AckkStudios may be a small development studio comprised of a few family members, but don't call it a family business. "I usually cringe when people say that," co-founder Andrew Allanson joked during a phone interview this week. "But it is, yeah."
Just don't let the small, familiar development team fool you. The five-person group already has one successful game and a triple-goal-funded Kickstarter campaign under its belt with last year's Two Brothers, but now they're ready to show off the newest RPG in the studio's set: Y2K.
Y2K is a 3D RPG that takes place in that crazy time in the late 1990s when everyone thought the world was going to end at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000. The fear was that computers couldn't handle the drastic time change due to a coding bug, and everything would just shut down.
In the game, your character sets out to solve the mystery of a young woman's mysterious death in a Y2K-plagued elevator-gone-mad. You, along with your band of companions, must search through archaeic 90s message boards to find clues to this woman's death.
The main character, Alex, is a recent college graduate and a bit of a burn-out, as Andrew explains. "He does everything he can to avoid getting a real job." Funnily enough, some early fans have said that the character looks a little too hipster-like. "He is a bit of a hipster," Andrew admits. "He has a liberal arts degree, he does have the beard, the glasses, a little music obsessed, but you know, he's almost like a person you'd meet in real life."
But even if you're turned off by the flannel shirt and dark-rimmed glasses, there are several other types of personalities represented in other playable characters along the way.
The main character is fascinated with one certain message board that features regular discussions on conspiracy theories revolving around Y2K and the end of the world. "It's kind of like an early version of 4chan," Andrew describes.
So you'd think that this sounds like a murder mystery title where you read clues, solve puzzles, and finish the game in 10 hours, right? Not even close. Y2K is a much deeper game that combines several different genres into one. At its core, Y2K is a JRPG with inspiration drawn from the Mother series (Earthbound in the U.S.), Lost Odyssey, and Haruki Murakami novels. It also features a rich party system and even turn-based combat.
"There are seven party members in total," Andrew explains. "There are times in the game when you can fight with all seven in your party, but usually you have four with you. But our system supports an infinite number of party members. Hypothetically, if we wanted to support 500 party members, we could."
Andrew goes on to explain more about the combat, calling it turn-based, but with its own unique twist. "You have a time mechanic where you can increase the speed of battle using the R2 button on the Dualshock 4 controller."
He goes on explain how attacks require button combos and what he is hesitant to label as mini games. "Think Paper Mario," he says. Speeding up the combat may seem nice when you're facing a repetitive battle, but these combos liven things up. If you speed up combat too much, you'll miss these combos and the potential for some big damage.
There's also a trap system in place that Andrew explains as a way to out-maneuver your opponent and their placement on the field. "Our goal with the battle mode is to make it so you're always on your feet," Andrew adds. "No matter what type of enemy you encounter, it's going to feel like a different battle each time."
There are four main story dungeons in the game with a goal, Andrew says, of making the game last around 20 to 25 hours right now just for the main story. With all of the elements combined, the game consists of a puzzler, platformer, and turn-based combat simulator all wrapped into a heavy story-based RPG.
One important element to the game is an anti-grind mechanic. Once enemies die, they're dead forever. So to level up, you face something called the Mind Dungeon, which Andrew describes as a parallel dungeon that the player faces along with the four main story dungeons. So if you've finished the first dungeon but aren't skilled enough to face the second dungeon yet, you'd head to the Mind Dungeon to level up. "It has... let's just say a lot of floors," Andrew says. "I won't say how many yet."
In addition to acting as a "trainer" of sorts between story dungeons, the Mind Dungeon also lets you unlock new moves and even features a bit of a storyline tie-in of its own.
When asked what a typical game session would consist of, Andrew noted that your character always has a clear goal of what he's trying to accomplish. "What we don't always tell you is how you're supposed to accomplish it."
Y2K is currently in an early alpha stage with the code and tools almost completed. Andrew says that the team hopes to ramp up production in the next year and finish up the story dungeons in that time. Y2K will release on the PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Wii U, PC, Mac, and Linux. But wait, no Xbox in there? "It's kinda difficult to get development kits from anyone at Microsoft right now after they did their whole 'embracing indies' thing. There's basically a year-long waiting list before you can even talk to anyone."
The game will be playable at the PlayStation Experience in Las Vegas, Nevada next month if you'd like to stop by and get your hands on it.