Gen Con 2013: Eon Altar
Last week at Gen Con, Zach and I got a chance to go hands-on with Eon Altar, a currently in-development tabletop-video game hybrid from Flying Helmet Games. We were able to run through the entire gameplay demo and saw much of what the title currently has to offer in its alpha/prototype state.
The basic concept of Eon Altar is one that has been attempted before, but has never been executed all that well: the video game-tabletop hybrid. Each player uses a smaller, connected device like an iOS or Android phone with all players sharing one central, larger device like a tablet or PC. Ideally, the central device would be a large touchscreen monitor (which was how the game was demoed), but that seems somewhat unrealistic for many people.
The core of the game is one part Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and one part Dungeons and Dragons. Players are each put in control of a unique character. On their individuals screens, they are able to access their character’s stats, upgrades, loot and even lore. Players even read off their character’s bits of dialogue from their small screen. The main screen shows a top-down perspective of the game world that players can command their characters around, similar to utilizing miniatures in a pen-and-paper roleplaying game. When I actually had it in my hands and we were exploring the game world, it was a very slick and really thought-provoking experience.
I have seen a few things like this in the past, but Eon Altar seems to be the one that is shooting for the right things. It isn’t attempting to be a generic level-creator or supplement for other, pre-existing tabletop games, and it isn’t so traditionally tabletop that it makes little sense as to why it would have a video or electronic component to begin with. Unlike other systems, Eon Altar is its own game with a storyline and characters that will be doled out episodically after the game’s expected launch sometime next year. The members of Flying Helmet Games all come from large video game studio backgrounds with the game’s writer having done work on the Mass Effect series at Bioware. As such, they were quick to stress that the game is looking to create a specific world and tell a specific story with specific characters. That said, they are also looking at level editors and character creation as long-term goals for the game, something that would come after its initial, episodics release.
With the specific story and characters in mind, I cannot really say that I was able to see much of interest in Eon Altar’s world during my hour-or-so time with the game. We had a human knight, an elf wizard and a tiger-man berzerker. In many ways, it seemed like a fairly generic fantasy world telling a fairly generic fantasy story, although my time and experience in the game world was certainly limited.
Combat is turn-based and handled almost entirely on each player’s handheld screen. From the smaller devices, players can select the enemy they are looking to attack, make the attack, utilize consumables, etc. Upon attacking or defending, the players roll attack, defense or skill checks in a cool mechanic that has you essentially throwing dice off of your smaller device onto the shared main device at the center of the table so that everyone can see your results. It’s a bit gimmicky, but for me, it definitely worked. It helped that the dice were physics-based, rather than purely random as it gave it more of that traditional tabletop feel of watching a die just barely topple over onto the best or worst result.
Our demo was rough around the edges, and the developers made no attempt to hide the fact that the demo we played was the result of around 5 months of work. It was very much an early look at what the team is attempting to do. Being able to manage your inventory or level up your character without taking up the main screen and impeding the other players really is something that makes a cooperative experience move along much more smoothly. Even in the demo’s early state, I came away from it excited about the potential uses of the tech despite my relative lack of interest in the game world.
The wireless and bluetooth streaming tech allowing everyone to play across operating systems and device types in order to play a more cinematic board game or pen-and-paper game experience is really intriguing. Imagine a game done in this style that is able to really utilize a rich game universe. The tech seems ripe for being licensed out to other studios or franchise owners looking to create a hybrid product of their own.
I am looking forward to see how the game develops and wish the best for its future as it really does appear to be treading new ground. While these kind of concepts seemed really inaccessible a few years ago, I would be hard pressed to not be able to find a smartphone for each friend and one tablet or PC to set between us at this point in time. The tech is impressive and may be something better served by a more interesting or fully-fleshed out game universe, but then again maybe the world of Eon Altar has more to it than I was able to glean during my limited demo experience. We shall just have to wait and see.
While Eon Altar has been privately funded up to this point, Flying Helmet Games did mentioned that they are considering a possible Kickstarter campaign in order to secure more funding.
Eon Altar is currently early in development with work currently continuing on the alpha and is expected to launch next year.