Review Fix chats with Tony Walsh, Founder and Executive Producer, Phantom Compass, who discusses his company’s upcoming pinball/RPG experience for the PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita,”Rollers of the Realm.”
Set for a holiday release, the unique gameplay experience has been talked about everywhere from this years GDC and E3. Chatting with Review Fix via e-mail, Walsh discusses the game’s development cycle, gameplay and future.
Review Fix: How was the game conceived?
Tony Walsh: Phantom Compass was a very small indie developer back in 2011 when the game was conceived. We formed a project team with a group of laid off staff from Silicon Knights. Our goal was to work on a 6-month project for XBLA and in doing so bring out the best of our indie and triple-A development experience. In our first or second meeting we had about a dozen folks brainstorming on weird ideas and came up with pinball RPG. We thought it would be easy to produce a ball-physics game, and we are all huge RPG nerds, so it was a good fit. The first iteration of the game was actually built in 2D on the XNA framework. Once we built the prototype we knew we had something really unique and rebuilt the entire project in Unity 3d. It became a multi-year labor of love.
Review Fix: Can you give us some background on the story?
Walsh: The realm is in a period of civil unrest, where petty despots and rulers struggle over territory and average peasants are the victims. A girl orphaned by civil war travels from town to town with her loyal mutt, picking pockets to survive. Things take an unexpected turn when she risks rescuing a drunken knight. Sometimes the smallest act of heroism can change the world.
Review Fix: Can you explain how this game works? How will it satisfy fans of both genres?
Walsh: If you can play pinball, you can play Rollers of the Realm. It’s got the fast-paced physics of arcade machines at its core—we’ve had good feedback on our physics during the many playtests we’ve done over the years. I don’t know if it will please all pinball purists, but anyone looking for a really unusual twist will get a kick out of this game. The intersection with RPG is pretty wild. We use pinball as a metaphor for combat and exploration. Each pinball board is a scene in our story, and every pinball is a hero character. You build a party over time, adding pinballs to your roster. You can hot-swap characters while you play—each has a set of abilities (even sizes and weights) and a special power. As you bounce around the board, you accumulate mana. This is used to fire off your special power. The Rogue’s power is summoning her dog as a multiball (she also pickpockets villagers); the Knight’s power is partially covering the sewer with a shield. As you battle on each board, your flippers may become damaged by the enemies in each scene. You can heal those with a Healer character. There’s a progression system: you can buy items in a shop based on your party level with gold you collect during the story. At its core, Rollers of the Realm is an epic character-driven story combining drama, humor and pinball action.
Walsh: I’m confident we’ll do well with Rollers because it’s such a unique and endearing game. It oozes heart. Once folks get their hands on it, it’s hard to put down. I think it’ll be a refreshing addition to both the pinball and RPG genres.
Review Fix: Do you think cool, unique and retro titles like “Towerfall Ascension” and “Child of Light” have made it easier for a game like this to be accepted and succeed?
Walsh: I think the rise of games with independent spirit is key to the acceptance of offbeat titles. People are more open now to unusual games than ever before, and that’s exactly where Rollers fits in.
Review Fix: How did the game showings at E3 and IndieCade make you feel about this game moving forward?
Walsh: We have been lucky to have a genuinely amazing reception at every public demo we’ve done over the years, from small events to festivals to the larger tradeshows. People don’t know what “pinball RPG” means when we say it, but when they PLAY it, they get a huge smile on their faces. I’m hoping to be working on expansions and sequels soon!
Review Fix: Atlus games always have great music. What can we expect from the score here?
Walsh: We had a very talented set of collaborators on the soundtrack, including Penka Kouneva, who’s done work on triple-A titles. The score combined with the fully-voiced story makes this little game feel much bigger.
Review Fix: What’s the development cycle been like?
Walsh: Well, as a co-producer I would have liked it to be shorter, but development took place as my studio grew and the vision for the game grew along with it. We started in 2011, rebuilt from the ground up along the way and I can’t wait to launch. From a studio founder standpoint, I accomplished exactly what I wanted to: the merging of indie and triple-A into one cohesive team. Rollers is a product of that harmony and Atlus has been instrumental in the perfecting that product.
Review Fix: What do you think is the coolest gameplay element in the game?
Walsh: Party management is super cool. If you’re good at it, you can get something like 5 pinballs on the field at once and really unleash hell on the bad guys.
Review Fix: What are your goals for the game?
Walsh: Number one is giving players a memorable experience. Second to that, I hope the game does well enough that we can continue to build the story and characters through expansions and sequels.