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RPG Codex Interview: Legends of Eisenwald, Turn Based Strategy/RPG

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RPG Codex Interview: Legends of Eisenwald, Turn Based Strategy/RPG

Interview - posted by Zed on Wed 25 April 2012, 22:35:28

Tags: Alexander Dergay; Aterdux Entertainment; Kickstarter; Legends of Eisenwald

Legends of Eisenwald is being developed by Aterdux Entertainment, a small indie studio located in Belarus. They are running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the last stage of the game's development. Unlike many other crowd-funded games seeking your hard-earned coins, Legends of Eisenwald is not just an idea at this stage.

Featuring turn-based combat and strong RPG elements, and actually being a game in development, Legends of Eisenwald got many of us excited. We had some questions, however, which we sent over to Aterdux. Alexander Dergay, CEO, kindly answered them for us.

To begin with, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Aterdux Entertainment? How big is your team and what is your experience in the industry?

AD: Aterdux Entertainment was founded by two friends – Nikolay Armonik (graphics programmer) and Denis Lomako (AI programmer). This was back in 2002 and it consisted just of them. In 2004 Aterdux Entertainment released its first game: Discord Times. The game had rather specific and hardcore gameplay but some of the players got “hooked”.

One of those players was me [Alexander Dergay]. I met Nikolay and Denis in 2007 and helped them with the promotion of their game when it was re-released in 2007. Discord Times was a true indie project and they made it without leaving their jobs. Some of their friends also helped them. In 2009 we decided to make a new game with the goal to avoid many of the mistakes that were done in Discord Times. We planned for a long time, discussed things, I took on a role of a producer – I invested my own money into our project and several of our friends decided to help us. So, in 2010 we started working on Legends of Eisenwald. I have rather extensive experience in software development and management and we were joined by: Dmitry Goncharov, he used to work as a lead animator for largest Belorussian game development company – Wargaming.net. (Dmitry is an old friend of Nikolay and Denis who also helped them with Discord Times); Ressa Schwarzwald, she is a talented composer with some experience in game development; Victor Armonik, he is a 2D designer and writer who has some experience in casual games industry (and who helped with Discord Times as well). So, as you can see, we have all known each other already for quite some time.
Despite the fact that we are such a small team, we have our own graphics engine. But the content that you see in screen shots and in the video was done with help of outsourcing.​

What are your favorite strategy RPGs, and how do they influence the concept behind Legends of Eisenwald?

AD: For this we have a quite definite answer – Disciples 2 and King’s Bounty. Not only King’s Bounty: The Legend but also the first one from 1990. That was the game that inspired making Discord Times and it was released 4 years before King’s Bounty: The Legend. We believe that zest of King’s Bounty lies in RPG gameplay on a strategic scale. You lead an army, travel to many distant places but you don’t need to worry about such prosaic things like economy or resource management. You are not a king, you are a knight, a vagabond and it’s great! This romantic feeling is what we aim to reproduce in Legends of Eisenwald.

As for Disciples we love these series mostly because of its unique combat system and as many fans we were very disappointed when Disciples 3 abandoned it. But we decided that we have to fix this situation and not let that unique system die : ) Our combat model is inspired by that particular model. Its rethought and improved version is used in Legends of Eisenwald.​

You have used the term "Knight-Errant Simulator" to describe Legends of Eisenwald. Could you explain what you mean by that? In general, how would you describe the gameplay?

AD: The word “simulator” is not to be taken literally. We don’t place an emphasis on reality so it won’t be necessary to feed and keep your hero in a good mood : ) What we mean by that is that our game would give the player an opportunity to feel like being in the shoes of a medieval nobleman who is not looking for a quiet life. His main business is internecine wars, fulfilling the will of his suzerain and battle campaigns to find glory and wealth.

The game's history is divided into separate scenarios that are connected within a large campaign where a player will have to solve different tasks: sometimes to conquer all enemy castles, sometimes to find a large amount of gold in a short period of time, sometimes to earn the loyalty of a certain faction, etc. Moreover in every scenario there are side quests that we aim to do as diverse as possible.

Castles play an important role in our game because they help to maintain your army. The more castles you conquer the bigger army you can afford. Moreover, you can collect tribute from villages surrounding your castle. The situation is complicated by the fact that surrounding feudal lords know about that too, so it’s dangerous to leave your castle without defense. But it’s not easy to defend it since the recruits for your garrison often are inexperienced units that are of no big help when they are attacked by a strong army. And to make a strong unit from a raw recruit takes time. So, a player will often face a choice – which units to leave to protect a castle and which ones to lead into a fight.​

At first glance, Legends of Eisenwald looks quite similar to Discord Times (2004), Aterdux' previous title. What kind of game were you aiming for with Discord Times, and in what ways will this game be different from its predecessor?

AD: Since Discord Times was created way before King’s Bounty: The Legend our motivation back then was a desire to revive forgotten gameplay of the original King’s Bounty. And our enthusiasm for Disciples 2 was reflected in the combat system.

Unfortunately, Discord Times lacked good graphics. And it was also quite, no, TERRIBLY difficult to play even though some fans think that it's a plus! And yes, we have to admit, in some areas it lacked balance. But we learned from our mistakes. The main problem of Discord Times – constant lack of gold – is solved: now only a special category of units will require pay – mercenaries. As for difficulty, in Legends of Eisenwald the player will have a choice on what level of difficulty to play at. (For the record, “Impossible” is a level that a player needs to choose to reflect the difficulty of Discord Times).​

In Discord Times, there were three character archetypes: Knight, Archmage and Ranger. In Legends of Eisenwald, you have Knight, Mystic and Baroness. What changes between the classes, and how do they differ from those in Discord Times?

AD: Classes in Legends of Eisenwald are heirs to the classes from Discord Times. As before there are three of them: Knight is a warrior encased in armor who is fighting in the first row; Baroness is a brave and cunning noblewoman who prefers a bow, arrows and unexpected attacks; and Mystic is a learned scholar who is practicing secret (sometimes forbidden) sciences and who is looking for keys to life’s mysteries - not only through scientific experiments but also in dangerous journeys.

Of course there are some improvements from our last game. While in Discord Times every hero had only one unique bonus (for example, defense bonus in a knight’s squad), in Legends of Eisenwald a hero has 10 of such bonuses. They are built into an upgrade tree and on each level a hero can select one of them. Some bonuses are rather original: the Mystic can study alchemy that will give him an ability to make potions; and the smart Baroness can become popular among men in her squad and every man who is standing next to her will absorb a part of the damage that is aimed at the Baroness.​

You have stated that the setting of the game is similar to that of the classic cRPG Darklands. Can you elaborate on that? What kind of setting does Legends of Eisenwald have?

AD: To be honest we found out about Darklands only after we were compared to them. And it was a good comparison – the settings of Darklands and Legends of Eisenwald are similar. The game is taking place in a fictitious dukedom somewhere in central Europe. And this is not a parallel world but the Middle Ages in the real world. In a nutshell, our setting can be described by this formula: there are things that people of that time believed in. They believed in witches, ghosts, werewolves and vampires (in the Middle Ages during the search for vampires many people dug up graves which often started epidemics). They believed in miracle of prayers. That’s why we have witches, ghosts, werewolves and vampires, and a prayer has an effect. But elves, dwarves and goblins were perceived even by the people of the late Middle Ages as fairy tales for children.​

Legends of Eisenwald's combat is turn based, yet at the same time you want to make it fast-paced enough for individual battles not to take too long. How do you strike a balance between complexity and speed of combat? Can you describe the move-and-strike system in more detail?

AD: First of all like in Disciples 2 and Discord Times our units don’t have a feature like “move points”. Close range fighters can attack any enemy if the way to him is not obstructed by another enemy. There is no command like “go and stand there” so for every move you have to attack someone or stay in defense position. Moreover, we aim to balance units’ characteristics to increase the importance of every strike in a battle. For example: you chose to attack one enemy unit and you finish the battle having lost two of yours. You played again, you chose to attack another one and you finish the battle with no losses.

Anyway, we understand that describing our combat system in words is not that convincing. In the next couple of days we plan to present a combat video with detailed commentaries that will show a full picture of battles that await you in Eisenwald.​

How large is the army you control in Legends of Eisenwald? And how numerous and varied are your enemies?

AD: The maximum number of units in a player’s squad (or his computer enemy) is 12 including a hero. 5 of them can be in the first row, 4 in the second and 3 in the third row. It makes sense to place infantry in the first row only since they cannot attack from a distance. The second row is a good place for archers and pikemen with long pikes. Units in the third row receive bonuses for their shooting defence but since they are archers themselves they receive a distance penalty – so it makes sense to put healers or sharpshooters there.

An army of 12 units sound modest but already in Discord Times it was decided not to use stacks since they often decrease the role of tactical decisions in battle (so called stacks of doom syndrome). In any case, it’s just a game convention – in Disciples there are just some individual units but they represent entire armies. And we have the possibility of individually upgrading and equipping each unit.​

The game's list of features mentions battle spells. What kind of magic system does the game have and what types of spells are there?

AD: The magic system was the subject of many discussions between our writer and other members of the team. And yes, there IS magic in Eisenwald. Of course you won’t meet bearded men in hats throwing fireballs. But priests, warlocks, witches and healers practice addressing divine and unholy powers that represent medieval ideas about them: they can bless, curse, heal or create thunderstorm over the battle field. Direct damage spells are not typical in our game.

Our system of magic in battle is quite classic: a casting unit has a set of battle spells and a reserve of mental power (mana) that is used to cast them. If there is not enough mana a casting unit can skip a move to regain a part of it. The higher the level of the unit, the stronger is effect of his witchcraft. And he gets access to new spells when he upgrades to the next level.
Of course this system does not comply very well with non-fantasy setting. But it really enriches game mechanics which is more important here. For example, in the historical Age of Empires, priests can heal from a distance. How can it be explained other than divine disposal? Anyway, there won’t be any teleports, parallel worlds or levitation.​

How non-linear can we expect the campaign to be? Apart from the character class you choose, are there any other ways to impact how the game (and the story) plays out?

AD: Many decisions will influence how a player goes through scenarios. In some cases a player will choose himself which alliance to choose or whom to fight. The quests that he receives will also depend on that. But it all will be within a framework of coherent large campaign. In Legends of Eisenwald we plan to have “hidden” non-linearity where choices in one scenario are reflected in another scenario. For example, you received an item after a battle. You can sell it and get gold or you can use it to finish one of the local quests. But if you decide to keep it, you may find out many new things in the next scenario.​

What are your thoughts on the ongoing crowd-funded renaissance of old-school games, and on Kickstarter as a way of video game publishing? Do you believe it can significantly change the landscape of the industry?

AD: An old-school renaissance hasn't taken place yet, but it has started – a lot of funds was collected for many projects and many, including us, are eagerly waiting for results. We think that many old-school games have a lot of potential and it’s great that there are now opportunities such as Kickstarter that is already changing game industry. Earlier there was no opportunity to go to a crowd-funding site to represent your project and receive financing without giving away some creative control over your project. This is big and we believe that it will change the landscape of the industry even more. Of course, a lot will depend on the capability of teams to finish their projects and fulfill their obligations to backers and in our view, projects like ours that are close to completion have higher chances for a good outcome. But in general, for many developers, it might be easier talking to publishers.

One more thing – games are usually developed by a limited amount of people even in large companies. And gamers could influence a game only at a stage of beta testing. Now many projects go to Kickstarter very early in development and backers can influence a game from the very beginning.​

The Kickstarter video for Legends of Eisenwald features impressive in-game footage, and apparently you already have an alpha version of the game ready. What is your estimated timeline for the game's development, and how is it going to be influenced by the amount of funding you get?

AD: We aim to finish all development by October of this year. We need to finish some technical parts that includes full functioning of the game interface and modern shader effects (including realistic water) and to create missing content: battle arenas, items in inventory, good quality sound effects, visual effects for spells. But the most important thing is programming most of the scenarios and to translate in-game texts.
Any additional funds that we will receive will mostly go to pay the work of outsourcers or contractors. For example, we will order an arena for a boarding battle so in the game there will be a possibility to board ships. We can order more items, add some units and if we are lucky even unique bosses. Also, we will spend the funds on testing.

We will also be able pay a good translator for English and for other languages. Same thing with porting to other platforms – with sufficient funds we can hire someone to do it for us. Otherwise we would have to wait for after the release of our game to do that.

So basically – the more we get the sooner many things can be done.​

Thanks to Alexander Dergay and the folks at Aterdux Entertainment for taking their time to answer our questions.

Also, thanks to Lady Crooked Bee, Sir Grunker, Sir Trash and the noble Codexers in this and this thread.

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