Wargroove, a tactical game inspired by the likes of Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, and Shining Force III, is about to give people on every major platform a chance to take part in a war that will involve four factions on the continent of Aurania. Or, if people feel like it, use the editor to craft their own adventures. Siliconera caught up with Finn “Tiy” Brice, the CEO and Founder of Chucklefish and its Lead Designer, to talk about the development of Wargroove and what people might expect from this strategy game.
Siliconera: Wargroove was first publicly revealed in 2017, but how long have you personally been brainstorming and working on the project?
Finn Brice: We started working on it around mid 2016. I got to work on it from the start! Which was great. The brainstorming and ideas portion of development is one of the most wonderful parts for me.
When a project comes to a close at Chucklefish, we take a couple of weeks and give absolutely everyone in the company a chance to pitch ideas, put together presentations, anything they’d like to do to put forwards an idea. Then we have long, excitable discussions about all of the things people came up with and which of them we’d like to explore. It’s a really fun process that ensures we end up working on something that we actually feel passionate about and want to play.
That sounds like a really cool idea. Is that how some recent games, like Wargroove and Witchbrook, got their start? As part of those post-project pitching sessions?
Brice: Yup! Both of them came out of our last pitching session. There was so much excitement in the studio over these two projects that we had to do them both.
During the course of Wargroove‘s development, which feature was the most challenging to implement?
Brice: I think the trickiest thing was working with such a well established and perfected formula. It’s no secret that Wargroove is inspired by Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, etc. Those games are so refined at this point that deviating from the formula is scary!
I think, in the end, we made some really meaningful and interesting changes that weren’t simply changes for changes sake. I think that’s both one of the most difficult parts of the design process and the part we’re most proud of.
What is your favorite Intelligent Systems tactical game and how did you bring elements inspired by it into Wargroove?
Brice: For me, it’s definitely Advance Wars. The thing we really focused on there was just how accessible and welcoming the game was. That overarching idea influenced every stage of development, with us constantly trying to push the depth as far as possible without losing that accessibility.
I think in the end we achieved a remarkable amount of depth for something that’s so pick up and play. We’ve also found Wargroove to be a really fun local party game, even amongst brand new players. I’m personally trying to encourage everyone I can to get some friends over to play in front of a TV together; it’s a social experience that’s a lot like a board game.
Was one of the armies and nations in Wargroove more difficult to create than others? And if so, what made it more challenging?
Brice: The Heavensong Empire might have been the most ambitious, in terms of design. They’re inspired by a combination of Eastern culture and Da Vinci-esque technology. The Heavensong Commanders have perhaps some of the most complex Grooves in the game. Of course, that’s also a pretty exciting problem to solve.
Of those three Heavensong Empire characters, whose Groove do you find most effective when you play as one of them?
Brice: Ooo I’m not sure anyone is outright better than anyone else, but Tenri’s Groove is effective for me personally. She’s able to summon a tornado and move both allied and enemy units around the field, as well as transport herself. The flexibility of her Groove really allows you to pull off some very creative solutions and surprise opponents.
I really liked the sound of Koji’s Groove. The Sparrow Bombs seem like they could be super helpful.
Brice: Oh they are! The cool thing is that a lot of the grooves combine really well. If you’re playing 2v2, for instance, Koji could launch his explosive Sparrow Bombs and Tenri could pick them up in a tornado to move them. There’s a lot of synergy between commanders.
Also Koji has a wonderful voiceline when he activates them.
Are there any other commanders you think work really well together in 2v2? Maybe are there some unexpected pairings that you think work really well?
Brice: Sedge and Ryota, who happen to be mortal enemies, can have an incredible synergy in the right situation. Ryota has a groove that allows him to dash through rows of enemies, inflicting damage as he goes. Sedge has a groove that allows him to launch a special attack on a unit; if the unit is defeated as a result, he gets another turn and his groove is recharged. So he’s capable of finishing off a large number of low health units in a single turn.
Florans, a race from Starbound, appear as an army and nation in Wargroove. How are elements of the species’ culture and lore brought into this game and elaborated on?
Brice: Florans were one of the most popular playable races in Starbound, so it was exciting explore them in an entirely different context. The Floran Commanders demonstrate the two extremes of Floran culture, with Sedge representing the sadistic desire to hunt (and eat) anything he runs into, whilst Greenfinger intends to lead the Floran to a more harmonious future with other Kingdoms. Nuru, from Starbound, makes an appearance as the third commander, who is able to distance herself a little from the conflict, given her worldly (universal?) experience.
The game also contains a lot of unlockable lore and art that really gives an insight into the Florans, particularly in the context of a world that hasn’t achieved space travel etc
Which features in Wargroove were specifically added because you wanted to see them in turn-based strategy games, but hadn’t before?
Brice: I think the biggest two for me are the on-field Commanders and the unique critical hit system. Each of these changes up the game in a big, meaningful way.
Commanders in Wargroove are incredibly strong units, capable of beating almost any other unit and taking a real beating. They also build Groove meter as they attack and defeat enemies. However, should your commander die, you will instantly lose the game. This creates a situation where you’re constantly balancing the aggression of your Commander. Playing too conservatively will give the opponent too big an advantage, whilst playing too aggressively might end with your Commander being taken out early.
We’ve found the Commanders really make the game dynamic and avoids the problem of games grinding to a stand still once one player begins to lose and falls back into playing defensively. Commanders have such strong skills they also really allow for some incredibly creative plays that can turn a game around in an instant. Comebacks are a thing!
Critical hits are very unique in Wargroove. Every single unit in the game can inflict a critical hit, but it’s never random. Instead, that unit has to fulfill their critical hit condition. As an example, Spearmen critical hit when standing next to other Spearmen. Knights critical hit when they run a certain distance before attacking. Archers critical hit if they attack without moving. There are many of these to learn and it makes precise unit placement really rewarding. The first time you pull off several critical hits in a row because you placed your units just right is great. It’s a lot like watching all of the Puyos burst in a chain reaction in Puyo Puyo.
Aside from the prominent appearance of Nuru, can you give us any hints about any Chucklefish Easter eggs or inside jokes fans should keep an eye out for in Wargroove?
Brice: There are a lot of secrets in Wargroove. Some Chucklefish-related, some referential. The dev team would kill me if I spoiled any, though.
I will say there is one big secret that our entire beta testing team didn’t find for the entirety of development. In the end, we had to tell them it was there to ensure it was well tested. I’m really excited to see if anyone figures this one out, it comes with a fairly big reward too…
Witchbrook, Chucklefish’s next game, was revealed around the same time as Wargroove. What has the division of labor been like between the two games, since both have been in development at the same time?
Brice: Originally, we had both projects running in tandem for quite some time, and significant progress was made on both. When it became obvious that Wargroove was going to arrive far earlier and really deserved our full attention, we switched the entire team onto Wargroove for a while to finish it up. That didn’t last too long, and work on Witchbrook has resumed again.
Witchbrook is definitely something we’re going to take our time with. We’re very lucky to be a studio without investors or outside funding, so we can really just keep going until we’re happy. Most of the Wargroove team will be working on Witchbrook from now on, so we’ll be really accelerating the development.
You mentioned the pitching sessions earlier. Was there ever one game idea that came up during one of these that you really wanted to explore, but it didn’t pan out?
Brice: There was one idea, it was an open world RPG in the vein of modern open world games, with an isometric pixel art aesthetic. It had an extremely interesting NPC system that generated a story based on your interactions with NPCs. I really hope we come back to that one one day.
Wargroove will be coming to the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC on February 1, 2019, with the PlayStation 4 version arriving “soon.”