Legends of Amberland: The Forgotten Crown is a retro-style western turn-based dungeon crawler with RPG elements and a fairy-tale-like story of noble heroes on an epic quest. To find out more information about this game and its developer, click here.
Question: A traditional adventuring party size is 4-5 characters, what made you decide on allowing the players to create up to 7 characters and being able to position them, to force initiative order?
Chris Koźmik: It stems from the design process I use. I alternate between designing gameplay and interface and each one affects the other without any of them being more important or first. So, most games I played had 4, 6 or 8 characters, I decided on 6 gameplay-wise. Then I assembled the UI to see how it felt interface wise. It was bad, just 6 of them would leave too much space on the kind of interface I envisioned. So I tried 7 party members which looked much better but this also made me recall Crystals of Arborea with the prince central character so I experimented with one leader and 6 sidekicks. I have abandoned the leader concept but the odd number of characters made me focus and notice the central character that's how the "combat initiative radiating from the center" and "left & right being well-protected flanks" concepts emerged. So, it was a process that would be impossible to make on paper and which emerged only because I was doing both gameplay and interface at the same time.
Question: Why do party buffs and bonuses expire at midnight? Is there an in-world, lore reason, or a deeper-rooted design one?
Chris Koźmik: To be honest, I haven't thought about it at all. I needed some sort of timer and I have seen such mechanics in Might & Magic III: The Isles of Terra, I tried it and it worked and then I have not thought about it anymore. One advantage of this is that the player does not need to remember when each buff was cast and when it expires. If there is one arbitrary moment when everything resets it is gentle on the player and easy to grasp and remember, it streamlines the gameplay and makes the interface less cluttered since there is no need to show any timers other than the world time which is needed anyway for immersion.
Question: In Amberland, the equipment has no requirements, other than one: Encumbrance. What's the thought behind using weight as the great equalizer?
Chris Koźmik: Do you remember the scene in Lord of The Rings with Gandalf holding a long sword? That's why. I always loathed all those in-game explanations that a piece of long iron interferes with magic and that's why wizards can't use swords. Not to mention all those big tables listing which class can use which equipment. So I wanted to go another route. One that makes it all feel the traditional way that a knight uses plate armor and a wizard has just a robe but will have this complex class restrictions system. Fortunately, I had a fantasy world which helped a lot. I gave the party a shared Magic Bag of Carrying which makes everything that's not equipped weightless.
Then I have put strict restrictions on each class how many encumbrance points each class can use, modified by strength and rare magic items. In the end, it encourages the traditional setup but with exceptions if the player so desires. For example, it's possible to equip a wizard with a long sword (and nothing more since that would use almost all of his miserable pool of encumbrance points) and in theory, even some lighter plate armor assuming one would want to use for the precious Magic Belt of Carrying. From another spectrum, a knight has such a massive encumbrance pool that only the heaviest plate armor plus a large shield and heavy helmets equipped together can pose some problem. It also gives another value to mithril chain mail and other items which have no other special qualities other than being super light.
Question: Something that many players noticed is that there are no secrets per se in Amberland. No breakable walls or illusions. Why is that? Do you think the presence of secrets could add to the game?
Chris Koźmik: This was a hard design decision. The thing is the game is open world, you can go almost anywhere anytime, with very few restrictions. Therefore it would be quite hard for the player to simply remember which location was already checked for secrets. Not to mention the sheer number of locations, most of them accessible basically from the start. Note that secrets and illusory walls work best in Dungeon Master style RPGs where you have a single dungeon and you can "feel it" that's there must be something secret here. Take note how different it felt in Dungeon Master (single dungeon) and Dungeon Master II: The Legend of Skullkeep (overworld + several locations). They abandoned secrets in the sequel and replaced them with puzzles so the player knows the secret is there.
Question: Which element of the game is the strongest in your opinion and why?
Chris Koźmik: I would personally name three: overworld map, encumbrance system, and lore. Overworld is one I really like, it was a real pleasure to make. All those colorful landscapes, the freedom of movement and exploration, small huts with local NPC scattered around. I really, really like it, both as a designer and as a player. Encumbrance system is one I'm the proudest of, it worked out well, much simpler than the traditional systems, still giving the same outcome mood-wise and additionally providing additional consideration what to equip. The last one I quite like is the world's lore. From the beginning, I chose to make the lore consistent, even at the expense of some traditional elements. So there are no robot-alien-ninjas, no Greek mythology elements, no elementals, no zombies, no other dimensions, etc, etc. The list of forbidden elements in my legendarium design doc is quite long. But it resulted in a self-contained logical world with its specific lore...a home of elves, dwarves, and humans.
Question: Crystals - a play on premium currency - please explain the philosophy behind how and why they were implemented.
Chris Koźmik: I think it was inspired by "ancient coins" in one game I played which could be used to exchange for some things money could not buy. Also, it was inspired by "wish" mechanic from roguelikes where after finding the Aladdin's Lamp you could summon a genie and then select one thing. I decided to extend this concept and made a whole magic shop with crystals as the currency. Another advantage of this solution design-wise is that you have a separate currency system that does not compete with mundane activities like food expenses, training expenses, common equipment purchases, and so on.
Question: Why have you decided to make your custom engine instead of using existing ones? What would you say were the most prominent challenges and advantages of doing so?
Chris Koźmik: This question can be narrowed down to "why haven't you used [PUT HERE THE CURRENT MOST POPULAR ENGINE] and made one yourself from scratch?" It's a valid question but usually asked in a short term context. This gets more interesting if you consider this long term. For example, I have started writing the engine on Amiga in the late 90s (it was rewritten like twice from scratch since then so probably no code per se from the 90s era persisted to this day). There simply were no engines invented yet back then. Later, when they invented those I faced a decision to switch to Ogre3D or Flash or to stick to my own engine. It was a hard call but I decided to stick to my own engine.
Now, imagine, where I would be today if I have switched back then? I would be stuck with those outdated/unsupported technologies and you would be asking "Why are you using this old [PUT HERE A NAME OF A LEGACY YET ONCE FAMOUS ENGINE]", or more likely you would not be asking anything but wonder "Why this game requires Windows 95/98 to run"? Maintaining my own engine, which I control, and sticking to C++ which is a non-proprietary industry standard, allows me to "control my own destiny" and assure that no matter what my game will run on current machines as long as I keep the engine up to date. It gives me a lot of freedom and saves from regular rewrites of the game logic at the expense of regularly updating an engine. There are also other perks for using my own engine, for example, the feature set which is tailored to the kind of games I make.
Note that most or even all engines focus on 3D shooters which is not the kind of game I make. For example, I have support for smart tooltips, with auto-positioning, colors, images, game-specific icons, etc. A lot of other utility features that simply do not exist on popular commercial engines because those features are too niche. As for challenges, there were many, and definitely, the industry advice to not make your own engine is one that should be carefully considered and probably right in most cases. The trick in making your own engine is to not make your engine perfect from the start but to expand it over time witch each game, adding only features that the game needs. And definitely to use it for more than one game. Then making your own engine might make sense.
Question: What do you consider to be the greatest challenges the players will have to face in your game? What would you like to see done in the game, that could warrant a "badge of honor"?
Chris Koźmik: Killing the Black Dragon. Definitely. Killing the Red Dragon is the second one I think.
Question: What inspired the world design of Amberland, its geography, and environmental hazards?
Chris Koźmik: If you ask in a very broad sense, the legendarium was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's works, especially the first three pages of Silmarillion, and the debates he was having with C.S. Lewis, especially their difference in views on literature was quite inspiring and quite liberating. The second inspiration were legends from the Baltic Sea area, that's also one of the reasons for naming the game "Amberland" which was an ancient name of this area which was a famous trade route for amber which was gathered at the seaside of Baltic Sea. As for the exact geography in-game, there was no inspiration per se, I just went with the flow. It was shaped taking into account gameplay, lore, story flow, and balance. I also wanted to say I had a blast designing the overworld map, that part of the development was really enjoyable.
Question: What would you like to change/add in terms of a potential sequel, and what would you say the chances are for the story of Amberland to continue?
Chris Koźmik: When I was analyzing the feedback from players, one thing struck me. The things I enjoyed making were evaluated as awesome while things I struggled with and sweated a lot on were called mediocre at best. Which was quite surprising. So, with the sequel, I would adjust my development process and focus on things I enjoyed making as a creator. For example, I would make a bigger overworld map since that's what I enjoyed making a lot, and since that's what most players appreciated as well. Probably at the expense of the number of locations, I would try to make the player "spend more time outdoors".
The next thing I would like to redesign is items. Encumbrance system was a total success, so that would stay for sure, also the overall mechanics were pretty good. But I would go a more traditional route next time, with at least semi-random items. The idea was that all items are handcrafted and try to convey some story and lore in their descriptions which worked out but... the amount of work needed on those was big and it still ended up with not enough items. Semi-random regular loot plus handcrafted rare items sound more reasonable for a sequel. And the last thing, I probably was too subtle while trying to convey some concepts. Like the infamous "wizards start with a staff and can't find a better one because they are tied to their staff which they got upon becoming wizards and they will not part with it", literally no one grasped this, I failed to convey this thought. So, next time I would either go for a more traditional mechanic here or explain the reasoning plainly.
As for the chances for Legends of Amberland II, those are very high. But it won't be my next project, it will take a while. Overall, I was surprised by the development process, usually, at the very end of a development cycle I'm fed up and I don't want to look at the [put the game name here] anymore (for a while, it passes), yet with Legends of Amberland, I was still feeling surprisingly fresh. That was a good sign, and this alone practically guarantees I will go back and make a sequel one day.
That concludes the Q&A session done with Chris Koźmik, developer of Legends of Amberland.
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