Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox
The Baba Yaga tale can take on many forms across cultures. Here's how that influenced the development of this iconic character.
December 14, 2022
8 Min Read
Blacktail delves into Slavic folklore as it casts the player as Baba Yaga, a being of myth whose identity can get a bit slippery depending on where you look and what you read. The development team at The Parasight used this uncertain identity to create a game about helping Baba Yaga discover who she is as players explore a world birthed by fairy tales and Slavic traditions, festivals, and myth.
Game Developer spoke with Bartosz Kaproń, CEO and creative director of The Parasight, to learn about how the game weaves Slavic folklore and ritual into even the smallest gestures in the game (like saving your progress), how the game was shaped around the backbone of archery in combat, and how regional differences in the mythologies would lead to the game’s emphasis on making the player choose who Baba Yaga would become.
Blacktail draws from Slavic folklore to create its world and the creatures within it. Can you tell us some of the mythological inspirations for some of the places and people that players will meet throughout the game?
Obviously, the biggest of Blacktail’s influences is Baba Yaga. Sometimes described as a wise old woman, sometimes as a savage-looking recluse, but never as mundane or predictable. Her depictions always come with some iconic attributes, like the Hut, or the Black Cat, or the Broom. But was the Hut on a chicken leg, or was it made out of gingerbread? Or maybe both? And if so—why? We see all these elements as gameplay and narrative opportunities.
Another dive into Slavic heritage is our usage of old folk traditions and annual celebrations. We give the player a chance to experience warding off the winter (involving Marzanna, the effigy of the winter goddess), Midsummer Night and flower crowns ceremony, as well as the rites of the Forefathers' Eve in Autumn.
Throughout the game, you will also hear of two of the Slavic pantheon's principal deities, the world's creators—Perun, the ruler of the living world, and his brother, Veles, the lord of the Underworld. The inspirations also involve the creatures you’ll encounter in the game: Vilas, Vodniks, Boboks. And there’s more where that came from.
What interested you in exploring the story of Baba Yaga, specifically? Why did that feel like a good jumping-off point for a game?
Baba Yaga is the most known witch in our cultural circle. So, there were already emotions and ideas coming from all the childhood stories we know that allow us to create our own interpretations and re-imaginings. We believe these emotions influenced the creative process and allowed us to shape a truly authentic experience.
What’s important is that, due to many different retellings, Baba Yaga is both well-known and enigmatic. Because of the various roles she could play, she’s always morally ambiguous. This allowed us to present a young Yaga as a character who can be forged by the player’s choice.
Did mythology inspire other elements of the gameplay? Which myths, and how so?
Some quests in Blacktail revolve around Slavic traditions, and the main story follows the annual cycle of seasons and folk celebrations. But, of course, I wouldn’t want to spoil too much.
It’s from the smallest details, like the classic image of a hedgehog carrying an apple on its back, to the fairy-tale-driven narrative of quests.
We were also inspired by Slavic rituals, sacrifices made to spirits and deities. A small gift for the weavers of life—the daughters of the god Rod—placed in small, dedicated shrines, may grant you their grace in the game. Meaning... you just saved the game.
Another huge pool of inspiration for Blacktail is classic fairy tales. You’ll find influences from "Sleeping Beauty," "The Three Little Pigs," "Snow White," and more. And yes—you will kiss a frog and hunt a dragon as well.
Can you tell us a bit about the research you did on Slavic mythology for the game and the work you did into digging into the history and folklore that would become the backbone of the game?
We’re all deeply rooted in Slavic culture, so we didn’t have to look far and mostly drew from our surroundings and childhood memories.
While researching mythology and folklore, we discovered how closely the myths are intertwined with the stories and fairy tales we remembered as kids. Slavic mythology is not as coherent as, for instance, Greek mythology, but we did our homework. After delving deeper into recent Slavic culture studies, it became clear that details vary significantly depending on the region or interpretation. We saw this as an opportunity to tell our own fairy tale.
Witchcraft, in its traditional and modern interpretations, was also crucial for the identity of our protagonist and the journey she will embark on in Blacktail.
What drew you to focus the combat on archery? How did this focus affect the design of the enemies and their behaviors?
The decision to put a strong emphasis on ranged combat was critical for almost every aspect of the game’s design, from the physical construction of the world and ways to traverse through it to the design of enemies and specific narrative mechanics.
When we first imagined a character who would later in her life become Baba Yaga, our thoughts immediately went to an image of a girl who knows the woods like the back of her hand because of her past life. Considering the setting, Yaga naturally became a huntress who would, little by little, dabble in the dark arts. We reflected this in the gameplay and character progression.
The bow and basic arrows will only get you so far. When the situation becomes more than a hunter can handle, witchcraft—spellcasting and the broom—will become crucial for Yaga’s survival. In practice, these can offer crowd-control opportunities, de-buff enemies, and keep them at bay. Did I mention different arrow types and passive skills?
The focus on archery ruled the way enemies were designed—from their attack patterns and skills to AI, to movement. All of this dictates the pacing of encounters. This called for an approach to designing battles that is quite different than in games relying mostly on melee combat.
Witchcraft and magic are a vital part of the combat and interactions with the game world as well. What thoughts went into designing the game's magic, in terms of gameplay as well as visuals?
Blacktail’s magic and archery had to complement each other. Magic plays a vital role in short-distance combat and Yaga’s ability to keep the enemies at bay. It also relies on character alignment and supports various playstyles. On top of that, magic will come in handy in exploration and interacting with the game world. Yaga’s supernatural powers also depend on our morality system and skills the player can manage to brew.
Visually, magic needed to be in line with our dark fairy-tale aesthetics and feel impactful, satisfying and fun to cast. Bright, neon-colored explosions are not our thing. Instead, we went for subtlety that fits Blacktail’s world.
Choice is an integral part of Blacktail. How did you create meaningful choices for the player throughout the game? How did you weave these choices through the world so that the player would feel their effects?
We chose to embrace a clear, fairy-tale distinction between good versus evil. It allows players to choose which direction they will lead their character. That said, we use this division consciously, often making the player’s choices uneasy. Forcing you to consider and reconsider, maybe even picking the lesser evil for the greater good. Besides, who is to judge these actions? And based on what? We leave that for the players.
The choice is yours—and this is how we make the player care for Blacktail’s world and characters. Yaga’s morality also influences some of her fundamental skills and determines her friends and foes. The final fate of certain characters will depend on your decisions. Their true nature won’t always be apparent, and the long-term effects of certain choices may subvert some expectations.
Choice is also reflected in the various ways players can alter their play style. What ideas went into making a variety of possible play styles that players could try out? How did you build onto the magic and archery systems in ways that would make the player feel like they still had a great deal of choice in how they fought?
It’s all about the unique combination of elixirs, hocuses, various arrows, usage of the broom, and morality alignment, all combined with the HEX of your choice.
Want to go for a high-risk, high-reward ‘glass cannon’ build? Go ahead, but be quick on your feet. How about an ‘AoE crowd controller’ relying on damage over time? We’ve got you.
The player has different arrow types at their disposal, all of which are supported by a different HEX (passive skill). This gives the player an opportunity to play their character the way they want.
Our character progression system involves crafting skills rather than simply unlocking them. The choice to use up certain resources for a skill will make the player think their builds through. But still—we’ve kept it simple.
You May Also Like
Exploring the 2024 State of the Game Industry report - Game Developer Podcast ep. 39Feb 2, 2024
Phantom inspiration and the ethical auteur with Xalavier Nelson Jr.Dec 8, 2023
Designing Killer Queen: from playground experiment to modern arcade sensationOct 18, 2023
Rod Humble and King Choi illustrate the ambition of Life By YouSep 22, 2023
Get daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox
Subscribe to Game Developer Newsletters to stay caught up with the latest news, design insights, marketing tips, and more