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A Q & A with Lead Director Alex Thomas of Stoic Studio About “The Banner Saga”

Tuesday 6th March 2012 by Andy Breeding

With stunning art style that looks like it’s straight out of a animated film, The Banner Saga looks to be a must play RPG for everyone. Of course the story is going to be great when you have the triple threat of Alex Thomas, Arnie Jorgensen and John Watson who before forming Stoic, worked on Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Having some questions on my mind, Alex Thomas was so kind enough to indulge me in answering them.

How much influence from working with Bioware on The Old Republic and each other has carried over to your new company, Stoic?

Hmm, I’m not sure if influence has been as important as experience. Our gameplay is very different from The Old Republic in both combat and exploration. Though I love the scope of what BioWare achieves with their dialogue we’ve taken a slightly different approach to it. I would say it’s more similar to The Witcher in that our goal is to give the players choices in conversation when it’s really important and when it affects the development of the story. That said, the experience we’ve all gained from working at BioWare is immeasurable. John, who is creating all the tech for The Banner Saga, was the lead combat programmer on SW:TOR. Arnie’s experience as the lead concept artist translates perfectly into making a 2D game where his artwork becomes the actual game. My time on design and cinematics gave me a lot of experience on just how to make dialogue that branches, and once you know how it works you realize it’s nowhere as easy as you’d think. In terms of successfully developing a game we absolutely owe this to all our previous development experience.

Why Vikings?

It’s interesting that we’ve gotten this question as much as we have, it was a pretty easy decision for us. We really love the visual themes, history and mood of their culture and (pre-Skyrim) it was rare to see them in games, especially the role-playing variety. We knew we wanted a fantasy setting but desperately wanted to avoid from the very overdone “elves, dwarves and orcs” dynamic. It’s also worth mentioning that one us is named “Jorgensen”.

The name, The Banner Saga, immediately has my mind thinking about Game of Thrones. Does that series have any influence on your game, The Banner Saga?

Who doesn’t like Game of Thrones? One of the biggest inspirations from that series is when you say it’s a mature story you understand it’s about political intrigue and the relationships between the characters, not sex, swearing and violence. It’s also not about high fantasy and dragons and magic, and it’s not about black and white, good versus evil. It really is a story written for thoughtful adults, and that’s refreshing. We’re desperately avoiding swiping any of their fantastic story, but that’s definitely the tone we’re trying to hit with The Banner Saga. I’m glad it came across!

This could have very well been a 2D action game with how the beautiful the art design of the games looks. How did you decide on making it an turn-based RPG?

There were several reasons for this but two very prominently; firstly, we love the genre. Not to namedrop, but I’ve been a fan of almost every TBS to come out on the market since I was a kid- Tactics Ogre, Shining Force, X-COM, Fire Emblem, Disgaea, Jagged Alliance. That’s not to say we’re going to be just like all those games, but I love them all. I think we’ve actually come up with a pretty unique strategy system that people may not have seen before. I’m excited to start talking about more about that in the near future.

To a lesser degree, a turn-based game is more within the scope of what a small team can create, at least with the breadth of content that we’re going for. One of the interesting side effects that we’re noticing is by saying we’re from BioWare and showing things like branching dialogue, people are starting to look at our product like it’s going to be made by 200 employees. Instead, we’re making it as smartly as we can, and going for innovation in each system, and turn-based combat was a big part of that.

I see that you have “free multiplayer combat coming soon” listed on The Banner Saga’s info page. Can you explain a little about what players can expect from multiplayer?

As we were developing our first release we felt like the combat was really fun and couldn’t really think of a great reason not to release it as a standalone. If you don’t have marketing dollars you’ve got to make your game available in some way as soon as possible and let people talk about it. So basically we’ve taken our turn-based combat, broken it out of the full game and will be making it free to play on PC and Mac, while we continue to develop the first part of our single player campaign. In this release we’ll have all the classes we’ve currently developed available to play and upgrade over time. We’ve added a narrative story you can progress through if players just want to play against the computer and we’ll be featuring multiplayer matches for people who want to try it competitively. As we continue to work on the single player game we’ll release new content to the multiplayer standalone. We’ve also got big plans for future crossover between our multiplayer and single-player releases, as they both persist in the same world.

How many people are working on The Banner Saga or is it just the three of you?

At this time it’s just the three of us. We are literally an independent studio paying for production out of our own pocket. We’ll be putting up a Kickstarter campaign soon and depending on how that does we’ll start looking into creating more content and expanding the scope of the game.

With Kickstarter being in the spotlight recently with Double Fine’s new game, do you think this will help bring more attention to smaller studios wanting to put their ideas into reality?

I can’t say for sure what the success of Double Fine’s product means for everyone else but I’m thrilled about the chance that it’ll give indie development a boost. Already I’ve seen a handful of really great projects get amazing funding since then, which is seriously encouraging. This might sound pretty obvious but an expanding indie market can only mean better things for both big and small studios, not to mention gamers. Everybody wins.


More info from Stoic Studio will be released later this week with the Kickstarter page being published. For now, head on over to www.StoicStudio.com to read more about The Banner Saga.