Developer Interview: Creating the dragon-filled world of Emberwing

Boomzap’s Jellene Khoh talks about their newest and biggest hidden object adventure game yet

Last March 15, Boomzap released Emberwing: Lost Legacy exclusively on Big Fish Games. The studio is known for its light-hearted chart-topping games such as the Awakening series, and Emberwing is their sixth hidden object franchise to date. In Emberwing, a dragon takes a young boy named Tevin, believing he has a special power that will help their kind. Elves and other magical races, hidden in the unexplored Dark Forest, are after him as well. It is now up to you to save him from the dragon’s clutches!

To know more about this new fantasy game, we interviewed game designers Jellene Khoh and Ran Wong of the Emberwing team.

Hello, please introduce yourselves.

Jellene: I’m Jellene and I’m from Malaysia. I joined Boomzap on July 2011 as a music composer for games. In Boomzap, I’ve made music for several titles, the first being Awakening: The Goblin Kingdom. Emberwing: Lost Legacy is the first game I worked on as a game designer.

Ran: I’m Ran Wong. I’m from Singapore, and I joined Boomzap in 2009 as a Designer straight out of university. I’ve done Pirates Plund-Arrr for the Wii and had a hand in various Boomzap projects, including the Awakening and Botanica games. I helped script the Collector’s Edition for Emberwing: Lost Legacy.

Emberwing: Lost Legacy Collector’s Edition by Boomzap Entertainment

Can you tell us what the game is all about? What was your inspiration for the story of Emberwing: Lost Legacy?

Jellene: The game is about a mother and a child in a world of fantasy races, and a long forgotten race of Dragons that once roamed the lands. I can’t lie, we’re all big fans of Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons. In a way, this game is a tribute to those geeky roots. We were also inspired by Skyrim, which was released last year. It was the perfect theme for our new game where we wanted to try out a more action-packed storyline in a darker setting than our other franchises.

What are the challenges in designing a brand new franchise compared to creating sequels?

Jellene: A brand new franchise means we have to design a whole new world. So a lot more goes into designing the world, the history, the land, the characters that populate it, on top of writing the story when the game unfolds. But nevertheless, those challenges makes designing the game so much more rewarding.

Ran: Internal consistency is harder to achieve with a brand new world. This gets easier as the world and characters become more developed and solidified in your mind, but it’s always a challenge maintaining consistency.

Who are the characters and magical creatures in this game and how was the process in creating them? What roles do they play in the game?

Jellene: As always, the main protagonist of the story, Aurora, is a strong female lead character. We’ve always featured female characters because it reflects our main audience, which is mostly female. During the initial stages of production, Aurora was seen from a third person view. But later we changed it to a first person point of view instead. We wanted the players to actually feel that they are Aurora, the hardcore mother battling dragons and elves to save her son.

Ran: We also have bear dwarves. Imagine a fantasy dwarf, but hairier and grumpier. They’re awesome.

Jellene: But aside from the usual fantasy creatures, there is also a goat in a coat by the road. During our weekly meetings, we would set goals. And being the clowns that we are, we decided to spell “goals” as “goats”. Adrian Tung, our programmer posted a picture of a goat in a coat. We felt we were humorously obligated to include the goat in a coat in the game.

In-game screenshot from Emberwing: Lost Legacy Collector’s Edition

Goat in a coat by the road sounds like a tongue twister! Do you have the same fun approach when coming up with ideas for the minigames and puzzles?

Jellene: We try. For all our puzzles, we do our best to tie it into the story so that it’s not just a random puzzle out of nowhere. Each puzzle and HO (hidden object) scene is there to tell a story about the Emberwing world. For example, the diorama HO tells the elven history, and the answer for the locker has to do with certain characters in the game.

Should we expect a classic hidden object game or more interactive puzzles? How did you balance the game’s difficulty?

Ran: A little of both. Balance wise we took a lot of institutionalized knowledge and player feedback to figure out the ideal flow.

It has been four years since Boomzap launched its first ever hidden object game. What has changed in the way you design games?

Ran: Everything from the storyline to the minigame mechanics have gotten bigger, more beautiful and much more complex. Customers are no longer satisfied with ‘merely great’, it must be ‘gobsmackingly fantastic’.

Jellene: I have made music for a couple of games, but unlike Ran, this is the first game I am actively doing design for. From my observation, the resources and work that go into these games are bigger now. Everything is bigger, better, stronger, faster. As Boomzap gets more well known, players are expecting different things. Now we must find a balance between deep immersive gameplay versus a more casual approach; more action cutscene driven presentation versus a more slower paced game; easy puzzles versus hard puzzles. We try to find a good midpoint where we can meet most of our players’ satisfaction, and deliver what we do best – that is letting our players get lost in a gorgeous beautiful world.

More action-packed scenes in Emberwing: Lost Legacy Collector’s Edition

What are the new improvements included in this game that you have never tried in earlier Boomzap games?

Jellene: We’ve never had this many dragons in a game! And of course, goats. We also have a faster pace for the story during the first half hour, following the demand for a more action-packed game by our players. Then we started using interactive inventory items, such as notes that you pick up along to way to help solve the puzzles. We decided it would be much more intuitive than the journal system that our seasoned players are used to.

What makes Emberwing: Lost Legacy different from all other HOPAs?

Ran: Every HOPA we create is designed to be bigger, better and more complex. Emberwing was the most complex at the time of its inception – and our most ambitious.

That must be very challenging, especially to Jellene. Since this is the first game you’ve worked on as a designer, what advice would you like to give to aspiring game developers who are just starting out their career?

Jellene: A lot of glory seekers might think game design is just a bunch of nerds drawing stuff on papers, but it’s not. Game design involves a lot of hard work underneath coordinating and making the game come to life. My advice would be not to give up, even though it feels really overwhelming trying to piece the whole game together in time (especially with a hard deadline). It’s also important to respect the people you work with. It is the artists, the programmers, the animators, the voice actors and the sound designers who make the game, not the designer.

Boomzap developers in Manila celebrating the launch of Emberwing: Lost Legacy

What should players look forward to in Emberwing: Lost Legacy? What is your message for them?

Jellene: Emberwing: Lost Legacy is a journey, an epic quest to save your son. We want our players to experience the love of a mother for her child through Aurora’s eyes.