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Back when it was initially announced, Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest was supposed to be an RPG that featured plentiful roguelike elements, an overarching story and deep tactical combat. Then later, those ideas transformed into a more handcrafted experience that combined procedural generation with some pre-made levels. And now, as the game leaves pre-production, we learn that procedural generation is gone completely and on release, Druidstone will offer a more traditional, tightly focused RPG experience.
I have to say, I greatly enjoyed following Druidstone's pre-production journey and I appreciate how open the Ctrl Alt Ninja team has been when it comes to iterating on their vision, even if they regret such openness themselves. A bit more on all that:
This is big! As you may have been able to read between the lines, the development process of Druidstone hasn’t been all roses and butterflies. What I mean is that there has been some uncertainty with the project which has made it hard to communicate clearly what the game is truly about. That’s because up until now we have been in pre-production mode where we still try ideas and see what works and what doesn’t. But now that has changed. We know exactly what we are doing now.
That means that many things in the game which we have mentioned in the initial blog posts have changed. Actually, so much that the game as it is now and how it will develop in the coming months does not resemble the one displayed in old blog posts that much. Sure, we still have the same basic premise, the same environments, the top-down view and tactical combat, but the spirit of the game has changed. Has evolved, if you will. What started as a procedurally generated RPG has transformed and will transform into a much more tightly focused game.
So what exactly has changed? Here are the main points:
During the last year, iteration by iteration, the amount of procedurally generated content has been diminishing. At some point we had to ask ourselves what point does the procedural generation have anymore. That was when we started working on the editor, and after that pieces have started to click into place very fast. Last week was the real kicker and we could produce a near shippable quality 30 minute segment of the game in just a couple of days. That’s huge! It’s very rare that we can make such a big leap in just a couple of days.
- Procedural generation is gone. Long live the editor! Every map and every encounter will be handcrafted.
- Focus on deep and tactical combat system. We want to make the combat really challenging so that every action you make every turn is a careful choice. Like playing chess with fantasy characters.
- Focus on fun gameplay mechanics. We are not writing a book, not filming a movie, we are making a game, and gameplay is king.
- No fluff. We want to make a tightly focused game, the same design principle we had with Grimrock. No filler content. Less is more. Or as Antoine de Saint-Exupery puts it famously “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
But the main difference is really inside our heads. We now understand exactly what kind of game we really, really want to make. Sometimes when analysing the markets and looking at what kind of games are the topsellers, and worrying about the doom and gloom of indie developers, it’s easy to forget what your heart really desires. But if you listen carefully to yourself, you can perhaps hear a faint whisper. And if you keep listening to that inner voice, the voice gets louder, until it becomes a great booming voice that makes your bones shiver and skin tingle with determination: “YOU GOTTA MAKE THIS GAME!”
Listening to yourself is the greatest and most important skill a game developer can have. This is hugely important, but difficult to explain why. It’s the thing that guides us through the development process and tells us what the game needs and what it doesn’t. It’s the vision what the game is really about.
This is such an important milestone for us because now we have confidence in that this game will be great. It makes us want to pour all the love, sweat and energy we have to make the best game we absolutely can.
Speaking from personal experience, I’ve only had a similar feeling once before. That was when I was working on Grimrock 1. Believe it or not, Grimrock 1 was made in less than a year, from scratch to release. Looking back at it, I still don’t quite get how we managed to do it in such a short time. But the answer is, of course, simple: we had a clear vision from the start and we worked our asses off to make it happen. Now that same feeling is back and we are really relieved, happy, motivated and excited at the same time. Making a game hasn’t been this fun in many years!
In hindsight maybe setting up this dev blog in such an early stage of the project wasn’t the wisest idea, but we have always striven to maintain an open, honest and transparent view into the dev process. Mainly because we think it’s the right thing to do but also because (hopefully!) it’s interesting to follow us as we tread on the uncharted paths.
That said, as we now move into production mode (making the game in our heads come true!), we are going to take a break from updating this blog. That’s because we want to focus 200% on the game we’re creating. But when we do come back (and we will!) we will present to you Druidstone, the real deal. That’s a promise!