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Alexander Mishulin, the creative director at Owlcat Games, recently had a chat with MMORPG.com about his studio's upcoming isometric RPG Pathfinder: Kingmaker. The resulting interview goes over the intricacies of adapting the complex Pathfinder ruleset for a cRPG, the game's projected length, the team's creative process, Owlcat's collaboration with Chris Avellone, and more. A couple of sample questions:
MMORPG: Why turn the Pathfinder tabletop experience to a CRPG?
Alexander Mishulin: We’ve played Pathfinder, and a lot of other tabletop RPGs, for quite a long time. It was a huge deal when tabletop gaming hit Russia around 20 years ago. Before then, there were almost no tabletop RPGs available. When they finally arrived, there were rumors of people bringing in this “Player’s Handbook” from a game called Dungeons and Dragons. After a while, people would manage to meet each other and start playing this game.
When I joined Nival Interactive, we played quite a lot of tabletop RPGs. Pathfinder became particularly intriguing when it moved to the 3.5 rule set. It is full of kingdoms that you really want to visit. Each of these Kingdoms is unique in some way and has some great adventure paths, which are essentially campaigns full of stories and opportunities to role play. It is a chance to feel something different from the same old hack and slash. Slashing through a dungeon can be fun but after a time you might want something more elaborate, and since Pathfinder allows you to build a kingdom, it was a difference that we found really interesting.
For a number of the team at Owlcat, our history is in making MMORPGs. We got a little tired of the enormity of these projects. When the chance to create an isometric RPG came up, we jumped at the chance. The obvious choice then became Pathfinder because we had all played it so much, as a tabletop game.
MMORPG: Moving away from lore and dialogue and getting into the game, Kingmaker seems to streamline a lot of tabletop elements, like rolling for initiative and player actions. How did you go about streamlining these ideas?
AM: Initially, our intention was to implement the core rulebook as closely as we possibly could and give players all the feedback they would expect from the tabletop game. When we did that, however, we found that the game was very unforgiving. In the real world, there is normally a GM running things that understands the players. They know when a party needs to rest or can change the difficulty for less experienced players.
We realized that some players would love this authentic representation of Pathfinder, but many players will also want to have other experiences. To deal with this, we created a very diverse scale of difficulty. In story mode, for example, it is expected that you will be paying a bit more attention to the story and dialogue choices, while in the toughest option you might be more interested in tactics and mechanics over the story. Due to this, we made a huge list of options that can be tweaked. This allows various aspects of the core system to be more or less important, depending on the player preference.
An example might be a particular encounter with a set of rouges, in some situations these rouges can get behind your characters and backstab you, completely destroying you in one shot. In this case, initiative becomes incredibly important and you may want to go back and work on that. You might want to slot spells to counteract the rogues. This is the kind of situation that makes exploring and learning these systems particularly interesting in Kingmaker.