Cory Young began working on a board game four years ago that combined table top mechanics with digital RPG mechanics. As it attracted the interest of his friends, Cory decided to transfer it from a physical board game to a digital RPG, and by gathering a small team development on For The King began.
It’s an online RPG meant to be played with other people. And while it’s inspired by a love for classic RPGs such as Final Fantasy and Wizardy, For The King is designed to be played from start to finish in a single session, however, it has roguelike elements meaning that getting to the end is tough. It’s a game meant to be replayed quite a bit.
The other striking thing about For The King, at least initially, is its graphics. It’s a quasi low-poly look that is meant to hearken to those old-school RPGs without losing its modern sensibilities. You can decide on the success of that for yourself.
In the meantime, there happens to be a lot more going on in For The King than just that, as Siliconera found out when talking to Colby Young himself, as well as his artist Gord Moran. Most of it is already in development but some of it will be left to the fate of a Kickstarter campaign due this September. Find out more in the interview below.
You say that you’re inspired by NetHack, Wizardry, and early Final Fantasy games. What, in particular, do you enjoy about these games?
Colby Young, designer: Speaking for myself, games like Final Fantasy I-VII are fantastic examples of character development and featured legendary storytelling which is a big reason why I love those games. From a gameplay standpoint I really appreciated their use of the overworld and the pace of revealing new areas of the game through different modes of travel. Final Fantasy IV is a perfect example of this with the hovercraft which connected shorelines to the airship which gave the player complete freedom. Eventually, the modified airship allowed travel to the underground dwarven kingdom and finally the Lunar Whale which could take you to the mysterious moon. Nothing says adventure like boarding a ship and going into the unknown.
When speaking of the games sense of exploration and mystery, it’s drawn from classic RPGs such as early Ultima and Wizardry games. Many elements of For The King, from boat to travel to our alluring pools, behave in a way that those familiar with Britannia will recognize.
For The King aims to capture that feeling of adventure and storytelling that these series have but with the unpredictable nature of a game like NetHack. The big difference is rather than providing a linear experience for the player, we instead give them a final objective to complete and let them be creative in how it is achieved with minimum direction. Each random iteration of Fahrul is different, but the main quest is always consistent.
What, specifically, have you taken from those games and put into For The King? And how does For The King break out from this and find its own identity?
Colby: In For The King we’ve created a fantastic overworld that works in a similar fashion to the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series. Anyone who enjoyed those early entries in the series will appreciate what we have going on in For The King. It works similarly with the enemy encounters, but If not properly dispatched enemies can remain on the map which is where the games strategic undertones begin revealing themselves.
Players are not limited exclusively to enemy encounters on the overworld map either. Various characters, situations, and scenarios can be discovered during your travel which can permanently alter the world for you and the other players. The overworld, along with our dynamic weather system and time of day, really feels like a living, breathing entity as the game progresses. A rainy night in the Guardian Forest might produce different encounters compared to a nice, sunny day.
As I mentioned previously, I really enjoy different forms of travel to explore new lands which is something the Final Fantasy series did exceptionally well. Players can purchase a boat and sail the uncharted seas, sometimes out of necessity if that is where their adventure leads them. This is an element I feel strongly about because boats are just plain fun and, when a party is traveling the sea together, they are putting their fates into the hands of the unforgiving ocean. If you have watched our teaser trailer you will note that they are not the safest form of travel so there is certainly a sense of fear associated with them.
Could you go into more depth about For The King’s combat system? How will it work – is it turn-based and party-based? How much room for varying tactics will there be? How challenging are you aiming to make it?
Gord Moran, artist: Combat in For The King is a turn-based party system similar to the old titles in the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series. Players and enemies take turn enacting commands based off their initiative stats. Depending on the weapon a character has, they’ll have a variety of different actions available to them as well as the ability to use any item on their belt. You can only equip up to three items on your belt, so picking the right mix of items before the battle starts is crucial. Different weapons and shields will give the option to perform special strikes which, when executed properly can have a variety of effects like stun, bleed, or heal.
When a character selects a specific action they’ll roll a series of slots which represent success or failure. The more proficient a character (whether it’s with a weapon, an item, or even fleeing) the higher likelihood they’ll have of landing successful slots. Maxing out your slots means maxing out your damage. However, certain special strikes require you to be successful in all slots or else the attack completely fails adding an element of risk versus reward.
But it’s not all left up to chance. Players have a small number of “focus” points which they can spend to guarantee a successful hit for a single slot. These focus points can only be regained by staying at an inn, and even then only one point per turn is gained, making them a rare commodity. Strategic use of these focus points is one of the main ways players can get a leg up in battle.
And you’ll need all the help you can get in battle. Combat is quick and brutal. Successful players will need to know when they’re in over their heads and flee, regroup, heal up, and try again. Once you flee, that enemy remains on the overworld map, blocking your path until you’re strong enough to challenge it again.
Outside of combat, what else will we be able to do in For The King’s world? Exploration? Trading? Home making?
Colby: For The King is online and team-based so trading is absolutely there, in fact we’ve created a fun way of distributing rewarded loot across multiple players so the transfer of items is prominent.
Another fun part of For The King is the solitary blacksmith who resides deep in the woods, once learning more about him you’ll discover that he can craft rare items for you if you bring him specific resources you’ve collected during your travels. These crafting recipes are persistent and sometime difficult to complete. Once you’ve crafted an item, you can leave it in Fahrul’s armory for future use, preventing you from crafting the same items over and over and allowing you to always focus on new items.
Haunts are a game upon themselves and also a particular element of gameplay that players will need to keep in check. With each game a new random selection of haunts are chosen. As time progresses they will begin to activate one by one and once active they release their scourge upon the world. A favorite example of one is the Bandit King. He resides in the Bandit Camp and once this haunt is active he will increase all the town prices across Fahrul which can severely screw up your plans. It’s up to the player to pre-emptively seal the haunts or else dispatch the scourges once active. There are over a dozen scourges currently, each presenting different challenges to the players. Some scourges are more uncommon and so vicious that all players will have to drop what they’re doing and take it down immediately otherwise face certain doom.
We also have other locations like the seedy town of Devil’s Wharf that allows for gambling and a gladiator arena that players can visit to combat unique enemies and unlock new game features. Most points of interests have some sort of mechanic players can leverage to aid in their quest, they typically involve a risk versus reward challenges which can result in anything from increased experience to accidentally unleashing a scourge on the land. One player’s greed can ruin a game for everyone else.
You mention For The King will have "unique mechanics," which is pretty vague. Could you elaborate on that at all?
Gord: Apart from being a multiplayer turn-based RPG, our lore system and some of the systems we’ve alluded to previously, there are several other smaller systems within the game that we consider unique or at least a unique version of an existing system. We basically try to put a fresh spin on all of our systems and mechanics. Take encounters for example.
We mentioned that overworld encounters aren’t restricted to combat. You may find a traveling healer that can heal your wounds for a price or a wounded soldier slumped over at the side of the road or a suspicious treasure chest lying out in the open. They may be helpful scenarios, they may attempt to hinder you, or they may even be traps. In the final case, the awareness of the character who comes across these situations may alert them to the trap or else fail to do so resulting in unpleasant circumstances.
Similarly, the awareness of a character may give them a heads up when encountering enemies in the world. We try to model our systems after how they may play out in reality. This adherence to reality guides many of our gameplay mechanics. So if you happen to spot an enemy without them seeing you, you are not simply sucked into combat with an extra attack round or initiative gained. Instead you’re given a choice. Do you want to ambush the enemy, attempt to sneak past them, or turn back? Each option tests a different attribute of the player.
How would you describe the look of For The King? What are you going for here – what’s it supposed to achieve? And how did you settle on this particular style?
Gord: The art of For The King follows the low-poly aesthetic. It’s basically an homage to early 3D games, which we hold near and dear to our hearts. We don’t try to hide the raw building materials, or polygons, in our models. Similar to how architects use exposed brick and beams to give their structures a certain raw yet warm quality, we’re doing the same but in the digital world.
The low-poly aesthetic (which is a bit of a misnomer because some of our scenes use quite a lot of polys!) is meant to evoke a feeling of nostalgia, which is mirrored by our game mechanics. We’re very much making a game that modernizes some of our favorite old school mechanics, so the retro models rendered in today’s powerful engines works perfectly with For The King.
The other great thing about this style is it allows us to create many more assets than would be possible with many other styles due to their inherent simplicity. This is massively important, because For The King, like other roguelikes (think NetHack), benefits from a breadth of content. One of the first questions we asked ourselves when starting this project was, how are we going to do this? How are we going to create eight realms, over 80 characters and enemies, countless weapons, armor, and loot, and all the other art that goes into making a game with a team of only three people? The low-poly aesthetic was the key.
Lore seems to be important to For The King given that you have a page on your website dedicated to it. Why have you put this much effort into game’s lore? Can it be discovered through playing the game alone or will a lot of it only be found on your website?
Colby: Lore is discoverable in game, in fact it is the driving force behind our persistent playthroughs. Every time you discover something new in game, it is unlocked in your journal. The town library is where you can go to spend your hard earned lore on things you’ve discovered in the past. Doing so will unlock new game mechanics, or increase the effectiveness of existing ones. The characters you play as are disposable, they will come and go, but the lore and how you craft your understanding of Fahrul is what remains.
There are bite-sized lore excerpts delivered in-game which help paint a rich, colorful story. As you learn about certain aspects of the world, these get more and more detailed. A basic physical description of a town will evolve into a short history lesson of its past. This mechanic not only reveals new information, but can also reveal new town quests and other options for the player.
Another example are the alluring pools which initially appear as nothing more than strange pools of water. After learning more about them through the investment of lore, you learn they form a vast network of mystical channels which can be used to randomly travel to other pools. If you choose to spend a little more lore then you’ll learn how to control which pool you emerge from. If you invest the maximum amount of lore, you will learn that travel through these pools is not entirely limited to the normal planes of existence.
As for the story chapters on our website, they are primarily used to help garner interest during development but was also a good way to help Sean Hoyle, our lore master, find the right notes to hit for Fahrul and foreshadow what kind of things to expect during gameplay. Let’s just say that Warden Fraybee is alive and well in one way or another.
You are taking For The King to Kickstarter. What’s your plan here – how much money are you looking for and what will that go towards?
Gord: We’re planning on Kickstarting in September to help raise money for everything our tiny team of three can’t manage on our own. This includes audio, music, animations, and extra art support. There’s a base amount we need for that and it’s in the $30-40K range.
The team of three at IronOak are in a unique spot where we can be self sufficient just long enough to finish the core game, so fortunately we don’t need to cover our own costs during this time. That means we personally won’t see a dime until we launch. However, we have tons more great ideas and mechanics that will take time or more people to implement. So we’re going to be very clear what these ideas are and just how much we estimate they’ll cost to implement. Those will be our stretch goals.
As with any game of this sort, it benefits greatly from a breadth of experience and content. And while the base game will definitely be fun, raising money above and beyond what we’re asking for will allow us to create an even better adventure and experience. All the money we raise will go directly into making the game more awesome, not a cent into our own pockets. That’s how dedicated to this game we are, that’s how much we believe in this idea.