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Earlier this month, Harebrained Schemes announced The Lamplighters League, a pulp-inspired tactical adventure set in an occult-infused version of 1932. Which now brings us to the game's first developer diary where the studio's director Chris Rogers opens up about his team's vision for the game.
As a result, we can learn why The Lamplighters League will have a roster of recruitable characters with their own personalities and synergies instead of a pool of expendable units. We're also told about some of the inspirations for this project and its pulp-flavored world. And finally, we get a few paragraphs on the game's infiltration system.
Here are the text bits:
Welcome to the first Dev Diary for The Lamplighters League and the Tower at the End of the World. My name is Chris Rogers—I’m the game’s Director and in this first dev diary I wanted to share the inspiration behind the game.
Our vision for The Lamplighters League was always to make a tactical game that featured an ensemble cast of charming rogues, desperate odds, and a larger than life adventure. We wanted the game’s setting to be familiar enough for you to jump right in without a lot of table setting, but keep the flexibility to create unique abilities for our cast and daunting enemies for them to fight.
That led us to our alternate 1932. Behind the scenes, a secret occult war has raged for centuries over control of a mystical tower that has existed since the dawn of time. As the game opens, the enemy has all but won the war. There are no heroes left, the best of the best are dead or gone to ground. It is up to you to assemble the best of the worst—thieves, killers, and scoundrels—for one last ditch campaign to stop the enemy before they can claim the tower for themselves.
It was an ambitious vision, and in order to pull it all off we knew we needed to start somewhere.
Characters, not Units
We started with the characters.
We went to work on early prototypes, building an ensemble cast of Lamplighters who would all have their own unique abilities, their own views on the war they found themselves in, as well their own views on each other. From early on, we wanted The Lamplighters League to be a tactical game where you play characters, not units.
We love ensemble casts at Harebrained Schemes. There’s something special about seeing a group of characters, each with their own expertise, motivations, desires, and quirks coming together to accomplish a nearly impossible goal. And a squad-based game is a great opportunity to build an ensemble since you get to take charge of your entire team of agents.
In the earliest development of the game we relied on paper prototypes, playing tabletop versions of the game to try out ideas quickly. These were pretty crude, played with 3x5 cards and printed rulesets. Even then we knew that our agents’ fighting abilities, motivations, their visuals, and personality were all intertwined with one another and would need to inform and reinforce each other to make up a great Lamplighter. In the end, those aspects are so connected that it’s difficult to stick to just one aspect of an agent in trying to describe what makes each special.
Ingrid, for example, was one of the earliest characters we prototyped. She was always the femme fatale: icily flirtatious, precise and professional. We could hear her voice in our heads and we knew how she saw the world, but it took iteration to find an ability set that clicked for her. On our paper battlefield, we found that that meant melee, she would be up close and personal… and, as a melee focused character, she would never miss. But shouldn’t the melee character be a big, hulking brute? Yet the best femme fatales always surprise us with their ruthlessness. If you’re playing her effectively she’s often surrounded, finishing off enemy after enemy, more vulnerable, literally, than she first appears… and that might have some resonance with her character as well.
In addition to their unique ability set, each character has their own innate passive ability that is a key to both their personality and the way they fight. Ingrid, for example, has Killer Instinct; she gets an additional Action Point when she eliminates an enemy, allowing her to string together multiple killing blows with the right coordination and planning—like I said, precise and professional.
Of course, a great ensemble isn’t about any one character, but how each fits together as a group. We designed your agents to play well off of each other tactically as well as narratively. From the beginning, we wanted recruiting a new Lamplighter to your team to be a big moment in the game because each one adds a whole new playstyle to your arsenal. And as your roster expands, you can find new synergies between your agents.
On the dev team we all have our favorite squads, some of us choose our squads for the pure combo interplay between the agents’ ability sets, and others because they enjoy the narrative interplay of the team.
Always Pulp, Sometimes Noir, Never Camp
We’ll talk more about your agents in a future dev diary. For now, let’s talk a little about the world they live in.
The Lamplighters League draws inspiration from the pulp adventures of the 20’s and 30’s. Reading those old stories, you come away with this feverish sense that anything might be out there in the shadows. In those pages, there are mysteries and strange threats that rational science can’t fully explain. In The Lamplighters League, you are thrust into just such a conflict. Many of your agents are uninitiated in the ways of the occult world, meaning that they find themselves in the exact same position as you are, coming to terms with the world’s true nature even as they step into the breach.
Meanwhile, your foe, a secret cult that calls themselves the Banished Court, seems to hold all the cards. Each faction of the Court has access to strange and uncanny powers that make them especially dangerous. You won’t have much to counter them at first, just a few agents, and it will be up to you to determine how to do it. Will you pursue a strategy of limiting their progress by harrying them or instead focus on building up your team and searching out the relics you will need to stop them once and for all? Along the way you will rescue allies, destroy evil shrines, raid the enemy’s supplies, and steal from ancient tombs. At some point you will have to face the Court’s powerful Scions on the field, dangerous enemies with incredible and growing power.
Whatever approach you choose, The Lamplighters League is always a rip-roaring pulp adventure.
Besides pulp adventures, one of the other key touchstones for us was the wry wit of the noir detectives of the time period. In those books and films, you always feel that the quips and verbal repartee are a way of coping with the looming shadows and sour corruption that threaten to overwhelm the characters. It’s these occasional moments of Noir, the moments when you lose an agent, or they contemplate the dangers they are facing with a fatalist bravado that are some of my personal favorites.
We have often said during development that our game would be “always pulp, sometimes noir, but never camp.” We never wanted to wink at our characters or make fun of the setting for some quick laughs. We have tried to resist the temptation to sacrifice the stakes for you or your characters in favor of a quick poke at our pulp origins.
Infiltration & Combat
In The Lamplighters League, you are outnumbered and outgunned, and instead of conventional soldiers you have a squad of criminals and assassins. You won’t survive by fighting fair, so you better learn to fight dirty.
Early on we knew we had a challenge (which is just a fancy word for a problem): how to give the player the flexibility they needed to plan and execute an ambush quickly. We built a number of prototypes on paper and a couple in-engine, and in the end the clear winner was a hybrid between real-time infiltration and turn-based combat. It was so fast and fun to scout enemy positions, look for advantages, and set up ambushes in real-time. Patrolling enemies added tension to your efforts to find the best place to “go loud,” and, crucially, realtime would give you lots of control and power over how a combat encounter would play out.
At its core, The Lamplighters League is a tactical turn-based combat game. A combat encounter plays out quite differently, however, depending on how you choose to approach it during the real-time infiltration phase. Each of your agents has one of three real-time roles and each role has a limited number of “takedowns” that they can use to eliminate enemies before the fight begins. We’ll talk more about that in a future dev diary, too.
At some point you’re going to go loud, whether that’s because it's time to execute your well-planned ambush or because the enemy has discovered you snooping around. Once the enemy is aware of you, the game drops into turn-based combat. We will talk more in-depth about The Lamplighters League’s take on turn-based combat (which is the backbone of the game) in future dev diaries.
That’s all for now. I hope this quick introduction to the game has given you a better understanding of The Lamplighters League and the Tower at the End of the World. Our next two diaries are going to examine our agents in more depth and give you a chance to meet more Lamplighters from our game as well as hear from other voices on our dev team!