A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to try out a pre-Alpha build of Fort Triumph. We loved its use of environmental tactics and gorgeously crisp visuals so we had to jump at the chance to grill the devs about all things tactical RPG, indie development, and the new genre steps they’re taking.
Why did you decide on the turn based tactical RPG genre for your game? What aspects of the genre appealed to you in your early stages of development, and how do you think this genre lends itself to the story-driven game you are creating?
Originally when we started developing Fort Triumph it was all about the tactics. It was late in 2012, Xcom’s remake was out and our two founders were floored by the game – it single-handedly redefined the genre with fresh mechanics and UI, an excellent strategic layer and great graphics. While we loved the formula presented in major games in the genre, something was missing, and we think one of the two key elements that need to change is how environments play in TRPGs.
Even in the best games out so far, the environment is at best an obstacle to blow up or cover to hide behind, and we couldn’t help but feel that’s not good enough. So we set out to develop a TRPG that will preserve the best elements of the genre to date, and still refresh the formula with a new core mechanic (while dressed in vibrant fantasy colors rather than bleak urban landscape that seems to be everywhere nowdays). In Fort Triumph every object randomly generated within a level is not only cover, but also a weapon to be used and a tool to leverage, and hero skills and abilities interact with the environment as much as with enemies.
The second key element most genre games are missing is story. Honestly, the tactical turn based genre does not usually lend itself to great storytelling, even in some of the best games to date. The tactical gameplay is about cracking a complex scenario and using all available tools, and so many games in the genre tell the bulk of their stories in between tactical missions or through a strategic layer, which will often feel diluted and context-less. Moreover, in our game specifically heroes can die permanently, and so while each will have her personality and background, the main story told cannot be of any single player controlled hero, but of the world itself and the people trying to understand it.
While we are likely to end up telling some of the game’s extensive story through our strategic layer, we’re also working to implement story elements into our encounters, sidequests and missions – and seeing as we’re aiming to contextually generate much of each played campaign in the final game, it’s a major challenge for both our writers and our programmers.
In my playthrough I really enjoyed the vibrancy and intricacy of your character design – it’s something you don’t come across often in TRPGs. The permanent death of these characters does force you to focus on the wider picture of their adventure. Did you encounter any issues with this permanent death mechanic in terms of how far a player can progress through the story you are telling in each playthrough?
During our pre-alpha, hero death has obviously been an issue, and we’ve added health potion drops as well as tweaked down our difficulty to ensure people see our entire demonstration. In the actual game, there’ll be mechanics to recruit new heroes and replenish the party, the final form of which is still being debated internally and has a lot to do with how complex we’ll make the strategic layer in general.
If you wouldn’t mind speaking some more about the environment strategy that you’ve put in place with the game, i’m sure that’s something players will be really excited to embrace. How much of your environment can be interacted with? How have you combatted the problem of breaking immersion when a player discovers an object that cannot be used in battle when everything else they’ve tried can?
Currently in the pre-alpha, most obstacles across the terrain including trees, crates, pillars and some walls can be pushed, pulled, toppled, burnt or just destroyed, but that’s barely scratching the surface of what we’d like to do down the road. Ultimately, we’d like the entire tactical layer to be active, and allow any ability to be used on virtually any object, structure, friend or foe. That means no immersion should be lost if we manage to fully develop our vision as you could attempt most any combination you’ll see an opportunity to use.
We’re also working on bolstering the barely implemented elemental aspect- we’d like the entire tactical layer to respond to fire, ice and other elemental shifts caused by circumstance or ability usage, and have those ‘elemental states’ interact with physics. An object being pushed on frozen ground or an icy river will move farther, and a wall that’s been burnt will be more easily destroyed.
As we add more features and more ability variety, the physics engine should help players intuitively understand the capabilities of each ability while still maintaining some balance. The paladin is massive and can shield slam heavy objects very powerfully into foes, and while the mage or the ranger cannot compete in sheer strength, the first can pull objects towards her from afar with her grappling hook (and smash enemies standing between her and the object) and the other can leverage powerful spells to push, burn or freeze obstacles at longer ranges (with more spells and abilities to be learned along the game).
Wow, that will definitely bring an exciting layer of gameplay all in itself. I mentioned in my article that I felt the tradeoff between attack and defence that you often see in tactical turn based games has been eliminated through the two available moves. Was that an intended effect? It certainly adds another dimension of gameplay as moves can be thoroughly planned even further, how have you balanced this extra ability with the enemy AI in the game?
We’re definitely aiming for the grand vision, but indie development landscape being what it is we can only hope to be allowed to get there.
Many modern turn based games offer players flexibility in planning rather than single actions, whether through a pool of action points and different costs per ability, a number of given actions that can be used for whatever fits the tactical situation or by mixing real time and turn based mechanics. In that sense, we chose to follow in the footsteps of the systems we liked best as genre lovers, and go for a number of semi-independent actions.
We’ve been toying with various aspects of balance – the number and type of foes, their spread in levels, their stats and their preferred AI actions to give some examples, and while we’re still not remotely done, already it does not feel like multiple player actions are harmful in any way – enemies have the same basic freedom of action as the players (even if less abilities than heroes have) and therefore in that sense the battlefield is balanced internally.
I agree, I felt that having more tactical options at my disposal opened up a new tactical layer that I loved and rarely come across in games that force an attack / defence tradeoff. My final question is how are you moving forward from the player feedback you’ve received through multiple outlets with your pre-alpha build? And what are you planning on using your crowd funding for?
We always need more feedback, it is the most valuable commodity for us at this stage of development, and much of our programmer time is dedicated to following up on bugs, suggestions and rough edges that stand out to our pre-alpha players. While we know what our end-goal is and what our complete vision includes, the path is very much dictated by our audience – that is also why we are planning to invite every backer during our crowdfunding campaign to participate in the demo and influence our development.
Any funding and support we receive is going to be used to allow as many of us as possible to dedicate their full time and attention to the project as well as expanding the team as development intensifies. While programming-wise we’re ahead of our schedule and are happy with how the core mechanics are shaping up, we need the resources to broaden the scope of the game with more gameplay elements that our full vision includes – such as the world map gameplay which is not remotely ready.
Making our game beautiful is probably the most time-consuming aspect of development- currently many assets in the pre-alpha are placeholders, waiting for our artists to recreate from scratch to match our visual style and atmosphere, since we want a solid variety of great looking heroes, enemies, environments and gear, we’ll need more resources to make it happen.