An upcoming computer RPG by the name of Skald: Against the Black Priory recently caught our eye. As fans of the Ultima series, we were immediately drawn to the look of the game, and its creator Scape-IT was nice enough to chat with us about developing the game, his influences, and the Kickstarter campaign he launched to help fund development.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us about Skald!
A: Hi there and thanks for having me on!
Q: What exactly is Skald: Against the Black Priory about?
A: Skald: Against the Black Priory is an old-school, retro-style RPG set in a dark and gritty fantasy universe with undertones of Lovecraftian horror. I’ve been working on it for a few years on and off, but with the Kickstarter currently going super-well, I think it’s safe to say I just took it up a notch.
Q: What games were you influenced by? Obviously Skald is a bit of a love letter to the old Ultima and Goldbox games, but are there are any specific games that are personal favorites, that influenced the decision to create Skald?
A: In terms of both look and gameplay, SKALD is highly inspired by computer roleplaying games of the late 80s and early 90s. There’s (obviously) a lot of Ultima and Goldbox in there. The Wasteland influence is perhaps less obvious.
I was always fascinated with the open-ended nature and sense of freedom in Wasteland and other Interplay titles such as the Fallout games, and I really wanted to capture that feeling in SKALD.
Q: Does the world of Skald change dynamically depending on your actions Are you planning on any sort of features that would enhance replayability, such as multiple endings, for instance?
A: This means having a world of dynamic systems that react to your actions and that you can interact with (faction-based reputation, day-night cycles, dynamic weather etc.) and also a branching hand-crafted narrative with multiple endings.
The SKALD engine is built on top of a powerful tree-based dialogue system / “choose-your-own-adventure” system that combines with a home-made scripting language to allow me to design pretty complex encounters. This should allow players to both problem-solve and roleplay in a way that wasn’t really possible in older RPGs.
I’m a huge fan of having quests be solvable in multiple ways - not just through combat.
Q: Specifically regarding the combat system, how does it work? It seems inspired by the combat in Bard's Tale and Wasteland, in particular.
A: Yes, speaking of combat, the combat in SKALD is not unlike combat in Bard’s Tale. Combat is both turn- and menu-based, which means that combat can be blazingly fast (or even auto resolved) whilst still having as much tactical depth as desirable. I love the idea of character abilities, battlefield features and opponent stats combining to create combat that feels fresh and exciting.
Q: Is there any sort of magic system in the game? How does it work?
A: There will of course be magic in the game and though the system is still under design, it will for sure be non-Vancian. This means that players are not limited to casting spells you’ve memorized. Instead, you’ll have a lot more flexibility with spells being either per-encounter, based on spell-points of even skill-based. In a darker setting like SKALD, there is also a need to keep magic a bit dangerous as well.
Q: Although this is a retro-influenced game, what modern touches are you bringing to its design?
A: Making a game like SKALD both recognizably old-school whilst still adding quality of life updates to certain systems is a very fun little challenge. It often means trying to understand what went into the design-decisions in the first place. In general, I would say that a big difference in player behavior today is that people game in smaller increments and you should be careful in not wasting people’s time. It should be possible to play for 20 minutes and still have a fun little experience.
This means reducing book-keeping (by adding auto mapping and a journal system) and by having menus be snappy and well designed (like for managing inventory). The game should also be transparent in its mechanics and mechanical decisions (in character development for instance) should not be left to guesswork. Furthermore, you should be able to save anywhere to encourage jumping in and out of the game as your schedule allows it.
Q: What inspired you to limit yourself to the C64 color palette? Did you find that it simplified the creative process somewhat, by giving yourself a set of self-imposed constraints? Do you stick strictly to this color palette, or did you find "wiggle room" here and there to go outside these restrictions? Did you find the desaturated palette to be particularly suitable for this game?
A: SKALD: Against the Black Priory is built in an engine that allows for modern graphics. In other words, the decision to go with the C64 color palette and low resolution is half esthetical, and half practical:
Since I’m a one man team (albeit with some awesome freelancers), I need a content creation pipeline where I can personally create a lot of assets. For instance, the tiles in the game, which there will be hundreds of, are exponentially more difficult to create at 32x32 pixels and 256 colors vs 16x16 and 16 colors.
On a more artistic level, working within creative constraints and then exploring the design-space within those constraints is extremely rewarding to me! However, it takes discipline to make this work: In my opinion, you need to stay 100% true to those constraints throughout the game.
The style of any game is conducive to the total immersive experience and deviations from the style snaps players out of immersion. Playing a game like SKALD is not just about playing an RPG – it is about playing an RPG that is a kind of hyper-realistic representation of playing an RPG in 1990. A high def image or a few extra colors would snap you right out of that experience.
Q: Much like us, you seem to have an affinity for physical media, as you're planning on providing physical copies of the game to Kickstarter backers,
along with "feelies" (items included with games such as cloth maps) - what sorts of items are you hoping to include with physical copies of the game?
A: On the point of nostalgia trip: SKALD ships in a big box and with physical feelies to Kickstarter-backers above a certain pledge-level. The “Big-Box” edition contains a manual / campaign guide, a printed map, a backer’s certificate and a USB card with a SKALD print (as a stand in for a floppy disk).
For the “Collector's Edition” we also include a t-shirt, a cloth map, custom SKALD RPG dice and an art booklet.
I’m really excited for getting to produce the feelies and the manual / campaign guide in particular! SKALD: Against the Black Priory is based on my old D&D campaign and I would love it if the SKALD universe inspired players to explore the game world in the table-top format as well.
That’s why I’m planning to write the campaign guide as a hint booklet in the form of an old-school table-top RPG supplement. It would really make my day if someone ended up playing SKALD on the table-top. That would make the circle complete in a very cool way.
Skald: Against the Black Priory can be found on Kickstarter here. The campaign ends on July 2nd, 2019.