Sang Froid: Tales of Werewolves Interview
There exist two very different genres in gaming - strategy games and third person action games. In instances the two are combined,and few of the forays have met a fair amount of success. The lines drawn between the game modes often restrict the depth that the two interact. There is one, however, that could join the genres in an artfully-done manner - Sang Froid: Tales of Werewolves, a game awaiting “Green Light” from Steam’s community, mixes fresh folklore with delightfully tactical gameplay. Developed by a team of eager visionaries from Quebec - Artifice Studio. Apollo takes a chat with Yan Pepin and Adam Rotondo about their game and what they’re excited to deliver.
Apollo: Hey there listeners and readers, Apollo here and I'm joined today by Adam Rotondo and Yan Pepin from Artifice Studio, the team behind Sang Froid: Tales of Werewolves. If I’m not mistaken it means “cold blood”?
Yan Pepin: Yes. Actually it’s an English word. If you look Merriam-Webster dictionary it’s an expression that’s accepted in English. For example you can talk about British sangfroid during Second World War or something like that. We wanted a word that would have a meaning in English and French because of duality we have here in Quebec because of both languages. Also “Cold Blood” represents our game because it’s a game about staying calm under stress and if you panic you will lose the game. If you stay calm and keep your sangfroid, your cold blood, you might be able to survive. Also the game happens in winter, its cold outside and it’s a bloody game against werewolves. So there is a lot of meaning behind the choice we made for Sangfroid, even if it is hard to pronounce.
Apollo: Let's begin with a look at your background as game developers. Where did you start, what inspired you to start?
Yan Pepin: The oldest link we have is between me and Vince. Vince is a co-designer because Adam and me do the whole game. We are a team of 6 people. Vince and me met at high school. We shared the same bus going to school where we discussed our dreams of making games.
Then together we went to the university, where we met Louis Felix. Then we all together worked for EA on games like Army of Two, some Wii stuff on the Simpsons and Bogey Superstars, a dancing game for young girls. Then we had an idea of a game that would feel unlike anything we have played before that would feel authentic, true to what we were. We are living in Quebec and we have a specific background because we are the only place that speaks French and English. Because of that we have a different culture. We felt that it would be really fun to get inspiration from all our folklore in Canada and to make a game out of it. So this is how the game started for us.
Adam Rotondo: As for me I worked for EA for a bit. I’m considerably younger than them so I haven’t been in the industry as long. I worked on Army of Two and was hired to work on another project but it got cancelled. Then I moved on the Wii stuff that Yan had mentioned. That’s where I met Yan and Vince. We worked on a bunch of stuff and when everyone exited I kind of joined them afterwards.
How players overcome their foe using the tools given is only limited by their imagination.
Apollo: How did Sang Froid come to the table? What kind of existing lore is the game based on, and what kind of ties does it have to old Quebec folk tales?
Yan Pepin: It definitely has a lot of ties to Quebec folk tales but we also inspire ourselves a lot from Native American folk tales and general Canadian folk tales. So we had quite a broad inspiration for our game.
Adam Rotondo: One of the enemies, like the Windigo, is more of a Native American type of folklore because they believe that if you turn to cannibalism you get cursed by one of their deities. You became this ice beast that has an insatiable hunger for human flesh.
Yan Pepin: On the other side, in Quebec, the main creatures we see in our tales are werewolves. They are in a lot of folk tales and that’s where the main inspiration came from. But what we found cool is that they are different from most of the tales you know about werewolves. You don’t turn into a werewolf by being bitten by one. You turn into a werewolf if your soul is corrupted by the devil. When you sleep at night your soul goes out of your mouth to look for a beast to possess. When your soul finds a wolf it will go into it and transform into a werewolf. At the end of the night when the werewolf killed a lot of people the soul will go out of it through the mouth and come back to your body. That’s how different it is from modern tales.
Apollo: So you're partnering with Bryan Perro, a fairly well-known author of fantasy books in Quebec. How did you team up with him, and what kind of role did he have when making big decisions for the game? Did he simply write the story and script, or did he help shape the game?
Yan Pepin: in the beginning we contacted Bryan just to have his opinion on our project. He is a fountain of knowledge on werewolves and we reached out to him for his opinion. Then we decided that he could co-write the story together with us. So right now we can say that our game couldn’t be the same without him. He played a big role in shaping our universe and how authentic it is to the actual tales.
Adam Rotondo: He really knows his stuff so he was able to work very well with the game.
The game features an inventory system, allowing you to buy goods and stay stocked for the long winters.
Apollo: What were some of the biggest bumps along the way during development?
Yan Pepin: Our biggest difficulty was funding because we had to fund it ourselves. We didn’t have a lot of money and we had to turn my house into a game studio. During the day people had their computers on the dining table and during the night it had to be taken down and everyone went home. For a few months it’s cool but the game development lasted for three years and it was quite a challenge.
Adam Rotondo: Fortunately we only had to come 2-3 times a week and other times we worked from home not always taking up his dining room.
Other problems I had was issues syncing stuff online and I had my laptop stolen once so I lost some work. Also crashing computers, losing a little bit of work but you know that happens.
Yan Pepin: Another thing we found difficult was the fact that for three years we were far away from our community, we didn’t have the community. We were working at a closed environment so we didn’t know if what we did would appeal to people. We didn’t make a game for Canadians. We made the game for the world to enjoy and we really wanted to make it accessible. We didn’t know how the community would react. Now since we started to have a community and we can have a dialog with them it helps us understand things. The feedback is pretty positive and it helps reassure us that we are on the right path.
Apollo: The game's top-down strategy mode and third person action look polished and great —are there any particular aspects that you're especially curious to see peoples' reactions to?
Yan Pepin: I would say we have a lot of very innovative gameplay mechanics, for example the fear factor and wind. Fear factor is a mechanic that I am really curious to see how people will react to. It has an idea that you don’t fight only using brute strength, you fight by intimidating your foe. It’s a mental game as much as physical game. A lot of times you have to face multiple werewolves at once and you have to use fire or to shout at them to intimidate them. Wind is a mechanic we don’t see in a lot of tower defence kind of game. In our game, instead of strictly following a predefined path enemies can deviate from it if they see you, smell you or hear you if you let’s say take a shot. The game is very involving for the player. You cannot play the game lets say talking to a friend. You have to really be concentrated. It’s quite hardcore. It should appeal to players who are tired of games that are made easier these days.
We have a lot of traps that interact together. And it’s not about placing traps. It’s about combining in a very efficient way. There is never one solution to every level of our game. Everyone can come up with a different solution to solve our puzzles.
Adam Rotondo: Some people might come up with some crazy ideas. When we test the game every other week someone comes up and says “Oh man, have you tried this? It was insane!”.
Placing traps intelligently can mean the difference between life and a dozen werewolf bites.
Apollo: Trying to tell a story here, and not just create a video game. Are there any big steps you've taken to make sure people are immersed in the story, and that the lore is kind of “in their face?”
Yan Pepin: We made a lot of research before making the game. When you buy a weapon or an item in our game there is a description that explains its story.
Adam Rotondo: Who made it, where it’s from, why they used it in the first place. Some guns talk that it is better for this reason compared to another guns.
Yan Pepin: I think those descriptions fill help people understand the universe better. Also during the loading screens we have a lot of information that is given to the player. We have voice actors in the cutscenes. We decided to have voice acting, which was not an obvious choice because we don’t have a big budget and making good voice acting costs big money but we really wanted to have it to improve immersion in the game.
Adam Rotondo: If you play the game in French you have Quebecer actors. We even have an Arcadian actor because one of the characters is Arcadian. So he has an Arcadian accent which is pretty authentic.
Yan Pepin: What is really important to convey the feeling of the ambiance in the game is the music. We contacted some of the Canada’s best folkloric bands to make it. And really found out that fighting against werewolves with traditional music is really cool. It looks like a fight and a dance. It’s a dance of death.
Apollo: As an indie developer what do you think of Steam's new Greenlight process, how does it work these days? Have you approached any rival services like Good Old Games?
Yan Pepin: No. Since the beginning we wanted to be on Steam. That was our goal. However 3 years ago we didn’t know that Steam was going to change their selection methods. So we were pretty surprised that after 3 years of development we contacted Steam and saw that they changed their process entirely.
Adam Rotondo: The timing actually was perfect. We thought that we are ready and then – BAM, Greenlight. In the beginning we were a bit shocked. It didn’t turn out for the worst but it’s gone better over time. The way I thought it was going to be was there would be maybe 30-40 games on it and they would get a lot more publicity. For the first half an hour, an hour it was kind of like that. But then it just skyrocketed. Now it has like a 1000 game on there.
Yan Pepin: But at the same time it gave us ways to reach our community. So Steam Greenlight gave us a chance to get out of our house.
So the whole thing is not perfect and even though we are still not Greenlit I still think that the whole process is more positive than negative.
To add complexity, Artifice Studios have provided a skill tree to allow players to customize their specialties.
Apollo: Should the project get green-lit, what is the expected time of release? How far along is the game development?
Yan Pepin: We would like to release on December 5th because that is the date that the game starts. The game is about surviving the whole month of December. Each mission is based on a different day on the calendar. Every time you pass a mission you have a check on the calendar. It would actually be great if people played the game at the same time.
Apollo: And lastly, your website says that this is book one. Are you waiting to see how this first installment sells before working on the next, or is the continuation already in the works?
Yan Pepin: We are not a big studio. We are just friends working together. We cannot do 2-3 projects at once so we really concentrate on this one. We will support the community and the game after the release. But if we have a good reaction from the audience then of course we would love to do a sequel. We already know what would be a story for it and we know what we would like to add. For example we want to have cooperative gameplay. We wanted to do it for the first title but it was not possible because the game is so big.
Apollo: That sounds great! Well I'd like to extent a hearty thank-you from Pixel Judge for taking time out of your schedule to talk to us. To everyone following this, you should definitely head over to Steam's Greenlight section and check out Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves. There you can also follow the game on Facebook and Twitter! Or you can also check out their website www.sangfroidgame.com.
Adam Rotondo: Cool.