The Banner Saga 3, a solemn ending to the beloved RPG series due for release this July, was playable at PAX East 2018, and I stopped by the Versus Evil booth to discuss the final chapter and the gameplay with Lead Designer, Matt Rhodes, and Producer on the game, Zeb West.
For the uninitiated, The Banner Saga is a gorgeously rendered series of games where a caravan of animated viking characters traverse across a broken world “where the sun has stopped in the sky, and the gods are dead.”
When not engaged in the world building and character narrative, players of The Banner Saga Trilogy will find themselves in combat with isometric view and real time strategy, where their party of heroes move about tiles to engage in combat with enemies. From the vast selection of party members, there are various races, factions, styles and personalities in the characters controlled by the player, all with unique story background, and all equally potential fodder for a permanent death in the game world.
In the third iteration of this critically acclaimed series that is The Banner Saga, the gameplay has become more robust with the ability to call upon powers of valka spear and heroic tiles to create more depth to the movement and combat in battle sequences. A feature that will be reminiscent for BioWare fans of old, the permanence of death and story decisions from the first two titles carry over into the story development of the third game in the series, with all to come to a head in this darkness riddled final chapter. With this enveloping darkness comes new powers but also new enemies, creating a disturbing familiarity to fans of the series before.
The Banner Saga 1 & 2 will be re-releasing in port version to the Nintendo Switch soon, and The Banner Saga 3 is set for release on all current platforms on July 24th.
Evan Griffin, TYF Games Editor: In regards to The Banner Saga 3, you had a very successful Kickstarter, how are you utilizing the outstanding success of that campaign for this game’s creation here?
Zeb West, Producer: Well, we also had a successful Kickstarter campaign on the first game as well, so some people ask “Why’d they do it again?” The reason behind it was less financial and more because we had this huge burst of community, a wave of players responding to us, looking at the updates, seeing the new features, and asking questions. We wanted to do what we were able to on that first campaign and serve them all with some alpha version content, so that’s what we’ve done. We’ve delivered early versions of battles, let players try them on Steam, collected their feedback, talked about it in Discord, and it’s been a very positive community interaction.
Evan: And I also meant to ask regarding the community, how have you seen that community grow and engage with you guys, how has their feedback influenced and putting it into the sequels or the general gameplay?
Matt Rhodes, Lead Developer: Well this was a company started by three guys who split off from BioWare and started up in a garage style space, and that first kickstarter really got the game off of the ground. We’ve carried a lot of those fans with us from the beginning. We’ve kind of got a hard core to our community, they’ve played a lot of factions, you know? They played all the games’ content, they wrote the wiki, they’ve really been there for us. So, continuing to have direct contact with them, they keep an eye on the community and they even report bugs back to us to get fixed, letting us know what’s not working, what’s frustrating, we might want to take a look. That feedback is invaluable for us.
Evan: That being said, what have you guys, as a team, been able to take from your past experiences in game design and apply to this series, which is on an entirely difference scope, scale and focus? Either, ideas to implement, or change? Or factors in the industry that you’d like to see?
Matt: I don’t think it’s so much about trying to change the industry so much, as it is trying to make sure, for example, after Banner Saga 2, I knew that I really wanted to have more robust tools, so we can make the battles a little more interesting, more complex. So, we prioritized that when moving into 3, and things like that, I think do come out of experience, and knowing that kind of more robust toolset you could be working with. I think that’s been the main advantage of coming from AAA and having those experiences, especially with indies because everyone will do it their own way, and there’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to do it. We’re just trying to make the best game that we can.
Evan: And certainly, back to that community engagement, you have that more tangible, direct feedback you don’t get in AAA.
Matt: For sure. You know, we’re very agile, and we can respond to feedback in a way a big company just can’t.
Zeb: We’re so small too, you know, so when I started, it was me who started every CS email, android reviews, and people really do appreciate that! “Oh, there is a person on the other side that cares that I received this product that came broken, has a bug, bad sound.” It makes a difference when you reach out for help and they’re human, and they care and try to help. It’s kind of crazy, but it allows for a higher level of service and experience. I do think one thing we can do as an indie that you can’t as AAA is how crazy we’ve gone with how you can make [story] choices in this game.
You would at one time have pressure to funnel things down into two endings, tops, a good ending and a bad. For us, we can just kind of create the crazy conspiracy theory map of all your different choices and really pay them off. Even if one character dies along your journey, we still want to tell a good story for that character for the people who kept them alive! I think that is one thing we can do uniquely as an indie.
Matt: Right, the reality is, we’re not going to generate a Pixar quality 3D rendered film for each of our endings, but we can do something that keeps with the look and feel of our game.
Evan: Which is really distinguished…
Matt: It’s distinctive, and it’s beautiful but it doesn’t require quite the same level of resources that AAA would put into it and that gives us that flexibility.
Evan: Now, for people who may be new to the franchise, to jump in at 3 or pick the first two up on Switch, one of the most alluring things is the visuals, I always equated it to a Don Bluth movie, can you relay how that comes together?
Matt: The original intent was a classic rotoscoped look like classic Disney, Sleeping Beauty was a touchstone in that regard, or Ralph Bakshi.