Filling the RPG void: Knights of Pen and Paper

There's nothing else quite like Knights of Pen and Paper on the iOS or Android marketplace — which is more or less why the game was created in the first place.

The game is not only a straightforward, turn-based role-playing game (a genre seemingly made for touch devices but surprisingly underrepresented) in true Final Fantasy fashion. It also emulates, quite literally, the experience of playing a tabletop RPG like Dungeons and Dragons. The player creates the quest that his heroes will go on. He chooses the enemies his players will battle. He chooses the snacks on the table, granting his heroes certain bonuses.

Brazil-based Behold Studios, founded in 2009 by student developers Saulo Camarotti and Pedro Guerra, addressed a question that's been on the forefront of many a pen-and-paper gamer's minds since smartphones and tablets became as ubiquitous as they are today: Where's the official Dungeons and Dragons app?

"That's one of the aspects that really made us do it," Behold public relations manager Ronaldo Nonato told Polygon in a recent interview. "It all started with us playing traditional pen-and-paper RPGs, then realizing that, 'Hey, there's nothing like it on the iOS store or Android market. There's no digital version of good, old, pen-and-paper RPGs.' That's what started everything."

"Hey, we're finalists in like, the Oscar of the games!"

The development team, which only consisted of five students when Knights was created, are all RPG enthusiasts. That not only guided them in the direction they wanted to go with their new title, it informed the process every step of the way. They incorporated elements from their tabletop gaming into their video game enthusiastically, working "days and nights" until the project was finished in an impressive five months.

"We have a motto here: We like to make games that we would love to play," Nonato said. "That's written on every wall in Behold studios. We really think like this. We want to create something we'd love to play — that's a big reason for wanting to create an RPG.

"While we were working, the five of us had already been dungeon masters already. We had a great deal of history we wanted to put in the game, we all had suggestions. Our game design document was growing so fast, we just had so many ideas, and the process was quite organic. We added things to the game, feeling what was right, what was wrong, there were things that didn't make it to the final version. But yeah, it was really fast."

Nonato said he thinks tabletop gaming lends itself to the game design process, especially for anyone who's ever sat behind the cardboard curtain of a dungeon master.

"I believe for a person to be a good dungeon master, you need to be a good storyteller first," Nonato said. "And being a good storyteller is one of the best traits you can have to be a game maker. You have to tell a story to someone. You have to make them involved."

"We're not the indie guys from Brazil that no one knows. Now we're something."

Their expertise behind a character sheet led to critical and commercial success for the title, as well as a place among the student finalists for the 2013 Independent Games Festival. For Nonato, that was the biggest encouragement the studio received.

"It's amazing, I can't lie about it," Nonato said. "When you're an indie developer starting to make your game, being in IGF is like, the big prize, the top of the stairs. When we heard we were finalists in the student IGF, we were like, 'Oh my god, we gotta celebrate!' For people that didn't know what IGF is, like our parents or friends who are not in gaming, we were like, 'Hey, we're finalists in like, the Oscar of the games!' It's awesome, we're really thrilled."

With a successful title under its belt, Behold is making plans for the future. They've expanded their staff with three more developers, and they're moving to a bigger office in Brazil. They're developing a new title, which they're announcing closer to the IGF Awards.

Most importantly, they've got a new motto hung around the walls of their studio.

"Before, it was like, 'Hey, we want to be the best, but let's just do what we can do,'" Nonato said. "Now, it's like, 'Really, let's do better than everyone else.' Let's try to get to IGF again next year with another game, try to win that, win even more things. We're bigger now. We look up. We're not the indie guys from Brazil that no one knows. Now we're something."

Behold Studios' Knights of Pen and Paper is a 2013 finalist of the Independent Games Festival Student Showcase. The Independent Games Festival will take place during the 2013 Game Developers Conference, in San Francisco from March 25 through 29.

Polygon will be speaking with the IGF's student showcase winners and Nuovo Award finalists almost daily for the month of March. Follow along with their stories in our StoryStream below.

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