interview

Creating Wildermyth

 

Wildermyth is a tactical fantasy RPG with a strong emphasis on character development and procedurally-generated storytelling. To find out more, we spoke with Wildermyth’s lead developer Nate Austin...

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Pixel Primers: The storytelling engine of Wildermyth seems like it's pretty full of possibilities. What are some of the more surprising things that players can expect to happen to their characters?

 

Nate Austin: We really want to capture the epic careers that make fantasy heroes so fun, all the way from humble beginnings to iconic heroes. A big part of that is consequences and transformations. Just one example, if one of your heroes goes to zero during a fight, they might lose their arm as a consequence. They'll heal up and get it replaced with a prosthetic, a hook, so they can keep fighting. Later on you might encounter a mysterious machine that will offer to give you a monstrous replacement limb, and it's up to you whether to take it.

Game developers have been wrestling for decades with the idea of procedural storytelling, but using it to generate stories that players care about is really challenging. How do you make it work in Wildermyth?

 

It's really challenging! Our approach is to focus on characters, and making sure they always feel like themselves. We track personalities and relationships between heroes, and we use that stuff as much as possible to make sure that the characters come across as themselves in each event. It's a lot of work for our writers and we feel like we're really just starting to understand how to do it well.

 

Beyond that, I think it's just to focus on storytelling fundamentals, and to be really careful with player agency and trust. Storytelling in a game is different because a player has certain expectations of control and agency, and you have to respect those as a writer/designer in order to maintain player trust, which is necessary for immersion. If you jerk the player around they'll stop taking things seriously. That doesn't mean bad things can't happen but you have to be really careful about it.

 

Finally, one thing Wildermyth does that's unusual is to let you see a character's whole arc, from when they first set out for adventure to when they retire, and for me personally some of our most poignant content is around aging and retirement. It's such a different feeling to see your squad of greying older heroes in their shiny gear fighting through that last fight.

It seems as though the way the storytelling is designed in the game really lends itself to customisation. How open is the game for players to create their own content?

 

It's as open as we can make it. We have a mod system and the tools are accessible right from the game. We have tutorials on our wiki and blog for how to use the tools to make events, monsters, and whole campaigns. We really believe in being as open as possible to mods. And I think the game is uniquely good for writers because of our comic system. The Comic editor is pretty sophisticated these days and, once you get into it, lets you create scenes really quickly. It's something I'm personally very proud of.

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The game obviously draws a lot of influences from tabletop RPGs. Were there particular aspects of the tabletop RPG experience you were wanting to capture?

 

The core team played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, obviously, but some other games too. There's a board game called Descent: Journey in the Dark that was a big influence. We also played a lot of XCOM, which is not a board game but has a similar feel. Even going back to  board games like Hero Quest, or Betrayal at House on the Hill, there's some DNA there I think. There's an excellent tabletop RPG called Spirit of the Century that had a big influence on how we think about character building.

 

We are definitely trying to capture some of that tabletop magic. When you're at a table with your friends there's this excitement that really anything could happen, but there's also a certain amount of trust that this group of player characters is at least going to be given a chance to succeed. It's their story. We wanted to capture the feel of a party-based RPG where each encounter is very open ended, punctuated by combat which can have it's own impacts on the story. If someone dies in a fight, they're dead, and you have to deal with that and move forward. If you make a choice in the story, that can affect the next fight. We like that back and forth between narrative and combat-centric story generation.

Could you tell us more about the design of the game’s combat system? I found your approach to magic really interesting in particular

 

Our combat is designed to be as intuitive as we could make it. We originally built a time-unit system, but it created too much friction. We wanted fights to be relatively short, without the "crawling around the map" feel from XCOM. Because fantasy combat is much more about melee, cover isn't as important. But we had these generated maps and we wanted them to feel meaningfully different every time, so we knew we had to make positioning to be as important as possible. Our three main combat mechanics are all about positioning. Walling encourages you to clump together. Flanking encourages you to split up. Interfusion forces you to rely on the random scenery to disrupt or damage the enemy.

 

Interfusion definitely stands out as something we do differently. To use most magical effects, a mystic must first "interfuse" with an object on the map. The object might be a fire, a lamp, a chair, a rock, or something else. Then new options open up. Depending on the object, they can manipulate it in different ways. Fire can be pulled around to burn enemies, wooden objects can explode, shredding armor, etc.

 

For a few reasons, we didn't want magic users to just sling fireballs. For one thing, it erodes what's special about ranged units like hunters, and they become just a source of ranged damage or control. So instead of a more typical "mage" class, the mystic relies almost entirely on interfusion. Because the effects are different depending on what object you're interfused with, it means playing a mystic is always a puzzle, and a generated map that might otherwise feel pretty samey will play very differently as long as the scenery is laid out differently. It also makes the setting more unique, which we like.

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There’s already a lot in the game, but Wildermyth seems like a game where you could just keep adding more and more content. How will you know when the game is complete?  

 

[used car salesman slaps roof of car meme]

Yeah. We think the game can hold a LOT of content, and will really only get better the more content we have. We do have a roadmap for 1.0, which includes a campaign for each of the main playable races, and some technical features that we think are necessary. But past that we plan to continue working on the game for as long as it makes sense to. We don't have any active plans for DLC but that's also a possibility in the future. 

 

I'd love to see the game grow into a kind of storytelling platform where dungeon masters and other storytellers are using it as a way to connect with players and fans. That might be a bit far off still, but it's the dream.

 

Wildermyth is available to play on Steam Early Access