EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Skara: The Blade Remains Co-Creator César Ortega

We all know how mixing peanut butter and chocolate was a genius move. But it’s not the only example of people mixing disparate elements into some new and cool. Consider the upcoming game Skara: The Blade Remains, which mix elements of fighting games, RPGs, and the multiplayer modes of action games, and will be coming to PCs via Steam Early Access later this month. Though in talking to the dev studio’s co-founder César Ortega, it seems that mixing those genres together wasn’t as easy as ramming a piece of chocolate into a jar of peanut butter.

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I always like to start with the basics: What is Skara: The Blade Remains, and how do you play it?

In a nutshell, Skara: The Blade Remains is a versus game in 3D with 16 playing at the same time. We call it M.O.V., and it stands for Multiplayer Online Versus. It’s a combination of our favorite elements of fighters and multiplayer games, with RPG level story taking place in an action game.

What other games do you think it’s similar to, and were these games an influence on Skara: The Blade Remains?

When we talk about Skara: The Blade Remains, some games such as Chivalry, War Of The Roses, and Archeblade came to people’s mind, though there are many difference with those games. We think Skara: The Blade Remains is unique in terms of the kind of combat system we are creating, which is more similar to a fighting games than to an action game. Knowing your combos, patience, skill, accuracy, and practice will make the difference in Skara.

So then what fighting games, MOBAs, and RPGs were an influence on Skara: The Blade Remains?

Well, for example, we use such combat mechanics as combos and fatalities from such fighting games as Tekken or Mortal Kombat, as well as the depth from multiplayer games such as Call Of Duty where players can team up and fight to control the arenas. We also take social features from such games as League Of Legends, where players’ successes will be shown in the overall map of Skara and the successes and failures of groups will make Skara’s history.

Does the game take an inspiration from games that aren’t fighting games, MOBAs, or RPGs?

In Skara: The Blade Remains, we’re also adding a lot of features that come from social mobile games, in which people get rewarded by inviting friends to play and get real-time leaderboards to compare their performance. We are doing this by showing real time mapping of all the battles in Skara, which is something you’d see more in a strategy game than an action game.

To go back to the RPG influence, one interesting thing you’re doing is that characters don’t have levels, they don’t level up. Why did you decide to do this, and what will take the place of leveling up?

Like in fighting games, our characters don’t level up. For example, if the two of us play Ryu in Street Fighter, it doesn’t matter how many hours have you played and how much money have you spent in the game, we start with the same chances to beat each other. What matters are your skills rather than your stats.

We decided to go this way, instead of the common RPG character progression, to really have a fair game in terms of who the great players will be. It doesn’t matter how much you spend buying fancy armors or fatalities. The only way to ascend in the rankings and become a glorified player in Skara: The Blade Remains is by fighting and by getting used to your character’s skills and style.

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And then, to go back to the fighting aspect, you sort of touched on this already, but will the combat in the game be as deep as it is in say Mortal Kombat, or is it closer to what you’d find in such hack & slash games as God Of War?

Originally, we started working on a versus game for 16 people. But when you have three guys attacking you at the same time, you need to adopt different techniques to make it engaging, so the end result is a mix between the two of them. I would say Skara: The Blade Remains is a little more similar to Ryse: Son Of Rome when it comes to the combat, as opposed to God Of War, which is an awesome game but is sometimes only about smashing buttons.

So is it safe to assume that while the game is called Skara: The Blade Remains that you will be using more than just bladed weapons?

All the characters in Skara: The Blade Remains will have at least one main weapon with some sort of blade, but there will also be long ranged weapons, striking weapons, and attacks carried out with your bare hands. But your ranged weapons will be limited, since we want to encourage close combat and team actions among players and not create another shooter with swords.

What about magic?

No magic. But don’t worry, you won’t need it.

Blocking is a big thing in Skara: The Blade Remains. You have to do it, and have to do it at just the right time, to survive. So as someone who prefers to button mash his way to victory, does that mean I won’t last five minutes in this game?

Blocking and dodging will be very important in Skara: The Blade Remains, as we want to avoid button mashing. Players will need to be skilled and practice in order to win battles. If you are planning to smash the buttons, you won’t last long in Skara.

Drat. Skara: The Blade Remains is obviously set in a fantasy realm. And legally, anything in the fantasy realm must be influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord Of The Rings. But what other fantasy fiction — be it movies, books, or other games — were influential in how your fantasy real would look? Because I actually see more of Robert E. Howard’s Conan books in Skara than I do Rings.

Robert E. Howard was a great influence when we were writing about the world of Skara: The Blade Remains, actually more than Tolkien, as we don’t have elves, dwarves, or dragons. Though we did grew up reading both of them, as well as Marvel Comics, manga, and, probably more importantly, history books, as we’re influenced by some of the most powerful cultures to ever rule the planet, such as the Nordics, Mediterranean, and Asian cultures. It’s the poetry of these cultures that drives the development of the fantasy in some ways. Look for themes from Homer’s The Iliad, Beowulf, the Old Testament, and a lot of other writings. From them we decided to create our own cultures, instead of replicating some successful existing models and archetypes.

We are also trying to create distinctive voices for the different cultures to come to life. The Durno will sound different than the Shinse, and so on. We are even considering going as far as developing their own languages, which would be something Tolkien would’ve respected.

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People will be able to customize the way their warriors look in Skara: The Blade Remains. How will this work, how deep will it go, and is this just an aesthetic thing, or does any of it impact how your character does in battle?

Customization will have no impact on your stats. But when it comes to choosing your armor, every item you buy will have tradeoffs. That means that heavy armor will make your character more resistant to blows, but also slower. We did this to encourage players from the same faction to specialize and create strategies to work in a more efficient way as a team, so a player could specialize as a Tank, wearing a badass heavy armor and absorb most of the impacts in the front line of battle, and other could wear only light armor and be able to quickly support different points on the arena.

Will there be any systems in place to prevent people from making such copyrighted characters as Red Sonja, Legolas, or Rush Limbaugh?

This level of customization has not been fully defined yet, but one option we are analyzing is to be able to upload your photo and stick it in your character. So if you are Rush Limbaugh and you decide to play Skara: The Blade Remains, you should be able to have your face in it.

That’s a frightening thought. Skara: The Blade Remains is currently only available on PCs. Are there any plans to bring it to consoles, Macs, or even tablets?

Skara: The Blade Remains is currently being developed for PC, but we have already started conversations with Microsoft about the Xbox One, and we would like to release this version by the end of 2014. We haven’t talked to Sony yet, but we’d very much like to release Skara for PS4 around the same time. These version should be equal to the PC version.

There will also be a mobile version, but it will likely perform as a second screen initially, given the importance for connection speed in a multiplayer game.

Will it support controllers, though? Because it looks like it would be a lot more fun with a controller.

Skara: The Blade Remains will be playable with either a controller or your mouse and keyboard.

Skara: The Blade Remains is free-to-play with microtransactions, but you’ve been clear from the get-go that it’s “not pay to win,” to quote your own website. First off, why did you decide to go this pay route?

Skara’s monetization model is free-to-win cause this is what the gamers want. People are tired of getting beaten by less skilled people because they have a bigger wallet, and we want to reward players who spend time playing Skara and learning their strengths and other players’ weaknesses.

So if you can’t pay to win, what can you pay for in Skara: The Blade Remains?

You will be able to personalize the physical appearance of your character and also your fighting style by acquiring combo attacks and fatalities, but these add-ons won’t influence the battles, only the visual aspect of it. You will also be able to buy armor, shields, and weapons, and spend some cash to be the first to unlock new arenas and fight with new characters.

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Some free-to-play games that have microtransactions have been criticized for being too aggressive when it comes to making people pay for stuff. Obviously, by saying Skara: The Blade Remains is “free-to-win,” you’re trying hard not to piss people off. Was this inspired by how other games have screwed this up?

We are doing this cause we believe that a free-to-play game should be free, so all the content in Skara: The Blade Remains will be free for those who spend enough time playing, and those who can’t afford the time will always be able to get the last feature by spending money, but we need to remember that those assets will never give you a combat advantage.

 

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