Coin Rivet recently spoke with Cindy Gomez and Ralph Laemmche, the co-founders of Touchhour, to discuss their storied careers in gaming, Enjin, and 9Lives Arena’s spirit warrior hunting ground.
Cindy is the president of Touchhour while Ralph serves as the CEO and producer. Cindy’s first big break came when she had the chance to sing on the soundtrack of Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia: Sands of Time video game.
“Many years later, I was working in Los Angeles, signed to Interscope Records, and my producer – Dave Stewart – was working with Nokia,” Cindy tells us.
“He said there’s an opportunity to be the first artist to release on a video game, and I was like ‘wow, this is cool!’ And actually that’s where I met Ralph.
“He was the head of Nokia gaming in Europe and we met, hit it off, and we just started working together. But Ralph’s been in the video game industry way longer.”
Ralph has been infatuated with video games since he was 11, when his dad brought home Pong back in 1976.
“I got hooked right away, and then experienced the whole start of the industry really,” Ralph recalls.
“My first job was in 1990 as a product manager for computer games for a German publisher. Now I’ve been in the industry for 29 years. I’ve lived in eight countries and have an international career. The highlight was when I was working for Nokia and running a team of seven producers.”
Alpha Season has started. The 30 best warriors from the leader-boards at end of closed alpha will receive a season finale tournament invite and fight for prize money worth over $10,000 CDN. The season winner will be placed on the 9LA throne during the entire season 2. pic.twitter.com/kdlo7OQzAA
— 9Lives Arena (@9livesarena) August 2, 2019
The creation of 9Lives Arena
Speaking on how he devised the concept for 9Lives Arena, Ralph says that when creating a video game, “it has to be all passion”.
“For me, I’m a competitive gamer. I love PVP (player versus player) and I have done since 1997 when Ultima Online launched – the first fantasy PVP that took off.
“The latest was basically the Souls series (Dark Souls). They have an innovative invasion feature where you can invade others and it’s usually a 1v1 encounter, and they even have some kind of arenas going on at some point or players building their own fight clubs.
“But the core competency of the Souls games is player versus environment (PVE) – they’re really centred around big bosses.”
Ralph sheds light on how many games that have emphasis on PVP are often mobile games and battle royale games, but these typically do not have any focus on fantasy PVP combat.
“That’s what I love to play. So, I’ve got to make it around what I love the most you know, where I’m my own target audience when I build the game,” the Touchhour CEO adds.
This is how the concept for 9Lives Arena emerged back in 2015 before it had initial funding in 2016, and it has been on a roll ever since.
We are in #sanfrancisco ready to rock the @Official_GDC with @enjin and showcase a demo of #9livesarena come check us out wed & thurs at the #enjin booth S563 #behindthescenes #indiegamedev #gamedev #blockchaingame #blockchaingaming #gamers #GDC19 #GDC #pvp #rpg #videogame pic.twitter.com/odeFsoepxU
— 9Lives Arena (@9livesarena) March 20, 2019
The Enjin effect
9Lives Arena is part of Enjin’s Multiverse, though blockchain integration wasn’t in the picture for the project originally.
Despite this, in-game items were always going to have strong emphasis, Ralph tells us.
“I knew I wanted to have a balance between the competitive aspect, but also these games strive because there’s a community around them, and there’s always people who are less focused on the combat aspect, but they love to craft,” he says.
Back in 2015 when Ralph devised the concept for the game, he admits he didn’t have much perspective regarding blockchain.
“I just knew items had to have a strong role in the game.
“Then in early 2017, I started to listen to what’s happening with blockchain and gaming. Nothing really stuck out until Enjin came around, and Enjin is a little bit different. They have a broad vision and have an understanding for what the games industry needs – especially indie games and developers.”
In particular, it is Enjin’s software development kit (SDK) that is notable for assisting game developers. It helps them easily and seamlessly integrate blockchain into their games.
“Blockchain is a match made in heaven in that aspect, because running the items on the blockchain gives players true item ownership.
“Once we knew there was an SDK, it was easy. We wouldn’t need to spend time away from development and reinventing the whole wheel – we could just basically plug it and play using the SDK.”
“Basically blockchain is the cherry on top of the sundae!” adds Cindy.
Touchhour first met Enjin at the GDC event in 2018, where there was “instantly” a “mutual understanding” between them.
— 9Lives Arena (@9livesarena) June 20, 2019
‘We had players doing over 300 matches a day’
At present, 9Lives Arena is in the midst of a closed alpha testing phase in which 999 players are vying for the Alpha Season throne.
Before then however, the team conducted an internal test where the first 20 players were invited to trial the game.
“When you’re so close to a project, you’re not objective anymore. We knew we had a good game, but we didn’t expect it to be this compelling this early because you never know when you give a game to an audience how they will respond,” says Ralph.
“But what happened is when we gave it to the players, they started buying stuff in the store because they fell in love with the game. We had players doing over 300 matches a day – some of the first gamers spent 24 hours playing it.
“Then we knew ‘okay, we’ve got something’ – even though nothing is polished, nothing is really balanced, and there is so much to do, but we already have people loving it,” he continues.
“Some people even said they took days off work to play it!” Cindy adds.
Building a multiplayer game does not come without inherent challenges, however. In particular, it can be challenging to build a scalable server, and this was no different for Touchhour.
“When we had the initial server – which was based out of London – we had 20 players and everything was stable. The moment we widened up the back end to feature more players at the same time, that’s when we had a lot of crashes and issues,” reveals Ralph.
“So, really it takes time and effort toward building a back end that is scalable, and it is a challenge – for a small team especially. But we’ll get there.”
We are glad to let everyone know that we have a stable closed alpha server that hasn't crashed in 48 hours. If you experienced issues before it is time to revisit Atlantis 🙂 See you in the Arena!#indiegamedev #rpg #pvp #pcgaming #blockchaingame #pcgame #gladiator #Enjin pic.twitter.com/KmP4wc6pMM
— 9Lives Arena (@9livesarena) July 25, 2019
The spirit warrior hunting grounds
One key element of 9Lives Arena are the Ooogys. These will be non-fungible tokens (NFTs) because they are all unique, with some having rarer royal bloodline traits.
Essentially, an Ooogy is a companion of the player which gathers valuable resources and armour 24/7, even when the player is offline.
The player’s Ooogy will be accompanied by a free Ooogy app which Touchhour is currently working on.
“It’s a free app, like a Tamagotchi on steroids,” says Ralph.
This isn’t the only exciting feature that Touchhour is developing either. Another key aspect of the game will be the spirit warrior hunting grounds.
“It’s another kind of level in a way,” reveals Cindy.
“It’s called the spirit warrior hunting grounds where – because our game has perma-deaths, you’ve got nine lives and once you’re dead, you’re a spirit, right? – so we’ve created this new level where you can go in and it’s not just like PVP.”
Instead of having 1v1 fights, the player will be tasked with hunting other spirits in the hunting grounds. For each successful kill, the player earns one life back.
If a player manages to get nine kills in the hunting grounds, there character can be brought back to life.
However, if they die in the hunting grounds, they are permanently dead and that character will be turned into a statue to immortalise their endeavours.
Once the closed alpha has finished, 9Lives Arena will be moving into its open alpha phase, where the team can invite everybody to play it.
After a certain period of time, it will move to Steam and into its open beta early access mode.
As the interview came to a close, Cindy teased: “There’s going to be a lot of exciting little things that we can’t give away yet.”