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And Now: A Tour Around Jeklynn Heights

This week I spoke to Vex Studios' Ryan Wenke about their forthcoming UDK-based game, Jeklynn Heights. It's a sort of spooky fairytale multiplayer game with visuals that look like something out of one of the Alice games, or a Tim Burton movie. If that wasn't interesting enough, it's also messing about with a number of concepts such as character progression and mixed perspectives. Wenke told me a bit about his studio's esoteric approach to game development, and opens an invitation to you lot to sign up to the beta test of the game and find out what it's all about.

RPS: Can you tell us a little about the Vex Studios team? Who are you guys and what kind of games are you aiming to make? Is there a studio philosophy?

Wenke: Vex Studios, LLC was started in August of 2009 with the basic idea that indie development should always offer something new, refreshing, and daring. I think we are starting to do that with our first title Jeklynn Heights, and plan on continuing with that mindset in the years to come. We are by no means a company solely based on creating dark artwork with a Tim Burton styled feel. We definitely plan on dipping our toes in other waters post Jeklynn Heights.

As far as the company itself, we all work remotely for the time being. We have a core group of developers that have been there since last year in addition to some freelancers to help move production along. Our studio philosophy at this stage is to just lean in and have fun. When creating a game like Jeklynn Heights, you really have no other choice but to let that crazy side of you come out. And by crazy, I mean innovative (don’t worry we’re approachable!) We are hoping to get into a position where we can find a central office to work from. That however entirely depends on any potential funding or publishing opportunities that may arise in the future.

RPS: Can you explain what sort of game Jeklynn Heights is meant to be? What sort of things can players expect when they play?

Wenke: Jeklynn Heights is dark fairy tale multiplayer game that combines a multitude of genres including FPS, RPG, Action, and Adventure. The game takes place inside the town known as Jeklynn Heights.

There are two playable teams available, the Square and the Slums. The Square is the rich and elegant section of the town and the Slums is the poor area. Each team consists of 3 playable characters (we plan on adding more after testing). The overall objective is to escape the town by capturing the Orb of Egression located in the center of each team’s respected base. In order to progress successfully to the enemy teams Orb of Egression, players will need to capture Ability Orbs which grant useful combat capabilities, and Sanity Posts which grant forward spawn points. These posts and ability orbs can be recaptured by the opposing team, enabling combat and other gameplay situations to constantly be unpredictable and unique. The game ends and resets once a team has successfully reached the enemy base and captured the Orb of Egression.

From a visual perspective, players can expect a game that looks like a single player title, but plays like a multiplayer match-based game. The screenshots really showcase what I mean when I say this. In regards to gameplay, we set up a system that allows for unpredictability and innovation. To give one example, depending on what is captured at any given moment, abilities you thought you had could instantly be remove if the opposite team captures them (and vice versa).

RPS: How is "sanity" relevant to the way the game plays?

Wenke: Sanity is ultimately your experience. The more you kill enemy players, capture orbs, capture sanity posts, and generally do positive things, the more sanity you receive. Once your sanity bar fills up, you gain a level which provides statistical bonuses in addition to a special attack ability. This special attack can be applied to either your character’s melee weapon or ranged weapon. You can stack special attacks up to 4 times in a game.

RPS: Are the two sides in multiplayer "symmetrical" or can we expect different skills and abilities from either team?

Wenke: Every character in the game is a resident of Jeklynn Heights. There will be playable maids, barbers, and thieves amongst others. When you choose a character, you will play as that character for the remainder of that match. Every character has a unique melee attack rotation, ranged weapon, and special attack. On top of these, you will have the ability orbs that are spread around throughout the map. So yes, there is variety amongst the two sides but everything will obviously be balanced and fair.

RPS: You claim that the game takes aspects of play from a few different genres, can you explain a few of those elements to us?

Wenke: It’s very hard to define this game in on genre. Melee fighting is done in the third person perspective, ranged weapons are displayed in a standard FPS view, there are RPG elements within the matches (leveling), and obviously a lot of strategy and planning is required when playing.

This may sound like a lot of things, but we managed to blend everything quite nicely and will continue working on merging these elements together throughout the course of development.

RPS: Tell us a bit about this art style - "dark fairytale" is a pretty unusual angle to take for a multiplayer game, isn't it?

Wenke: We are all HUGE fans of this sort of style and it’s really not often seen in multiplayer games as you mentioned. This sort of goes back to my comment about the game looking like a single-player title. It also makes a statement that while graphics are important when developing a title, they don’t necessarily need to be next-gen. Having something different will do the trick and allow you the luxury of focusing on gameplay as opposed to making countless tech demos.

To sum up what we are doing artistically, everything in the game will be slightly twisted and have an eerie feel to it. It’s not meant to be scary, just somewhat unsettling.

RPS: How important has UDK been to the development of Jeklynn Heights?

Wenke: UDK is fantastic. The pricing plans are really reasonable for indie development and the community is talented and informative. The engine pretty much allows us to focus on what’s important – and that’s really all I care about right now.

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RPS: Are you expecting to roll out any kind of beta before launch? And when do you anticipate that launch will be?

Wenke: This has not been mentioned anywhere so you guys are hearing it first! Before, we required donations in order to sign up for testing. In celebration of the upcoming holidays, we would like to invite anyone who reserves a game account on our website between the dates of December 16th, 2010 – December 31st, 2010 into testing for FREE. This also means that if you have already signed up since we launched our site, you will be able to test the game for free as well. All that we ask is that you become an active member of our community between now and when we launch beta. Accounts that have no activity on our website before testing will not be invited.

To reserve your game account, please go here and provide a valid email address. Your account ties directly into our forums.

If you have donated in the past, you will still receive all the exclusive benefits that you have now in addition to a few new ones.

As far as beta testing goes, that honestly depends on the amount of support we receive both from a financial and community standpoint. I will say that we are hoping to initiate testing phases by Q3 of next year, but that timeframe will most likely change.

As always, please contact us if you have any questions, suggestions, or just simply want to chat. I can’t stress enough how important community involvement is when it comes to making a successful title. We will listen to your ideas and work with you on making Jeklynn Heights stunning.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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