Here we are again, with another appointment of our turn based interviews!
This time I’ve decided to get some answers from Worldwalker Games about their new game called Wildermyth,
I’ve tried an alpha version of the title for a few weeks and there’s only a word to describe my experience with it: astonishing!
As we already said on our overview Wildermyth: Stories of the Yondering Lands is a tactical turn-based RPG with a lot of features: Exploration of the world, party management, management of conquered areas, turn-based combat and much more.
Personally I think that what makes it unique are the art and graphic style, the hero building aspect and the procedural story-telling.
I’m really confident that Worldwalker Games will bring us an excellent game. Nate and Annie seem really smart and the proof is that even if I asked them silly questions, their answers were so brilliant!
But now let’s start with our interview.
1st Turn) What can you tell us about the Yondering Lands? What is the Wildermyth universe like?
Nate: “The Yondering Lands are where stories live… each time you visit, the map might have changed, but the stories are what connects everything together…” The Lands are a sort of bubbling stew of stories, where some characters or tales might rise to the top, and others might sink below the surface for a time. There’s no one “history” and very little “established lore” that the player needs to understand. That’s because the important stuff happens during gameplay, you are constantly building your own myths, which we hope will become the fabric of your version of the Lands.
Magic in the world is a bit more subtle and strange than in some other fantasy settings. We steer away from big flashy spells and focus more on mingling souls and spirits together. There’s no magical healing to speak of, but magical transformations are something that many heroes will come across in their adventures. The various spirits and guardians of the land have an important presence in many stories.
The Yondering Lands are intended to be vaguely American, and not European. There are no kings or royalty, or large governments, or armies. There are small towns, they govern themselves peacefully, and the threats you face are mostly monstrous, not human. There are stories everywhere, about great heroes past, and you’ll run into those along the way.
2nd Turn) Wildermyth is a strange mix of a different genres (strategy, rpg and so on). In your opinion is there an aspect that prevails over others?
Nate: For us, the hero building aspect is what we focus on. The fact that you can take a 20-year-old nobody farmer and grow them into a 62-year-old hunter with a mechanical leg and a wolf head, is what our game is all about. The other stuff is there to support that, and of course, combat is a huge pillar, but that core fantasy of building this roster of legends is the heart of the game, to us.
To reinforce it further, the Legacy system (our metagame) keeps your favorite heroes around, even if they died in battle, so you don’t have to be afraid of getting attached to them. If they die, pick them up again next game.
It’s something we kind of discovered over time, but now when we consider a new feature, we’re starting to ask ourselves, does this lead to more iconic heroes?
Annie: The art for those heroes has been a huge fraction of all the art in the game, too. Every time you get a magical necklace or belt or something, it shows up on your character. As your hero ages, their hair color changes and wrinkles slowly start to appear. Heroes have their own “colors” that tint almost everything that they wear on their bodies, which we discovered went a long way towards helping a hero feel visually cohesive and less like a busy jumble of accessories by the end of the playthrough.
In between the combat missions, there’s a lot of interesting and unpredictable story-bits that happen to these characters, and we’ve put a lot of love into that. So we’re hoping that with varying difficulty levels, we can dial things up for people who want a challenging strategy game, and then dial them back down for people who just want to explore and “ride along” on the stories without having to worry about the combat too much.
3rd Turn) The graphics and the art style of the game is unique and charming: what has been your inspirations?
Annie: Cartoon Saloon’s work (“The Secret of Kells” and “Song of the Sea,” especially) have been a big inspiration and are something I’m always secretly striving towards in my head! Old Disney concept art and the background art of Samurai Jack were also touchstones when I was trying to figure out how I wanted environments to look. I love the simplicity of the forms and how they use brushstrokes and textures to create visual interest.
Miyazaki films like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Totoro were also an inspiration for the sense of mystery and types of creatures that we wanted to inhabit the world. Ancient nature spirits and strange mechanical constructs live side by side and maybe friendly, unfriendly, or just have their own inscrutable motives. We wanted to convey the sense that the world has a rich history outside of just the human one, and no individual hero could ever uncover it all.
The heroes themselves settled into my “natural” style over the years (there’s so much art to draw for them, anything else would have burned me out!). We intentionally kept their faces quite simple and cartoony—beady eyes, etc.—so that we could give them lots of expressions and let the player’s imagination fill in the details.
Nate: My contribution was that I wanted to learn 3D graphics… So that’s how we ended up with the 2.5D style. It was a journey getting the camera angle and map construction nailed down!
Annie: Right! I must say that Nate’s work, especially on lighting the scenes, really ties the whole thing together! The shadows glow from fires, and dappled light in forest biomes—all that stuff makes the cut-out heroes and scenery feel like they’re existing in a real space.
4th Turn) The combat system is quite intuitive but – at the same time – extremely deep. Are you already satisfied with the combat system or do you think to add some features in the next builds?
Nate: The core is feeling pretty good, but we have some tweaks coming for sure. On deck right now for the next patch is a rework of how Stunt works, to make it more present and easier to understand and get excited about.
Our upcoming weapon rework will build on the stunt mechanic, and we’re also changing wield to make it more clear and something you can make smart trade-offs about.
But the biggest improvement to combat, we think, will be in the form of reworking the enemy abilities. Right now most of the enemies have plain, single target attacks, and there’s not a lot different about fighting different monster groups. That needs to change. We want different enemies to force the player to play differently, particularly at higher difficulty levels. Once enemy abilities are in, we will take another look at hero abilities too. And of course, adding more maps to change up the situation. We made a lot of design decisions with the intent to make terrain and hero placement matter a lot, and that seems to be working well, so I think adding more maps and objectives will add a lot of variety.
5th Turn) One of the most impressive feature of your game is the “Procedural story-telling”. Can you explain to us how does it really works?
Nate: Yes! It’s really interesting, to me at least! Lemme start with the goal. What we want, is that as you play Wildermyth, you’ll grow attached to your heroes, you’ll notice their various quirks and personalities and relationships, and really get invested in their lives and careers over time. The focus here is on character development, NOT on plot.
Aside: Procedural plot seems incredibly difficult to pull off, by the way. We considered several times if we could make it happen, with random chapter structures, or procedural villains, and we could just never get past the concept phase. The main problem is, for a story to feel cohesive and meaningful, it has to build towards one destination the whole time. It’s easy to throw random obstacles at the player, but it’s HARD to give those a broader meaning. I think this is why games like FTL don’t try to change up the overarching plot. There are rebels. Run away from them. That’s enough!! What happens along the way is the story, because you get invested in the characters (or the ship.)
So, we’re focusing on character development. Each of your heroes has a generated history that impacts their personality and gives them quest hooks. Personalities affect which heroes will naturally fall in love, and which will hate each other. But what we want is for these personalities to come out in the stories, so here’s what we do.
Each event in the game uses a system of “targets”, but you can think about it like casting a play. A play has roles that it needs to fill, so you put out a casting call. One play might require a leader, a hothead, and a goofball. Another play might require a loner and their lover. All of these plays (events) are in our library. When the heroes arrive at a site, we flip through the library to see what plays we can put on. So right off the bat, we’re casting heroes into appropriate roles for each event based on personality, etc., and that’s a strong start.
One of the main advantages of this system is that it can be “writer-driven.” Writers can write whatever they want, and as long as they set the casting parameters, the event will only fire for an appropriate party of heroes. So you can tell that really specific story about two goofball friends, and it will only come up when it should, and that will feel great.
We found though, that if made our casting requirements too tight, then most events wouldn’t ever show up, and if we made them too loose, then you wouldn’t really notice who was the hothead and who was bookish, because they might play different roles in each event. That’s where our second layer comes in.
If it were a play, you might want to leave some room for the actors to improvise (If you happened to cast a famous comedian, let them make up their own jokes, it will feel more honest.) We do this with inline variation. Inside each event, we use a markup system to allow writers to write variations based on personality, relationship status, or really anything in the game. So each time an event plays out, the exact lines can be tailored to fit whoever did happen to get cast.
We find that the combination of smart targeting (casting) and opportunistic variation (improvisation) allows us to tell stories that keep the heroes true to themselves, even though we have no idea, ahead of time, who will be in any event. It’s definitely an ongoing process, and we’re always tuning and tweaking stories to try to get more consistent characters.
There’s also a lot more we can do with the system, that we’re just starting to explore. So far we’ve mostly been focussing on breadth, getting enough stories into the game to cover a whole playthrough, and making sure we’re hitting all the major themes, monsters, biomes, etc.. But we think there’s a lot of fun to be had with depth as well, with stories that follow up on dramatic choices… That’s something we hope to explore more in the future.
6th Turn) The cutscenes are made with a special art style that reminded me a bit the Poppy’s scrapbook of the famous movie “Trolls” (yeah, I know, I have some mental disorder…). Don’t you think that in the “super-ultra computer graphic era” your game could be penalized for this choice?
Annie: One of the biggest things we’ve learned is that when you have a tiny game development team, you play to your strengths! We enjoy working in a visual space that’s made up of paper textures, ink, and paint. Ideally, the player might feel as if they’re paging through a book or peering into one of those shoebox dioramas—we like the feeling of intimacy that creates.
It was actually a bit of a journey to the “papercraft” style, though. I’m strictly a 2D artist, so since Nate and I were the ones starting this project, we knew that all of the art would be 2D from the get-go, even if it was moving around on a 3D board space. But when we tried this out with regular 2D art initially, it looked a little… out of place. Nate was the one who suggested that I play up the paper-cut-out angle in order to really embrace the whole thing. That meant lots of papery textures, “thickness” lines and highlights on the figures in combat, and trying to imagine an interface that was made of paper wherever it made sense to. At the time of this article, I’m hoping to go through our UI soon and redraw things to emphasize the paper nature of it even more!
Nate: The nice thing about being a small studio is that we don’t need a huge mainstream hit, in order for it to be a success for us. But I honestly think we’ve arrived at a style that works really well. The comic-based storytelling is great because it’s really fast to work with, compared to animated cut-scenes or something like that. It’s very expressive and flexible and we can make tons of content with it. So I feel good about our choice.
7th Turn) In your game doesn’t seem to be room for fearless princes or pretty princesses, but just for common rural folks with an innate sense of adventure. Is it a choice to keep the game away from the usual fantasy cliché?
Nate: Yes. We thought a lot about what we wanted in a fantasy backdrop, and in particular, a backdrop that would work well for a game of heroic adventure. We’ve got a game about heroes, where you’re making strategic choices as well as tactical ones. So we wanted to make sure that the story supported that sense of self-reliance. This is why there are no kings or councils to be answerable to… The player is the first and last line of defense.
On the other hand, we could have made the player into a sort of leader figure who manages all that stuff, but we felt like it would detract from identifying with the heroes who do the fighting, and also, we didn’t want peasants coming to you to complain. My brother Douglas (the main writer) has this voice that he does. Imagine. “M’lord… the peasants are starving, m’lord… we need more farrrrrrmmmmmssss, m’lord.” That’s our inside joke about the sort of content that we were dead set on avoiding.
Annie: Or those folksy peasant NPCs who approach you and go, “Ohhh, woe is me, monsters have carried off my dear little Timmy! Pleeeease go and fetch him for me! Also, could you be a peach and collect 18 bear pelts while you’re out there? Thank’ee kindly!” Ugh, those guys.
Nate: So yes. We wanted a strategy layer where the player would be making decisions about which regions to defend, where to attack, etc.. We definitely did not want the player to be answerable to an NPC council or King or other NPC, so we decided to just cut all that stuff entirely.
Is that realistic? Maybe no, but it does lead to a situation where the player controls heroes who rise to take on all the responsibility of a monarch or central government, which we think is a really fun feeling. And it avoids tons of tedious NPC interactions, which we were never interested in writing.
A lot of these decisions ended up really informing the lore that we went with for the world, the role that legendary heroes and monsters play, and the tone we try to hit with our stories.
Annie: This extended to the monster groups as well. From very early on, we had a rule—no orcs, elves, goblins, or dwarves. No skeleton archers either. (We will always have a place in our hearts for the long-suffering skeleton archer, but they don’t live in this game.) Like, if you see a goblin horde approaching, you sort of immediately know what they’re all about, and we didn’t want all of that backstory built into your first glance at an enemy. Instead, we wanted something a little unexpected. Slithering blue tentacle-people who can corrupt local wildlife, or the “clockwork undead,” to name a couple of monsters we’ve used. What’s their deal, anyway? Who knows! Stick around, play, and maybe find out!
8th Turn) There are three main classes in the game at the moment (hunter, warrior, and mystic), but how many classes there will be in the final version?
Annie: Haha, everybody asks us this.
Nate: We’re sticking with the three for launch. Design wise, we want the three classes to feel pretty loose. It’s totally valid to have a mystic with a sword or a hunter with a warhammer. The classes are mostly there to give visual distinction to heroes and act as a loose frame to build a hero on. Between class abilities, themes and gear, we want you to be able to build all sorts of interesting heroes, even if we don’t have a “class” dedicated to it.
So, you can build a Warrior as a barbarian, knight, or paladin. You can build a Hunter as a rogue, archer, or ranger. You can build a Mystic as a wizard, a battle-mage, or shaman. That’s what we’re going for. And on top, the transformations can radically change how you play a character. A flame arm on a hunter is a whole different story!
One thing I’ll call out specifically is healing or a healer class. We get asked about it a lot and we’re not going to do it. The reason is, it really wrecks the story. In a world with magical healing, you shouldn’t need recovery time, maimings and heroic deaths feel bad, and overall the consequences for the heroes just go way down. The main theme of Wildermyth is those consequences. The sacrifices the heroes make and the way their bodies change over time is a huge part of the story we’re telling. So. No magical healing, sorry.
Annie: Additionally, a hero “rig” is the single most expensive thing in the game, art-wise. Each hero class, with a male and female rig, requires over 700 pieces of art—more even, as we continue to add limb transformations and accessories for them. It’s not impossible down the line, but for now, we’d rather funnel art into more transformations and goodies for our current rigs.
9th Turn) The passage of time in the game seems to have great importance. “Heroes” can age during the play, and they can even retire. There will be a heritage system? In other words, will the characters have the possibility to marry and have a child who inherits traits from their parents?
Nate: Right now your heroes can have kids who join your company, but our focus for the metagame is on rebooting heroes, not on lineages. In other words, we’re not telling the story of the great great great granddaughter of Batman, we just reboot Batman into a new story.
Heroes who die or are victorious can go into your Legacy, and from there they can be recruited into future games. When they come in, they’ll be young again, and their gear will be leveled to where you’re at in the new game, and they’ll keep some (but not all) of their abilities. The more times you play with a legacy hero (and promote them), the more of their abilities they keep when you recruit them.
The overall effect is that you’re building a pantheon of heroes that you play with again and again. Some of them might be related to each other, but that’s not the main focus.
10th Turn) There will be dungeons in Wildermyth? And, if so, other than fights, there will be also puzzles to solve?
Nate: We don’t have a lot of that content right now, but, here’s what we’re doing. We’re building a set of tools so that anyone can make their own maps and their own comics. In fact, we want people to be able to craft their own complete adventures. I’m super excited about it. I don’t have a lot of time to build puzzle maps, but, I know those folks are out there and I’m really eager to get them the tools they need.
There’s an upcoming feature called “Villains,” which really just means, overarching plotlines, that you choose when you start a game. The “villain” provides the main story goal, and the rest of the game provides character development and gameplay. We’re building villains to be highly moddable so that writers can make their own villains, hook them up, and share them.
11th Turn) BONUS QUESTION. Before leaving you, just a bonus question. Which is the latest turn-based game you’ve played or still playing?
Annie: We’re almost all the way through Octopath Traveler, which is kind of a love letter to old games like Final Fantasy VI. I didn’t play those growing up and Nate did, but we’ve both enjoyed Octopath.
One of the reasons we really like turn-based games actually is that we tend to play them “together.” I put that in quotes because even though only one of us is actually playing, we’re both sitting on the couch, discussing what our next turn should be. We used to play games of X-COM with Nate’s family where there would be 4 or 5 people in the living room “backseat driving” and making suggestions, and it was incredibly fun.
Nate: And I just started up a game of Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark and I’m looking forward to spending more time with that 🙂 It’s hard to find gaming hours with small kids around, honestly.
Annie: Yeah gosh, we’re so slow. Luckily, games don’t have expiration dates!
Nate and Annie, I thank you for this interview and wish you the best of luck to Wildermyth!