Interview: Northern Shadow’s Plan To Rebuild RPGs

Northern Shadow has the potential to be utterly immense. The plan? Fuse a Skyrim-like open-world RPG with a Banished-like city builder. Explore, build, interact with an AI-driven sandbox, go on quests, construct cities as you please – all of it. Oh, and it’s being developed by only two people. I’d say it sounds entirely impossible if not for the fact that the fantasy I’m-not-even-sure-what-you-call-this-er’s first trailer looked rather spiffy. I wanted to know more about the game’s inner workings, though, so I got in touch with developer Arda Güneş to find out how big the world will be, whether the game will be a true sandbox ala Mount and Blade, how city building and adventuring will fit together, how combat will work, what this summer’s Early Access release will contain, and tons more. It’s all below.

RPS: Northern Shadow looks positively massive. How big will it be, though? How big of a world are you making? Both above and underground?

Güneş: The world is divided between continental zones. We haven’t made a real life scale comparison, but each zone takes around 10 minutes between the farthest point to traverse by flying at player speed, and up to 20 minutes by running on foot. We are planning to have around 3 overworld zones like this. There is also an Underworld, which is divided into smaller chunks, but its total size is comparable to an overworld zone.

RPS: What will the underground world be like? Is it just a bunch of caves for mining, or is there more to it than that?

Güneş: Underground world is a sprawling complex of caves, underground cities, castles, ruins, and (literal) mazes.

RPS: It’s just you and one other person making the game, right? How do you do that? What is your work process like?

Güneş: I’m the programmer of our team. Taner is the level designer. Assets wise, we create some of the art assets ourselves, but try to handle most of it externally.

RPS: How long have you been at it? I guess for lack of a better way of phrasing it, how is this even possible, especially when there are only two people working on it? Have either of you ever done anything like this before?

Since our switch to Unity3D around Q4 of 2013, we’ve been prototyping with it. Full production started at the beginning of the year.

We’ve been working on different kinds of games for the past 3 years, but had to take breaks from time to time due to personal reasons. Some of the games were similar to this in scope, so we got experience as to what to expect, what would work and what would not.

RPS: You said you had to take breaks on other games due to personal reasons. Is that or has that ever been a possibility on Northern Shadow? Have there been any moments where you thought you might give up from the enormity of it all?

Güneş: Due to our previous experience, we know that to expect from the scope of the game, this allowed us to focus our development efforts and prevented us from biting more than we can chew. This has been an evolving idea for us, it is what we always wanted to make, so we never thought about giving up.

RPS: How will the gameplay work on a moment-to-moment level? What will players be doing? How will adventuring/exploring tie into rebuilding the kingdom?

Güneş: Players will be able to choose what to do to their liking. They can stay at a city and manage it, and their kingdom. When an event occurs, players can try to solve it by sending emissaries or soldiers. If they wish, they can take the matter into their own hands, and travel to different cities to negotiate agreements in person, or protect their realm by personally dealing with whatever threat that comes in their way. These could be anything from a damned soul putting a curse on your crops, to a rival kingdom increasing the cost of their food shipments to benefit from the situation at your expense.

RPS: How do you fit those systems together? I mean, the biggest fear I have after reading about your game is that building and adventuring might not work well together, or one/both might end up clunky. How are you avoiding that?

Güneş: How you build your cities will affect how you react to later situations. We put emphasis on solving problems by either staying at your kingdom, or by going adventuring yourself. One affects the other. Balance and harmony between those two is decided by the players themselves.

RPS: How much variety will there be in constructing cities? Will I be bringing back pre-made cities, or will I be able to arrange them as I please? Can I put buildings wherever I want?

Güneş: Different cities can have different focus. Some may focus on mining, some on production, some on producing food, depending on the cities surroundings or the players’ decisions.

You will be able to take pre-made cities for your own. Kingdom capitals won’t have the same layout flexibility of normal cities, but you will be able to change/improve the buildings in them.

Currently, we are using a slot zone system, but working on moving towards to a grid system, which will give players ability to build roads and buildings wherever they want within the city limits.

RPS: Will there be a set path through the story (quests, etc), or is this more of an open, evolving world ala Mount and Blade?

Güneş: In addition to the evolving sandbox world type of story experience, there is also going to be a main story, that will have different effects on the world with different arcs. It will be up to the player to decide if they want to follow the story or not.

RPS: Will I be able to play as a rat person? Or any race aside from human, for that matter? Also just to be certain, will I be able to play as a woman?

Güneş: You can only play as a human character. Yes, you will be able to play as a woman.

RPS: Are structures destructible at all? Does fire spread realistically, ala Far Cry?

Güneş: Buildings are completely destructible. Fire spreads realistically within the confines of a city. Outside of cities however, spreading is limited.

RPS: You mention a living world. What does that mean? Do NPCs have goals and priorities? If I, say, kill the owner of the bar that they go to, will they keep going to that bar, or will they be smart enough to find something else to do?

Güneş: NPCs can to adapt to their situations. They have basic needs in order to survive, like food, water and shelter. Once these needs are met, they require other things, such as jobs, happiness or social interaction. Since the cities players are going to build are dynamic, they will be able to recognize these changes.

Kingdoms can recognize the changing circumstances, and change their prioritizations. Invasion of a key iron mining operation can trigger a reaction from the big stockpilers to increase their prices, or stop trading them at all. This in turn, influences the effectiveness of the soldiers – which you can use to liberate the mines by sending them on special missions.

RPS: The battles toward the end of the trailer looked pretty large scale. Will I have control over those? Will I be able to issue orders and stuff? Or will my character just be one among many NPC-controlled combatants in those moments?

Güneş: Players can give variety of orders to their troops before a battle. These can be deployment orders, or orders on when to attack, what to attack. Once the battle starts, orders become harder to give and follow. You’ll have to depend on your messengers to give the orders, or step in yourself [to] order soldiers personally. How well they respond to the orders while in a battle depends on their level of training.

RPS: What will ground combat be like? How complex will it be? It looked kinda like Skyrim in the trailer, but Skyrim’s combat was pretty so-so, I thought. Are you trying to make yours better?

Güneş: In ground combat you will be able to use spells, and/or variety of weapons. For melee, there will be a number of different attacks and defending options. Timing and planning will be crucial, rather than spamming same attacks over and over again.

RPS: You say you have classic RPG systems, but then you also say combat will depend on skills – not statistics. Those things seem very contradictory. How does that work?

Güneş: This is a miscommunication from us. We wanted to emphasize that it is the players’ skill that will win the fights, rather than the raw amount of strength/stats that the characters will have. Player character and the weapons will have stats, and they will affect the combat, but the deciding factor will be the player. Your character will also have non-combat related skills and abilities, like speechcraft or herb lore.

RPS: How will character progression work? Are there set classes, or can I evolve my character as I please?

Güneş: Your character will have a variety of skills. You can improve those skills by performing actions associated to them. For example, your skill with different kinds of weapons will increase as you use those weapons in combat. Smithing skill will increase as you forge weapons or armor. There won’t be any set classes, you are free to use any skill, anytime you want. These skills can be affected by the city’s equipment and craftsmen.

RPS: How much of the game will be included in the early access release this summer?

Güneş: Early access will have the core gameplay. Different continental zones and sections of the underworld will be opened up to gameplay with updates. Character creation and the main story will be added in time as well.

RPS: Thank you for your time.


Top comments

  1. mpk says:

    Do NPCs have goals and priorities?

    Totally misread this, and now I want an answer to the question I thought I read.

    Do NPCs have goats?
  1. Tom Mack says:

    Lemme’, lemme’ mod you!

  2. Jimbo says:

    My biggest fear is that tilt-shift.

  3. MrThingy says:

    “You can only play as a human character. Yes, you will be able to play as a woman.”

    Haha. See, this is why written communication over “teh internuts” is so woefully inadequate. Hard to know from the phrasing whether this is joyful and enthusiastic promotion, or reluctant grudging compliance.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Could be neither.

      • MrThingy says:

        Indeed, correct response.

        So easy it might have been to have fallen into the “Faxanadu Paradox”, had an epic rage-gasm and sensitivity overload, followed by a complete loss of perspective (and bowel control).

        • Faxanadu says:

          “was just trolling”

          Okay cool man, nice to know you didn’t mean any of what you said. Your second post was almost as funny as the first. Try writing something witty again.

    • Faxanadu says:

      Are you kidding me? You really read it like that? It wasn’t a statement, it was an answer to a question. And since the question was this:

      “Also just to be certain, will I be able to play as a woman?”

      I can only imagine the mindset of the reply being something along the lines of, “Oh for God’s sake…”

      But thank you for starting another comment chain on sexism. Or well, I suppose it already started with the interview. I so love scrolling down 10 seconds in every article because someone always brings it up.

    • evileeyore says:

      It just proves teh womens ain’t humans!

      Burn teh witches!

  4. Freud says:

    I hope they pull it off, but one of the problem with these games made by small teams is that if the core mechanics aren’t strong enough the games become monotonous because they simply can’t create content.

    • nebnebben says:

      It does also seem very ambitious so I hope they can actually live up to the trailer…

    • derbefrier says:

      Yeah that and with only two people I imagine progress will be slow. Its always impressibve when you see a couple guys do something like this though.

    • darkath says:

      The first mount and blade was also made by 2 people in Turkey if i recall correctly. And even the first iteration was not boring.

  5. Vinraith says:

    I’ll believe it when I see it (and I won’t believe much of anything until it’s out of “early access”), but if they actually pull this off I’ll happily buy it on release.

  6. JFS says:

    Hm. The answers don’t really give much insight. Pretty bland stuff, as if the devs themselves didn’t really knowmyet how everything will turn out.

    • djtim says:

      Considering that the *two* developers appear to be aiming for something with better graphical fidelity, far more advanced mechanics, a larger world, better combat, smarter NPC’s and more emergent gameplay than Skyrim – which took more than 100 well funded people more than three years to almost complete – it’s not surprising the answers are vague. Will be interesting to see how it turns out.

  7. mpk says:

    Do NPCs have goals and priorities?

    Totally misread this, and now I want an answer to the question I thought I read.

    Do NPCs have goats?

    • rexx.sabotage says:

      awwww frig!

      DO THEY?!

    • Nathan Grayson says:

      There’s always a moment after every interview where I think of a question and go, “Awww man, I really wish I asked that.” Today it is this. I will never make this mistake again.

      • tormos says:

        wait hold on can this be Nathan’s thing from now on? (in addition to asking great questions like he already does)

  8. SillyWizard says:

    I look forward to seeing how armchair-commanding works in this game, running messengers back and forth to your combat units.

    (As opposed to ordering a fleet of armchairs into battle.)

    Some pretty interesting-sounding stuff!

  9. pupsikaso says:

    RPS award for the most blurry, tilt shift-abused screenshot?

  10. SophiaButler says:

    Holy crap this soundz very close to the concept I have for a game/text RPG, especially the early partz of it. I hope I can buy it just so I can study it and see if the systemz hold up.

    Fingerz crossed Extra Creditz get’z an episode out on this too.

  11. draglikepull says:

    I would love to be proven wrong because what they’re talking about doing sounds amazing, but I have a hard time believing that a team of two people can pull off what they say they’re going to do. It sounds like they’re trying to create multiple complex games at once while keeping them running at the same time in the same engine. I would be skeptical that 50 people could create this game, let alone two. But if they somehow pull it all together I’ll be at the front of the line to buy a copy.

  12. Orkhun says:

    It would be better if they create a studio to complete the game with more people it will be easier, but I think as mentioned in the review they are working / hiring external people and sources to develop the game and in Turkey there aren’t many game companies so there are many freelance developers or game makers they can ask their help