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RPG Codex Interview: Blackguards 2

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RPG Codex Interview: Blackguards 2

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 7 July 2014, 18:08:43

Tags: Blackguards 2; Daedalic Entertainment; Kai Fiebig

As you may recall, we quite enjoyed Daedalic's tactical RPG Blackguards. Its unique combat design and difficulty have already earned it a prominent place among this year's released or to-be-released oldschool RPGs (which also include Might and Magic X, Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity). Next year is promising to be interesting too, and not only thanks to Torment: Tides of Numenera's release, but also because Daedalic has recently announced a sequel to Blackguards, Blackguards 2, to come out in 2015 as well.

For this interview, we reached out to Kai Fiebig, producer on Blackguards and Blackguards 2. We thank Kai for his time.


So, since Blackguards 2 is a thing, we’re going to assume that Blackguards sold fairly well. Could you talk about just how well it did for you - if not in absolute terms, then at least relative to your pre-release expectations as well as the game's budget and development time?

Kai Fiebig: Small profit kinda well… From the beginning we were aware of the fact that most people would say “’Daedalic’ the adventure-guys, doing an S-RPG, nice joke!” Right now, it’s selling pretty well and we are all in all happy with the results. In terms of budget, to put it simply, we reached break even and everyone is earning money. Development time was a little more than 2,5 years, so a little longer than we are working on our adventures.​

It was a bold move to jump from adventure games into RPGs, with a tactical turn-based RPG to boot - admittedly a niche subgenre. Our reviewers did enjoy and praise Blackguards a lot (which isn't something that happens often with our reviewers!), but there was also some not-so-positive feedback from the mainstream press, a lot of it related, predictably, to the game's difficulty. From the developer's side of things, how do you feel about the reception that Blackguards got? What were the lessons you learned from it (aside from "damn those game journalist noobs")?

It was indeed a rather bold jump - but a slightly scary one as well and rather a jump into icy water than into a well tempered pool.

In general, the reception actually was really good. Sure, there were a few mixed reviews as well. But we learn from those just as much as from the positive ones. We received feedback from Mainstream, Casual, Hardcore and Gamer Magazines, which means we got everyone's awareness with our first try in the genre.

What we’ve noticed, for example, is that, as Blackguards is based on The Dark Eye pen and paper system, character development turned out to be unnecessarily complicated in some parts. Unfortunately this didn't become apparent until after Beta, probably due to the fact our Beta volunteers were mostly experienced RPG players. To improve this in Blackguards 2, we are not going to sacrifice the complexity of the combat system, but we will clean up the whole character sheet and leveling, so the players know exactly which XP investment results in which improvement for combat.

Another problem was: a lot of reviewers seemed to expect more typical open world RPG elements like exploration and trading for example. The focus on tactical combat was an early design decision, and I still think it's a good one. I'd sure like to work on a game like Skyrim sometime in the future, but Blackguards, as it is, works differently. The story supports the combat scenarios, not the other way around.

Blackguards 2 will focus even more on tactics and this time even more on strategy.

One lesson we learned is that freedom has its price. To give players a whole bunch of options is a nice idea and they will get some more of them in Blackguards 2. But to present this within the game in a way everyone will notice is a whole different story. So we will keep an eye on this as well.​

Could you talk a bit about the inspirations behind the first game, and how they have changed (if they have) for the sequel? One of our reviewers compared Blackguards to "a European version of Final Fantasy Tactics" - to what extent was that one of your inspirations, and to what extent do you intend to keep your inspirations the same for Blackguards 2?

My personal inspiration for Blackguards was mainly good old pen & paper combat, with the ambition to put as much of the diversity of tactical options and creative use of the environment pen & paper combat can offer into a video game.

Ideally, every single battle fought should tell a small story in itself, with the player „writing“ the part of his heroes. The game presents only the challenges and a huge variety of abilities, spells and environmental interactions the player can choose from, combine and improvise with, to overcome those challenges.

This ideal remains an ideal, as video games cannot accomplish the same level of interactivity as pen & paper games. But getting as close as possible is a great motor for making these kind of games.​

Blackguards was on Steam Early Access for some time, and one of the changes made due to the player feedback was adding the option to customize your character's abilities and skills (instead of simply choosing a ready-made class). Judging from the press release, Blackguards 2 will have us play as a fixed female protagonist, Cassia. Why did you decide to go for a fixed character? How customizable is Cassia going to be?

A fixed character allows for more depth in character development and storytelling on our part. In Blackguards 1, people rooted for one of the 'Sidekicks' instead of their own hero. Cassia's skills and abilities will be fully customizable, however.​

The press release talks about "faction-based" gameplay and the need to conquer lands and defend them. It sounds like a big change from the first game. Could you elaborate on how that is going to work, exactly? Is Blackguards 2 going to be more open-ended, or do you prefer to continue focusing on tactical turn-based battles at the expense of non-linearity?

Yes, in Blackguards 2 the goal is to conquer a small province in the south of Aventuria. We are not operating on a military scale with huge armies, though; more like clans or war bands. The main goal is to capture the capital of the province. How many and what kind of fortifications, cities or other strategic points the player conquers before attacking the capital is all up to them. Every conquered point on the map gives the player certain bonuses, so it's a good idea to choose a route that grants bonuses matching the personal play-style and preferred tactics. Once the walls of the capital have been breached, there are multiple endings with different outcomes for each of the heroes, depending on player's choices.​

Are you going to have more places that the player can infiltrate non-violently, like the Goblin Tower or using Aurelia to enter a certain gate without a fight in the original game?

No. Blackguards 2 sucks as an educational game. Just as in the first part, battles and therefore violence are the key. You won’t be able to solve the battle maps without using violence of one sort or another.

The conquer missions are going to have a lot of special-operations-like elements however, like sabotaging key positions and assassinating key personnel.​

[​IMG] [​IMG]
Kai Fiebig (on the left) and a piece of Blackguards 2 concept art (possibly Cassia, the protagonist).

The press release also mentions some "revisions and simplifications" to the RPG system. Understandably, many of our readers (who were quite happy with the first game) are worried that you might remove complexity instead of adding or iterating on it. Could you go into some detail on the "simplification" part?

Like already mentioned above - we have absolutely zero intentions to lower the level of complexity. We love complex turn based combat. We are just going to simplify the character sheet so players know which knobs to turn to improve in which discipline of combat.

In fact, we even increase the complexity a bit by introducing Stamina, which basically works like Astral Points, only for warriors and their special abilities. There will be attacks and spells that drain Stamina, and of course Special Abilities that increase the Stamina regeneration.​

In general, what are the new features that you're introducing into the sequel? The press release mentions cover mechanics - how is that going to work compared to the line-of-sight calculations of the first game? Can you now tell your character to duck behind the cover or stand up? Any changes to how the town screens, world map exploration or dungeons work?

'Take Cover' is a new ability every hero can perform. Shots are more difficult if the Line Of Sight to a character in cover stance is partially obstructed. There will also be a new help function that is visualizing the LOS and partial or full obstructions when a certain key is pressed.

There will also be a ranged counterpart to the melee 'Attack of Opportunity' ability. A bit like 'Overwatch' from Games Workshop's Space Hulk.​

Some have complained about itemization in the original game, saying the equipment wasn't diverse enough, especially for casters. All of them had the same leather armor without any special properties, and the armor that was there wasn't very good, protection-wise. Any chance you might be going for something more similar to, say, the Drakensang games, with items like mage's robes or fancy wizard hats that give you things like astral regen or +1 IN?

To keep it short, the answer here is: Yes :)

Are there any significant balance changes you plan on implementing based on the feedback from the first game? Any spell balance changes, perhaps?

Absolutely. Our community management did a great job of collecting and analyzing feedback from our players. There will be a lot of balancing changes based on that and on our own experience with the game.​

During the beta, you received some criticism from our users because the game lacked proper documentation and textual feedback on what was happening "under the hood". Eventually, you included Felipepepe's fan-made guide as part of the game, but are you going to improve on that aspect in the sequel? Would you consider adding something like Temple of Elemental Evil's combat feedback, or a contextual "Player's Handbook" like the one in Knights of the Chalice?

We hope with the changes to the character sheets and leveling systems we won't need as much explanation text as in the first part. Also the first three levels of the game will be tutorial levels but in a different way than in BG1.

In regards to Felipepepe's guide, it was a great help and we must thank him for his permission to use it. We might be a bunch of dedicated game designers but we lost track of the documentation. Also, to be honest, when we reached Early Access, we thought that all necessary explanations were already in the game. We were wrong though – as we learned during EA. So in some way Felipepepe saved our day and we owe him.​

Some people on our forums felt that the encounter design and linearity got somewhat worse in Blackguards' final chapters compared to the 3rd chapter. Would it be correct to assume that you just ran out of time at the end of the game's development? How differently are you going to approach the game's progression this time around?

We did not design the battles in chronological order. So the linearity towards the end was a regular design decision and not because we ran out of time. Not our best decision though, as we have learned now.

In Blackguards 2 the territory game makes for a whole different nature of story development and party progression - and mission design.​

Let's talk about party members. In the original game, it could be frustrating to be stuck with a fixed party composition. Although you could customize them to some extent, you would still spend most of the time with two melee warriors and two mages but no bow-wielding hunter (unless you were playing one yourself). We know that three of the characters from Blackguards are returning (two melee warriors and a mage), but will new ones be arriving as well? Can we expect a larger roster of companions, so players can customize their teams better - or do you believe limited customization is part of the challenge?

On top of the heroes in the player's party we have a pool of 6 different mercenary classes that are unlocked and leveled up by conquering points on the worldmap. Depending on the scenario, the player can choose a number of mercenaries to support the heroes in battle, or in some scenarios fight with only one hero who leads a group of 4-5 mercenaries.​

Are you going to introduce an over-the-top recurring "nemesis" like Bailiff Lasca again? That guy was great. Was he inspired by similar characters from the Final Fantasy series (Ultros maybe)?

Lasca was inspired by our creative lead Florian's mother, unfortunately we didn't accomplish to make him exactly as badass as her. And yes, we hope you're going to like our new 'nemesis' candidates as much as Lasca.​

The first game had a few moments with interesting options in dialogue, where you could choose which of your companions would speak up, etc. Allegedly, your Charisma score sometimes came into play as well. Do you plan on expanding on that in the second game? Will your party setup influence the available dialogue options or the dialogue's outcome?

Yes and yes, but dialogue options based on character stats are being dropped. One new dialogue feature will be interrogations with captives. Depending on the success of the interrogation the player can unlock alternative entry zones on the battlemaps, bonuses or gain additional information for upcoming battles.​

Although Blackguards was about scoundrels and anti-heroes, the storyline was quite heroic and featured some pretty altruistic moments. What are your own thoughts on the original game's balance between the heroic and the non-heroic stuff? How dark of a journey can we expect this time?

Blackguards 2 will be darker. And the player will be presented with some really fucked up moral choices.​

Is Blackguards 2's development time shorter than the first game's? If so, how are you managing that and what effect will it have? Will the sequel be comparable in length to the first game?

For Blackguards we had to establish pipelines for 3d graphics, RPG combat mechanics, character equipment system, level editor and so on. All of these are now up and working and we can focus solely on new content.

Also during development of BG1, we already noticed we can improve a lot of things, but for BG1 it was too late to integrate the new techniques and working processes.

The game itself will not be a short one for sure, but not as long as BG1.​

To conclude the interview, one of the high points of the first game was how creative and unique some of the battles and battle scenes were, sometimes to the point of resembling puzzles in their design. Can we expect more crazy ideas like that in the sequel?

Hell yeah! The same core team of level designers is working on Blackguards 2, and we became more experienced and more insane. In Blackguards 2, simple 'kill all enemies' battle scenarios will be the exception.​

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