Logic Artists’ Expeditions: Conquistador was an early Kickstarter success story, in which players took command of an intrepid (and often adversarial) party of explorers and ventured into the Americas. For the next installment in the series, the Copenhagen-based studio is looking closer to home.
PC Invasion took to the Skype-o-machine for a chat with Logic Artists’ Jonas Wæver about the newly announced Expeditions: Viking (and a bit of Viking history in general.) The full audio can be heard below, or you can read on for transcribed highlights.[powerpress]
PC Invasion: First question, the interview formalities, can you say who you are, and what role you have in developing Expeditions: Viking?
Jonas Wæver: I’m Jonas Wæver, and I’m the creative director of Logic Artists. I’m the lead designer and only (so far) writer on Expeditions: Viking.
PCI: For people who missed out on Expeditions: Conquistador, can you give an overview of what the series is about?
JW: Expeditions is a series of turn-based role-playing games in which you take charge of a small group of intrepid explorers, journeying into foreign countries and dealing with the strange and somewhat dangerous cultures you encounter there. It’s about exploration, survival, leadership and of course making tough decisions under pressure.
PCI: A common thread between Conquistador and Viking is the European explorers winding up in the Americas, so will players get that far afield?
JW: That’s not something we’re planning to begin with, though obviously we do have ideas about where to go and what kind of expeditions you could mount as Vikings. The great thing about the Vikings is that they went pretty much all over the place. But to begin with we’re not including the Americas in the game. We definitely won’t rule it out for an expansion if the game is as successful as we all hope.
For the series as such we don’t want to limit ourselves to any particular region of the world. It could be any point in history, which is one of the cool things about the franchise we’re trying to establish. It has very few limitations.
PCI: Since you guys are based in Denmark, did that influence your decision to go with vikings for this second installment?
JW: Yeah, it did. One of the great things when making Conquistador was that one of our co-founders, the technical director, is Spanish. That was invaluable in clearing things up, because he has a better insight into the language and history of that culture. He could fact check a lot of things.
And yes, Vikings was one of the first things that came up when we were talking about where we want to go. We later put it out to the fans, to figure out what people are interested in. It seems like pretty much everyone takes an interest in Vikings and that period, so we figured we had a winner with that one. But of course it’s a lot closer to home than Conquistador, so we’re quite enjoying working on something that we’re a part of to a greater degree.
PCI: What do you think it is about Vikings and that period of history which resonates with people throughout the world, beyond those in Scandinavia?
JW: I think it ties back to what’s at the core of the franchise to begin with. These daring expeditions to foreign countries are really interesting, and we tend to admire the people who take risks journeying that far when they don’t know what they’re going to meet.
In popular culture Vikings have always been depicted as these bloodthirsty barbarians, and that appeals to people in a general sense. You think of them as these huge, strong warriors who arrive out of nowhere, fuck shit up, and then leave immediately. It’s the same with pirates, right? You have the mobility, the element of surprise, and you do whatever you want. You’re not bound by any rules. That’s a big part of it.
PCI: Yeah, I’m originally from England and that’s pretty much the historical version we get. There’s raiding and pillaging, then all of a sudden the Vikings settle down and become farmers. Almost as if a switch is flipped. Whereas presumably there were always rural and agricultural aspects to Viking life.
JW: That’s one of the really interesting things about what we’re working on now, because there are a lot of different theories about the Vikings. What caused them to go raid and plunder. Whether it was just these random attacks, or whether it can be seen in a greater social and political context.
One of the most convincing theories I’ve heard is about the Franks, the rather large Christian empire to the south. They had an embargo on trade with non-Christians, to pressure the heathens into adopting Christianity. The Vikings would raid these Christian monasteries and churches on the coast in retaliation, or to send a message to the Christians to stay the hell out of their business.
I think that’s really interesting because senseless violence is cool and all, but when you have a greater conflict with more plausible motivations then you have a story.
PCI: Your approach to historical realism in Conquistador always kept in mind that it was also a game to be enjoyed. I’m thinking about how you could have a full party of women as conquistadors if you wanted. Will you take a similar approach with Viking?
JW: We like the historical basis of the games, we like that it’s not fantasy or science-fiction because we love those genres too, but everyone else is working in them. So we think we have something special by sticking to a little bit more of an authentic setting. At the same time we’re also conscious, not so much just that it’s a game, but that it’s a role-playing game. There are some things you need to give the player in that genre. You need to give them a great degree of choice, and you need to give them the consequences of those choices. You need to give them a lot of customisation and a lot of freedom to basically create the character and the followers they want.
That’s more important to us than staying true to history; or whatever people think history is, because obviously there’s some dispute about that. Especially when it comes to Vikings.
PCI: What sort of historical texts and records are there from the Viking period?
JW: There’s almost nothing. We had the same problem with Conquistador. The only writings about the Aztecs which survived were either by the Spaniards or testimony from all the lesser tribes the Aztecs had been bullying. So there weren’t really any super dependable sources there.
With the Vikings it’s even worse, because the Vikings didn’t really write. They didn’t have paper. The only means they had was to chisel things in rocks. And when you chisel things in rocks, brevity is important. The only writings we have about the Vikings are mainly British monks, who write about these terrible heathens who came over and were awful. Then there are a few Middle-Eastern scholars who encountered mainly the Swedish Vikings who went down the Volga. So it’s very limited.
In a way that’s frustrating of course. It would be better to have a large body of texts to draw inspiration from, but at the same time it’s liberating. If we have a party made up entirely of women, there’s even less evidence this time that women didn’t play a part. Within the last few years people have been identifying a lot of the Viking skeletons dug out of graves as women, even though they were buried with shields and swords and soforth. In and of itself that doesn’t prove anything, but it’s circumstantial evidence.
PCI: In Viking the main character will now show up on the map and take part in combat. What was the thinking behind that, and how will it affect gameplay?
JW: Oh, that’s because people want it. It’s one of the main things people have requested about Conquistador. This time we’re designing the game around it, which is cool for us because we’re fans of RPGs as well. We want character customisation, to make cool characters, and see ourselves in battle too. That’s definitely something we share with the fans.
PCI: You’ll also have a “home base” type village that you return to and upgrade. Was that another request?
JW: That was something that’s already sort of in Expeditions: Conquistador. Our backers suggested it during the Kickstarter. We were working on the Mexico campaign and realised that people want to build a fort, and have a home base in Mexico. So we added this fortress in, and we really liked how it changed the dynamic of that campaign.
But we felt we could do a lot more with it if we planned around it from the start. Plus it makes a lot of sense in terms of the Viking fantasy, because the Vikings did go raiding and trading, but they did so to bring riches back home, and they had their own local conflicts which they were involved in.
PCI: Will the playing time be split between your party going off exploring and also defending the base? How will that work, would you have to leave certain people behind to defend the homestead?
JW: We have a lot of ideas, but it’s dangerous to talk about it at this point. We’re still in the prototyping phase, so we’re not quite sure how it’s going to work in practice. We’re going to experiment to see what we like and how much we can do. But I see it as kind of a framework thing. This is mainly a game about going abroad on dangerous expeditions, so the village will be where you return to between your forays out, and where you see your progress reflected in the size and strength of the village.
PCI: You’ve mentioned that the plan is to make certain systems “deeper and more dynamic.” Can you expand on what that might mean for the camping and wilderness aspects?
JW: In high level terms it’s about eliminating some of the repetitiveness that crept into the Conquistador campaign as the game wore on. Most people spend 25-30 hours on a playthrough. 40 or even 50 if you’re a completionist. And eventually the camping systems get a little tiresome. You’ve worked out how it works, you’ve seen all the events. You’re making the same decisions over and over again.
Our goal is to make sure that the systems you’ll be encountering a lot, primarily the camping system, have enough content. We want to make sure it never out-stays its welcome.
PCI: I do remember that. For the first few hours it’s challenging and a factor in your decisions, but then everybody has high enough hunting skills and it’s no longer an issue.
JW: Yeah. And of course it’s good that you can master the system, but at the same time it’s important to throw a cog in the wheels occasionally so you keep having to make important decisions all the way through.
PCI: Is the turn-based combat going to see similar changes? I recall the scout class getting awfully powerful towards the end of the game.
JW: We’re planning to stick pretty closely to the fundamentals of Conquistador’s combat system. We iterated a lot during development and were pretty happy with how it ended up, but we’ll definitely be adding more skills to it. Adding more features in general. The main point there is we want to expand it, make it more feature complete. A lot of that is going to be done through revamping the skill system, to make it a bit more RPG-ish and less linear. More options for how to level up your character and your followers. And more variety in the battlefields you fight on.
PCI: Something that I, and I think other people, liked a lot about the first game is the dynamics within the party. Characters who have opposing viewpoints. Is that going to come back for Expeditions: Viking?
JW: Yeah, definitely. That’s one of our favourite things as well. We have plans on how to expand that and make it more meaningful too. We do want to get a little bit more character into the game this time. Sometimes the people in Conquistador felt a bit like they were just a portrait and a collection of numbers. That’s something we’ll try to address. But yes, the fundamentals will definitely still be there.
PCI: You said that you’re in the prototyping stage at the moment, is that right?
JW: We have a playable demo that we showed at the Nordic Game Conference and that’s the foundation of our future development of the game. So it’s a bit beyond prototyping, but we’re always prototyping new systems as we go through development. We could be prototyping new stuff all the way to up half a year or so before release.
PCI: When you were asking people what they thought the second game in the series was going to be, I think I also saw mention of a beta. Is that going to be a Steam Early Access thing, or a separate beta?
JW: I don’t quite know how we’re going to arrange the logistics of that. The idea is definitely free beta access for all those who guessed [Expeditions: Viking] correctly, and something else for the people who bothered to try. I don’t know if we’re going to use Early Access for that. Clandestine [another Logic Artists title] is in Early Access right now and people are very skeptical about Early Access in general, so we might try to figure out another system.
PCI: Will Iron Man mode be making a return in Expeditions: Viking?
JW: Yes, definitely. One of the things we really enjoyed was people coming to our forum and ranting about how hard the game was, and how they’d been screwed over. How they barely scraped by and so on. Iron Man needs to be in there because it’s just fun for players to share their experiences, and it’s fun for us to follow along with what people experience.
PCI: Thanks very much for chatting to us about Expeditions: Viking. Do you have a release window in mind for the game?
JW: We’re aiming for early 2016, but we’ll see what happens. Quality is most important to us.