Hello, friends. Today, I’ve got something a little out of the ordinary for you. A few months ago in the RPG Reload feature we covered Heroes Of Steel Elite ($3.99), an RPG from developers Trese Brothers. As usual, I reached out to them for some background information, but for a variety of reasons, we couldn’t connect for an interview until after the Christmas holidays. I promised in that article that I would print the interview separately later on, and here we are, living and breathing in the world of “later on".
Since this was originally intended for the RPG Reload of Heroes Of Steel, it’s mostly focused on that game, but there are some other good tidbits in there, too. Normally, we don’t usually present interviews in a line-by-line format, but with multiple people in play and the detail involved in the answers, I think it’s best to give you the transcript more or less verbatim. I’d like to thank both Andrew and Cory Trese for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer these questions.
Getting Into Game Development
Shaun Musgrave (SM): Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into game development? What was your first game, released or otherwise, when did it all come together?
Andrew Trese (AT): Cory and I have been making games for as long as I can remember. The very first game I can remember that we ever made together was a dungeon crawl game. I was probably in first grade, and we took a huge piece of paper and drew a dungeon map on it, and then drew in monsters and things in rooms — I clearly remember a room with a wolf with bones on the floor, one with a demon and flames, and another with a treasure chest. I don’t remember who the gameplay worked, except you wandered around the place and had encounters. I died the first time trying to fight the wolf, evidently I lacked a critical piece of equipment – a spear. That was a long time ago, but we’ve made games ever since.
Our major game behind all of the other games we’ve released digitally was our home-brew pen and paper RPG, first started as the fantasy RPG called World’s Edge and later Stars Edge. The stories, worlds, and legendary characters created in the endless hours of gaming with friends have helped shape everything about Trese Brothers studio and our releases.
Cory Trese (CT): The first digital game that we released was Star Traders RPG, which was originally an experiment in Android development. Andrew and I both loved playing that game, but we were absolutely overwhelmed by the community response we received after releasing the first free version of it. The Elite version was originally built because players were asking for some way to pay for it… and from there we were accidental game developers. That first released game was a turning point for us in terms of how much time we put into game design. As Andrew said, we’ve always been designing and playing games but our community before Star Traders was only our friends and role playing groups.
Developing Heroes Of Steel
SM: How and when did you decide to make Heroes Of Steel? What were your inspirations?
AT: Directly after we released Star Traders (circa 2011) I started dreaming about making a over-the-top fantasy RPG. I am a dreamer by nature, so I was dreaming big. It was to be a world with 9 major zones, each with its own storyline and an overarching storyline. Each reason was on a “doom timer" and depending on where the heroes went and who they helped, certain parts of the world would fall into darkness, while they would be able to save others. This game was dubbed Secrets of Steel.
At the time, I had just volunteered to be the “reliable artist" for Trese Brothers. I had a pixel art program and I was doing pixel art for Star Traders to replace the ships and hacking out some amazing art for the first officers. This is the time in which the famous officer, dubbed “Ol’ Turd Lip" by our community was created.
Realizing how busy we were and that the scope of my dream was too big, we decided to “get our feet wet" with a smaller cyberpunk game project, which turned into Cyber Knights … if you’ve had a chance to play the game, be an elite soldier in the urban wars of the future, and hack the matrix, you’ll likely agree with me that this game was not really a reduction in scope. But, we have issues with scope here at Trese Brothers. We make big games and we can’t help it. Lots of content on a small budget and a small price tag to boot? Oh yeah.
A few years later, we had finished three other games and the world of Steel came back around again. We decided that Secrets would only work as the end of a trilogy of games, and so laid the plans for Heroes, Legends, and Secrets of Steel. Yes, we’re insane and we know it. Dream big!
To get back to the question, Heroes of Steel was inspired by a scene I thought up where the heroes meet a mysterious swordsman. I can’t talk to much more about it, as it would be a big spoiler – but just play into Episode 1 Act 2 of Heroes of Steel and you’ll know the scene when it hits. In terms of other inspirations – Shining Force, Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, Castle of the Winds, and Diablo would all be listed high on the list.
SM: Do you feel like you’ve mostly delivered what you set out to do with the game in terms of the gameplay structure? How many more chapters and characters can we expect?
AT: I am proud at how we have delivered. Heroes of Steel was built from a Kickstarter, and we were able to release the first episode of the game before a year had passed. As you saw during your first review, Shaun, the game was a bit rough at that point, but we were putting schedule as a priority. Since then, we have polished the game immensely, released all four additional characters, expanded the story from 20 dungeons to just under 140 and blown the play time out from 20 hours to over 100.
That said – we aren’t done. The last Kickstarter promise is a finished game. We’re still grinding out Episode 4, and are anticipating that it will take three more big content releases to wrap the game up. The first of these will come out early in 2016, and then we’ll turn our attention to the next two. So, Q1 2016, we’ll be 100% done. Then we’ll start looking at Legends of Steel or more expansions to Heroes of Steel. It’s a multi-year dream, but we’re chasing it.
CT: We’ve been working on improving Heroes of Steel for more than two years now — it was originally released in December of 2013. I think our priorities have shifted some since the release – we’ve put a lot of effort into improving the game play and streamlining parts that players found cumbersome. I think we accomplished the mission of making an epic RPG and there is still more to come.
Leveling Up In Real Life
SM: What were the challenges behind making the game? Any interesting or funny stories to share about its development?
AT: Heroes of Steel was our first cross-platform game. Every game before Heroes was Android only and built in our own custom game engine. For the Heroes Kickstarter we promised Android, iOS, and dreamed of desktop. So, Heroes kicked off a huge “level up" time for us, and we were forced to tackle all new tools, animation, art requirements, C++ instead of Java … all for the better, for sure. It was a great reminder that we grow the most when we are pushed. Which is one of the reasons we made ambitious goals for our Star Traders 2 Kickstarter – we are using it as a lever to force ourselves to grow immensely. And it’s going to be oh, so good.
Scope is always our biggest challenge. Ironically, perhaps, we start every game design with a discussion about how we are going to manage the scope this time around and keep it from going ballistic. That never works. It did not work with Heroes of Steel. The episodes are so long, so much unique content.
I think one of the best decisions we made was our “no grinding" approach. You can’t grind XP or gold in Heroes of Steel, there are no repeat zones. Everything is unique and story-driven. That put a lot of pressure on us to create the content and weave a big story, and that is primarily what has taken up the development time for the three years of Heroes of Steel.
CT: Building a big game like Heroes with only two people is a serious challenge at times. There were times when I was working more than a hundred hours a week – which means I was making way below minimum wage. The development was a whirlwind and we both learned a lot.
There were a few times I found code or features that I didn’t recognize, only to see in our version control system that I’d committed them a week ago at 4:40AM… our running joke was that the “night shift" sometimes snuck code into the game.
I would agree with Andrew that scope is our biggest challenge. We raised about $16,000, before Kickstarter fees, for the development of Heroes of Steel. Our scope was probably five or ten times what we could reasonably afford for that budget, but we rolled up our sleeves, tightened our belts and worked the night shifts.
Back To The Future
SM: So, do you have anything else you’d like to talk about that our readers might enjoy hearing about?
AT: Our next game, perhaps? The development engines of Star Traders 2 are stoked and roaring along now. We’re moving quickly to put the first component of the game into the hands of the Kickstarter alpha team. The game is an amazing mix of the best parts of the original Star Traders RPG and our new capabilities and what we’ve learned in the 5 years since we built the first one. Oh, and Firefly. Mix in a little Firefly for good measure!
If you loved Heroes of Steel, then you might want to hear about the sequel Legends of Steel. The storyline has been developed, as far back as when we dreamed up Secrets of Steel. It is on our list as a future game, based on the highest point of evolution on the Heroes of Steel engine – which is Templar Battleforce.
If you don’t know, we are a family company – Cory, Andrew, and Martin, three brothers in that order of age. We’re excited to share our visions and creations with you, and so thankful of your support that has allowed us the freedom to create huge, deep, and heartfelt games.
CT: We’re always available on our players’ forum, Touch Arcade, or on the Steam discussion pages for our games. We’re always excited to talk to players, new and old.
AT: Something special that is coming up for me is that I am nearing my 20,000th post on our community forum. That’s something like 4,000 posts, or 11 posts a day for five years. We are insanely active on our forum, and it is a great place. Check out our games, and come visit us. You can find Cory and I on there nearly every day, and you’ll get a warm welcome.
SM: Well, that’s all the questions I’ve got for today. Thanks once again for your time!
Wow, those Trese Brothers don’t even answer interview questions halfway, do they? I’d once again like to express my gratitude for them taking time to answer my questions, particularly in such detail. It’s always interesting to get a peek behind the development curtain and get to know the people involved in these games we enjoy so much. The Trese Brothers have a number of games available on the App Store, with their latest release being the excellent Templar Battleforce ($9.99). As they’ve said, the next game on the docket is Star Traders 2, which I’m pretty excited to play.
Now, I turn to you, gentle readers. Would you be interested in seeing more interviews along these lines with developers? After all, it’s your support of the TouchArcade Patreon that makes features like this one possible, so if this is something you’d like to see more of, please let us know. As always, thanks for reading!