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RPG Codex Interview: Underrail Expedition
Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Mon 15 July 2019, 00:21:29Tags: Stygian Software; Underrail; Underrail: Expedition
[Interview by Diggfinger]
Belgrade, capital of Serbia, is a beautiful and historic city which I recently had the pleasure of visiting for the first time. While walking down its dusty streets, enjoying the beauty of the Belgrade Fortress and resting at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, it suddenly struck me: Hey, isn't Stygian Software based here? After some quick Googling I learned that their registered office was only thirty minutes from where I was staying. I enjoyed Underrail quite a bit, and since the announcement date for the long-awaited Expedition DLC had just been announced, I figured it was a good idea to reach out to Styg for an interview to mark the event. Unfortunately I was ultimately unable to arrange a visit to the office due to time constraints, but he kindly agreed to answer the Codex's questions via e-mail.
So, without further ado, here is what we learned about Underrail: Expedition:
Underrail: Expedition is releasing on July 22nd. Which of the expansion's features are you most excited about?
Not any feature in particular, but I'm very excited to see how people experience the new content as a whole. New mechanics and goodies aside, we put a lot of work in improving the quality of the content itself - the overall world design, dungeon design, dialogs, etc, so I hope that it bears fruit and that the players recognize it. Also, due to how the campaign is structured, players will have a lot of freedom on how and in what order they approach it. Will they side with this or that faction or no faction, will they rush into dungeons, wage war on the natives or maybe just explore the waters on their jet ski? It will be a lot of fun to watch people play the game on the internet.
The original development schedule for Expedition was around six months long, with the expansion slated for a 2017 release. What made you decide to extend development? Was it an ongoing process of adding new elements, or did you underestimate the time it would take to realize your original ideas?
A bit of everything. The project was overly ambitious to begin with and as we started fleshing out all the things we wanted to implement it turned out it'd take a lot more time to implement them properly. At this time we began raising the standards of the content that was being produced so zones started coming with more custom visual pieces, mechanics, lore, etc so it took a lot more time to make them than we originally anticipated.
Also we did a lot of work on the base game, some of which we considered prerequisite to the expansion itself - such as the water areas that connect Underrail and Black Sea. And now that we had those areas, we had to fill them with some content and quests and have this or that faction have its presence there and add narrative elements to support/recognize this… and so forth. We also added new creatures to the base game, fleshed out the difficulty levels, added the global map, which in turn required us to make the game (more) geographically consistent, which required adding more areas… you get the picture by now.
And also, sometimes we just get a cool idea how we can spice up some part of the game and we can't help but work it in, even though we are fully aware that we're being subject to feature creep. In the end I think that, despite waiting, you guys will be the end beneficiaries of our questionable project management.
How big is Expedition compared to the base game? How many areas/feats/weapons have you added?
I'm going to largely echo what epeli wrote on the forums - it's about half of what the original game was in terms of areas (250), a bit under 80 new feats (including veteran ones) and 180 specializations, three new weapon types, 16 new unique weapons, and bunch of other stuff I don't want to count (new blueprints, crafting components, meds, oddities, etc). It's a big expansion by any standard and certainly by modern standards.
Are there any specific books, movies, etc that have inspired the look and feel of Expedition? The movie Waterworld comes to mind as a likely influence.
We mimicked the Waterworld aesthetics when it comes to the Pirates and other naval factions, it goes well with our existing junk-punk designs. However, I think the overall themes of the Waterworld and Underrail are very different. In the former, the sea represents a sort of an all-encompassing homogenous desert in which people scavenge for resources, trying to find an oasis, while in our case it's just a small part of a very diverse and packed with old world bounties.
When it comes to the ruins of the civilization found in Black Sea we were thinking about the legend of Atlantis with a sci-fi twist, which is often depicted in popular culture, along with some Jugendstil architectural influences.
Is there anything in the expansion (in terms of content or systems) that's meant to address complaints people had about the base game? For example, the walking speed or the lack of fast travel.
We've addressed the walking speed by adding a speed up option to the latest experimental version already and that is separate from the expansion. In the expansion itself, we've added a new means of limited fast-travel (similar to trains and boats), but you'll have to discover that yourself.
Are there any major changes in terms of quest design in Expedition? Can we expect more choice and consequence than the base game, or is it more combat-focused?
Those are not mutually exclusive. The game will be as combat-focused as ever and this is never going to change. However, we did improve on C&C aspect of the content as well and also gave the player a lot of freedom on how they will approach the content. They can take an active part in the workings of one of the factions of the Black Sea (expedition or pirates, but not natives) and their conflicts, resolve certain events in favour of one or the other or just keep to themselves and let the factions go at it themselves.
The Underrail development team (left to right): Mario "Mac" Tovirac - 2d & 3d art. Dejan "Styg" Radišić - lead developer, programming, overall lore and themes. Stefan "Phrygian Dominant" Čupović - level and quest design, writing. Nikola "Johnny" Petrović - 3d art, mostly character and creature models (not pictured).
Will the lore of the expansion's new factions tie into the main quest or characters in any way, or is it a completely separate part of the Underrail universe?
To the extent that it fleshes out the lore of the world significantly and gives more context to certain events and esoteric stuff of the original campaign, yes, but other than that - it's a separate thing.
Why did you choose to develop a mid-game instead of post-game expansion? Was it hard to balance it with the content of the base game (ie, ensuring players don't end up with overpowered characters in the endgame)?
It was probably a mistake. If we just made Expedition as a separate stand-alone campaign, I think we could have made it even bigger and saved up a year of development or so. We'd also be free from a lot of lacklustre design and mechanical constraints that are a result of having to keep the entire game world consistent. Aside from improving the difficulty spectrum during the development of the expansion itself, we didn't really do any balancing in that regard, so it wasn't hard at all. We might, at some point, go back to DC and up the challenge there for the playthroughs that went through the DLC. It will be development time well spent, since it's everyone's favourite part of the game.
What level do you expect players to be when accessing the new content? Have you had to make many changes in terms of balancing character builds, or has the base game been left mostly untouched?
Around level 15, but it depends on the build and the player - stronger builds and better players will probably be able to handle it earlier. All the stuff that we did in regards of tweaking the base game are in the dev logs and, more importantly, live in the game now, so not much new will come in that regard, except the new weapons and the psi school.
Were there any real-life inspirations involved in the creation of the world of Underrail? Being from Serbia, how much would you say your background influenced the look and feel of the game? For example, the name of the Institute of Tchort.
None at all, at least that I can think of. The look and feel of the game were mostly influenced by the games I played in my youth, Fallout and System Shock 2 the most probably. The term Tchort (which is not a word in Serbian, despite being present in a lot of other Slavic languages) came about independently through a minor comical character of the crazy doomsayer of Foundry. Phrygian came up with the character and selected that particular word because it sounded adequately evil to him. [Spoiler warnng] Separate from that, I was developing the idea of a Lovecraftian creature residing deep in the bowels of the Earth, and when I heard that term, I thought it matched perfectly and later we developed the idea of the cult which evolved into the Institute
When can we expect new announcements about the future of the Underrail franchise?
September, probably, when we get back from vacation.
Phrygian: Into the Breach, The Forest, Factorio, SOMA, Killing Floor 2, Deep Rock Galactic, Void Bastards, Factorio
Johnny: SOMA, Red Dead Redemption, Bulletstorm, Rocket Birds 2: Evolution
Mac: Nier Automata, Dark Souls 3, Neo-Scavenger, Nioh
Styg: Don't Starve: Reign of Giants, Factorio, Tales of Maj'Eyal, Cataclysm DDA, Darkest Dungeon, Torchlight 2, Grim Dawn