Astral Ascent Dev Hopes Recent Success Leads To Xbox Release

"We didn't get a proper answer from them yet. It's harder for us as a small indie team without much contact, but maybe the new reception of the game will lead to new contact with them!"

Story Highlights

  • Astral Ascent — Hibernian Workshop’s best project yet — was released on November 14, 2023.
  • Despite receiving mixed reception initially, the title is now considered one of the best roguelites.
  • We interviewed Louis Denizet, Co-Founder of Hibernian Workshop, to get his insights on this journey.

Astral Ascent has been considered one of the best roguelites of this generation, being compared to the likes of Dead Cells and Hades—the very games it takes inspiration from. However, it wasn’t an easy journey for the developers, as they had to fight tooth and nail to enhance the title exponentially and put it up for commercial sale again after a premature release in 2022.

The 2D platformer’s release in Early Access was met with much criticism, a lot of which was directed towards its performance. Despite having a bad start, Hibernian Workshop worked hard to take the experience to the next level and was rewarded well for it. To get more insights into the studio’s arduous journey, eXputer sat down with Louis Denizet, Co-Founder of Hibernian Workshop, over an email interview.

Read ahead for the full interview containing Louis’ insights and some exciting teases for future content.

Astral Ascent
Astral Ascent – via Hibernian Workshop.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your work on Astral Ascent?

Louis: Hello, my name is Louis Denizet. I’m one of the two Co-Founders of Hibernian Workshop studio, and I’m working as a Game Director on Astral Ascent. I’m mostly a Gameplay Programmer, but I also do project management, marketing and other elements.

It has been over 2 years since the Kickstarter for Astral Ascent went live. It smashed the initial goal within just two days and has achieved many Kickstarter stretch goals since. I'd like to know how much the game has expanded from the earlier vision or concept that the team had.

Louis: Our first project was named Dark Devotion, and it was released in early 2019. Once it was released, there were only 2 left working in the studio: myself and Alexandre Magnat (Lead Artist and Co-Founder of the studio). Dark Devotion did not give us a lot of money, but it was enough to hire 2 new people to the team, and we used all the money that we had to reach Kickstarter with a demo.

The Kickstarter campaign was very successful, and we used all of this money to get to Early Access, and, you guessed it right, we used all of the Early Access money to reach the 1.0 of the game. I think it was mostly the Early Access phase that made us over-scope so much; we saw people playing, and we wanted to improve things to make their experience better, so we kept adding elements, and the final version was way bigger than we ever anticipated.

The fans have so far loved Astral Ascent, giving it very positive reviews on Steam, but there are some critics who say the early game difficulty is too low. Is that something the team will work on in the future, or will no changes be made to the difficulty aspect?

Louis: That is a very tricky question because half of our players say it’s too hard, and half say it’s too easy. It can take from 2h to 30h to finish the first runs for players. Our approach was similar to Hades’; we wanted the game not to be frustrating, but we still wanted to give a challenge. What we made is the true ending of the game behind several difficulty increases (named Path of Destiny system), so it is not that easy to get.

We made sure each difficulty increase in the Path of Destiny was interesting, enemies get new patterns, there are new deadly enemy types and ultimately, bosses get new patterns too. And while doing that, every boss defeated also gives a new currency to get a new type of bonus – more skilled players will progress fast and less skilled players will still become more powerful with time and have a chance to overcome the challenges. To answer the question, we think we have found the right balance with this system, and we are not planning to change it.

What were some major challenges that the team overcame during the development period?

Louis: I would say lisibility was one of the biggest challenges. Most similar games will have a dark background, and it makes everything more visible instantly; it is also a very popular art direction. We have adjusted lisibility over and over again for years; we are finally happy with the results. But overall, I would add that about everything was challenging as it is our first self-publishing game, and we had to figure out many elements, marketing is definitively a challenge we did not overcome very well.

Astral Ascent
Astral Ascent – via Hibernian Workshop.

Were there any inspirations behind some of the characters? If so, can you tell us more about them?

Louis: I asked Alexandre [Co-Founder of the studio], and not that much, but we were very inspired by some mangas such as DBZ [Dragon Ball Z], Bleach, and Naruto. I think you can feel it when you play!

The game is now considered one of the best roguelites in recent years, with some comparing it to notable roguelite titles like Hades and Dead Cells. What has that sort of reception been like for the team?

Louis: It is really strange because the game’s initial release in Early Access (April 2022) had a mixed reception. People liked it overall, but there was not enough content, and everything was decent but not great. The most important complaint was about the performance; it was really bad at this time! (it now runs perfectly at 60 fps on Nintendo Switch thanks to the amazing work of MP2 Games porting!)

I think this initial reception of the Early Access release settled public opinion about the game for the whole of Early Access. We had very few (but lovely) players during the Early Access, and we had to battle to sell the game at each new major update. With time, the game became better and better during Early Access until it became very good; we could not stop playing ourselves!

Given how the Early Access went, we did not think we would get much attention at our release, but we are so happy people are giving it a second chance! The transformation because of the Early Access release and 1.0 is really day and night! For now, we are just so happy, and it motivates us to make more updates to the game; new things are coming soon!

Have there been considerations on releasing the game on Xbox consoles/Xbox Game Pass?

Louis: We didn’t get a proper answer from them yet. It’s harder for us as a small indie team without much contact, but maybe the new reception of the game will lead to new contact with them!

Can fans expect additional content or a potential DLC in the future?

Louis: Yes! A 5th character is coming as DLC in 2024, but we are focusing on free updates for now; as long as the game is successful, we are happy to make updates!

With the release of Astral Ascent, is the team looking forward to the next project? If so, can you tease us a bit on what we can expect?

Louis: Actually, some artists in the team finished their work on Astral Ascent some time ago and transitioned to our next project. We do not want to spoil anything about it yet, but it is going to be amazing!

Is there anything else you want to share with the audience? Something we haven't touched upon yet?

Louis: Nothing else than thanks so much for reading this and for supporting our work! We have been through a lot of challenges to get there! A few years ago, Alexandre and I were self-teaching ourselves in our free time for our first commercial project; we now have a studio with a promising future, and nothing could make us any happier!

YouTube video

Astral Ascent is set in a modern fantasy world where the only goal is to escape the Garden. However, it’s easier said than done, as the 12 Zodiacs guard this astral prison. The game contains 4 main characters a player must pick from, with the 5th character arriving as a DLC in 2024.

This roguelite had a tedious journey, and it reached the glory it deserved. Lucky for us, the game will continue to receive free updates for as long as it remains successful. Moreover, it appears that Hibernian Workshop has started the creation of its next project, but Louis refrained from sharing more details for a potential reveal in the future.

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Mudassir is a seasoned journalist with a passion for uncovering the stories behind our favorite virtual worlds. Armed with a trusty notepad and a keen curiosity, he dives headfirst into the gaming industry's most exciting personalities. His knack for insightful questions and his ability to connect with developers and gamers alike makes his interviews a must-read. While on the lookout for the next person to interview, Mudassir keeps himself busy by writing news surrounding the gaming universe. Experience: 4+ Years || Senior Journalist || Education: Bachelor's in Psychology.

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