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When ex-BioWare devs make their own strategy RPG

A trio of ex-BioWare developers have formed their own indie studio to create The Banner Saga, a strategy RPG that hopes to blend classic tactical combat with rich and complex narrative elements.
Earlier this year, a trio of ex-BioWare developers set off to found Stoic Studio, a new indie company that made its debut earlier this year with a striking trailer for its first game: a strategy RPG known as The Banner Saga. Now, the team has started a new Kickstarter campaign to fund the project and bring their dream game to life. Company co-founders Arnie Jorgensen, Alex Thomas, and John Watson left BioWare shortly after Star Wars: The Old Republic shipped in December to take a risk and create a game not for mainstream audiences, but for themselves. In a recent interview with Gamasutra, Thomas explained that The Banner Saga is the team's chance to take a risk and pursue their greatest dream as game creators. "If you asked anyone in the games industry, I think most of them would tell you their ultimate goal is to make their own game. BioWare was a great experience for all three of us, but I think we realized that if we didn't [make this game] now, we never would, and we'd regret it," Thomas said. He explained that The Banner Saga draws influence from classic strategy games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Shining Force, and the team at Stoic wants to make sure that it pays homage to the games that inspired them as children. "I think what we're developing really harkens back to a deep appreciation for games, and playing them since we were kids. That's what it's all about -- being blown away by something like Baldur's Gate or King of Dragon Pass or X-COM, and wanting to make something that does them justice." According to Thomas, Stoic wants to build upon the legacy of these titles by breaking away from traditional gaming tropes and creating an experience that reaches players on an emotional level. "Our first priority has always been to make a role-playing game that feels and looks fresh, and plays like the classic tactical strategy games of our childhood, but it's not just about defeating the villain and saving the day. It's not about grinding to get past the next fight," he said. The real trick is making players care about the fiction they interact with. To create that emotional depth, The Banner Saga will present players with numerous decision-focused scenarios, giving them a chance to take ownership of their actions, forge relationships with in-game characters, and otherwise feel like a part of Stoic's grim, fantasy-based world.
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"We want the player to care about what happens to the people they travel with because ultimately, you and your kin are all in it together. There's a sense of community missing in games that we're trying to bring to the front of The Banner Saga." Thomas believes that if players care enough about the game world, they will view The Banner Saga as not just a strategy game, but as a complex, interactive drama. "For us, more than anything, The Banner Saga is a chance to take a risk. Here's the bottom line -- we wanted to make a game that you can really influence, that feels like a TV miniseries. You're not watching superheroes, you're watching people with their own motivations and desires that you can relate to. You want to see what happens to them and how they deal with conflict," he said. "That, more than anything, is what we want to capture. We're basing our gameplay on this one imperative, and every system informs another to come back to this idea," he added. "We're so desperate to play a game like this -- a game for adults about adults, a game that isn't a sex and violence power fantasy, that we're making it ourselves." Stoic Studio's The Banner Saga is scheduled to debut later this year.

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