Redefining table-top on tablets

Eon Altar is one of those ideas that immediately makes you wonder why somebody didn’t think of it ages ago. As most such ideas are, it is both ingenious and remarkably simple: a tabletop/video game RPG hybrid, played with smartphones that are linked to a central tablet serving as the “game board,” through which the story is told. The machines crunch the numbers, handle the character management, perform the virtual dice rolls and more, but the experience is more akin to an old-school pencil-and-paper RPG session – the best of both worlds.

Eon Altar supports face-to-face gaming in groups of two to five, with each player accessing the game through an iOS, Android, or Windows smartphone. Each phone in the group is connected via Wi-Fi to a tablet or PC which displays the game world, combat, and other cinematic aspects of the action, and also saves the progress of the campaign, which will unfold episodically over nine modular “adventures.” Each adventure contains enough content for at least three sessions, and will be released every four to six weeks after the game launches.

Eon Altar

“Once we are finished [with] our first story, over nine adventures, we’ll evaluate and see where we want to take it – whether we’ll continue the same characters in further adventures within Eon Altar itself as further campaigns in the same structure and engine, or if it’ll be time to do an overhaul of the game itself and evolve it into an Eon Altar 2,” Edward J. Douglas, the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Vancouver-based Flying Helmet Games, said. “It will really depend on where the technology is at and how players enjoy using it. It moves so fast! Our world is large and we have a lot of story planned after this first campaign, lots of challenges ahead for these characters.”

The story of Eon Altar is crafted by Flying Helmet, but at one point there was discussion about licensing an established IP instead. But while the team now views the game as “our story,” underlying it all is an engine that can support many different types of genres, and Douglas added that working with a licensed IP remains a possibility if it does well.

There’s also a chance that Eon Altar players will be able to create adventures of their own. “I was at BioWare for a little while and I worked with quite a few people who actually came from the Neverwinter Nights mod community. We know the power that good tools can have and how it can give longevity to a game,” Douglas said. “It’s our job to bring those tools, make them as accessible as possible and make it easy to share. We are making a video game, but the fact that it’s played in a ‘table-top style’ brings the assumption of writing and telling your own stories, the way few video games ever do. We want to try to offer as much of that as we can, resources permitting.”

Eon Altar

The injection of technology will also likely be a boon to people who enjoy the social experience of tabletop RPGing, but have no interest in immersing themselves into the minutiae of rules. Some systems are simpler or more complex than others, but all of them demand some degree of familiarity with the rules, and players who don’t bring that to the table may find themselves frustrated, or possibly even too intimidated to jump into the action with a more experienced cohort. Douglas said one of the goals of Eon Altar is to create a “rich, deep story and system” that will keep experienced D&D players engaged, but that will also be accessible to people who just want to jump in and let ‘er rip.

“That’s the ‘video game aspect,’ where the systems are there but you can just play and have fun without having to build your character sheet for 6 hours and track each and every stat. You just make the fun relevant decisions and enjoy the story and action!” he explained. “It’s also built to be enjoyed in sessions from 20-90 minutes (you’ll know how long one will be before you start) so you can have fun, have a good ‘episode’ and some nice resolution, even if your schedule precludes being able to play a ten hour D&D marathon like we could when we were kids.”

Eon Altar

Eon Altar is on Kickstarter now, and Douglas and co. are relying on it to bring the game to fruition. Shopping around a “vertical slice” made it clear that publishers aren’t terribly interested in something so unconventional, which is why the studio opted to take a run at crowdfunding. “If Kickstarter fails we may eventually be able to release a game named Eon Altar but it will in no way resemble the game we’re trying to make here,” Douglas said. “It’ll be a time of great soul searching if we have to make that decision!”

I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that – Eon Altar is a unique and exciting idea, with the potential to have a real impact on face-to-face gaming, and I’d like to see Flying Helmet have the opportunity to carry its vision through to completion. The Eon Altar Kickstarter is live now and runs until December 8.