While making my rounds through Kickstarter I happened upon a unique title called Ambition: A Minuet in Power. It seemed familiar, but initially I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I realized that the lead designer on the game, Luther Patenge, had recently hosted a rather active AMA on Reddit regarding loot boxes during the Battlefront 2 debacle. Interested, I reached out to ask a few questions about the game and his thoughts on loot boxes in general. Luther was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions, and below you’ll learn more about this interesting new game (anticipated to arrive November 2018), as well as his thoughts on how the recent EA drama may or may not have impacted other large studios. Enjoy!
Mithrandiel: First, tell us a little bit about your background. What projects have you worked on in the past, and what led you to work on Ambition?
Luther Patenge: As a gamer, my background is about as traditional as they come: I grew up playing Civilization I, Fallout 2, Mechwarrior 2, FF7, Sonic & Knuckles, etc… Professionally, I’ve been in the game industry for over five years, working for mobile and social companies like KIXEYE, Kabam, and RockYou. When I was at Kabam, I was an Associate Designer (sometimes called a Junior Designer) on Dragons of Atlantis and Godfather: Five Families. When our team was sold to RockYou, I became the Game Designer on those titles. I originally started working on Ambition as a side project because I felt unfulfilled as a designer. It was a Unity project I would plug away on by myself for a few hours after work. Slowly, it started turning into something else.
M: For those unfamiliar with the project, what is Ambition: A Minuet in Power about?
LP: Ambition: A Minuet in Power is halfway between a Japanese Dating Sim and a Rogue-like. Set in France right before the revolution, you play as Yvette, an unmarried woman of fashion seeking to seize her place in a society rife with politics, intrigue, and serial adultery. Seduce, snub, and charm your way to the top of society, all while keeping an eye on the coming revolution, so you can end up on the winning side of history, and not the losing side of the guillotine. Ambition is currently live on Kickstarter and fully funded! We’re planning on releasing the game in late 2018 for PC and Mac
M: Where did Ambition’s premise come from?
LP: Would you believe it started when I was getting drunk with a roommate and watching “The Three Musketeers” (1948)? For those who haven’t seen that version, it’s got Gene Kelly, Angela Lansbury, Vincent Price, and Lana Turner in it. It’s amazing and campy as hell. While we were watching it, we realized that the main villain, Milady De Winter, was actually the most interesting character in the whole thing. She couldn’t fight like the Musketeers, or give orders like the king or cardinal. Her power was pure influence. This meant she had to work harder than anyone else to accomplish her goals. Always planning, scheming, schmoozing, seducing, and poisoning. That sounded like a much more interesting character to play in a game. Slowly, I realized that the best setting for this kind of character, and this kind of game, would be the French Revolution. It was one of the biggest turning points in French history, and a lot of the great conflicts there were social and ideological, instead of purely physical. It was a time where men and women worked secretly in the shadows to determine the fate of their whole country. It was elegance and splendor, next to violence and squalor. A time of great romance and horrific vengeance. It’s the stuff all great stories are made of.
M: I know the game is pretty early in its development, but have there been any particularly challenging elements in designing the game – or is there an element of the game that you can anticipate to be difficult to work through?
LP: I think the biggest, overall challenge in Ambition is that so much of it comes down to mathematically modeling social relationships. It’s a video game, so everything is code: pure math and logic. However, pure logic is the opposite of most people. Making it so that the things you do in the game lead to believable reactions, via a strict set of rules, without feeling robotic, will be the hardest thing. There’s also going to be a lot of writing. I love writing for games, but it’s still going to be a huge challenge.
M: You recently had a pretty active AMA in which you discussed the nature of loot-boxes amidst the Battlefront 2 debacle – what was your takeaway from that whole ordeal?
LP: First, that AMA was way more fun than I expected it to be. I love any opportunity to just hang out, and just talking about games in general. Second, I think my main take away was that there should be more communication with development teams and players over some of these monetization elements in games. Nobody likes talking about money when they’re trying to have fun, but it’s necessary. People are at their angriest when something is troubling them and they feel like they’re being ignored. However, opening lines of communication can be a tough sell, internally. When you’re making a game, everyone is scrambling all the time, you want to focus on the things that are guaranteed to get results. Player goodwill is extremely important, but it can’t be quantified, so those outreach efforts often get left on the back-burner in favor of working on the game. That’s a mistake that needs to be rectified.
M: Do you think larger companies will learn from EA’s negative publicity? Or will the way loot boxes are designed and marketed simply shift?
LP: I’ve never been in a AAA studio, nor have I ever run one, so I can’t speak to what their thoughts or reactions will be. I think some studios will need to realize that loot box and gacha systems are their own sub-set of design that need to be integrated into a game’s systems from the ground up, in order to make them feel interesting and unobtrusive. Within a multiplayer game, these systems also have a life-cycle to their success, which needs to be planned for. However, there’s one thing that I am adamant about: the way games are monetized is going to change. When a studio employing over 300 people can be broken on a single release, that’s a sign that something is wrong. While there have obviously been some huge successes, there have been an even greater number of failures. “Never make a mistake, or everyone loses their job” is not a sustainable system, as an industry. There needs to be greater stability, which will let studios and developers take bigger risks. I don’t know what this new form of monetization is going to take, but I do know the current method will have to change.
M: Will Ambition feature any loot box or freemium elements?
LP: Nope! Ambition: A Minuet in Power is meant to be a stand alone experience. While we may add DLC at some point, in the form of additional campaigns or main characters to play as, the base game should be a satisfying experience all of its own. Right now, our focus is on making sure that Ambition is a solid, exciting game that stands on its own merits.
M: Any last minute plugs or information you’d like to share?
LP: Our campaign’s ending in under 48 hours and we’re fully funded! If anything I’ve talked about in this sounds interesting to you, head on over to the campaign page and check out our fully animated trailer!
Many thanks again to Mr. Patenge for taking the time to chat with us – make sure to check out the Ambition Kickstarter project and toss your hat in the ring for survival!