Welcome to the premiere of Indie Jones! Here, we delve into the minds of indie devs, uncovering the treasures their Kickstarter video games have to offer gamers.
Today, we pick the brain of Mojo Game Studios to learn more about their unique new fantasy RPG, Cradle. The Kickstarter intro video alone was enough to blow my mind; the graphics, music and atmosphere, enhanced by the Cryengine, brought this amazing new title to life. Naturally, I had to find out more.
Mojo Game Studios was kind enough to grant me an interview. The following is my conversation with Cradle crew:
1. At its core, what is Cradle?
When we came together and first decided to take on this project, and make a new kind of video game, we knew we wanted to create something more than a toy. We wanted to give the player a mature, immersive experience. And this fundamental goal goes a long way in influencing our design. To this end, Cradle is first and foremost a game dependent on your skill as a player, not the countless hours put into leveling up your character. Immersion is our top priority, and it governs how we approach almost everything, from combat to narrative to environments. We did this because we want the player to fully engage, heart, mind and skill, with every in-game experience. A big reason Cradle exists is to satisfy the adventurer that exists in all of us as gamers. Nothing should feel random or unnecessary; once you’re in Anora, nothing in-game should push you back out to reality.
2. There have been dozens of successful first person RPGs that have hit the market lately (Oblivion, Far Cry, Minecraft). What does Cradle do differently that makes it a unique experience for gamers?
Most games require a substantial amount of farming or grinding for a player to progress or level. Cradle gets away from this mechanic by making your progression through the game independent from the progression of your character. Now, this doesn’t mean that progressing your character isn’t necessary to beat the game. But because we combine this separation of progression with a non-linear storyline, and a flexible questing system, it allows for a greater degree of agency to remain with the player than is seen in other RPGs.
We know we’re far from the only game to promise that the player can “forge their own path” through our world. What games usually mean by this catchphrase though, is that they give the player a lot of choices, most of which just concern customization of skill trees or appearance. We take that promise much more literally, on the other hand, because choices simply aren’t the same as freedom, and true immersion comes from true freedom. In Cradle, you can only progress your character by exploring the world, not by spending a certain amount of time in-game or killing a certain number of enemies. To progress through the game, you’ll certainly want to strengthen and progress your character to facilitate tougher battles and greater rewards; but you could also hypothetically get through the entire game with nothing but a good deal of skill and creative strategies. We’re excited to see where our players go with that.
3. Something that is taken for granted in games is combat. In Cradle, it seems much thought and strategy is needed to be successful. Briefly explain the combat system.
Cradle’s Realfight Combat System is a new way to fight, developed by Mojo Game Studios to bring the player an unprecedented level of dynamic control in first-person melee combat. Realfight brings four main tweaks to traditional first-person melee combat as it’s implemented in games such as Skyrim or Chivalry:
Deterministic Combat Animations enable the player’s attacks to change based on which part of the enemy’s body is targeted. In other words, where you aim to attack on your opponent determines which attack your character executes. Because these choices vary by weapon, but are the same from enemy to enemy, this system is easy to learn and intuitive to use. Simply by aiming and clicking the left or right mouse button, you are able to choose in real time where and how you will strike.
Order determinism allows for smoother chaining of melee attacks; where you last struck has an effect on how the next attack will play out. If you have a sword and want to do a slash right at the torso of an opponent, followed directly by a slash left, simply aim at the right torso and click the right mouse button, then aim at the left torso and click the left mouse button. The result is a continuous slash to the right and back from the left. This system adds fluidity and reactivity to our combat.
Weapons and weapon weight also factor into Cradle‘s Realfight system. Each weapon is designed to have different strengths and weaknesses in combat, which is something not usually captured in first-person melee combat as far as their effects on blocking, dodging, or interrupting enemy attacks. For example, a player cannot successfully block a heavy mace with their own small dagger, nor could they hope to make a dent in a heavy shield using a short sword. The beauty of this system is that there is no restriction on the player from attempting these moves; but the fundamentals of the physics, momentum, and other aspects of real-life weaponry are present to build their intuition for what works, and what doesn’t; what to compensate for, and what to exploit.
Likewise, another layer of realism is added through proximity determinism. Essentially, when a player is too close to an opponent to accurately swing their weapon, they will push off from their enemy in order to reposition themselves on the battlefield. These push-offs will also be deterministic, according to where the player aims and which weapon they are using. What this improves upon, in traditional melee games, is the inconvenience of being unable to reposition without interrupting the flow of combat.
4. It’s no secret that open world, fantasy RPGs can bog players down with seemingly infinite tasks and missions. How does Cradle keep the player’s attention with this aspect of the game?
Every quest is meaningful, and has a tangible effect on the game and its outcome, as well as your playing. Ideally, players will never feel bogged down because the reward will always be worth the task.
Many hours were put into constructing a history, a culture, and a context for the world of Anora and its inhabitants. We chose to invest so much energy towards these things to make the world feel worth exploring – and questing through.
Likewise, we handle questing in a way that leaves greater freedom to the player in how they want to pursue them, prioritize them, or choose whether to do them at all. Essentially, Cradle gives the player vital clues about the world, then leaves it up to him or her to explore and solve mysteries. We depart from the more traditional “quest log”, or something that keeps track of the player’s progression through a set of tasks. Instead, players will have a journal of information to track progress on various adventures, and will receive new quests from NPCs, artifacts, or the discovery of concealed areas.
5. Cradle sounds very ambitious. It’s obvious much time has been taken to develop the world of Aderyn. What were some challenges you faced while creating the game? Did you have to exclude some things during development?
One of the biggest time costs in making a game is rework. Time and again designers come up with new, and often better, ideas that need to be added to the game, only to have these ideas cause a ton of unintended alterations to other aspects of the game. These changes to the game ultimately necessitate rework, and a lot of lost time. In contrast, we approach game design from an extremely top down view, which makes for an unconventional development strategy. To be honest, I don’t think this project would be remotely possible without our novel approach. So far, our way of developing and designing has lead us to very little or no rework and I’m confident that our approach will continue to provide such results.
At the heart of Cradle is the goal to create a fast-paced, skill based game, full of exploration and adventure. Anyone familiar with game design practices, however, understands the challenges currently faced by game developers both big and small in bringing a project like this to fruition. Part of the mission of Mojo is to solve some of these problems, particularly when it comes to design.
6. The CryEngine has been known to enhance environments in video games to the most minute detail. Were you able to have your dynamic environments “tell a story” using this engine?
Absolutely. Our decision to use CryEngine is grounded in the idea that we want to capture the beauty of the natural world, and use it to evoke wanderlust and thirst for adventure in our players. To do this, we wanted the most graphically advanced solution available. CryEngine also allows us to create seamless open worlds using voxel terrain sculpting.
Albeit a challenge to work with, CryEngine has indeed been sufficient for our needs after the additions made by our programming team.
7. Will there be online multiplayer in Cradle? If so, what are your plans for this mode?
With Cradle we plan to feature both cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes. For now, we intend to release multiplayer modes as DLC (downloadable content) after the game’s initial release. However, with enough funding, we would be able to both produce and integrate the mode(s) in time for the main release.
8. What are some games, movies or other forms of media that influenced the creation of Cradle?
Hexen – Nonlinear, environmental storyline.
Starcraft – Easy-to-learn systems, but intricate and hard to master.
Shadow of the Colossus and Journey – Compelling story and emotional narrative, general tone
Halo – Fluid, dynamic, skill based, sandbox-style combat.
Far Cry 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Expansive, explorable open worlds.
Doom, Quake – Observation-based secrets.
Guild Wars 2 – Level design, environmental tie to gameplay rewards, jumping and environmental puzzles.
Dark Souls – Player agency at the heart of gameplay.
Gears of War – Epic scale, humanity is depending on you whether they know it or not.
As well as the works of Hayao Miyazaki, specifically Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.
9. The mechanics and gameplay in Cradle seem to favor hardcore gamers. Are you worried this game may be too complex for casual gamers to jump into?
It’s true that we have been promoting our combat system as one of our groundbreaking features, that will be unique to Cradle. It’s certainly true that part of its purpose is to add more strategy to first-person combat, which at first glance could seem to shut out players who aren’t even familiar with the simpler first-person combat experiences that already exist on the market. However, gamers will never be forced to make complex decisions in real time. The decisions made are meant to be intuitive rather than calculated, so there’s no particular reason why a casual or new gamer would have more difficulty picking up the system and being successful in their campaign. Furthermore, the learning curve of our system is designed to be similar to Starcraft in that it is easy to learn, yet challenging to master. This, combined with the sliding challenge scale we plan to implement, allows casual gamers to jump right into the game and facilitate both their initial learning and eventual mastery by controlling the pace of their experience.
10. When will Cradle be available for fans to enjoy and for what platforms?
We plan to release Cradle on PC and Linux platforms in Summer 2016.
And there you have it, folks! I’d like to once again thank everyone from Mojo Game Studios for a great interview. I feel we have all learned a little more about this new title and are excited to get our hands on it. Follow the link here and support the Kickstarter campaign. Track the games progress via Mojo Game Studio’s official website. Trust me, you’ll be amazed at what you see. You have 11 more days to contribute; let’s bring this game to life with our support.
Can’t get enough of this amazing fantasy RPG? Check out the trailer and screenshots below for more. Come back again next week for more from Indie Jones!