Endless Legend: On Tropes With a Twist and Looking Good

Greg Tito | 28 May 2014 19:00
Interviews - RSS 2.0
endless legend - broken lords fortress

The Escapist: The lore of Endless Legend is very evocative without being shackled to Tolkien-esque fantasy. Who is the writer behind the game? How do you combine mechanics with story so elegantly?

Spock: This has always been a goal for the creative team. We want players to be able to relate and understand instantly, but without creating a generic copy. We want to have the high fantasy vibes and references, but without coughing up a high fantasy pablumfest. So we have Elves, but they're the builders. We have knights, but they have elements of vampirism. The tropes are familiar, but they all have a twist. That's what we try to do.

As the narrative director/lead writer, I draw on not only a decade of game writing but also a childhood spent watching way too much bad TV and reading way too many books. Even so the writing is also done collaboratively; I throw out ideas that we sort, eliminate, and refine until it's something that everybody likes. Good ideas can come from progs, designers, artists, anywhere. But I get the final edit, wherein I apply the Red Pen of Merciless Coherence to keep everything hanging together.

As far as mechanics and story go, the advantage of a small studio is that the people who are generating the ideas and the content can just look up from the screen and yell questions. Our process is all about communication and iteration. It's especially important for story, as we've all seen narrative that removes you from the game world and game worlds that appear incoherent with the game genre. We're not trying to break new ground; we're just trying to apply best narrative practices to a genre - 4X - that traditionally has mostly gone without that. It's a challenge, but it's also great fun.

endless legend - wild walkers faction card

The Escapist: Specific nerd-question - your release trailer and some lore in the game seems to hint that the world in Endless Legend is connected to the galaxy of Endless Space? Is that true? Are the two games linked?

Spock: We had to make a very constraining decision at the start of Endless Legend development: Would the game be in the same universe as Endless Space? It's a tough question, because even though Endless Space is more science fantasy (Star Wars, Dune) than science fiction (Star Trek, Aliens) it's still hard to put out a game in that universe that is 100% magic.

Then we made it worse by deciding that our rogue-like, Dungeon of the Endless, would also be in the same universe as the other two and in fact provide a link between them. We won't go into the details, and I still get a nervous tic when I hear discussions on the topic, but we think it all pulled together in a way that is fun for the players. With, of course, a lot of Easter eggs.

endless legend - vaulters battle deployment

The Escapist: What is your impression of the Early Access program on Steam? Are you getting the feedback you wanted? What do you think about players' complaints that they are being asked to pay money to beta-test?

Spock: The alpha of Endless Space was actually the first alpha version of a game ever to come out on Steam - it even predates their Early Access program. And yes, we wouldn't have done it again if we didn't think it provided a lot of value.

The problem we have in our chosen genre is the depth of gameplay and the complexity of balancing it. Even with 30 employees and an excellent QA partner, we'll never get close to all the situations and test cases and balance issues that tens of thousands of players will see. The Early Access for us is critical to get all that right.

And besides, in all our gaming experience, there is nothing more heart-breaking than simply throwing a final release DVD over the wall and then finding out a week later that there were a couple of things that we didn't think of or didn't do right (*Cough* Dark Messiah *Cough*).

We don't really view this process as beta-testing in the traditional bug-fix sense, and this goes back to the quality question at the beginning. There is nothing worse than asking people to pay money to fix your bugs. If that's what they're doing, the money should flow the other way! To us the whole point of the effort is gameplay feedback, not debugging. This means that an Early Access version has to be solid, so that the players are testing the game loop and the game balance and the game systems and not debugging.

For us it has been a great experience, and we're incredibly happy with the comments and recommendations and ideas that we have been getting. We really can't say enough great things about our community.

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