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Interview: Northern Shadow's Plan To Rebuild RPGs

Skyrim's (Not) The Limit

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.

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