Indie developer Joe Woynillowicz was kind enough to take some time out of working on Darktide to answer a few questions about his history, being a game developer, and finding talent in Ontario. Check it out below!
TorontoGameDevs.com: Thanks for doing the interview Joe! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Your history as a developer, and history of Creoterra.
Joe: Well to start from the beginning I started writing code around my 12th birthday after I found QBasic, and then moved on to learning C so that I could code BBS door games and customizations. From there I’ve worked as an engineer in a variety of industries such as finance, GIS, and of course games. I had mainly worked in a completely technical capacity as an engineer or technical director, then after work I would spend time learning game design, story telling, and continually learning more tech. Along with working at various game studios I’ve been part of the indie game development community really ever since the launch of Gamedev.net back in 1999. Creoterra was born based on a game idea that I had quite awhile ago and I played with over the years in my spare time. Before starting the company Darktide was actually meant to be a tiny little multiplayer tactics game with minimal art and world design that really was just a hobby project. Over the course of a few years on and off I nailed down the core gameplay and various ideas for the races, although they weren’t fleshed out and were really just ways to group units and abilities. At that point I decided there really was enough there to go into full production on the game, bring more people onboard, and really focus on building out the world and storylines.
TorontoGameDevs.com: Can you describe Darktide? What made you want to work on a strategy RPG? What are your influences?
Joe: Darktide is a turn-based strategy RPG where we’ve focused heavily on world design and storylines and trying to bring some new ideas to the genre. There are actually two full campaigns, one for each major faction, which allow you to play through the story from either side. Along with that we’ve built our dynamic campaign system and really worked on weaving the storyline based on the choices a player makes and their outcomes in battle. So not only are there two campaigns to play through but you’ll have a different experience each time. This has been a tremendous amount of work as we wanted choices to actually matter and affect the main story, rather than just small decisions that really don’t affect how the story moves along. I guess one way to describe it would be like a choose your own adventure book where you can take various paths and come out with different endings. Now along with that we’ve also built a full range of features for playing multiplayer, so you can take to the battlefield against others and compete in, tournaments, leaderboards, and really fight to see who is truly the most feared in Aeloria. The decision to build a strategy RPG was mainly due to my background in gaming which has always been in strategy and RPGs, as well as one of my main hobbies being boardgaming, and that is where the original idea for building the prototype came from. There have been a variety of influences some in the genre such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Ogre Tactics, Pox Nora, XCom, and Disgaea. Mind you there are also many outside of tactical strategy which really pushed us to how we think about world design and story such as Planescape: Torment, Shadowbane, Pillars of Eternity, and countless others.
TorontoGameDevs.com: What's the story of Darktide? It sounds like characters choices will guide it a bit? How is that going to work?
Joe: In Darktide when you start the campaign you choose which faction you want to experience the story as, and as I mentioned you can play through each as separate campaigns. Each faction includes four races which have formed alliances and pacts, some stronger and some loosely knit, each having their own objectives and enemies. The campaigns are dynamic, in that there are many times where you will have to make a decision on which battle you are going to send your guild to fight in. Are you going to defend the Dvergar auralite mines from the Lithos invaders? Or join forces with the Aduro in pushing the Az’modai back into the desert and away from the borderlands? You’ll be presented with both options but you’ll have to decide which one you’ll take part in, and this will affect your guild’s reputation and the way the story progresses. It’s something that we have spent an insane amount of development time on, as we really wanted to make your decisions and the outcomes of battle actually matter, rather than just have some one-off choices that add a bit of side story but don’t alter the overall course of the story. Some decisions that you make and battles you take part in have major consequences, even causing the deaths of major characters!
TorontoGameDevs.com: Probably the two biggest Strategy RPG's now-a-days are Fire Emblem, and Disgaea - both Japanese titles. Why do you think it isn't a genre that a lot of North American studios tackle?
Joe: Well on the console those would likely be the two largest right now, but at the same time we’ve seen a lot of studios stepping up and building games in the genre. Over the last few years we’ve seen XCom and The Banner Saga really hit it out of the park, and there are really numerous games that have released on steam that are quite high quality from the Blackguards series, to King’s Bounty, to newer indie titles like Armello.
TorontoGameDevs.com: What's it like developing a game in Toronto? How has it been getting things like funding, or talent?
Joe: While we’re based in Toronto our development has really been an international effort. Our art director is based in Sweden, and our sound and music has been worked on by multiple people in the US. We’re looking at ramping up our in-house talent over the course of this year as we continue development on Darktide and look towards supporting the game into the future. We’ve been self-funded right from the get-go as we wanted to really build out the core idea before approaching gamers on Kickstarter. One thing we didn’t want to do was crowdfund the title before we had the core gameplay, world design, and how the campaign systems work and basic stories nailed down, otherwise that would be insanely hard to budget and I like to be really open and honest with the player base. By building out the core we’ve really eliminated any risk aspects and at the point we’re at now we’re extremely confident in what we need to finish things in a very high quality. Regarding location over the past few months we’ve actually been looking at studio space in Waterloo region. For the entirety of development we’ve been in Toronto, but being such a small self-funded studio the costs are quite high in comparison, and KW has an amazing talent pool to tap into as well as a few other game studios.
TorontoGameDevs.com: What's next for Darktide? Do you have a release date in mind for the game?
Joe: Right now we have the core gameplay built out but there is still a lot of work to do. We just recently finished replacing the entirety of the art as we unified everything and really upped the details and quality. There is still a lot of work to do polishing environments, effects, and character animations, but we’ve got a lot of the core complete. Also we used to have more of a rigid linear storyline before really keying in on the dynamic campaign system during our initial alpha testing. People really liked the system but wanted to see deeper interaction and consequences, and so we went back to the drawing board and have been spending a massive amount of time on the story rewriting components and writing a ton of new pathways the story can take. We’re very close to a point where we’re going to launch a Square Enix Collective campaign to get a lot more eyeballs on the game and let people see what we’ve been building, and then later in the year we’re looking at launching a campaign on Kickstarter.
TorontoGameDevs.com: Any last things you want to say about the game, or Creoterra in general?
Joe: I really think we’ve been working towards something with a lot of depth that really hasn’t been done in the genre. We have a heavy focus on the world and story, but also the core of our combat with such a variety completely unique units at launch with each having three very distinct abilities, it plays out much different than anything we’ve played in the past. When I’m gaming I’m heavily into multiplayer and so that has been a core focus from the beginning and I really think Darktide will have a really great competitive side to it online.