Exclusive: Mike Wiston Talks SaltyPepper & Mobile Prequel
I had a conversation with Mike Wiston, CEO and Executive Producer of SaltyPepper Studios two weeks ago to discuss his upcoming ARPG SaltyPepper in addition to the upcoming mobile prequel to the game, Once Upon a Runner. Of course, due to a variety of hiccups in coordinating busy schedules (his schedule mostly, since being CEO is kind of time consuming) and getting audio recording software to work, we haven’t been able to publish anything of the interview until now.But now the wait is over!
Mike originally ran a stone shop before making the decision to sell it and use the money to start up his own gaming studio. Simply put, he’s living the dream and we’re excited to talk to him about it.
ARPGamer: You recently made the announcement that a mobile prequel to your ARPG would be released during the month of January. Considering how little has been said of it, what exactly is Once Upon a Runner?
Mike: Once Upon a Runner is a 2D Runner for iOS and Android that both serves as a prequel to the events that take place in our upcoming ARPG, SaltyPepper (PC), and as a fun way to engage yourself in the SaltyPepper Universe prior to release.
ARPGamer: Releasing a mobile prequel is an interesting deviation from your main project. What influenced your decision to create a mobile game for your prequel?
Mike: In a meeting about two months ago (and spurred by some a number of internal events), the idea was presented of not only engaging the mobile gaming audience to generate interest in SaltyPepper, but giving the SaltyPepper community something tangible to pass the time during development. We also all love our smartphones and tablets – thus, Once Upon a Runner was born.
ARPGamer: So your original idea was to engage mobile gamers and generate interest in SaltyPepper. That would imply the two games are co-dependent, or at least co-related. What is the story for Once Upon a Runner and how will it work in tandem with your main ARPG?
Mike: Once Upon a Runner is set in a time when the SaltyPepper Universe was falling into chaos… a time when Ella was not yet the powerful wizard she would later become. The story follows Ella’s journey through the twisted world she once knew, and the fantastic discoveries she would make along the way.
ARPGamer: Releasing the mobile prequel is a huge step in the eyes of fans. What kind of milestone is Once Upon a Runner for your team?
Mike: It will mark the first official product launch from SaltyPepper Studios, so it is certainly a major milestone for us. As with any large project, it is often the small wins that will keep the team motivated and energized through a long and tedious development process. This launch will be a great boost for us, and as the Executive Producer for this project, I couldn’t be more proud of my team.
ARPGamer: What is it about the prequel that you are most excited about?
Mike: The ability to engage our fans at such an early stage by delivering a fully functional product that ties into SaltyPepper is easily the most exciting aspect of this project. We know how painstaking it can be to wait for game-play videos, wait for alpha, wait for beta, wait for a release. With Once Upon a Runner, you are able to immerse yourself in SaltyPepper’s lore and begin really connecting with some of the heroes and regions you will encounter in the PC title. This mobile game will also serve as a delivery method for new information, beta keys, and a host of other extras relating to the SaltyPepper Universe.
ARPGamer: You say Once Upon a Runner will act as a delivery method for new information. What plans do you have for additional games like Once Upon a Runner, or will this be a one-time side release to tide the masses over until SaltyPepper becomes available?
Mike: At the moment, we have no immediate plans for additional mobile releases. That said, one of our partners has expressed an interest in potentially driving the efforts for “SaltyPepper Mobile” to focus on such releases if Once Upon a Runner proves to be successful.
ARPGamer: Going back to significant milestones for your team, you’ve been increasing the ranks at SaltyPepper Studios. For example, you recently brought on Josh Christensen to help on the development team’s web projects. What does this mean for SaltyPepper Studios?
Mike: The addition of a Web Development team is a pivotal step towards strengthening our interaction with the gaming community. Our existing website has served as a placeholder until such time as proper web development professionals were hired. Now is the time. You can expect to see a new http://www.saltypepperstudios.com in the weeks to come, complete with Developer blogs, media, team information, social media feeds, live streams from our team, and more.
ARPGamer: We look forward to that final announcement! As the creator of SaltyPepper Studios, you play a critical role as the company’s head in making decisions like proceeding with Once Upon a Runner or facilitating efforts like building a new web presence. How have you involved yourself in the creative and technical production of SaltyPepper?
Mike: I believe that a CEO needs to understand all aspects of their project/company. When I ran my stone shop, I was able to effectively operate every CNC machine, produce countertops from a raw slab to a finished product, repair damaged products, work all office software, etc… The same applies to SaltyPepper Studios. It is impossible to make great decisions if you do not understand the problems your team might be facing, and how your decisions will impact the process on all fronts.
That said, I do not believe in micromanagement. I do however maintain an open line of communication with the entire team to ensure issues are quickly addressed, processes are optimized, and deadlines are met.
ARPGamer: It’s one thing to run a stone shop, but as you’ve mentioned to us before, it is nothing like running a studio such as this. Since it’s is technically your first time running a game development studio, what are your thoughts about the work your team has done so far?
Mike: I am extremely impressed with the quality of work and dedication our team has displayed over the past 16 months. As a new studio, there are a number of growing pains that must be worked through, and our team has handled each with class and professionalism to ensure that progress is never hindered. I am very much looking forward to the launch of this project, and the projects to come.
ARPGamer: To date, you’ve kept pretty silent about specifics relating to game features in SaltyPepper. Do you have anything to share about the game’s overall development to help tide us over?
Mike: There have been a number of major changes to our team and development process over the past quarter, and as a result we are not only set up to produce more quickly, but we are taking the game to places we had previously thought impossible to go. I’ll be happy to provide many more details when we “have our ducks in a row,” but for now I’ll just say that Once Upon a Runner should provide a nice distraction from the development process, and we hope it will help to tide over our fans while we work towards alpha.
ARPGamer: Referencing some of your past interviews on SaltyPepper Universe, SaltyPepper was originally advertised as an online-only game. Is this still your intended goal, and how are you keeping the solo ARPGamer in mind?
Mike: We have no plans to allow offline, single player game-play. It is possible that we will release a LAN client for competitive play sometime in the distant future, however I can’t confirm anything at this time.
ARPGamer: Obviously multiplayer will strongly influence the direction of gameplay. In a previous interview, your team expounded some on an announcement you’d made regarding “spectator tools.” How much will SaltyPepper be oriented to the eSports crowd versus the more traditional dungeon crawlers? Is the eSports focus intended simply as a form of endgame content for gamers or as a separate component of SaltyPepper?
Mike: The game is being built from the ground up with the spectator in mind, so our spectator tools will absolutely reflect that. We intend to not only attract the eSports crowd to ARPGs, but to attract ARPG (and casual) gamers to eSports by way of our tools. I hate to be vague but I am not prepared to divulge much more than that at this time.
ARPGamer: How exactly are you hoping to capture the attention of the eSporting community? Do you intend on releasing any new features or ideas to the eSporting community?
Mike: My beginnings in the gaming industry were rooted in eSports, so it is only natural that we would build our first major release around the player as well as the spectator. I think the best eSport events to watch are those where you can follow quick reactions, skilled gameplay, and high-intensity matches. I can not dive too deeply into our spectator system, suffice to say that players will have the tools to capture the action in a way that will allow for top-level eSport productions.
ARPGamer: Speaking of capturing the action, what other features will SaltyPepper offer to make this game a more unique and long-lasting experience to gamers?
Mike: Hats? I heard that offering hats makes everything better.
SaltyPepper will remain in a constant state of development following release, with regular updates to dungeons, heroes, items, and PvP. There will always be a new boss to defeat, a new achievement to unlock, a new weapon to earn, and a new quest to undertake. With a focus on eSports and the spectator system, players will also have the option of investing their time to become the strongest hero in the SaltyPepper Universe. Without releasing too much information prematurely, I am confident that the SaltyPepper experience will never be a dull one.
ARPGamer: Considering your game’s emphasis in the ARPG sector as well as eSports, combat is going to play a big role. What can you share on SaltyPepper’s combat system thus far?
Mike: SaltyPepper utilizes active attacks, blocks, and throws – basically a paper, rock, scissors system with a focus on mind-games and tactics. We want the combat to be as engaging and fluid as a 2D fighter, while maintaining the look and feel of a 3rd person ARPG. Hack and Slash games have their place and I love playing many of them, however we are more interested in rewarding players who master the combat system over rewarding players who mash their buttons the fastest. Our combat system is unique in the ARPG genre, and we are definitely looking forward to showing it off in the upcoming months.
ARPGamer: Does the availability of Once Upon a Runner mean SaltyPepper is nearing an alpha state of gameplay?
Mike: It actually means that SaltyPepper’s anticipated launch has been pushed back to Q1/Q2 of 2014. That said, we are currently past prototyping and working hard towards the alpha version of the project. When we import some more assets and feel a bit more comfortable showing off the game, you can expect some in-game footage at our website.
ARPGamer: While pushing back the release date is disappointing, it’s a necessary decision for ensuring a quality release for gamers. In the meanwhile, we’ll have to enjoy the mobile prequel. Mike was kind enough to share with us an image of a background straight out of Once Upon a Runner.
Thank you to Mike for working with us for this interview and sharing some details about the status of his upcoming ARPG, SaltyPepper! We’ll obviously continue to follow this project as it progresses over the next year as it approaches alpha testing. And you can certainly expect to see more breaking news regarding this game only at ARPGamer.
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