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RPG Codex Interview: Umbra

RPG Codex Interview: Umbra

Codex Interview - posted by Zed on Fri 22 May 2015, 15:22:53

Tags: SolarFall Games; Umbra

Umbra is a hack and slash RPG currently on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1062682568/umbra/


RPG CODEX: SolarFall Games is a new studio. You seem to have a lot of experience with visual technology and CryEngine. What else can you tell us about yourselves? And what led you to creating an action RPG as your first title?

DANIEL DOLUI, SOLARFALL GAMES: Well since we are on RPG Codex, it is important for us to let you guys know that we are also classic pen & paper RPG players. It has helped us a lot designing some of the cool feature of Umbra, like the Apocalyptic Form and the universe of the game. We are also huge video game players. Among our favourite games are Diablo, Morrowind and Dungeon Keeper.

Umbra’s development started as a modding project. At the time, Crysis modders were looking for a way to change the FPS into an RPG game, but didn’t have programming skills to do so. I decided to create an open-source “platform” for people to use and develop their own mod. The project evolved a lot, and quickly oriented to a Hack & Slash system. Then it soon became clear that Umbra should become a game it in its own rights.

We chose to develop an ARPG simply because it is the kind of game that we enjoy the most, and we had several cool ideas that have never implemented before. That’s how Umbra was born!​

Aside from the graphics – what sets Umbra apart from the legions of other action RPGs?

The Apocalyptic Form is the feature I am the most excited about. Apocalyptic Form is a customizable ultimate power every player will get. It allows you to turn into a personalized Avatar of Destruction for some time. It is built from up to three “Apocalyptic Upgrade” options, unlocked by your character according to your play style. Apocalyptic Upgrade can very different, for example, getting horns on your head to rush and knock down every enemies, or getting wings to make huge leap and access unreachable areas, having a third hand to equip with a new weapon and fight, or having an Aura of Death raising undead everywhere you walk. I can’t wait to see the combos that players will find and how they will manage to get the most out of it!

The freedom of development, allowing you to pick any skill from any specialization will also bring a lot of interest to me. I always wanted to be a barbarian with a huge mace walking in the middle of my zombie horde!

Our crafting module is also really cool, and quite a bit different from other games. We hope that people who don’t enjoy crafting will actually like ours, since it is a quite addictive and rewarding skill based mini-game.

Elemental Effect Interaction, managing the effects of Lightning / Fire / Water / Ice is also a very cool addition to the gameplay and will bring tons a great combos to the game.​

How is Umbra structured, story and progression-wise? You say it's an open-world game. Yet, the story must have some sort of linearity to progress. Will it be based on chapters/acts? In classic hack-n-slash fashion – will it have big bad Act bosses?

It is a bit hard to talk about the scenario of Umbra without spoiling, and I usually hate movie trailer telling me everything about a story, so I try to be as conservative as I can by revealing the story. The world of Umbra is created the same way I usually create on pen and paper RPG campaign, in a much simpler version. There is a story to be told, but there is also a universe around it. For Umbra, the universe was created before the story was actually set.

The game takes place in a world falling apart, where starvation and disease have brought a lot of instability in the corrupted Human Republic. An unknown curse provokes limbo in people’s mind, eating their own history and technological knowledge. In addition of that, monstrous mutated creature has appeared in the wild and attacking humans. You are an officer of the Human Republic, and for an unknown reason, your body has started to develop magical mutations. Your hierarchy found out and captured you, and led experiments on your body. You managed to escape, ran away from the city and almost died in a mutant ambush. You were saved by a group of Templars who know of your magical power. They say they know why the world is falling apart, and claim the Limbo and the appearance of Mutant are a sign of an upcoming Apocalypse, and human race needs to prepare for it.

What we plan is to have a storyline for the player to follow, and some “global side quest” for the player to discover secrets and background of Umbra’s story. This “global side quest” is designed based on various books and scrolls for the player to read and to understand in order to discover secret that may lead him to hidden places in the world.

Regarding big act boss – yes, we have planned for them! We actually revealed a concept of one in our Kickstarter updates:
Those who are familiar with the tzimisce from Vampire the Masquerade will maybe find some similarities!​


What's your take on storytelling and writing in action-oriented RPGs? Many people seem to believe that writing matters less in action-oriented games. On the other hand, feedback from recent games seem to suggest otherwise. For instance, many people criticized Diablo 3 for its childlike writing.

Diablo’s story was very childlike indeed. In Umbra, demons won’t come in front of you reveal their plan if that’s the sense of your question.

We want players interested in the game scenario to be rewarded for their interest. We plan to have many books about the background of Umbra in the game, and by mixing the information from these plus some story told by NPC, you may discover not only new element about the story line, but also secret places with rewarding loots. We are going to test some easy tricks to make sure that every players won’t have these secret places in same areas, to make sure that watching YouTube videos won’t be enough to access these places.

As I said before, we first designed a coherent world, and then added our story in it. We hope it is grant us with a really nice storyline.​

Umbra is using a classless system, allowing players to fully customize their characters to their liking. Will the player be able to re-customize their character over time, or is every choice permanent?

We are still experimenting at the moment. The current state of the build is that you can reset anything up to level 10, and then reroll the 3 last levels you gained. I think it fit our game style better, since there is a lot of points to assign each level – stats and passive skills. Also, we are unlocking some skills according to player’s play style, so it sounds more logical to have permanent choice to make for each character.​

Tell us a little about character build variety. Have you had any archetypes in mind when creating active and passive skills?

Tons! I actually have several files to make sure I remember all of them. I usually plan some combos and many other comes immediate to my mind when I start implementing it.

When we design a new effect in the game, we think about all possibilities, like how can this be added to an item power, or should it become an active skill, is there any passive skill that could be fun to combine with, how this effect could become a skill modifier etc!

We are thinking about some cool archetypes to create. One I told you about before, the “Necro-Barbarian” is an exciting one. Another we are thinking about is the “Pyro-curer”, burning the place all around to kill enemies and get health point back from fire. Another, the “Frost Assassin” would be a cool mix of assassin combat skills and frost magic, slowing enemies down and combining frost and physical damage to gain additional shatter damage.
This is a small selection of archetype we had in mind, and they are really fun to play!​

Will all player characters use the same base appearance, or will the player be able to choose things like gender, skin color, haircut, and so on?

With the basic funding of the game, only few personalization option will be available, like haircut, beard, and skin color. As long as the funding evolves, more option will be available. This is something we will reveal once our stretch goal’s been reached!​

How does the player traverse the open world of Umbra? Mounts? Considering the housing options; will there be any sort of Town Portal ability? Waypoints, gateways?

We want to create an open world, so pretty much all parts of the game, except for the special areas, will be connected. Once an area is discovered, you will be able to fast travel to it, using gateway, similar to Diablo’s. Town portal ability will be present. You will be able to access you own house using a portal too.​


A staple of Diablo and its clones is the roguelike-like Hardcore mode, wherein a character is locked or removed permanently upon death. Will Umbra feature a mode such as this, or any other "extra challenge" options?

We are thinking about several approach for hardcore mode, based on our own experience and feedback from other hardcore players. We will definitively feature a Hardcore Mode, but it may have some slight changes from the classical one. We will communicate more about this later.​

Another staple among Diablo-likes are Set items – unique items that can be equipped together for additional bonuses. Is this something we will find in Umbra?

Yes, the unique item system of Umbra is a bit different from other Hack & Slash games. In Umbra, unique weapons are a combination of a unique weapon skin and a unique “Soul Gem”. Soul Gem is actually a socketable item handling all the special power of a weapon. You can actually take the Soul Gem out of any unique item and apply it on any weapon which can be socketed with it.

That way, if you think a unique item effect is very important for you but the other parameters of the weapon does not fit your requirement, you will be able to simply extract this effect and apply it to another piece of equipment.
Unique effects of Items in Umbra (coming from soul gems) will vary a lot. It could be a whole new spell, available only with a Soul Gem, a Skill Modifier that will improve the power of an Active skill, or any other possible and cool effect you can imagine!​

What's your approach to itemization in general? Will players be able to become ridiculously overpowered from simply equipping a unique sword, or are you more conservative when designing item powers? Are you using an item power nominator like 'item levels' or any such a thing?

Unique items will surely be powerful, but the idea is to provide players with new viable options all the time.

Overpowered items don’t really fit that vision, because it will push players to focus on these items only. We want people to play with our Active Skills, Passive Skills, Physical Attribute (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Power), and Apocalyptic Form and combine them with loot effects to find their combo. An item can be overpowered in the right Character Build, but there will not be an Ultimate Item to look for.​

Crafting seems to play a pretty big part in the game. Is this a more optional feature, or something that players must engage in if they want the very best items?

Crafting will not be mandatory to get great items. We know some players just want to crush skulls and never do any crafting, so we want them to be able to avoid it if they prefer. Normal looting will provide you great items, but crafting them may be a fun way to get them and really personalize them.

Crafting is actually divided in two parts. The one you have seen in the video is the “assembly” part, allowing you to switch different part of an item to create your own. The other part is called “Forge” and will allow you to change the effectiveness of your weapons. It is a very cool mini game putting you in the role of a smith, where you need to strike your weapon in the right time to give bonus to your weapon. It is a rewarding but punishing module, because you can also break your weapon that way.​


What are your thoughts on level scaling, seen in games such as Diablo 3, or in a lesser extent Skyrim? Is it something Umbra will use, and if so, to what extent?

The less powerful enemies will always be reinforced to fit your character’s power, to make sure the game remains interesting wherever you go. However, the stronger enemies won’t be scaled down. That’s our current approach.​

Regarding mercenaries and animal companions, will they both count toward the same follower limit, or are they separate? Will the mercenaries be able to equip items?

Per default, you can have one animal companion –dog, or wolves for some Kickstarter backers!-and one mercenary, who can equip armor, helmet and weapons.

Your pet function will be to harass some enemies, sell items in town and sometime dig for treasure.

You will be able to have several mercenaries or pets if you invest points in the right passive skills!​

What do you think makes for a good hack-n-slash RPG? Looking at somewhat recent and popular action RPGs like Diablo III: Reaper of Souls and Path of Exile – what would you take from these, and more importantly (because this is the Codex), what would you criticize them for?

I would say loot, quality of action and character building personalization.

Diablo 3’s quality of action is amazing. What I would took from them is their spells effects and ergonomics with the UI. It is perfect at this level. What I would criticize is the inability to play a toolbox character, you need some archetypes to be viable. I remember looting some cool items at high level but was not able to use them because they were not viable, even with great stats.

In Path of Exile, everything is great. We took inspiration from their potion system – the smartest I have ever seen in a game – and changed it a bit with some variation and extension. The last patch was crazy with the gem addition to the skill tree. It is a game that takes some time to get in to but it's really worth it, I would definitely advise you to test it if you haven’t already. Plus we met their team at GDC 2015 and they are great people. The criticism I would have is simply the lack of “over-the-top-Michael Bay-effects”.​

Where do you see SolarFall Games heading as a studio in the future, after Umbra? Would you like to continue down the road of hack-n-slash RPGs? Would you have an interest in creating more traditional (not hack-n-slash) RPGs?

We are thinking about a turn-based RPG game. I am really excited about all the idea we have for it, but I cannot say more at the moment. It is just an idea in our heads!​

Thanks to SolarFall Games and Daniel Dolui for taking the time to answer our questions!

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