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Expeditions: Conquistador Interview

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Expeditions: Conquistador Interview

Interview - posted by JarlFrank on Fri 24 August 2012, 12:54:58

Tags: Expeditions: Conquistador; Kickstarter; Logic Artists

Expeditions: Conquistador is a story-driven turn-based tactical RPG "with a touch of strategic resource management and a pinch of choose-your-own-adventure," currently running its Kickstarter campaign with about half of the requested $70,000 already collected and 19 days to go. In this interview, Logic Artists, the developer behind the game, answers some questions about Conquistador's setting and gameplay.


How did you come up with the idea to develop a CRPG set in Central America during the Spanish conquest, and what are the main inspirations behind the game's design and concept?

We wanted to make a game about exploration, not just a game that had exploration, but a game where exploration was the central theme in both mechanical and narrative terms. The Age of Exploration of course immediately came to mind, and it seemed like the most pure and massive task of exploration in (relatively) recent history was the European discovery of the American continents. The Spanish conquest of South and Central America is a very rich period of history in terms of conflict and narrative potential, and somehow it hasn't been very popular in videogames (or really in most types of fiction, not counting pulpy adventure stories about El Dorado).​

Can you talk a bit about Conquistador's character development system? What kind of attributes, skills, and other character progression mechanics do you plan on implementing in the game? Are there going to be non-combat skills, such as persuasion, intimidation or bluffing?

The player character's skillset consists exclusively of non-combat skills. They are: Tactics, Diplomacy, Healing, Hunting, and Leadership. These skills are set at the beginning of the game and aren't levelled up manually, though some events may raise or lower one of your skills permanently. Each of these skills will open up new dialogue options in certain events, and a lot of the time you will be able to use them to change the premises of a battle (for example setting you up in a more advantageous starting position, reducing the number of enemies, or even opening up a whole new part of the battle field). They also influence different parts of the resource management metagame, with Leadership for example mitigating the impact of unpopular decisions on your people's morale or Healing reducing the Medicine cost of treating your injured troops.

Additionally, you can promote your characters to improve their statistics and unlock new abilities for them.​

Are character promotions equivalent to experience levels, and if so, what do you gain experience from (killing enemies, completing quests, finding locations, etc.)?

Your expedition has one shared pool of experience from which you can spend points to promote your followers, which is essentially a level-up for that follower, yes - better stats and a new combat ability. Whenever you promote a follower, those experience points are spent and can of course not be used to promote somebody else as well. Experience points are gained from completing quests and discovering new locations, but you don't gain experience from combat - instead, assuming you win, you typically gain resources that your people loot from the corpses of your defeated enemies.​

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The Kickstarter description for the game claims that every character has a set of combat abilities. How many of them are there going to be, both per character and in total? Are these abilities determined by class or uniquely tailored for each character? Do you unlock them via some kind of skill tree?

At present there are three abilities per character type plus one ability for the Sergeant rank and one ability for the Lieutenant rank (you may only have two Sergeants and one Lieutenant at a time). Since we have 5 Spanish character classes, that adds up to 17 abilities. Some of the Native classes share a few abilities with their Spanish counterparts, but most of them have different abilities, and if you allow a native character to join your expedition, you'll get to use those abilities as well. We really want to add character ability trees so you choose between 2 or 3 abilities when you promote a character, but it's a stretch goal - it depends on how much money we get from the Kickstarter. This is because all our abilities are active abilities, they're never passive, so they're somewhat time-consuming to implement.​

How do the combat abilities work? Are they cooldown-based, or do they cost energy or action points? How do you prevent the player from simply "spamming" the same ability over and over again?

Combat abilities are usually designed so they're only useful in a certain tactical situation. Take the Hunters for example - they start with Quick Shot by default and gain Aimed Shot the first time they're promoted. The former lets you shoot twice, but at halved accuracy, so it's a bit of a gamble but at close range it usually pays off. The latter halves the effect distance has on your accuracy so it becomes far easier to hit at long range, but you can't move at all in the same turn as you use that ability. In many situations (for example if you're pretty close to an enemy and you want to maximise your hit chance or if you need to move) the basic ranged attack is best. Usually the pros and cons of an ability balance themselves out pretty well, but some of them do have 1-3 turns of cooldown though. We're also debating whether to make some of your abilities expend a bit of your resources when you use them.​

What are the differences between the player-created character and the followers? Are there more customization options for the player charcter?

The player character will not participate in battles, so there aren't really a lot of similarities between the player character and the followers. They both have first and last names, a sex, and a portrait, and your own character can function as a Doctor when you need to treat injured people. That's about it. The reason you can't fight is that anybody who participates in a fight can get incapacitated, anybody who is incapacitated can get an injury that carries over to the world map, and anybody who's injured in the world map can die if left untreated. We don't want that to happen to the player character.​

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Speaking of the followers, I assume you can only recruit them on specific conditions and/or under particular circumstances. What are these conditions and circumstances going to be? Are all followers available for recruitment in any playthrough?

We have two categories of followers, so to speak. When you begin the game, you select 10 expedition members from a list of around 30 (which is how many we have right now, but it may increase a little bit). The second type of follower are people you pick up on your travels. These will overwhelmingly be natives, and they'll join you (or not) based on your decisions during certain events or based on your allegiances in relation to the faction system - which means you won't be able to get all of them in one playthrough, no.

They're no more or less fleshed out than the followers you begin with, they all have personality traits, biographies, etc., and they have roughly the same amount of character-development dialogue when you make camp. They do tend to play more important roles in the plot though, so deciding whether to let them join or not, and keeping them alive, will have greater consequences. And you may indeed not wish to let them join if the majority of your Spanish followers have the Racist personality trait...​

Can you explain combat in more detail? How does movement work, and does the terrain have any effect on it? How do barricades work? Does combat primarily consist of attacking and moving, or do you use special actions on each turn?

In combat, there are two things each character can do every turn: they can perform an action, and they can move a certain amount of spaces. The action can be an attack, it can be the use of an ability, or it can be converted into another move. Your movement and your action can be performed in any order, so you can move forward, shoot, and move back if you want (which is in fact a trick the AI uses a lot). Because you get to move all your people before you end your turn, it's fairly straight-forward to set up advanced maneuvres such as flanking or combination-attacks. The terrain has no effect on movement.

In addition to what your followers can do, you also get to bring up to 3 of your inventory items into a battle with you. Just like with character abilities, every one of the items you get are active rather than passive. Two examples of such items are barricades and traps, which you typically get to place before the battle begins. Of course this is only allowed if it makes sense in the context of the event that triggered the battle - if you're attacked in an ambush while travelling, the AI gets to take its turn first, and you will not be able to put down traps or barricades. There will be other items that aren't restricted to the first turn, however.​

Conquistador is first and foremost a tactical RPG, but it also aims to incorporate some strategic resource management mechanics. How deep are these mechanics and what do they influence?

The player's expedition will have four major resources: Rations, Medicine, Equipment, and Valuables. Each resource plays a different role in the gameplay. Rations are used by your people every time you camp - you can deny Rations to a follower if you want (or if you're short), but that will hurt their morale. Medicine is used to treat followers who were injured in a fight or who have been infected by a disease or similar. Equipment can be assigned to each of your followers to increase either their Melee, Ranged, or Armour scores. Valuables are money, they're the most common reward you'll get for a quest and can be traded for the other resources, but they're also the best resource for bribes and similar during events (and are frequently used in combination with the Diplomacy skill).

We want the resource management to be pretty deep without taking it to spreadsheet levels. For example, the cost in Medicine for treating an injured follower depends on the severity of that injury (which decreases every time you treat them until they're back on their feet) as well as the type of injury (treating a Disease costs more medicine than treating a Bone Fracture, but on the other hand the Bone Fracture is more likely to get worse if left untreated). We're also pretty pleased with our trading system, where the exchange rate of any two resources depends on how much of each the merchant has - if you're trying to buy something they have very little of, you pay more. If you're trying to sell something they have very little of, you pay less.

We're also talking about ways to add a crafting system that can be used when you make camp (so you can have your people build traps and barricades), but that's just on the design stage right now so nothing is set in stone there yet.​

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What role will the resource and inventory management play during combat? Will there be healing items, and if yes, how rare will they be? Will you have to manage ammunition?

Medicine and Equipment both affect combat. If your people aren't healthy, they can't fight at all, so if you find yourself in a battle balanced for a group of 6 when only 3 of your people are healthy, tough luck: do your best or retreat and deal with the consequences. As I mentioned before, we may also make the Doctor's Restore and Revive abilities use Medicine, but we'll see if it works once we've implemented that. Equipment of course improves your people's stats - the better weapons and armour they have, the more damage they deal and the less damage they take. Equipment can be hard to come by though, and every time one of your characters takes a critical hit, there's a chance that some of their Equipment will break. There will be healing items, but they'll be exceedingly rare. Currently you do not have to manage your ammunition, but we'll see how that crafting system turns out.​

Besides being a tactical RPG with strategic management, you also aim to have some elements of choose your own adventure. Why did you decide to implement CYOA elements, and what, in your view, do they bring to the table?

Just to eliminate any ambiguity: when we say the game has elements of Choose Your Own Adventure books, what we mean is that a lot of the action is conveyed through text - not just dialogue, but also descriptive text that presents you with a situation and demands a decision. This gives us a huge amount of freedom to throw varied and unique situations at the player without the cost of animation and voice-over and gameplay scripting. We're a small studio making a niche game, and we have to play to our strengths: one of our strengths is that we can produce a large amount of high quality text. The downside is that our game will only appeal to people who can read.​

With several different gameplay elements -- tactical combat, resource management, followers, CYOA with choices and consequences -- how do you balance them and the effort you spend on them? Which of these elements take up the most of the development time, and will take up the most of the player's time?

Conquistador is actually based on a university project, so before we started working on the game, we already had a PC demo which contained a large amount of the incidental narrative as well as all the followers and the basic resource management system. We've split the team pretty much evenly between the combat layer and the world map layer, but so far the combat has received the greatest amount of attention, which shows in our current build. We'll now be focussing more closely on the world map for a while, making sure that it's as polished and has as much content as the combat. Ultimately I don't see the Choose Your Own Adventure elements and the resource management as being two different things, they're very closely intertwined, and the amount of time you as the player will spend on them versus the combat looks like it's going to be about 50/50.​

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Are there any interactions between NPCs, or is every event player character-driven? Can your party members act on their own, or interfere in conversations or events without your consent?

There'll be loads of interaction between NPCs. We have several different types of random events: some happen while you're travelling, some when you hunt, some when you make camp, and some when you're treating injured followers. Many of these events may not require any player input at all - often you can interfere if you want, but you can also just let them run their course and see how the NPCs work things out on their own. Your followers can also interfere in the major events, for example we have one event where any attempt at subtlety will always be thwarted if you have a follower with the Aggressive trait because they simply lose patience and decide to attack. Followers with different traits will often offer their opinion during a conversation and may start bickering among themselves until you make a decision or just order them to shut up. We can do these kinds of things quite easily because we're using personality traits to keep track of all your followers, and because we don't have to worry about recording hours of voice-over or producing animated dialogue cinematics.​

Will the Church play any role in the game and, if yes, how accurately will it be portrayed?

In the first campaign, which takes place on Hispaniola where the Spanish have already settled, the Church will play a role in the narrative. Once you get to the Aztec empire, the Church has no real presence in the narrative because you and your people are the only Europeans there - at least in the beginning. You'll mostly feel the clammy hands of the Church in the form of any members of your expedition with the Pious trait.​

How much influence does the player have on how the story progresses? How linear or non-linear will the story be? Given the CYOA aspect, can you provide some examples of the choices and consequences we can reasonably expect from the game?

The main thing of course is that we have a faction system - the main faction is the Aztec empire, surrounded by (and actively oppressing) all the small scattered tribes outside the city of Tenochtitlan. The main faction plotline gives you the choice of allying with the Aztecs or uniting the tribes against them. You can also just try to take on everybody for the glory of King Carlos, or you can try to ignore them and just hoard as much gold as you can before returning to Spain.

Our aim is to put as much work into the smaller things as we're putting into the big things - as an example, in one event in the Hispaniola campaign, whether or not you attack two groups of enemies that are fighting among themselves will determine whether a native village will get burned down, which means you'll lose them as a trade post and any side quests you might have got there later will be lost as well. Another major focus area for us is making sure that victory or defeat in every battle makes some sort of noticeable difference - you can always keep playing even if you lose a fight, but you may not enjoy the consequences of your defeat. A lot of the time, the lives of important NPCs will be on the line.​

How will the dynamic endings look like? Will every location in the game have its own unique ending, or will there be general endings for the entire gameworld?

Our ending will be a series of animated images, similar in style to the intro cinematic you can see at the start of our gameplay trailer. The "primary" ending depends on how much treasure you bring back to Spain, your allegiances in terms of the faction system, and how many expedition members you bring back alive. This will be followed by individual endings for each of the towns and villages and the main characters whose fate you've influenced throughout your journey.​

To conclude this interview, how far into development is Conquistador already and what are you most proud of about the game?

We're half-way into development - most of the game systems are in place and all of the narrative has been worked out, we just need to put about the same amount of time and effort into making it into a full game. The intro campaign is already playable, it's just a bit short and a bit sparse, so we need to add the "real" campaign (the Aztec empire), add more content to the world layer, and add the remaining character classes and weapons to the combat layer. Currently I'm most proud of the combat system - it feels good, it looks good, it's much more tactical than most RPGs I've played, it really rewards good decisions, and it really punishes poor ones. And the matchlock rifle muzzle fire sound is incredibly satisfying.​

Thank you for your time.

To suppport Expeditions: Conquistador on Kickstarter, click here.

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