From Talk FE to Me: a Fire Emblem Podcast
We interviewed Artist/Developer Jay Balis (https://twitter.com/SamuriFerret) and Community Manager Katy Ellis (https://twitter.com/superconsole) about the upcoming indie title by Chucklefish Games, Wargroove!
We discuss the game’s origins, the best boys and girls, the design philosophy as well as what it’s like working at Chucklefish games, how to get into the gaming industry and much much more
How did Wargroove begin & why make it a fantasy game?
Jay: So around the time we finished starbound, which was about mid 2016, we were kind of looking at other projects that we’re interested in making. And one of the things that had been brought up is that, several of us in the office really like Advance Wars. And we were very surprised that no one had made a new game kind of like that. There was a common trend of Indie spiritual sequels. Stardew Valley, which we publish, is a good example of a game that’s spiritually aligned with games like Rune Factory and Harvest Moon. So it was kind of something we kind of got interested in putting a pitch together and presenting the team with “Hey, we’re interested in making a game like this!” You have to convince everyone else that we think it would sell as well and it’d be fun to work on.
It wasn’t originally meant to be a huge project. But then as these things tend to go, it kind of grew in scope as we got more excited for it and find new ways we can kind of revitalize that genre. Interestingly enough, when we first pitched it, we did have several different aesthetics in mind. We’ve had several aesthetics actually mocked up, so there’s some mockups flooding around the Internet where Wargroove has kind of like an Advanced Wars look with tanks. I think we experimented with a game where everyone is dogs at a certain point
We landed on the fantasy look for a few reasons. I think it separates it a bit more from Advance Wars and I think also crucially advanced was it’s an old game now. It’s from an earlier time and I think agame where modern warfare is really fun, feels a bit more antiquated than it did in 2002. So I think making it a bit more fantasy. We felt better about that. And also I think we felt like we’d probably just enjoy making it more, coming up with kind of like a different unit types. Like you know, what is a quick and fast, what’s a powerful unit in regards to like a strategy game where everything is fantasy creatures and knights with spears and so on. That was fun task. I think that’s kind of how it all came together and yeah, it’s been in development since pretty much since middle of 2016. Early on there was a second smaller team and we’ve ramped up development since then.
*Katy just sent us this old picture of Wargroove before the current style was decided on*
Jay: If you noticed the mountains and the trees are the same as they are now and the dogs are a little bit different. So some things have remained since the very first art markups, which was interesting.
Katy: I think it’s cool to see how it’s developed over time. It’s kind of captured this style more, um, you know, the fantasy setting.
Jay: Oh yeah. We’ve done our own kind of interesting spin so I don’t think quite looks like anything in particular. Um, hopefully at least. What I’m saying is from a very biased point of view, but I think that’s something we’re aiming for at least.
Claire: Personally from a cosplayers perspective. It’s much more fun and I think much more creative character design wise to go in a fantasy aesthetic.I’m looking at Sigrid, she’s my favorite. I want to cosplay her really bad!
Jay: She’s a lot of people’s favorite, she has a lot of fans
Chris: She’s so cute!
Jay: People attaching themselves to characters. People like finding characters that can cosplay and so on, but you can’t actually do that and like a modern day setting because like if you look at like fantasy kind of fiction, like a single individual can turn the tide of Battle, you can imagine like a powerful wizard and so on, but then a single soldier in a modern day warfare setting doesn’t do anything. So going with that focus on character made a lot more sense with the kind of fantasy.
Katy: Fantasy just allows you to be so much more inventive and interesting and just you can literally do a “What if” game with yourself and be like “Well, could they?” “Well, anything’s possible really.” And it’s just whether or not it fits in your law and how much we can stretch it and get the rest of the team to agree with whatever weird thing we want to do.
Jay: When you create the internal logic of the game, you can be a bit wilder.
Claire: So something that really stood out to me that I thought of being connected to how I play Fire Emblem is the fact that one of the taglines of this game is what group is extremely easy to pick up with accessibility at the forefront of its design yet very difficult to master. A problem that I see a lot of times in these strategy games is that it’s either one or the other. It’s either that the developers are making the game so that new people can get into it, but longtime fans have way too easy of a time and it’s not as fun. So this is just from watching the gameplay of the streams that you guys have been showing a over the course of work groups development. It seems to be a good middle ground and that is one of the main points that you’re marketing this game for.
Jay: Yeah, gameplay wise. Think the logic of the game is very straightforward. It’s very much you move units and you can attack things, plus your commander has a special ability. I guess where the complexity comes in and is that there’s a whole interlocking kinda like optimization possible you can try and run it through as quickly as possible, you know, assuming you can get them to begin with, have been making like the tutorial kind of very easy to understand and take you through the game but not so extreme that half the game feels like tutorial, which is quite easy to fall into. I think one thing as well that will help a longterm kind of hardcore fans is that people will no doubt make extremely hard campaigns. And I guess the ideal scenario is that they’re always going to be content for people of all difficulty levels, like in terms of scale, um, and infinite content potentially depending on how much people get to make.
Katy: I think that’s one of the fun things about being able to share maps and create your own campaigns and stuff is that we have the potential that when the game comes out and the developers can still produce challenging maps and the community can, it’s most things we can kind of build on. I think that the tutorial is something that the team has been really focusing on lately and like really polishing up and I’m not a super hardcore rts player so I feel like in a way it’s good to have that mix of people in a team.
Chris: Something that I find interesting is that, I find fire emblem to be a lot more complicated than Advance Wars. I think there’s way more stuff to learn. obviously. I think the big difference it’s an RPG, so it has like the leveling and the whatever and all of that. And then advanced wars, everything’s just kind of stationary. But um, I find that even though foreign bloom is a lot more complicated than advance wars, I’ve had a lot more trouble playing advanced sports games because I think, and I think it has to do with the slump, that simplicity which allows for creativity like a and it can kind of do some crazy things. Always found that to be interesting
Jay: In terms of design with Advanced Wars maps. There is an optimal solution to beat this map. And if you don’t figure it out you’ll never have it. Fire emblem I guess would be safe to say. It’s more about presenting an obstacle and it’s open ended how you approach it because you class and pick your roster of like heroes yourself. So you’re setting up like a kinda like a perfect team for overcoming challenges and the game will just present you with different challenges for that team. With Advance Wars, I guess it’s very much if you can’t figure out the intended way to beat the map, then you might just not be able to win. So I’ve had the same experience. I’ve definitely hit roadblocks in Advance Wars whilst Fire Emblem I’ve never really had too much of a problem with. I think ultimately I guess because it’s an RPG, you can fairly easily brute force a lot of it if you’re willing to put the time in a lot.
Jay: …Ultimately what most games give you, is kind of like a set asset pool to make your own maps with. They never end up as good as the actual map in the game because the Smash Bros. Brawl custom maps made you used like floating breaks. I mean it’s a really cool feature but then going from that to an extremely beautiful rendered Hyrule landscape. It doesn’t quite feel the same. With Wargroove, we’re making the game with our own custom campaign stuff. So everyone has access to everything.
Katy: Yeah, it uses the same editor, that exact same one that our maps and campaign is made with is the same that we’re shipping with all platforms.
Jay: So players have like the full potential of asset access and creation and customizability that we have ourselves. So there is nothing could have held back in terms of features. So I think that’s going to be interesting to see. Ultimately even Mario maker will give you a set pool of things instead of giving you access to things that would make a much more complex Mario game like Super Mario Bros Wii U, for example, the benefit of the simplicity of what it is that you can make relatively simple tools that with the full breadth of the game or something like a fire emblem maker would be really hard because you’re like, hey guys, here’s a graph of charting the progression of your stats. If you pick this character with this class and stuff like that. It’s crazy. It’s really getting into like crazy amounts of detail
Katy: And now I want it as well. I kind of want to get right into it and then , we’ll get it and be like “What is this?”
Jay: I can finally fulfill my dream to make a worse version of Fire Emblem people can play.
Claire: I especially like the secret path option that’s in the map creator because that’s something I have never even thought about. I always thought, oh, you know, if you want to do things like that, you have to be making your own game. You have to be coding. That’s such a cool feature and it’s going to open up so many different possibilities for people.
Jay: Yeah. So our own campaign is not going to be extremely complex and filled with crazy like branching storylines and paths because we’re keeping it simple and accessible. But the potential there is, you could do something in a map that will trigger a flag and that flag will trigger a cutscene that will trigger something else and you can end up with some crazy branching stuff, if you so please. One of the interesting things to see will be if people will go to town on stuff that we’re not using ourselves, but we gave them access to. Especially with fantasy games, what you can do with branching storylines and things. If you’re making it much more serious story, I’m sure you can do some interesting things there.
Who’s your favorite character?
Jay: I think my favorite character is Ragna. For context, one of the factions of the game is Felheim legion, who this kind of Nordic inspired bunch of undead soldiers and skeletons. She has a very fun personality. She’s kind of like a tantruming teenager, her backstory is that she’s been stitched together by various kinds of fallen warriors to make the ultimate warrior, but she just hasn’t got the right temperament for it, so she acts like a brat. She has some really fun voice lines and story beats. I think she stays really entertaining to me and she’s one of the earliest characters we did as well. So there’s a lot of a nostalgia for the old days.
Katy: When I started, the guys were trying to come up with some names for locations and places and I guess it was the first time I actually got involved in the development in some really weird kind of loose way. They’re like “Katy kinda is into Japanese stuff, what would you call Koji’s puppet?” And I was looking up like Fox spirits and you know, those kind of like, Yo Kai elements in some way we could kind of tie in and I suggested Tenko as the puppet and I never thought it would actually would get used and I think it has. And if it gets cut I’ll be really sad.
Jay: It’s in, there’s no turning back now
Katy: I think that the animations for him are beautiful, just seeing the kind of puppet come to life is really cool. So I know obviously Caesar is everyone’s favorite character. It was crazy seeing the reception for Caesar after we announced him.
Jay: It went exactly as planned. We’re going to have a dog because hopefully everyone’s gonna freak out that there’s a big playable dog… and they did.
Katy: Yeah, it was fun because we were trying to think of funny ways of like announcing it. And have a couple of office dogs actually. One of them is Iorek. Here’s a big fluffy dog, we especially ordered this tiny helmet from Amazon. I think it’s like a kid’s one and it arrived in the post and we were like, Oh God, this looks awful. And we had to try and convince poor Iorek to keep on his head long enough to take a picture.
Katy: We kind of teased it by putting out a picture of a dog wearing this hat and it was just so like, what are you doing? It was the moment where I sat there thinking, is this my job now I’m taking pictures of a dog in a silly hat.
Claire: I saw that photo and I liked it.
Jay: Yeah, it was worth it.
Katy: Oh, thank you. They’ll never let me handle the budget ever again.
Will the dialogue be more serious like fire emblem or silly like advance wars? Either one is enjoyable for me. I’m just curious. -@OrangeKyle91
Jay: That’s a good question and I think it depends on which Advance Wars and which Fire Emblem you’re asking about.
Chris: That’s very true. That’s very, very true.
Jay: I think it definitely goes into some kind of serious a fantasy adventure stuff, but then I think it has humorous elements as well. So I think it’s somewhere in between.
Katy: I think that’s serious themes, but sometimes that portrayed in a more lighthearted way. Yeah. I think it’s not all doom and gloom in the wall goes up and down. I think it’s fair to say.
Chris: One of the things that advance wars kind of reminds me of is, like a kid playing with little army men action figures. Scratch out a days of ruin. But uh, the um, actually I liked that game though, but you know, it’s like all the other games, kind of the tone of that. It’s very just light and fun and goofy.
Jay: I think there’s definitely some stakes. I don’t think it gets too serious and too melodramatic. I’m thinking of like Fire Emblem Conquest. Where there’s a lot of like mellow, dramatic sadness, seriousness. It doesn’t go quite that far. There’s ups and downs and I think people will actually appreciate all ends of the spectrum involved.
Are there any plans for DLC? -/u/Ganrokh
Katy: We don’t have like a confirmation, like a plan or anything.
Jay: Yeah. It’s not something that’s set in stone but it’s something we’re definitely open to. We definitely simply are right now just finishing the main game and focusing on that. In the future, plans will rely on a lot of different things. Depending on how the game is received and so forth, it’s definitely something we’re open to.
Katy: I think it’s something the team would love to do. If there’s the desire for it out there
Claire: It seems like as far as dlc goes, that’s a factor that’s decided depending on how well the core game itself sells and then it’s created later. Am I right?
Jay: I think it would typically depends on what level you’re dealing with. Like a lot of AAA games budget that early on. So a lot of dlc is kind of like decided well ahead of time.
Chris: That’s why you get those “Buy the season pass!!” ahead of the actual game nowadays.
Jay: Yeah. And those things are often budgeted separately alongside the regular development. The game on our front, it really is just a case of we’re going to finish this first and see how things go.
Chris: Let me say, I appreciate that. I think one of my least favorite things is when there’s like a lot of DLC ready from the get go, you know, it makes you feel it was cut.
Jay: Quite often these things are budgeted differently, but the optics from the consumer’s point of view is they didn’t get what could have been in the game. They don’t get an insight into the production of the game. They just see that. So I can understand how it happens. I also can understand why people would not be happy with it.
Katy: It’s funny when we can kind of be sit on like both sides of the fence about it. We can kind of have an insight into ways things might happen, but at the same time we are still consumers and gamers. So it’s kind of fun to have it from both sides.
Chris: Yeah, I mean it’s good to have that sort of industry insight because I think it’s really easy to fall into a trap of, people like us. I’m talking about Claire and I who like haven’t made a game and don’t know anything about the industry going “Why are game developers doing this or why are they doing that” you know, because we don’t know. We don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. We don’t know how that works. So I think it’s good to know what’s up.
Claire: They are people, just like us.
Chris: What? They aren’t people, they’re monkeys who bend to my will.
Jay: Toiling away in the pixel forges.
Claire: That goes back to the whole idea of the fact that again, our generation, we’re making games for ourselves to play and for people like us to play. So when you put it into that kind of context, it’s like there’s no reason to get upset over a video game cause it’s just someone just like you who’s trying to figure things out. That’s okay.
Chris: Do you think people would do that, get upset online about video games?
Claire: Well it’s never happened yet, but it definitely could happen one day.
Jay: I definitely want to finish Wargroove so I can play it. And then play online and then lose and feel really embarrassed. That’s my future.
Listen to the full episode for lots of other questions and topics like the PVP system, working in the gaming industry, Character archetypes, modding and custom stories and more! https://www.youtube.com/c/TalkFEtome