first. He’s actually helping out with our Japanese marketing. And then Aki introduced, ah, myself to another guy, a mutual friend of ours, and then introduced to AJ. That’s how it all started, I mean it was a long, long chain of introduction, basically. So yeah, that’s how we started in 2014, basically, 3-ah, about 3-ah.. about four years ago. 3 years ago.
CSH: Has the team worked on any other games before Legrand Legacy?
Henry: Ah, we, this is actually the first game that this whole team, ah, or this company basically, have made, or is making. Ah, the others I think some of them have worked on other games before, ah, outside this team and this company. I think, ah, our designer and some of the programmers have worked on some small Game Jam… Game Jam games. But this is our first, so it’s our maiden voyage.
AJ has worked in the gaming industry, for sure. Ah, he’s been around longer than I have. This is my first time, jumping in with both feet, ah, into the gaming industry. So it’s ... I’m still trying to learn the ropes around here. Getting to know people, getting the right contacts. And trying to avoid the wrong contacts as well, that’s pretty important as well. I think it’s applicable to every industry out there.
CSH: What about yourself? What are your hobbies outside video gaming?
Henry: That’s a tough one, actually (laughs). I do a little bit of sports. I play a lot of team sports like tennis, soccer, basketball, badminton. I do play a little bit of golf. I don’t like going to the gym, I don’t like to run, like a hamster on the treadmill. Other than that, I hate going to mall, going shopping. I love going to the park but sadly we can’t really go to the park here in Jakarta because the weather is just too humid and it’s not recommended at all. Other than that, ah, I do build plastic models. Ah, Gundams. Ah, I watch anime. I know! You know, you can guys can judge any-, any-, you know. But, ah, yeah, I watch anime, so…
CSH: Nothing wrong with anime! Did your hobbies have any influence on Legrand Legacy?
Henry: Ah, a little bit, actually. I don’t know if reading the bible actually counts as a hobby but, truth be told, a little bit of inspiration came from there. My life stories, basically, my observation. So basically, ah, inspiration for a video game in terms of story, in terms of gameplay, or music, whatever, can come from anywhere, not just from video games. Right? So, a book I read, ah, just a little show that I watched a long time ago or whatever it is or experience that I had before in the past, when I was a kid or growing up, that can actually influence the game.
CSH: Final Fantasy’s influence on Legrand Legacy is obvious. Did you take more inspiration from one than the others?
Henry: Final Fantasy, I guess in a lot of RPGs, like, that’s the grandfather of all RPGs, right? Ah, my favourite, Final Fantasy 4, 6, 7, 8, 10. Ah, not so much the later ones but, ah, yeah, the latest one would be ten and the earliest one would be four. Ah, those are the main, my favourite, and I guess not the main inspiration but a little bit of inspiration here and there from those games.
CSH: Was Legrand influenced by any other media?
Henry: Ah, I did mention Suikoden, I did mention Legend of Dragoon, I did mention Fire emblem.
I did mention the bible, a little bit. Ah, Game of thrones, for its dark theme, I guess. And basically just, ah, anyone can die theme. Ah, what else? I guess that’s most of the major sources of inspiration.
CSH: Fascinating! I would never have guessed that you had drawn inspiration from Game of Thrones or the Bible.
A while ago, one of your team mentioned that crowdfunded games are often stigmatised and seen as low quality. If that’s the case, why did you choose to go through Kickstarter?
Henry: Other than the fact that we need the money, ah, I think Kickstarter is a good platform to at least, ah, get the word out there that we exist, early, in the early stages and we, ah, it’s kind of nice to have like, ah, a group of following, a group of fans, ah, per se, to, you know, in the early stages. Because we really don’t know how or where or how we’re going to market this game. So it’s a good marketing tool as well, actually.
Oh, yes, and we get good feedback as well, actually. Ah, since it’s the early stages so we can actually, ah, get a lot of feedback. How- you know, how the game is perceived. If it’s actually going to be good at all, or, how well it’s going to be received.
CSH: Why do you think Legrand Legacy succeeded, where so many other Kickstarter games failed?
Henry: Ah, we- we just came in with a lot of planning and we just tried to do it as professionally as possible. We actually had help, also, from PR Hound , ah, so that actually helped us with the whole campaign as well. The whole Pier hung guys helped us a bit, and, yeah, I guess just basically delivering, you know, and be very active in terms of updates and comments, and just keep your backers very much involved. Ah, I think that’s- that’s really important.
CSH: What mistakes did you make along the way, and what can you do better next time?
Henry: Ah, since this is our first game and our first time doing this, nobody has heard about us, nobody knows about us, having a goal that is way too high, that’s actually pretty difficult. I guess you gotta, ah, have a reasonable goal and also, ah, mistakes … Hmm, I can’t really think of any right now, actually. But yeah, I mean just be reasonable with your goals and be reasonable with the kind of rewards you want to deliver.
Building the community before-hand is very, very important. I mean it’s kind of like a chicken and egg kind of a situation where you need the Kickstarter campaign to be successful, ah, I mean, you need the crowd to have your Kickstarter to be successful but also at the same time you- you need a successful Kickstarter then you can have a … does that- does that make sense? Like, you know … But, ah, and this is our first game, right? So nobody knows about us as I mentioned, so that’s pretty difficult, actually.
CSH: I know from my own writing that any time you create something on this scale becomes a process of learning as much as creation.
So in terms of game design, what will you do differently next time, knowing what you know now?
Henry: Pre-production is very important. Pre-production basically – ah, since this is our first game, and first time doing something like this, I think, ah, of course we made a lot of mistakes. In hiring, especially, because we really don’t know a lot of people in the industry, and, ah, how we market the game, I guess. We can improve on that. Basically, the pre-production side, it’s very important to plan out what you want to put in the game, what kind of features you want to have in the game, that’s very important because half-way through, if you want to change something, it’s not as easy as just, you know, flicking a finger just like that, you know, it’s not … we’re not … we’re not ordering pizza here, or we’re not, you know, like making instant noodles. But this is … it’s going to be a major, major endeavour. It’s going be- it’s going to cost a lot of time and money to change something half-way. Luckily, in our case we … we haven’t come across something like that, like, gotta change the whole thing, you know.
Henry: Last question. Final Fantasy, and most of the other classics out there, always seem to boast an impressive orchestrated soundtrack.
Legrand Legacy sounds like it’s going down the same path. What’s involved in the creation of music for a video game?
Henry: Music, music… Ah, AJ is actually our music director, he’s the one who … he’s a conductor, basically. Ah, he has his own team. We’ve got our own in-house team to compose the music, to compose and mix the music. Ah, a lot of- the process itself actually, ah, we’ve got like … more than a hundred pieces, ah, and we basically brief the team, ah, what kind of music is supposed to go in a particular scene and some of the general ones like the battle music or the world theme, you know, what’s the kind of feeling that we want to convey. And then they’ll decide, basically the team will decide on the instrument and how, I guess, the whole general tone of the music is going to be like. So that’s the, that’s the gist of the music process.
CSH: And that’s the interview finished. Any final words?
Henry: So we’re going to be launching pretty soon on 24th January, actually, this year, on PC, Steam, Game- ah, Game Jolt, ah, GOG, Humble Store, ah, those are the major ones. We are porting- then we will … I think it’s going to be English first and I think it’s, if I’m not mistaken, as of now we’re going to release simultaneously in Chinese. We are localising it to Russian, Korean, and Japanese as well and depending on how the game is- how well the game does, ah, then we will do it- we’ll translate it to Spanish, French, German, Portugese as well. We’re going to port it as well, to- to- ah, to the three major consoles like I said. We plan to release the console versions some time later in 2018, probably even up to 2019, so next year. That’s, ah, we’ve got everything all planned out. Yeah, so, do check us out. Actually, we’re- we have a discord channel with self-publishers and other indie. Discord.gg/ai come say hi, ah, some of the Kickstarter backers are there. We’re there. Come say hi also on Facebook, come say hi on twitter. Just look for us, Legrand Legacy onward. Ah, and then, ah, yeah. So, Henry signing out!