Interview With Jeff Fiske, Design Director of Hinterland: Orc Lords (PC)

A short time ago, I had the opportunity to review Hinterland: Orc Lords on the PC. A charming and bloody Action-RPG hybrid, H:OL was certainly entertaining and amazingly time-wasting. When the opportunity to chat with Tilted Mill presented itself, I jumped on it. Here’s how the interview went down.
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DHGF: Why wasn’t there any Multiplayer, either competitive or Cooperative? Was this a design constraint or a goal from the outset?

JF: One of the development goals was an internal challenge to set out to make the cleanest game possible in terms of design and development. We wanted something users could drop into effortlessly, have a ton of fun in a very short time, and keep coming back for more. To pull that off with a game that includes role-playing, party-based combat and town building was a big challenge. Whenever you dip your toe into the multiplayer arena you instantly start affecting the whole experience and the whole project – including areas that are not directly related to multiplayer – and we did not want to destroy the simple design concepts that were driving the vision for this game. Also, we wanted this game to be used for a light gaming session for somewhat experienced gamers. As soon as you bring in a multiplayer aspect, the game becomes more intense or just logistically more difficult for people to link up and play.

DHGF: Was there ever a plan to allow for trade earlier in the game? I ran into a lot of times where I needed food more than gold, and I think that telling the King I needed two days or so worth of meat just to get by would have been a great option as opposed to starving my peasants.

JF: Surprisingly perhaps, part of our intention with the design was to make you feel that often you were in a tight spot that you could not get out of – that you (along with your followers) were basically alone in a dangerous world. Nothing wrong with the occasional starving peasants – times are tough! This kind of pressure in a game only works if the principles of the game are so straightforward that you understand what you did wrong and you can avoid mistakes the next time, or if the consequences are not that bad, even if they seem very bad. So we did not want you to be able to trade your way out of a situation, you were not in civilized lands, you are in a hostile land and you have to rely on yourself. After release, we added the ability to “Ëœtrade’ for access to iron, (or dig a well, etc.) but only after you had established yourself could you do this.

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DHGF: Was there ever the idea of going into the catacombs or crypts as side missions?

JF: We discussed this, but more in line with individual encounters, not so much as side missions. One of the reasons they do not appear in game is because part of the model that makes the game work is that everything in the game happens on the same screen. There is no separate inventory, strategy map, or character screen that takes you away from the core play area. Raiders on the map don’t pause their advances as your attention is elsewhere. Dealing with any “world clock” issues while you are spelunking in a Goblin lair was beyond the scope of what we set out to do- but it would be fun!

DHGF: With the game as fun as it is, do you have any plans to branch this type of game into another Genre? I could see a Cyberpunk or Post-Apocalyptic version having a lot of fun in them.

JF: We agree that the game has a ton of potential to be a lot of fun in other settings, and are exploring some of those possibilities now.

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DHGF: What was the hardest part of this game to design? What was the easiest?

JF: Because the game contains so many archetypal elements of gaming, everyone has very strong opinions about what element of the game is the most fun. Some want more quest or story type play and plot-character development, others wanted more city building vs. RPG-character development, some loved the random elements while others wanted predictable pacing and balance. Deciding what was really important to everyone as a whole so the game was still fun was probably the most difficult thing.

The easiest thing in the design was that overall we knew that the dynamic of fighting and bringing spoils back to town for strategic purposes is fun, and as long as we did not over design and get in the way of that concept, the game would turn out right. Even at the very rudimentary stages, it was fun to kill stuff and spend the spoils on your village.

DHGF: If there is a system, do you have any plans for a Morality type of system? Something that would allow you to force the villagers into servitude instead for a time instead of hoping they like you enough could really expand the depth of the experience.

JF: I think there would be other areas of character development we might explore before we used a morality system, such as a more detailed skill tree. But we did have something similar in the design for a time in the sense that the villagers were going to have some form of happiness and they might leave your village if you did not treat them right. This was one of those things that had to be cut because it would have been hard to communicate, and it moved away from our simple, clean design which ultimately would have confused a lot of gamers.

DHGF: Were there any features you had planned to include but had to leave out? If so, Why?

JF: No, there really weren’t. We devised Hinterland as a complete package, and lived up to that vision. In many cases, though, we added elements and features, for example, initially there weren’t really many character choices, and character development was very thin.

DHGF: Will we ever see dual-wielded weapons in an update?

JF: It has been discussed, and in a way is as much of a balance issue as anything else. So it is one of those unknowns at this point in time.

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DHGF: Was there a size limit to the monsters? Or a decision to keep the scope relatively small?

JF: From a game balance perspective it would have been difficult to have the dragons be huge, but there to be only one dragon. It becomes very difficult to try to anticipate what type of party might be fighting this individual creature, so it was safer and easier to make the end game monsters similar enough so they could be interchangeable. Also, there are pathing concerns, particularly for raiding parties or chasing the party – so yes, the current monsters are about as big as they can get without causing issues.

DHGF: I noticed that the Raiders came from the same direction all the time, and the village was in the same area for every game. Was there ever any plan to mix those up or move them around?

JF: The village is in the same place, but the raiders come from pretty much anywhere on the map. However, since the village is in the lower corner, you may mean that the initial approach for the raiders is always from the NW, N or NE. We originally had the village in a variety of locations, but the camera angle and interface, as well as just the instinctive thought process of “ËœI will clean the scourge from the bottom up’, made us realize the game is just more fun when you start at the bottom of the world map.

DHGF: What’s next?

JF: We have a few ideas in the works, and will keep you posted…

For more information on Hinterland: Orc Lords visit the official GGE website at hinterland-game.com.

Thank you for your time!

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