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Party RTS for the Wii U makes its pitch with help from some friends

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

If you're bringing your first game up for a crowdfunding vote, it helps to have some friends vouching for you. In the case of Hex Heroes, a proposed real-time strategy game for the Wii U, those friends star in other indie hits; for example, Juan, the masked protagonist of Guacamélee!

"We're getting a lot of support from fellow developers," Mario Castañeda of Prismatic Games told Polygon, "and it's giving us confidence that this game is something people would want to see."

Hex Heroes, whose Kickstarter campaign opened Tuesday, is notable in a couple of areas: First is it's already secured the cameo from Guacamelee!, as well one from Max of Mutant Mudds and Rusty, the hero of SteamWorld Dig.

Second is that they're sticking with Wii U. The console's loyal user base notwithstanding, it is not the first platform many think of when it comes to independent games development. Prismatic is committed to the Wii U because its gamepad offers an out-of-the-box asymmetric gameplay option, and that is the kind of game they most want to build.

"We're huge Nintendo fans, and we've been wanting to develop something for Wii U since we heard about it back in 2011," Castañeda said. "Wii U is the only thing that offers asymmetric gameplay right out of the box.

Hex Heroes is envisioned as a local multiplayer RTS, though online multiplayer and singleplayer modes will be included. But optimally, it'll be a game in which one (or more) players are working on the television building, harvesting, mining, fighting off enemies and exploring the map. Then another person, using the Wii U Gamepad, is making "executive decisions," and has a larger view of the game's map.

"Imagine playing a classic game like Warcraft or Age of Empires," the game's pitch says. "You have the world at your fingertips, units to command, and a city to build and fortify by using the Gamepad. Those units, however, are your teammates on the couch."

"We don't want to jump ship from Nintendo even when it seems like every triple-A developer is."

Hex Heroes grew out of a game jam from last summer. Castañeda, the game's creative director, (previous credits include the puzzle game The Bridge) says the latest video shows the game after about 48 hours of development. Since November he and his colleagues have been preparing for the Kickstarter, both in timing its launch, reaching out to Nintendo of America, and developing proofs of concept. They've been building buzz for it through Nintendo enthusiast sites over the past month or so.

The asymmetric nature — idealized as younger or more intense gamers plugging away at the action on a TV as older friends or family members call shots from a Gamepad — is something Castañeda thinks the Wii U is better suited to than its counterparts on the current console generation.

The PlayStation 4 may have extra functionality through the PS Vita and the Xbox One has SmartGlass applications for tablets and smartphones, but both of those require someone already having those devices or buying them. "It's an expensive buy-in," Castañeda said. "It's kind of a shame it's up to the indies to take up the mantle of experimentation, but I guess that's the state of the industry."

After drawing up plans for the game, Prismatic reached out to Nintendo to participate in its indie self-publishing program — "They're really quite friendly in organizing things, if you just reach out to them," Castañeda said. Nintendo also put them in touch with two of the studios who would lend characters to cameo in Hex Heroes. Prismatic reached out to the third, Drinkbox, after the announcement Guacamelee! would be headed to the Wii U.

"They said, 'Well, we've never considered that before,' so they had a meeting about it," Castañeda said. "They said they liked the game, and that's what they agreed upon."

Prismatic is looking for $80,000 to fund development of the game and, if the project meets that target, hopes to have it delivered by the spring. They hope to show a playable version at this fall's Indicade, too.

"We don't want to jump ship from Nintendo," Castañeda said, "even when it seems like every triple-A developer is."

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