There aren't very many turn-based strategy/RPG hybrids out there, so when one of them comes along and looks as good as Masters of the Broken World does, I stand at attention and listen intently. But listening isn't always enough for a game with so much depth to its inner systems, so I turned to Snowball Studios' Vladimir Tortsov to see if he'd be willing to delve a little deeper into the game's mechanics. Luckily, he was, and so I present to you the first half of our lengthy Q&A:
GB: Masters of the Broken World started out as a prototype in 2007 and was even released in 2009 as "Eador" in some territories. Can you elaborate more on the game's history and why you've continued to iterate on the same concept for so many years?
Vladimir: That's right. The original game was started in 2007 by a games designer Alexey Bokulev, who managed to create the 2D TBS strategy called 'Eador' almost alone. The game looked like this.
In 2010, 'Eador' was released by an indie Russian publisher Snowball Studios in the retail as a limited edition with a bonus soundtrack. The sales were good, but the game wasn't published anywhere outside CIS and was available only in Russian. Then it was decided that 'Eador' deserves the chance to conquer the Western markets. The reasons were simple: it's a great game, the press and gamers love it (average game rating was around 80%).
Thus was started The Masters of the Broken World (MBW) project. Lead game designer is the same Alexey Bokulev, who created the original game from the scratch, but he isn't alone anymore - Unicorn Games (developers of XIII Century: Death or Glory) is in charge of the technical stuff like AI programming, new graphics and interface, etc. while Snowbird Games (formerly known as Snowberry Connection. Yes, we aware that some of us have a weird passion for snow) is acting as an overseer of the production process.
As for the second part of the question, we find the concept of MBW is extremely promising. Judge for yourself: the combination of the grand strategy (Civilization, Europa Universalis), turn-based strategy mode (Total War) and tactical battles (King's Bounty, HoMM) and it’s actually working!:) All we need to do with the re-make now is to recreate the original game on the modern 3D-engine and correct the minor gameplay imperfections along the way.
GB: We understand that the game will have a heavy dose of role-playing elements. Can you tell us more about the role-playing elements and why RPG fans should be excited for the game?
Vladimir: First of all, let’s define the meaning of role-playing elements. For most games it means that there will be some kind of a role system, characters’ attributes and special abilities, level progressing and weapons with different stats. It is totally OK, but sometimes the real meaning of role-playing is lost behind all these ‘role-playing elements’.
In Masters of the Broken World the role-playing is the way of making decisions and choosing your own style of the interaction with the world. Imagine that in while playing Civilization V or Empire: Total War you’re trying to roleplay Bismarck or Washington – sounds bizarre, isn’t it? It just isn’t really possible because those games are more about the war and conquest rather than about tough political decisions. MBW, on the contrary, is very ego-centric game: it is very important that the player acts as one of the Masters – almighty beings with very strong individual features. As one of them you have the power to choose your own way of ruling the world and that’s what the real role-playing is about, we think.
True RPG fans should be excited about MBW, because it brings the real freedom of choice on the table – that’s something you don’t see every day in the modern videogames.
And yes, we also do have the ‘typical’ role-playing elements like different heroes with different abilities, level progressing, units upgrades and variety of weapons :).
GB: Ever since its original announcement, Masters of the Broken World has always been described as non-linear. But as a turn-based strategy/RPG hybrid with a campaign, that doesn't sound very easy to do. How much freedom are you able to afford players each turn and how many different ways can the game play out given the player's choices?
Vladimir: Non-linearity is one of the main features of MBW. There are 7 different endings in the game, but there aren’t any direct ways to get any of them. During the grand campaign player interacts with the other Masters, declaring wars, making alliances or receiving some special quest from them. By choosing his friends and foes player forms the unique storyline which could lead to the total annihilation as well as to the great revelation of all secrets of The Broken World.
The event system that triggers almost every game turn will throw different situations into the player. Each decision made will have its effect on the way that story unfolds and possibly on the future game’s ending.
GB: Tell us a bit about the main campaign and the storyline behind it. Is the primary goal always to reunite Eador's broken shards into one unified land mass? Or are there multiple ways that we can achieve a satisfying conclusion to the campaign?
Vladimir: The story of The Broken World – is the story of The Masters, fighting with each other for the global domination. Uniting the broken shards is their only way to become stronger and authoritative. Some of them want to save the mankind, others want to eliminate the living and rule the empire of the undead and so on. Player’s own goals as The Master isn’t preformulated in any way – he is able to decide which philosophy he wants to follow and what goals he needs to pursue.
In the grand campaign player progresses by conquering other shards and attaching them to his homeworld. The more shards is under his control – the more power he possesses (advanced buildings, troops and magical spells become available). Of course, the player could try to be the pacifist and avoid any confrontation with the other Masters, but then an unpleasant accident could happen: The Chaos will devour the homeworld of the idle player teaching him a good lesson – the one should fight his way to the top if he wants to survive.
By the way, the game conclusion could be reached before the shards are united altogether – for instance, if the player managed to locate all the traces of the extinct race of the Ancients and solve the big mystery behind the Cataclysm and The Masters’ role in it, he will receive one of the most desirable endings possible – The Great Revelation.
GB: King's Bounty, Heroes of Might and Magic, and Master of Magic are often mentioned as your biggest influences for creating Masters of the Broken World. For those players who are familiar with the aforementioned titles, how would you compare and contrast your game to those classics?
Vladimir: MBW vs King’s Bounty. Well, the only gameplay element that is quite similar in both games is the tactical battles screen. Maybe, the whole graphic cuteness reminds King's Bounty: The Legend a little. And, oh, yes, the troll units in both games look pretty similar to each other :).
MBW vs HoMM. We have a similar heroes’ development system and armies cannot move on the strategy map without heroes. Everything else is quite different. Especially, the strategy map divided into provinces and, as a result, full-scale war operations on the shard level.
MBW vs MoM. The similarities are: the exploration of the different places of interest (ruins, towers, caves, etc); communications with the opponents, which have unique personality; very important role of magic – skilled sorcerer could win a battle even without the help of the allied units. The differences are: all construction takes place in the capital city, so the player doesn’t need to pay a lot of attention to the routine micro-management of the identical cities across the map; the game races aren’t predefined – the player could choose his allies according to his taste or the game situation ‘on the run’.
GB: How important is the karma system and how far-reaching are its effects on the game? Can you give us a few examples of choices we'll have to make while playing that will positively or negatively impact our karma? Is it always beneficial to gain "good" karma versus "bad" karma?
Vladimir: The karma system isn’t something prevailing in the game – if player don’t want to roleplay and follow the particular ‘good’ or ‘evil’ path, it doesn’t mean that he will ultimately lose the game. However, if the player knows how the karma system works, it will give him some advantage: he will carefully consider his choices each time, trying to predict the consequences, as a true leader, rather than mindlessly pick the "good" or "bad" reply following the chosen role.
Here is an example:
Outbreak of the black plague happened in the province Raven steppes. Many died, the lives of the rest are in danger. What are your orders?
- Hire more healers (pay 20 crystals) - It’s normal, the mortals tend to die... - Sell their fresh corpses to the necromants
Each decision will have its own consequences. In this case the ‘evil’ order will allow us to turn the bad event to our advantage. With some side effects, of course. In general it’s better to be good than evil, because your army will be stronger and your people will love you. But the attractiveness of the dark side lies in its economical effectiveness – the player can make money almost in every situation! ‘Evil’ units are weaker than ‘Good’, it’s true, but they much cheaper to hire.