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Codex Interview RPG Codex Interview: The Banner Saga, 2D Turn-Based Strategy RPG

Crooked Bee

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Tags: Alex Thomas; Kickstarter; Stoic Studio; The Banner Saga

UPDATE: The Banner Saga Kickstarter is now live! Check it out and support it here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoic/the-banner-saga

The Banner Saga -- a 2D turn-based tactical strategy/RPG hybrid currently being developed by Stoic Studio, a small team of ex-Bioware employees -- is about to go the crowdfunding way, with a dedicated Kickstarter page scheduled to be up tomorrow. The game got quite a few people excited over here already by its promise of turn-based tactical combat as well as by taking its inspiration from King of Dragon Pass, among other games. We even have a lively thread about it here in the General RPG Discussion subforum.

MimOt.jpg

That's me interviewing Alex Thomas on The Banner Saga

Therefore it should come as no surprise that, before the launch of the Kickstarter campaign tomorrow, we've sent some questions over to Stoic Studio's Alex Thomas and he was kind enough to answer them for us, this interview being the result. Have some snippets:

As a game designer, what do you think of the current state of the video game industry, and strategy/RPG industry in particular? Are there certain trends that are worrisome to you or, on the contrary, that you particularly appreciate?

AT: Well, one of the main reasons we decided to make a game was because one of my favorite genres has been disappearing lately- turn-based strategy in the style of Shining Force or FFTactics. In my opinion, the problem with giant AAA games has always been the inability to innovate, which got left to the startups and the indie games. Indie development, of course, can't afford to push the tech, the visuals and the complexity of big games like Skyrim. The fact that indie is becoming more and more viable while big publishers keep chugging along is fantastic because I think we're going to start seeing a lot more overlap between the two. I can't think of a more ideal situation. That said, it has been a little disappointing seeing such an overpopulation of shooters versus everything else. I like a good shooter as much as the next guy, I'm just looking forward to a little more balance in the genres that I think will slowly come back around.​

In general, what makes a strategy game "deep" in your view, and where should RPG elements come into play?

AT: Alright, now we're getting into some dangerous territory. I can already see getting some strong feedback on this one. Our biggest prerogative in making a game with strategic combat, is that it's truly strategic. In some turn-based strategy it's just stat comparison and grinding, and that becomes outright dull. In fact, it's practically the opposite of strategy. Chess or Go, on the other hand, has no stats and is the pure essence of strategy. I'm not saying we're going to be the next chess. What we are aiming for is a balance of these things. We have a system in place that I don't think has been seen much. It requires finesse in placement, using the board and understanding the strength of weaknesses of all your pieces, but it also has an element of rpg with a few stats and abilities that need to be taken into account, and characters that upgrade over time. I can't wait to start showing it in the near future.​

Elsewhere, you cited King of Dragon Pass, Final Fantasy Tactics and Mount and Blade as influences. In what ways would you want The Banner Saga to be similar to each of those games? Do you have some specific points of similarity in mind?

AT: Absolutely. Our travel mode, as mentioned before, is where events happen. Much like King of Dragon Pass, the people you pick up in your caravan as you travel are not just warriors but peasants and clansmen and just a wide range of society. As you travel they'll react to things in different ways. There may be strife within the caravan that you have to deal with, and making one decisions may bite you in the ass later. For example, a certain family may make a demand that the rest of the caravan is against. If you deny them, a few days later they may run off with supplies overnight. If you acknowledge them it may turn into a string of events that are much more costly. We're thinking of travel mode as a moving village. They're not just commodities, they act like real people and that's what I've always loved so much about KoDP.

Final Fantasy Tactics is the kind of mood we want to capture in combat. It was the first game to really feel like it had game mechanics that went way beyond surface level and I would play it for the sheer joy of experimentation. I imagine there were a lot of people like me who had maxed out the characters and classes before even getting to Dorter. That feeling of building a "deck" of characters with abilities that complement each other tactically, the way you would make a specialized deck in Magic: the Gathering, is something we wanted for combat in the Banner Saga.

As for Mount and Blade, well, I can't we've taken much from the gameplay. It's my absolute favorite game and what I really enjoy about it is the mood and setting more than anything else, the real sense of survival in the world and the way politics actually affect the gameplay. More than anything, this is one of those influences that lead us to making games.​

We are grateful to Alex for taking his time to do the interview! I'll be sure to edit this post once the Kickstarter goes live and keep you all updated.

Meanwhile, be sure to read the interview in full: RPG Codex Interview: The Banner Saga, 2D Turn-Based Strategy RPG

UPDATE: The Kickstarter page is now up: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoic/the-banner-saga. Check it out.
 

Zed

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Damn fine interview.

So their kickstarter opens tomorrow? I wonder how much they'll ask for. The game seems to have a ton of quality design goals but I'm afraid some people see flash as a pretty, uh, "cheap" SDK. I hope people will be able to see past that.
I would gladly pledge some, even though I just raped my wallet for DF Adventure and Wasteland 2.
 

Aeschylus

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Very good interview, thanks for doing it.

I'm sure there will be some raging here because it mentions Bioware and TOR, but from what he's saying this sounds like a promising project. Anything influenced by Shining Force and KoDP is good in my book. I'm not sure if they're brilliant or foolish bringing out another Kickstarter right now though. Well, either way I hope they're successful, and I'll be pledging.
 

MMXI

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It's a great interview and my opinion has improved somewhat. However, there are still some iffy things that I don't particularly like or agree with.

AT: Well, one of the main reasons we decided to make a game was because one of my favorite genres has been disappearing lately- turn-based strategy in the style of Shining Force or FFTactics.
SRPGs are far more alive than proper turn-based western RPGs. But I'll let this one slide.

AT: For the most part, I've always seen rpgs as always being a pretty equal mix of combat and role-playing.
Combat... and role-playing? What does that mean?

AT: For the most part, I've always seen rpgs as always being a pretty equal mix of combat and role-playing. If you look back at games that we have nostalgia for like Baldur's Gate, Fallout, Bard's Tale; any of the classics, they had a pretty even ratio of adventuring to fighting.
Again, combat and role-playing? And The Bard's Tale? That game was literally 95% combat. It probably has one of the worst ratios of combat to non-combat gameplay in the genre.

Final Fantasy Tactics is the kind of mood we want to capture in combat. It was the first game to really feel like it had game mechanics that went way beyond surface level and I would play it for the sheer joy of experimentation.
What does beyond surface level mean? It can't be hidden mechanics, because almost all cRPGs outside of the D&D ones hide their mechanics. So I guess this means something like "depth". In other words, he thinks that Final Fantasy Tactics was the first RPG to have deep combat.

AT: The way characters interact in combat will probably differ slightly between multiplayer and single player. In the single player campaign there is a story you play through, and characters who already exist in the game who have relationships with one another as well as relatively set roles in combat. In the multiplayer you'll create and name your own characters and tailor them to play a specific role within a group, fine-tuning them as you go. Characters will have unique classes and sub-classes, individual stats and both active and passive abilities. As for details on character development, we have a very solid system in place for the combat mechanics, but the specifics of each characters abilities and advancement are still very much being playtested. Once we've gotten the game to a beta state we'll probably start getting some testers, taking all the feedback and really nailing down the character advancement.
Two things. First, what does he mean by "single player" and "multiplayer"? Can you play multiplayer on your own so that you can make a full squad of characters yourself? Perhaps that's what he meant by multiplayer in the first place, or perhaps it'll be like Baldur's Gate where you can play multiplayer on your own if you want to get the benefits of multiple character creation without playing with other people.

Secondly, what does he mean by "characters will have unique classes and sub-classes"? And "each characters abilities and advancement"? Does this mean each character is its own unique class? Like a lot of JRPGs? I really don't like that in my cRPGs.
 

Chewbot

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Hi, I wrote the interview earlier today and was amazed to see it already up with comments. I'd be happy to answer things as they come up.

AT: For the most part, I've always seen rpgs as always being a pretty equal mix of combat and role-playing. If you look back at games that we have nostalgia for like Baldur's Gate, Fallout, Bard's Tale; any of the classics, they had a pretty even ratio of adventuring to fighting.
Again, combat and role-playing? And The Bard's Tale? That game was literally 95% combat. It probably has one of the worst ratios of combat to non-combat gameplay in the genre.

I understand what you're saying here. I admittedly short-handed to "role-playing" to mean exploration, conversation and story. As for Bard's Tale, it always felt to me like the ratio of exploring to combat was equal. Mapping each level on grid paper and finding clues or the various stores and review board were just as prominent to me as the combat. I see what you mean though.

Final Fantasy Tactics is the kind of mood we want to capture in combat. It was the first game to really feel like it had game mechanics that went way beyond surface level and I would play it for the sheer joy of experimentation.

What does beyond surface level mean? It can't be hidden mechanics, because almost all cRPGs outside of the D&D ones hide their mechanics. So I guess this means something like "depth". In other words, he thinks that Final Fantasy Tactics was the first RPG to have deep combat.

I suppose I should have said "it was the first game I had played...". In a game like Shining Force you knew the scope of the gameplay within the first few fights. It was greatly enjoyable but didn't change much aside from certain gimmick levels. In FFT as you unlocked new characters and learned new skills the gameplay would change, and the flow of combat changed as the enemies adopted new strategies, in addition to some variation in the gameplay like the deep dungeon. While I love both games, one stays fairly unchanging at a very surface level and the other has some depth that takes time to uncover. For the record, I understand most western strategy games had a lot of depth from the start but as I said we've often compared our gameplay to two games in particular: Shining Force and FFTactics.

Two things. First, what does he mean by "single player" and "multiplayer"? Can you play multiplayer on your own so that you can make a full squad of characters yourself? Perhaps that's what he meant by multiplayer in the first place, or perhaps it'll be like Baldur's Gate where you can play multiplayer on your own if you want to get the benefits of multiple character creation without playing with other people.

Unfortunately we didn't cover this in the interview. The Banner Saga will be released (on PC and Mac) first as a free multiplayer game while we continue to develop the single player campaign. You can't play the single player campaign cooperatively or trade characters back and forth with the multiplayer mode. The multiplayer version will let you fight other players and build up unique teams. There will also be a narrative mode which lets you play by yourself and build up your characters solo before taking them into a competitive game. We decided to release the combat as a free standalone because we think it'll be fun and we'd love to get some early feedback on the combat system. Plus, why not?

Secondly, what does he mean by "characters will have unique classes and sub-classes"? And "each characters abilities and advancement"? Does this mean each character is its own unique class? Like a lot of JRPGs? I really don't like that in my cRPGs.

In the single player campaign each character has a name and their own abilities, and are not defined by a class. In the multiplayer game you make your own character who has a class defined by what they do, and you give them whatever name you want. This system made the most sense to us.

Thanks for the response!
 
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All this fluff talk about "feelings" is making me sick with a sour taste, tbh and it's got my alarm bells ringing. Whenever somebody is talking about "feelings" instead of straight game mechanics, you know you're in for a world of hurt:

"We wanted to capture the core feeling of Fallout in Fallout 3" -Todd Howard, Bethesda.

"We explored a lot of options to pin down what made the original X-Coms such great games. I believe we have captured that feeling well." -Ken Levine or some other POS at Irrational, talking about X-Com FPS.

"The original was a great game that were very popular back in the day so we asked ourselves what would be the best way to achieve that same feeling in today's systems" -Some EA puppet, on FPS Syndicate remake.

(disclaimer: none of the above are exact quotes but you see... I tried to capture the core feeling of what they said at various points)

Compare this to the guy's statements on art direction. To the point with concrete results to show for (and I love the graphics). Day and night.

This will most likely turn out to be a very derpy boring game, like Bioware Jr. They are starting a Kickstarter just tomorrow and they can't even tell what the game will be like with a straight face, beyond descriptions as vague as they are excited? What the fuck exactly am I supposed to support this for? Dropping the magic name of TURN-BASED doesn't do much for me, I'm afraid. If all we'll get is a derpy TB game with Bioware dialogues, they are dime a dozen west of the Pacific and they probably come with tasteful (or tasteless?) rape too.

I also don't appreciate at all this SEKKRITT talk. There's absolutely no harm in talking about the scope of mechanical depth and complexity you are aiming for. It can only do good.

Sorry, mang. I don't get any appeal unless they start coming with straight answers.

And blank stares upon mention of JA2? Oh boy... Assuming the blank stares are coming from his fellow team mates, that is enough for me not give a crap about this. And I'm curious to see who will, at all. Best of luck, though. If the story is ok enough, I may enjoy it for the animation alone.
 

deuxhero

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Hybrid like Deus Ex?

Huh?

Pretty sure JC's dialog was given in full. I assume it means JC continuing along the same "line" of dialog you chose and not stomping straight away and asking for you the next time he needs to open his mouth?

That really only worked because JC had some degree of being his own character beyond being just the PC's avatar, though the mention that all characters in single player are unique means that the PC will likely do that as well.
 

felipepepe

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Very nice interview, went from a "meh" title to something I'm really looking for. But yeah, developers must start to time their kickstarters, or projects will start to fail not due lack of interest, but because fans already raped their wallets on other kickstarters...
 

Aeschylus

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Hybrid like Deus Ex?

Huh?

Pretty sure JC's dialog was given in full. I assume it means JC continuing along the same "line" of dialog you chose and not stomping straight away and asking for you the next time he needs to open his mouth?

That really only worked because JC had some degree of being his own character beyond being just the PC's avatar, though the mention that all characters in single player are unique means that the PC will likely do that as well.
I think he was referring to Human Revolution.
 

Metro

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Very nice interview, went from a "meh" title to something I'm really looking for. But yeah, developers must start to time their kickstarters, or projects will start to fail not due lack of interest, but because fans already raped their wallets on other kickstarters...

It's pretty much why I'm not going 'all-in' on any one kickstarter -- I had a feeling there would be a huge ripple effect. I'd rather disperse my money through the various titles (and secure copies of all the games, of course).
 

Zed

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Very nice interview, went from a "meh" title to something I'm really looking for. But yeah, developers must start to time their kickstarters, or projects will start to fail not due lack of interest, but because fans already raped their wallets on other kickstarters...

It's pretty much why I'm not going 'all-in' on any one kickstarter -- I had a feeling there would be a huge ripple effect. I'd rather disperse my money through the various titles (and secure copies of all the games, of course).
100 for double fine for pioneering, 100 for wasteland 2 for being wasteland... will probably go for the 10-15 options for all the rest (this, and an eventual obsidian one and whatever).
 

felipepepe

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Very nice interview, went from a "meh" title to something I'm really looking for. But yeah, developers must start to time their kickstarters, or projects will start to fail not due lack of interest, but because fans already raped their wallets on other kickstarters...

It's pretty much why I'm not going 'all-in' on any one kickstarter -- I had a feeling there would be a huge ripple effect. I'd rather disperse my money through the various titles (and secure copies of all the games, of course).
100 for double fine for pioneering, 100 for wasteland 2 for being wasteland... will probably go for the 10-15 options for all the rest (this, and an eventual obsidian one and whatever).
Same here, I doubt that any other game will ever see more than $50 from me again...unless is something like a sequel to Arcanum, Planescape, Alpha Centauri...
 

Murk

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Whelp. I'm definitely on board with this one. I hope they can recreate the replayability of FFT -- that alone is worth 20-40 bucks.
 

deuxhero

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Hybrid like Deus Ex?

Huh?

Pretty sure JC's dialog was given in full. I assume it means JC continuing along the same "line" of dialog you chose and not stomping straight away and asking for you the next time he needs to open his mouth?

That really only worked because JC had some degree of being his own character beyond being just the PC's avatar, though the mention that all characters in single player are unique means that the PC will likely do that as well.
I think he was referring to Human Revolution.

But that's not Deus Ex at all!
 
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After draining my wallet for Wasteland 2, I could probably manage 15 bucks for this one, sure.

I just hope Obsidian waits a while before they start theirs (maybe they could hang out for a bit and share ideas/spread the word before they launch) because between this and being in the process of moving to another state I'm really running dry, and I really want to give Obsidian a generous donation as well.

I had a hunch (and a hope) around 2010 or so that this decade would be the decade where gaming gets back to being awesome, and it appears that hunch has already Kickstarted (punszszlol).

Great interview, btw, seems like it'll be fun.
 

Stabwound

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I rolled my eyes at the mention of them launching a Kickstarter tomorrow. They seemed to be doing fine with the game until Double Fine and Wasteland 2, no? The trailer even says it's launching this Summer. Oh, but now they can get people to give them money for absolutely no reason.

It won't be long before we see something like a Mass Effect or Call of Duty kickstarter.
 

Lord Rocket

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I looked on the Stoic website to find out who this A Thomas guy was:

Alex dropped out of college to work at Wolfpack Studios at 19. Since then he's done concept art, game environments, characters, cinematics and game design for Ubisoft and BioWare, and written a couple screenplays for Dreamworks and Cartoon Network. The Banner Saga is his first commercially released original design.

So, artfag. Which probably explains why he didn't say much about the mechanics.

Actually, looking at the site, there don't seem to be any members of the studio with much of a bg in game mechanics design (well, J Watson might but I get the impression he's more of a coder), which is probably a bad sign. And the battlefields better not be fucking flat like they are in the sshots we've seen so far.

Anyway whatever, early days, I like vikings, and it's bloody pretty. So I guess I'll shoot them $(minimum amount to get a digital download).
 

Chewbot

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I looked on the Stoic website to find out who this A Thomas guy was:

Alex dropped out of college to work at Wolfpack Studios at 19. Since then he's done concept art, game environments, characters, cinematics and game design for Ubisoft and BioWare, and written a couple screenplays for Dreamworks and Cartoon Network. The Banner Saga is his first commercially released original design.

So, artfag.

Hahaha, wooooow guys. Classy.

Anyway, thanks for all the support! To answer a few of comments that have come up; we have been planning to release a Kickstarter since mid-January. We've been in production for two months and putting together a trailer and a kickstarter video has taken a unxepected amount of time. In the meantime we were as surprised as anyone to see Kickstarter explode the way it has. We have been pooling our own money to fund the project, but if Kickstarter gets us some pre-orders and some press we'd be kind of dumb to avoid it. We know between Double Fine and inXile people have already spent a lot of cash (we kicked in for both of them, too), but it makes more sense to go for it now then wait until there's a dozen high-profile projects out there. Personally I can't wait to see what else shows up.

-Alex
 

jewboy

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Cel shading? Check.
Chess board to fight on? Check.
Final Fantasy? Check.
Dialogue wheel? Check.

JRPG meets Archon. Brilliant. So their audience is console kiddies who like turn based combat? Hmm. Good ruck with that. And who are these guys? Arnie Jorgensen, Alex Thomas, and John Watson. Never heard of them and they're not in the game credits for BG 1/2 or NWN. So they all worked on KOTOR? They'd better supply some more information than just listing what game companies they worked for if they want to get funded by kickstarter. And they couldn't even wait until the Wasteland 2 kickstarter was over in a month? The inclusion of the dialogue wheel makes me think they were part of the new Biowhore that we all know and love. There are a lot of things I like about the Japanese. They have great films and food and women and lots of other fine qualities, but they have really bad taste in video games.
 

Zed

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Hahaha, wooooow guys. Classy.
It's the codex. Most things are "fag"-related, somehow. :lol:

Very excited to see how your kickstarter will look. Pitch/tiers/game info, etc. Good luck!
 

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