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The Banner Saga is probably one of the most impressive indie hits that the Kickstarter gave us. This complex and luxuriously animated tactical role playing game became a top seller on Steam, was featured by Apple and became a critical title for hundreds of industrial journalists. Now with Banner Saga 2 right around the corner 80.lv traveled to Cologne to talk with game’s technical director John Watson, who talked about the second part of the trilogy and discussed inspirations, music production and the transfer of the game from PC to mobile platforms and consoles.
It all began with the story. Our writer Drew McGee came up with this huge tale, which was just too big for one game. That’s why we decided to break Banner Saga into 3 parts. The idea itself was a combination of a number of factors: our love for Vikings and all northern things, the epic story and the incredible art of Eyvind Earle (Sleeping Beauty, 1959).
Contemporary gamers don’t really like to read, and games with a lot of text usually face a problem: people just click through all the story. To solve this, we’ve implemented the decision-making process in Banner Saga.
At the beginning we had the overall idea of the story, but all the details were not written. We know where the story is going, but how it gets there is a work in progress. I believe the game resonated so much with the audience, because it has mature themes. It’s about adult decision making. It’s about real interaction with the world and its people. Just like a good book or a television show. It’s a game that’s about adults and it’s for adults.
I think there’s a big market for people like this, who like these kinds of games, for people like me. I’ve been playing games since early 80s. I still want to play games, but the kind of games I want to play are quite different from what’s available right now.
People Behind Stoic Studio
There’s basically only three people in office and 5 people working with us in contract positions all over the world.
One of them is Igor Artyomenko – a prolific Russian artist, who does a lot of background art for our battle screens. We’ve actually made a contest online among the artist to pick up the best, and in the end we’ve picked up Igor. His works just blew us away.
Music is also a big part of the game. At first we were recording our own sound effects and making music with a little keyboard. During the Kickstarter we decided to have a little more fun with sound and we started looking around for new composers.
There are hundreds and hundreds of good composers out there. And we took a step back and asked ourselves a question: “If we could choose any composer out there, who would it be?” We’ve recently finished playing Journey and I was really impressed by the way music worked there. Music was the intrical part of the gameplay experience. And that’s when we decided to contact Austin Wintory.
He was very impressed by the project and eagerly joined our team. He wrote a wonderful score and recorded it with a 50-piece orchestra during multiple days. We went all in on the music and we’re going to do this again with the Banner Saga 2. Austin is going to make a whole different score for the second part.
We’ve got a lot of emails from people and feel grateful that fans take the time to share their thoughts and feeling.
There was one guy who wrote to us. He got to one point in the game where everything was so dire and everyone was miserable. An important character was missing. He got to that point and the music was playing and his caravan had to leave the city but he just couldn’t do it.
He stayed there and was so moved that he decided to quit the game. It was a wonderful email.
Banner Saga 2
Although it’s the continuation of the first game, it is totally accessible to newcomers, who haven’t played the original. You can definitely transfer your save game files (and all your decisions) to the sequel, but if you haven’t finished the game – just make a couple of choices before the launch of the new game in Banner Saga 2.
We want to keep all the main mechanics of the game the same. However we did add a few things. For example, we have a more vivid cinematic storytelling. Sometimes we add short clips to set the scene and get you in the mood for battle.
In Banner Saga we had several minutes of full-motion cinematics and most of that was used right in the beginning of the game. We have a little more cinematic in the sequel and it’s all broken up in pieces and we use these clips during the important parts of the story.
One of the other interesting features we’ve added to the sequel is the new caravan mechanic. We’ve noticed during the first game that a lot of players let their caravans die. They’ve just spent all the resources to sustain their heroes, cause there was a benefit in doing that. There was no benefit for keeping the caravan alive. There was no gameplay benefit I should say. To fix this we’ve added a few mechanics that made the caravan more important for the players. Now for saving the caravan you can get more renown, supplies and so on. You can even train some of the caravan members to be fighters. These small things give the game more meaning.
Experiments with F2P
Banner Saga Factions was released a year before the release of Banner Saga. This product was our proving ground for the combat. It allowed us to refine the combat system, since we decided it was the riskiest part of the game. We put it out there and let people fight against each other. We made it multiplayer, so I wouldn’t have to write the AI.
There was a great community around this game. Some people really liked the competitive aspect. We added some things that you could buy. Like different cosmetic stuff and boosters. However we never intended to make money out of it. It was always intended as a demo. We liked the competitive aspect of it and I wish we had the time to spend on making a full game with competitive PvP. But unfortunately we don’t.
Factions never did any money, but people are still playing it.
Banner Saga for Mobiles and Consoles
We launched the game on Steam and then we’ve made a version for iOS. We never really intended to sell out product cheap for mobile audience. Banner saga provides you with 12 hours of gameplay which is worth the price we chose. We would sell it for $20, but after market research decided to go with 10, because that’s what people expect to pay on iOS. It did well and sell a lot so we’re happy with the mobile launch. Apple featured us and it was great. But Steam is still the biggest platform for us. I can’t talk about the sales, but in terms of units it was less than a million. We continue to expand the franchise and tight now are working on the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game. We’ve implemented the controller support and it works great.