Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Exclusive interview with Skulls of the Shogun lead developer Jake Kazdal

Skulls of the Shogun, the turn based tactics game with a focus on fast paced, arcade style competitive play, is due for release on Xbox Live Arcade sometime in 2012. Haunted Temple Studios lead developer Jake Kazdal was nice enough to answer a few in-depth questions about Skulls of the Shogun for the tactics game fanatics here at Tactical Insights.

TI: What tactics games inspired you while creating Skulls of the Shogun?

Jake: Advance Wars is one of my favorite franchises ever, so that's an easy one. I also love the first two Shining Force games, and parts of Fire Emblem as well. But there were a lot of influences out side of tactics games as well, I wanted the combat to flow faster and smoother, actually played a lot of attention to football and even some of the tactics I would have employed if it had been a real time strategy. The game has been called a turn-based version of a real-time strategy game, which is a funny concept but it holds pretty true!

TI: Did you run into any issues while designing the relatively unique, menu-less user interface?

Jake: Only basically everyday, throughout the entire life of the project. :) Yes it was a Pandora's Box, a very exciting but dangerous place that was I think one of our hugest challenges, but also one of the greatest things about the game. Very glad we were determined to make something fresh, it was a highly rewarding experience, a very addictive, all-consuming type of game development!

TI: What steps have you taken to ensure that Skulls of the Shogun is a balanced and fast paced game?

Jake: For the pace, we're really trying to see just how much 90's era fighting game inspiration we can possibly pack into a turn-based strategy game. Its a nutty combination for sure, but its really been our focus for the entire project. Quick, brutal strikes, with a fast back and forth, as each team can only use 5 units per turn. For balancing, we have a QA specialist in-house, Isaac Dudley, that is a Tournament Smash Brothers player, his feedback has been invaluable.

TI: What features will Skulls of the Shogun have to appeal to a long term competitive online community?

Jake: Like I said, Isaac is very involved in the competitive gaming community, and he brings a lot of balancing and tuning to the title. I think each map is so dynamic and can go so many ways, the replayability is very extensive. Each fight is a new battle, even MP testing in-house we never have any two battles that are too much like another.

TI: How does Skulls of the Shogun's relatively low amount of classes and abilities affect the overall style of gameplay?

Jake: There are up to 7 classes in any given fight, I feel they are very balanced and differentiated, I can't think how the core of the game would be made any stronger or better with more unit types. Each unit has a certain strength and weakness, and the strategy comes in using them together effectively. I think that by focusing on fewer units, players can become better players sooner, and really appreciate the fine balancing between unit types much faster than if we had 50 unit types. This is meant to be an arcade like experience, like a fighting game, as much as possible.

TI: What made you want to create Skulls of the Shogun as a tactics game with no growth system in between missions, instead of a more RPG-like experience?

Jake: Well a large part of that is simply for the bulk of development we were a 3 man operation.  We were moving missions around, constantly tuning and balancing, and feel the ramp up is overall balanced and engaging now for the player. To have to test and tune every possible outcome by different paths of leveling up was quite simply not a realistic goal for us, and would have required quite a bit more effort and time. If we were a traditional team size we could probably afford to have a few people working on something like that, but our whole team was that size! And we are very happy with the final outcome, and think players will be too.

Thanks to Jake for your time!