Impressions: The Banner Saga’s F2P Multiplayer

By Nathan Grayson on September 28th, 2012 at 7:16 pm.

I recently ventured to the definitely-not-cold, completely-un-northern reaches of sunny Austin, Texas, where Stoic welcomed me into its Kickstarter-funded Viking castle with open arms. OK, it was more of a paper-walled one-room office, but still. More importantly, the four-man squad of former BioWarians spent hours showing and telling me every last detail about their upcoming hand-drawn turn-based epic, The Banner Saga. So, in an attempt to make this digestible, I’ve broken it up into parts. First up, The Banner Saga: Factions, a free-to-play multiplayer spin-off set to launch in November. Inside, you’ll find my hands-on impressions. Next week, we’ll be posting interviews that cover everything else: how Stoic plans to handle microtransactions, the developer’s philosophy toward class balance, how matchmaking will work, gobs of details on the single-player campaign, and tons more. For now, though, here’s what it’s like to actually play the game. 

“Let’s let him win,” art director Arnie Jorgensen said with a smirk. In that moment, his comment sort of riled me up. I mean, for one, I wanted the real Banner Saga: Factions experience – not a dumbed-down, edge-rounding journo-friendly edition. And also, I love these sorts of games. I spent more than 200 hours with Final Fantasy Tactics as a young aspiring world-conqueror. In other words, my skills as a turn-based tactician are not to be trifled with. But then the battle began, and I saw multiple health stats, positioning bonuses, class-specific passive abilities, countless stats, and and and…

Well, I guess I was sort of glad they let me win that first match.

On first approach, The Banner Saga felt just like any other turn-based strategy RPG. I positioned my four units on the snow-engulfed battlefield, arranged them in a traditional “melee business in the front, squishy party in the back” formation, and indicated that I was good to go. But then I made my first moves, and things got hairy. Flowing Viking giant beard locks hairy. I decided to advance my archer so as to make my opponent, technical director John Watson, think twice about charging into range with his two colossal melee brutes. Even early on, though, I had quite a few offensive options, so I decided to study up on them. And then, suddenly, my turn flat-out ended, and my archer was left totally exposed.

It was the timer. That goddamn timer. I didn’t even notice the Devil’s Own Timepiece until my 45 seconds had already whizzed by, and my archer was in serious trouble. At this point, many of the aforementioned attacks, abilities, and stats once again caught my eye. With an elbow. Watson’s archer opened fire on mine, opting to bypass armor and leave a bolt quivering in my archer’s strength stat. So here’s the thing about that: Banner Saga actually treats strength and armor as intertwined health stats. Armor, of course, dictates how much damage a character will take, but strength itself is a little more complex. In short, though, losing all of it is fatal, and losing some takes big chunks out of how much damage a character can deal.

So it’s a balancing act, and as long as an enemy’s armor amount is higher than your strength, the most damage you can deal is one. Generally speaking, it’s best to attack armor directly first, then go for the kill. But not always. See, that feeds into Banner Saga’s other completely brilliant tweak to the rusted mechanical innards of this genre: willpower. Basically, every character has a small pool of it (think six or seven points, maximum) and it can be poured into special attacks, moving a couple extra spaces, or giving normal attacks a little extra oomph. Or a lot of extra oomph, actually. Once it runs dry, it’s gone for the duration of the match, but it’s also crucial to victory. In my experience, it’s not a great idea to be stingy with the stuff.

So back to my archer, who at this point was probably cursing whatever bumbling sky deity (hint: me!) led her to this grim fate. Watson proceeded to pump three willpower (the max for any of the classes I saw) into a single attack and take aim for strength. Since willpower bypasses armor, it totaled out to four damage. Four. And since my archer didn’t start out with much strength to begin with, she was effectively crippled for the rest of the match. Watson, meanwhile, was pretty pleased with himself, as a full-strength archer’s “puncture” passive ability – which boosts damage in direct proportion to how much armor their opponent’s lost – becomes a total nightmare late game.

Upping the stakes further, Banner Saga doesn’t actually have healing spells or items. My archer, then, was pretty much doomed to limply toss foil-tipped toothpicks at her heavily armored foes for the rest of the match. It might sound a bit annoying – and at the time, it was – but Banner Saga’s timer and the inability to reverse damage colluded to lend an incredible sense of permanence to each turn. Put simply, every decision absolutely counts, and the clock’s counting down rapidly while you’re making it. One wrong move, and you might have just thrown away your Queen on some pitiful Pawn. It’s a total thrill – which is something I’m not sure I’ve ever said about turn-based strategy RPGs.

That chess comparison, though, is actually more apt than you might think. Stoic playtests new unit ideas on a real-life chess board, and the Sport of Kings’ influence shows in another pillar of Banner Saga’s design: positioning and formation. “We’re trying to encourage something more like chess than Final Fantasy Tactics,” explained creative director Alex Thomas. “Positioning is really important.”

He then proceeded to help me (“I DON’T NEED HELP GOSH… but thanks”) manipulate Watson’s archer into a doom scenario of her own. So I advanced my Provoker – a heavy-hitting horned giant of a thing – to a position next to her and used his signature ability: taunt. As a result, she’d automatically attack my Provoker next turn. Problem is, archers can’t attack adjacent squares. They are, after all, a ranged class. So that’s one completely useless, totally immobilized archer, coming right up. And after that, well, let’s just say the Provoker’s giant pointy stick wasn’t just for show.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg fortress lair, too. Most passive abilities are based entirely around positioning, so going all willy-nilly lone wolf probably isn’t in your best interest. For instance, at one point I maneuvered my semi-squishy axeman right into Watson’s mountain-like first line of defense, but had him flanked by two units with the “shield wall” passive. This boosted his defense to hilarious heights, resulting in a terrifying axe murderer demon of both offense and defense.

Positioning is equally key in the use of active abilities – not to mention wonderfully satisfying when done correctly. At one point, I managed to trap Watson’s axeman against two of his own allies. The only direction he could move was forward. Then I fired off my archer’s special ability – an arrow that’d only come down when someone stepped on a certain tile. Essentially, it’s a landmine, and I don’t actually think you’re allowed to use it without cackling deviously and smiling in a Grinch-like fashion afterward. However, your opponent can only see that you fired it – not where – so it’s a trap. Watson, then, was forced to decide whether he wanted to risk moving forward or waste a turn re-positioning his units to let his axeman go around the tile in question. I would describe my celebratory performance of “Another One Bites The Dust” afterward as tasteful yet rich with meaning.

Meanwhile, the Stoic folks regaled me with tales of even more advanced tactics – for example, using the Warleader class’ (sadly not in the demo I played) ally-moving prowess to essentially give slow, heavy units double the number of turns, quickly boosting them into your opponent’s squishy party zone. So yes, if it wasn’t already clear, the potential for nuanced tactics and class synergy between the 16 or so options Factions is set to launch with is enormous. And I was actually playing a slightly simplified demo, so regular matches are six-on-six, not four-on-four.

“Our goal with every class was to have a few different ways that you can synergize with the rest of your team,” explained Thomas. “Unlike, we feel, a lot of turn-based strategy games, nobody exists in a void of ‘this guy does this one thing and then you whittle down the other guy.’ Every class’s abilities are intentionally designed to work with each other. Going back to that Magic: The Gathering idea, you’re building a party like you’re building a deck.”

That said, I did have a few quibbles – mainly stemming from a clearly work-in-progress interface. Ordering anyone to do anything took multiple clicks and further “are you sure?” confirmation clicks – but when time is ticking down, every second counts. At one point, I actually lost a unit because my final click was one milisecond too late. That was exceedingly frustrating. On top of that, selecting special skills felt similarly clunky, forcing me to click on the space around a character instead of the character itself, then choose a skill, then pick a target and finally, mercifully hit something – when, in fact, simply targeting someone and picking whether I wanted to use a normal or special attack would’ve made a lot more sense. But Stoic showed me images of the new interface ideas it’s currently tweaking, and they seem much, much, much, much better.

I must admit to initially being worried that Banner Saga – with its silky smooth Disney-style visuals making raucously passionate love to my eyeballs – was just a pretty face. Playing it, though, pretty much obliterated that fear. If Stoic can maintain this standard of quality, it could have something really special on its hands – a mixture of ocean-like tactical depth and frantic mid-match pacing that feels impressively different. I’ve got high hopes, anyway, and November’s right around the corner. Winter is coming. But, you know, hopefully in a good way.

Check back next week for a massive two-part interview about all things Banner Saga: single-player, multiplayer, balancing concerns, microtransactions, DLC, interaction between SP and MP, etc. 

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76 Comments »

  1. N says:

    The proportions of that concept art are off-putting to say the least lol; “ape vikings”.

    I like the in-game screen, looks nice and clean.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Yea, that’s really weird looking, especially with all the added detail they’ve put into it.

      I really like the “properly proportioned” cartoon style of the in-game style. No chibi bubbleheads here, no kawaii uguu, no power is maximum bulges, no smeared pixel mess.

    • Hanban says:

      I think the beardy folk with horns are not actually human, which explains the long arms. From what I’ve seen of them in-game they have long arms there too.

      • N says:

        Oh I had no clue they have fantasy stuff, I thought it’s semi-realistic (i.e. animated stylish look but no whimsical critters). I thought the dude had some head ornament on or smth.

        • AlexStoic says:

          Yup, Hanben is right! If you look at the shots in the article you can see that the guy in red is a human and he has normal proportions. The giants are called Varl, they’re our take on the Jotun. If you look real close at the combat screenshots you can see the Varl take four tiles while the humans take one- this plays a major role in the combat strategy.

    • The Random One says:

      Ape and pillage?

      (Oh God I’m so sorry)

    • atticus says:

      As a proper Norwegian born and in-bred, I put forward these demands for this upcoming viking-themed game to enhance realism: +50% more gruesome deaths. +100% cruel raping of enemies and/or slaves. -100% horned helmets.

      Really, vikings with horned helmets are like dinosaurs without feathers these days. Tell someone on your team to google it – it’s right there.

      • Caiman says:

        Except not all dinosaurs had feathers, so does that mean that not all vikings need to be modernised?

      • Mattressi says:

        atticus, I had the same reaction at first, but after looking more into it, I’m pretty sure that none of them have horned helmets – but some of them actually have horns (like, growing out of their head). It’s semi-fantasy in many ways and I don’t particularly mind some people having horns. I’m just glad they aren’t the typical, horribly incorrect Vikings with horned (or winged) helmets.

      • AlexStoic says:

        Yes, we’re no fans of horned or winged helmets ourselves. The big guys with long arms, heavy brows and horns are called Varl, they’re the race of giants in The Banner Saga. You can see our humans (like the guy in red) are just humans. The world overall has a bit of low-fantasy and we liked this approach to the classic Jotun.

        I will say though that at this time I don’t believe we have a single unbearded male in the game if that helps any.

        • atticus says:

          Thanks for replying and sorry for that comment. I really seem like a total jerk, and I didn’t mean to make such a big deal out of the appearance of helmets…

          I broke my “do not post in forum when drunk”-rule, unfortunately.

          Anyways: This is sober-me saying good luck with the project, and I’m looking forward to playing the single-player campaign when it comes out!

      • ninnisinni says:

        @atticus: As a swede, I approve of this post.

        • atticus says:

          It would’ve been cool to see the viking-era tackled more seriously for once. There’s tons of potential for great stories there, but it mostly ends up being treated like some kind of joke. Like in animated movies like the Dragon Trainer (which was good btw) or Hollywood-productions like Thor (which was shit).

          That’s what Funcom should’ve done in my opinion, being a Norwegian company and all. Dropped the MMO and made a proper viking-game instead.

      • doggod101 says:

        You know what’s funny vikings didn’t actually use horned helmets, yeah I know disappointing.

  2. Strangerator says:

    Sounds like a game that could really draw you in with tactical depth and analysis. My test of a good strategy game is that it has enough inherent complexity that it can’t be boiled down to “yoos this bild 2 win.” The best ones have you thinking when you’re not playing the game, this looks very promising.

  3. Hoaxfish says:

    Frankly the only thing that worried me about the project before I backed the Kickstarter was that they came from SWTOR Bioware.

    So far, they’ve impressed me with everything I’ve seen of their progress. The way they expanded and communicated their stretch goals, to the various ideas apparent in the multiplayer.

  4. pakoito says:

    Game looks awesome, I wonder how bad will it be hurt by microtransactions.

    • gschmidl says:

      Saying “microtransactions” then leaving for the weekend? RPS just KILLED THIS GAME DEAD!!1

    • AshenTemper says:

      There was a post by Alex about a week ago on microtransactions that can be found here:

      http://stoicstudio.com/forum/showthread.php?216-Preview-The-Banner-Saga-Factions-Destructoid&p=4032&viewfull=1#post4032

      And I’ll repost it here:

      - – - – - – - -

      Hey guys! Thanks for the feedback on this! A quick explanation about the revenue model, since the message can sometimes get muddied in interviews:

      Every time you play a match you earn “Renown”, which is our currency for everything. You can use it to upgrade characters, buy new units, buy items, so on and so forth. You can do everything in the game just by playing. You can also purchase renown if you want to skip a few fights.

      It was really important to us that you don’t feel like you need to spend money to play the game. We don’t have an “energy” system that locks you out after a certain amount of time, or an impenetrable grind that requires you to buy huge stacks of Renown. We also never sell an advantage in combat.

      Bottom line is – if you want to spend money, great! We’ll use it to pay salaries. If you don’t want to, there’s no pressure and nothing lost to you.

      As we keep working on the single player campaign we’ll be updating Factions with new content like characters and maybe even single-player skirmishes as enemy AI comes online.

      Hope that helps!

      - – - – - – - -

      After reading pakoito’s response to this, I’m adding this edit:

      In the original article that Alex was responding to, they pointed out that you could obtain Renown through playing the game (such as by defeating enemy troops) and not just Microtransactions. I should have pointed that out here, too. Stoic will not lock players out of content through the pay model.

      - Sean

      • pakoito says:

        >You can use it to upgrade characters, buy new units, buy items, so on and so forth.

        >We also never sell an advantage in combat.

        Contradictory. Do I understand that you cannot buy advantages like extra damage but army building does is a grind/pay system? Me no likey. Somebody phone the guys and tell them about Living Card Game systems like the ones FFG uses in AGoT and WH.

        • AshenTemper says:

          My fault. In the original article that Alex was responding to, they pointed out that you could obtain Renown through playing the game (such as by defeating enemy troops) and not just Microtransactions. I should have pointed that out here, too. Stoic will not lock players out of content through the pay model.

  5. LintMan says:

    Please – tell me that you can turn off the move timer for the single player game? I’m going to be really bummed if you can’t.

    As for the F2P multiplayer – I don’t recall anything in the kickstarter saying that the multiplayer would be F2P. What I see: “The Banner Saga provides a deep multiplayer game; build a unique party of characters and battle friends and enemies in multiplayer combat. Upgrade your party over time and devise new strategies.” Nothing there about paying cash. Really, IMHO there’s a big difference between regular multiplayer and F2P – especially when you’re already paying for the supposed “free” game. WTF? If a kickstarter’s going to make some or all of their game F2P, I want to know that in advance.

    Edit: re-reading the article, it says “multiplayer spin-off”. Does that mean that this is an entirely different entity than the multiplayer included in The Banner Saga itself (which would remain non-F2P)? Or does it mean that they just split the multiplayer out into its own product line so F2P multi is the only multi we’re getting?

    Even if it is the former, how will that work – they’ll have two different versions of MP, one F2P and one not. As they add crap to buy to the F2P version, does the non-F2P one languish?

    • Strangerator says:

      My guess is they will use the F2P multiplayer version to play-test and balance their combat system. It’s an interesting concept… but that’s my thinking on it.

      This makes me think the actual game will never have multiplayer incorporated, the banner saga is more about the, er, saga.

      Another scenario: they allow you to piecemeal unlock content if all you want is the multiplayer, but if you buy the single player games you get all of the “microtransacted” content just for owning the game itself? This might be a brilliant way of drawing people into the story who enjoy the multiplayer aspect, as well as giving people who primarily play single player all of the “extras” so that they can play multiplayer with every advantage. This assumes of course the microtransactions will convey some sort of advantage, a dubious assumption considering the trend away from such practices.

    • LintMan says:

      OK, from the discussion forum in their latest KS update:
      - There is only one multiplayer, and it is the standalone F2P version discussed above.
      - According to the devs: Playing the MP game will earn “Renown” points which are used to buy upgrades, new characters, items, etc. You can give them cash to buy renown instead of grinding it.

      So, not the worst of F2P mechanics, but still shitty. “Pay us to avoid the grinding we designed into the game to induce you to pay to avoid it”. The F2P mentality infects game design and perverts it from “we want the game to be compelling and fun” to “we want the game to compel you to keep spending money.” It also likely means that MP is tied to an account on a server somewhere, and mods and LAN play might be blocked. The fact that this was never mentioned during the KS campaign is absolutely lame and unacceptable.

      • JFS says:

        That’s true. They could at least have told their backers in an update… I know, I know, they have a special forum, but I honestly don’t have time to visit all those backer-only forums, especially when Kickstarter has a nice uncomplicated update function to keep everyone informed – at least about important design decisions like making the multiplayer F2P. I don’t like it.

        • pakoito says:

          I wanted the game for multiplayer, but got myself to be strong and not back it. Now I’m glad I didn’t.

          Still, I’m willing to put money into F2P MP if it’s not fucked up. It’s what I do for Summoner Wars, which at its core is the same game and monetization model.

      • Premium User Badge

        jrodman says:

        I feel glad that I didn’t give them money because I couldn’t really figure out enough about how the game was going to work.

        • Reapy says:

          This has been my ks problem from the start, it’s too early to see if the project is what you want, all risk, no reward. I don’t mind f2p, but they are designing an army builder with emphasis on synergy, eg emphasis on you needing multiple units and configurations to try out, hence grind or cash. Still I don’t think they are trying to evil, just, glad I didn’t ks them, but will prob check the game out.

          • Premium User Badge

            Hypocee says:

            Alternatively some risk, some reward. The risk that the project might fail entirely or take a design turn you don’t want, the reward that something you want might exist instead of not exist at all.

  6. The Innocent says:

    My interest level in this game just cranked from Null to Anticipating.

    I hope I can name my own crew. A six-man warband consisting of Ninefingers, The Dogman, Thunderhead, Black Dow, Harding Grim, and Threetrees sounds like just my thing.

    • Premium User Badge

      JB says:

      Say one thing for Logen Ninefingers, say he’ll be the leader of more than one person’s warband =)

    • lizzardborn says:

      Now they only need to add permanent glokta levels to the crippled. This just got me the shivers.

      • Danny says:

        The heroes in this game will probably dish out some revenge best served cold.

      • ninnisinni says:

        The warriors in this game are sharper than the blade itself…

    • Unaco says:

      And no Forley? He was a weak man, aye. The weakest, that’s a fact. Weak fighter, no doubt, but strong heart, say I.

      (I’m currently re-reading in anticipation for “A Red Country” in 3 weeks time).

  7. Baines says:

    I wonder if they could ease that “one milisecond too late” situation with some form of overtime to finish your last move? Basically, if you are already in the process of a command when time runs out, then you get an extra few seconds only to finish that move. If you cancel out, then you’re automatically done. With a short enough overtime, you also couldn’t just easily abuse it for a bonus move. Something where you couldn’t just see that you have a half-second left, so you click on someone knowing you’ve got a grace period to plan at your leisure.

  8. MikoSquiz says:

    I was pretty interested, but microtransactions and .. time-limited turns?!

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      Yeps. The timer ensures I’m going to skip this one entirely.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        As a multiplayer element it’s probably the simplest way to avoid people trolling by simple leaving themselves logged in on their own turn but doing something elsewhere, leaving their opponent to either rage-quit or sit around for an infinite amount of time until the person decides to come back.

        As a general design element, it keeps some of the tension of real-time, without actually degenerating into a twitchy spam fight.

        • InternetBatman says:

          It is a simple way to do it, but I feel that there could be better methods, like a timer to move each unit, or a countdown if there was no mouse movement whatsoever. Or a “they left and I’m waiting” button that you can use every two minutes with a two minute timer, where if they don’t click it they forfeit.

          • Caiman says:

            Or having the option to turn the time-limit off, because otherwise you’re just playing a slow real time game with a limited ability to consider your tactical options. It would probably kill my interest in the game.

        • Premium User Badge

          jrodman says:

          A timer is completely unnecessary when playing multiplayer amongst friends (the most common scenario in most games). It’s also not needed when playing games vs well behaved strangers.

          It’s only when you get into ideas of ranking and competition where leaving games with people who bore you becomes a problem, and then timers may start to make sense.

          Since this is needed for a small minority of gamer interactions, it is reasonable to implement for “ranked matches” possibly, but certainly not all games.

          • Premium User Badge

            Lorewin says:

            Hah! I say.

            I’m playing a couple of multiplayer games of Warlock at the moment – with friends. As the host, I set the turn time limit to 10 minutes; without it I would have abandoned the games long ago. An enforced time limit is more important with friends where you:

            a) don’t want to antagonize them by continually nagging them to speed up; and
            b) anticipate playing with them more than once.

            I have no such compunctions with strangers, but still want a time limit to actually get to play a game. That said, ideally this should be an adjustable feature – problem neatly solved.

      • Arnie-Stoic says:

        Hah! Why don’t people like timers on multiplayer games? Speed chess is awesome! It forces people to really concentrate and also leaves room for human error which we’ve found adds a fun element of chaos to the games. The better players make moves more quickly and deliberately so there’s that added level of skill a timer brings to the table.
        Now, we DO NOT have timers in the Friend-v-Friend matches. Take your time against friends and chat and talk about tactics or whatever, but in multiplayer who wants someone eating dinner while you await your next move?
        Also of Note: There is no timer in the single player game.

        • FlowState says:

          I’m glad you brought this up. As soon as I saw the timer referenced in the article, I thought “Blitz chess!”

          However, you open yourself up to some criticism there. If you are as chess-focused as it appears you are (positional advantage, presence of a clock, etc) then there should be options:

          No clock (essentially a correspondence game)
          Lengthy clock
          Blitz clock.

          That would be phenomenal, as I’ve long waited for a TBS to ‘replace’ chess for me in that way.

          • Arnie-Stoic says:

            @FlowState: All good points about different options for the ‘clock’. We’re still thinking about all these ideas and nothing is final. All this feedback is from our ‘Alpha’ build, so you can see nothing is set in stone. The only negative I see with different clock options is that it subdivides our searches for a game. If we have ‘x’ numbers of players playing then divide that number by setting search options for matches how long will it take to find a match? Not long at all? Too long and you’ll get bored? These are things we’re going to be looking at and modifying during Beta. Currently the timer allows for 45 seconds per turn and we’re going to try 1 minute next. So you can see it’s not exactly blitz speed, it’s supposed to be just enough to keep the game moving. Thanks for the feedback, this is the kind of stuff we love discussing!
            Ps. Regarding your chess comment, I completely agree.

        • Ragnar says:

          “Also of Note: There is no timer in the single player game.”
          Excellent, concerns dismissed. Timer in multi-player makes sense. Timer in single-player would drive me nuts.

          That said, I hope there’s some sort of tutorial or something for the multi. Because learning the game while fighting against a timer is going to be incredibly difficult.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I hate timers in turn-based games. I’m not much a multiplayer person though, so I can hope that they leave it out of single player.

  9. Premium User Badge

    ffordesoon says:

    Did people not get the numerous Kickstarter updates I got about the multi being F2P?

    I’m really excited for this.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      It seems those updates were for backers only. Not exactly forthcoming.

  10. Slinkyboy says:

    Looking great. Can’t wait to play a demo!!

  11. AlexStoic says:

    Hi everybody! I’m Alex from Stoic. Lots of comments on this, and I’m happy to respond to them.

    First thing, the characters in the concept art there are called Varl, they’re giants in the world of The Banner Saga. They are a completely different race from the humans and an important part of the lore (you can also see what a human looks like one of the screenshots. Pretty human-y). And if you look real close at the characters on the board you can see the Varl take up four spaces while the humans fill one space. This is a pretty important factor in combat.

    I’m also happy to mention that the timing is something we’re constantly tweaking! We’ve considered changing the length based on how many wins you have, making friend vs friend matches have no time limit or just setting it to be longer in general. I can guarantee that there is no timer in the single player game, take all the time you need. But as Nathan mentioned in the article, we intentionally put it there! We want you to make tough calls, human error is part of the equation and waiting two or three minutes for your opponent to finish is practically unbearable. Please give it a try, you might really like it! I do like the overtime idea that Baines suggested, we might look into that.

    As for “free to play”, wow, we’ve been surprised by the amount of reaction this causes. To clarify: we took the multiplayer part of The Banner Saga and decided to release it early. That’s all Factions was ever meant to be. I know you only have my word to go on and I understand the cynicism. F2P has so many bad associations that even when I see it I just assume the game sucks. All I can do is explain our thinking: we made the combat exactly how we wanted it to be, and then we made the leveling curve exactly how we wanted it to be, because we think upgrading characters and abilities is fun. Every time you kill an enemy in combat you gain points which you use to upgrade your team. We match you based on how many points you’ve put into your team. And we let you buy points, if you want. Some people do want to buy points, some don’t. What we know is that if you’re not going to sell millions of copies your multiplayer has to be free or it’s a ghost town within a month, that’s just a hard truth. We’ve really tried our best to make it both fair and fun while paying to keep the lights on, no easy task.

    Lastly, to answer The Innocent’s question, you can absolutely name each of your characters. We love of the idea of connecting with your team.

    Thanks again! Please feel free to ask questions.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      You shouldn’t have been surprised at the reaction to free to play. This conversation has been ongoing for years. If you’re going to make these decisions for your game, you should have done your research.

      Harsh, but true.

      • AlexStoic says:

        Indeed. What I had hoped to convey was that we did do our research. As best we could tell we had two options: multiplayer that wasn’t free, and would quickly become a wasteland, or multiplayer that was free, hopefully succeed and suffer the “free to play” stigma.

        You’re right that I shouldn’t be surprised that there was a reaction and I suppose I’m not, really. It’s just been a hell of a time trying to just explain that geez, the game is fun and free and doesn’t punish you for not paying. It’s definitely a tougher message to convey than you would think, and an interesting dilemma for games. If you play Magic: the Gathering you pay over $2 for a couple random cards. If you play our game you pay nothing, and if you decide to keep playing you get “cards” for free, and if you REALLY like the game and want to buy some points you can… but for a lot of people the first example is acceptable and the second one is not.

        I agree with thestage below that a game doesn’t need to have a “F2P” model just because it’s the popular thing. But I disagree with the idea that a multiplayer game can’t let you upgrade over time, or that it isn’t enjoyable. If we didn’t let you buy renown our design of Factions would be identical, and this has been the most difficult message of all. We just want people to try it, and if they’re not into the multiplayer maybe they’d like the single player. We know it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea and hopefully that’s ok. As a small studio with no budget for marketing we try to get people interested in whatever way we can and a free version of the game could help us there.

        To reiterate for some of the comments below, the multiplayer has no effect on single player. None. Not a single thing. Hope that helps!

        Thanks!

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          jrodman says:

          I stopped playing Magic: The Gathering in 1994. I don’t want to play a game like that ever again.

          BUT: I play the version of Magic the Gathering called “Duels of the Planeswalkers” where I buy the whole game for 10 bucks, but I know going in they’ll have expansions, and that I can buy those for 3-5 bucks apiece later, if I want more. There’s even a unlock-as-you-go mechanic, but I knew that going in before I gave them money to fund their project, and I don’t have to playa multplayer to unlock cards, so I don’t really mind — as the unlocking just becomes a fun part of the solo offline experience for me.

          So they have made a game that’s surprisingly close to yours in several respects, but they communicated intent clearly, and it’s quite apparent that there’s no need to buy the “pay to go faster” perks — I doubt anyone does. WIth your game you’ve done this in a very awkward way where people already bought into the game, it seems mostly multiplayer oriented which interacts awkwardsly with unlocks, and you talk about “currency” which just reeks of manipulation, which Stainless Steel wisely avoided.

          • Mattressi says:

            From what I can tell, the multiplayer is almost a separate entity. The Kickstarter page (I’ve now looked at it) says this “Though the single-player campaign is our focus, The Banner Saga provides a deep multiplayer game; build a unique party of characters and battle friends and enemies in multiplayer combat. Upgrade your party over time and devise new strategies.”

            They were quite up front saying that they were going to focus mostly on singleplayer, but will also have a deep multiplayer with “upgrades”. Really, all that they’ve done now is made the multiplayer free and added an additional way to “upgrade” – paying money. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how it’s implemented, but I don’t see them making upgrades a horrible bore of a grind to get. In fact, I doubt they’d really change the rate at which upgrades are earned. To me, it sounds like the multiplayer is almost a demo for the singleplayer – it shows off the combat and mechanics, without requiring huge amounts of time and effort being put into creating story, new scenes and everything else that singleplayer would need. Since it’s hand drawn, I’d imagine multiplayer which focuses on combat would be much easier and faster for them to create – they only need to draw a few scenes (though, most of the animations would still be needed).
            The way I see it, they’re basically releasing a free demo for the singleplayer game – a taste of what is to come and something to give to the fans/customers early on. To me it sounds like a great idea. The microtransactions might make them a little extra money, but I doubt they came up with F2P multiplayer to solely make money – it honestly sounds like they came up with a multiplayer demo idea (so they have something to ship early) and then thought “hey, it’s going to be free, why not keep the upgrade mechanics the same, but also allow people to pay money?”.

            Maybe I’m too trusting, but these people genuinely seem to love what they’re doing and care about their fans, so it doesn’t seem to me like they’re going F2P solely for the money.

        • LintMan says:

          What I had hoped to convey was that we did do our research. As best we could tell we had two options: multiplayer that wasn’t free, and would quickly become a wasteland, or multiplayer that was free, hopefully succeed and suffer the “free to play” stigma.

          If you knew this, then why wasn’t there any mention of this while the kickstarter campaign was ongoing? I contributed with the expectation that it would provide a standard multiplayer game, not a F2P one with all the baggage that entails. There is a difference and it matters to me. I very likely would not have contributed if I had known it was going to be F2P.

          There are people (some in this thread, even) who donated purely because of their interest in MP. Now they discover that it’s F2P, so what did their money buy them that isn’t now free for everyone?

          Seriously, this is a betrayal of what you promised to your contributors. You need to announce any F2P aspect DURING the kickstarter campaign, to give your contributors the option to back out or modify their donation if they wish.

          If you want to do right by your contributors at this point, you can still do so: provide them with a non-F2P version that is compatible with the F2P version, but will allow them to alter their renown points manually (ie: by editing a text file) instead of having to grind or pay to avoid the grind. So then the KS contributors will be free of the F2P but will have the same optional benefit.

          • Arnie-Stoic says:

            Sorry I’m late to the party here, finally got around to checking on all the comments! As Alex said thanks a ton for all the feedback!
            @LintMan, sorry you didn’t see that we’ve been planning the multiplayer to be f2p all along. Please check our KickStarter video, I said it right there at the end. We’ve not only been open about this but trying hard to get the word out that it would be f2p. Sorry you missed it. Here, check out the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aL13cET6Xi0
            We were originally thinking the game would be a lot smaller in scope and that we’d need a lot of help balancing, so we decided to put it out for free as a sort of rolling Beta so you could help make the combat better as we developed the single player story. Now combat is a lot more robust, thanks to KS, but we won’t go back on our word of making it f2p. The game is balanced to be fun without spending money, but we’re putting the ability to spend money in there for three reasons:
            1) We need our servers to be full of players so people don’t have to wait for a game. You will be matched against teams of your same level value (more on this later), so who cares if they purchased their Renown or fought for it? The point is you have someone to play at your level very quickly. If they purchased their points then chances are you will beat them quickly making your team stronger anyway. If you do not wish to purchase Renown then there is nothing that will ever block you in the game from content or leveling at your own pace and you will always play teams of your current power level.
            2) Just like joining a D&D game with friends who level you up to their level so you can play with them, we’d like you to be able to invite friends to play with you in this game. Renown is like experience in D&D and we think it would take something away from the experience to make it totally meaningless for those that want the pure Banner Saga experience. There will be NO PURCHASING of RENOWN in the single player game, but we want the multiplayer experience to be more wide-open.
            3) We did get a lot of funding from the KS backers. That being said games are wicked expensive and we’ve definitely gone for a much higher quality/depth level than we’d originally aimed for and are happy for it! We’re making a far better game, but there’s a lot of upkeep. If you enjoy the Banner Saga and would like to see us make more games for you to enjoy then we need a way to enable you to support us in doing so. We sincerely hope that people find the game innovative, fresh and most importantly fun and would then be interested in helping us make more of it. I hope we can build on the Banner Saga and keep it going for years.
            Skal!

    • thestage says:

      Just package the multiplayer with the singleplayer, like people did in the good old days of three years ago. There’s no reason for a competitive multiplayer component to feature points and leveling in the first place, except as a way to make money. If points “upgrade your team,” just give me all the upgrade options from the start. You have the single player for advancement and character planning, and I’m sure we’ll all be happy to indulge in it in its proper place. In an isolated, multiplayer environment, I shouldn’t have to grind your tactical strategy game in order to unlock the strategic part.

      I realize making money is a Good Thing for people who make video games for a living, but you don’t have to shoehorn a specific business model into your game just because it’s the New Thing. From a player perspective, it tends to make your game look like an elaborate money transferring service. When I look at the game, I should see the game, because while eeking out dollars is great for you, I, as the player–sorry to say–could care less about your bottom line. If you try to make me interested in it I’m just as likely to open one of the other hundred games in my steam library. League of Legends can afford to turn off players; DOTA 2 can afford a model where 90% of the players don’t pay. I doubt you can do either. You say multiplayer games that aren’t free wither and die soon after launch. I think the same, and at any rate I trust you’ve done the research necessary to back up the claim–but you are not a multiplayer title. You are a kickstarted single player title that also happens to have multiplayer. You have guaranteed support for a single player title that you can package your multiplayer game with.

      Also “changing the length [of the timer] based on how many wins you have” sounds like a really, really terrible idea.

    • equatorian says:

      ” F2P has so many bad associations that even when I see it I just assume the game sucks. ”

      If you really think so, why are you surprised at the amount of negative reactions? Yes, it probably makes sense business-wise, but the torches and pitchforks you’d get should have been a foregone conclusion.

      That said, I backed Banner Saga for the singleplayer campaign, and I’m still looking forward to it. Multiplayer can be F2P and selling hats and bundled with Ubisoft DRM and I wouldn’t really care, as long as it affects nothing in single player. Nothing. Not a single thing.

    • Mattressi says:

      Well, I for one am excited about both the SP and F2P MP. It’s unfortunate that so many people are so quick to react that they don’t even take the time to think through what they’re complaining about. Timers are absolutely essential in a turn-based MP game and I can’t understand why anyone would oppose them (especially since, as was said, they won’t be in SP), especially if there’s a way to choose how long the timer should be when you start a match.

      As for F2P, I was initially turned off by the whole model when BF Heroes became completely pay to win. But games like Tribes Ascend, World of Tanks (ignoring their gold-only ammo) and even Blacklight have made me really enjoy the model. If it’s implemented correctly, no one should be at a true disadvantage, even when they first start playing, and the MP population will remain strong for a long time to come. I’m really looking forward to it.

      Also, how do I buy/preorder the game? I wasn’t particularly interested when it was on Kickstarter, because I didn’t realise it was a turn-based RPG-like game (admittedly, I didn’t really look closely at it). Now I’m very interested, but I can’t find any way to preorder it.

      • AlexStoic says:

        Thanks for this :). We’ll be setting up for pre-orders soon since we have had quite a few requests.

  12. Ragabhava says:

    Very promising concept. Love the artwork.

    Making positioning really count and drawing inspiration from chess can only be applauded. I’ll never forget the disapointment I felt from playing Disciples or even HOMM or Kings Bounty for the first time and entering the tactical combat screens: all melee troops just had to move ASAP to the enemy, all ranged units had to fire all they got ASAP, healers stayed back and healed. Thats basically it for movement. A few random gryphons and other special units messed this stale formula up a little and battles became interesting through spells and perks but the basic tactical gameplay had the same creativity requirements as a burger station job at MikkyD. Gosh, our traffic cop at the corner has to think more tactically whilst on duty.

    Been waiting for some deep RPG strategy since quite a while now, my hopes are up.

  13. NationOfThizzlam says:

    From The Verge:

    The classes only have one or two special abilities at their disposal, and only one equipment slot.

    And also:

    “It would be a huge challenge for us to make an intricate control scheme work on iPad,” Thomas said. “That was something we had to set out to keep in mind from the beginning. If we had just done whatever we wanted on PC and tried to bring it to iPad, it would have been a nightmare.”

    Ugh. I understand about quality over quantity, and having a smaller number of stats/equipment/skills that are more differentiated. But one equipment slot? And now you’re telling me that the controls and interface were constrained from the beginning… because of the fucking iPad? Can’t make things too complicated, because we have to make sure it works well for tablet gamers.

    I’ve been a KS backer since the beginning but the team is taking far too many steps in the casual direction for my comfort. I want a deep system with lots of choices (even comparable to the games they cite as inspiration). Not some streamlined, simplified tactics-lite that will hit number one on the App Store because it’s got stylish art.

    In before ‘wah wah PC entitlement old-school mainstream appeal consoletard etc.’.

    • AlexStoic says:

      Hi NationOfThizzlam! Thanks for the comments. I know trying to convince someone about your intentions usually makes them reject you even more, all I can do is tell you our reasoning and let you decide.

      In the Verge article we spent less than five minutes talking about an iOS port and we were bummed and pretty terrified that the article made it sound like we designed the whole thing for a casual audience. We didn’t, we designed it for PC. That’s why it’s releasing on PC. In our interview all I said was that if a company doesn’t consider touch controls from the start they’re screwed later on. I don’t know why this was featured so strongly.

      In regard to a deep system, we’ve been trying so hard to explain that it’s not a casual design that it’s really disappointing when people insist that it is.

      This same exact article says “So yes, if it wasn’t already clear, the potential for nuanced tactics and class synergy between the 16 or so options Factions is set to launch with is enormous.” AND ” If Stoic can maintain this standard of quality, it could have something really special on its hands – a mixture of ocean-like tactical depth and frantic mid-match pacing that feels impressively different.”

      Yet after reading those exact quotes, your take away is that it’s a “streamlined, simplified tactics-lite” game. Argh! We’re not sure what else we can do here… we want it to feel like a deep strategy as well and we’re doing as much as a 3-person team can, I think. My hope is that you’ll still give the multiplayer a shot and enjoy it.

      Thanks!

      • NationOfThizzlam says:

        Thanks for responding. To clarify, I wasn’t saying that the Banner Saga is now strategy-lite… I was just afraid that it seemed to be making moves in that direction, and I hope it proves me wrong and lives up to its potential. I know you’re taking a different approach to mechanics, one that places more emphasis on positioning and stat synergy than an abundance of abilities. I’m just worried that the sacrifices in one area outweigh benefits in the other. And focusing on the team interplay aspects shouldn’t mean that we’re given a limited skill set and barebones inventory system.

        So, a couple questions for you regarding these articles. Is each character really limited to one equippable inventory slot? So no switching around weapons, armors and the like? How many skills will the average class have available? Also, are there terrain advantages and height maps to go along with the emphasis on positioning?

        Deep skill trees and inventories aren’t absolutely necessary for a good turn-based system, but I think it’s a large part of what people expect out of an in-depth system, and of course it adds to the compulsive playability factor. Trying to turn that on its head takes some balls… and some good execution. There are a lot of things I really like about this game so far, so I’ll definitely be following this through to completion and hoping for the best.

        • AlexStoic says:

          In the beta we’re releasing soon we don’t have items hooked up, but when we do it will be one item per character. Items in the game each provide a passive ability to the character that let you further customize them. We don’t have plans to have a full array of items on each character, which tend to just be stat changes in most games. Each character has a passive ability and an active, and these abilities are very important in the context of playing as a team. Hopefully it’ll be more clear why this works when playing the actual game. We’ve actually found that the way the system is already even experienced players feel overwhelmed by the amount of options they have.

  14. tals says:

    Not sure why all the angst regarding F2P, if it is done right it does work. League of Legends went f2p and I have no doubt the game would not be where it is if it had gone the pay route. The key part of the model is not giving a battle advantage by paying and allowing players to play for free forever – no limitations on play time etc. Both of these they have done. I’d also agree that if they had gone the pay model the mp would likely have become a wasteland as many small game mp releases do. Saw the ks campaign but didn’t buy into it now really looking forward to it and if it proves interesting in mp I am sure I’ll buy the single player version.

  15. tres says:

    You have my sword, Banner Saga. Looks awesome.