For the King is the debut title of IronOak Games, an independent studio formed by a group of veteran developers. The studio has been working on the game for a few years now, going through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign and a period on Steam Early Access, and the result is an interesting blending of board-game-esque strategy, turn-based combat, and roguelike elements. With the game on the verge of its full commercial PC release, RPGamer was given the opportunity to put a series of questions to Art Director Gordon Moran.
Alex Fuller (RPGamer): For the King sees ordinary citizens answering the call of their Queen to fight against the forces of chaos. Can you give a brief description of how players will go about doing this?
Gordon Moran (IronOak Games): In the main adventure, you set off as a party from Oarton, your home town. The Queen has placed royal agents throughout the realm who will guide you on your quest to learn more about the mysterious death of the King and the source of Chaos. As you earn more experience and travel further away from home you'll learn more about what's really going on and potentially how to stop it.
AF: What was the inspiration behind the game in the first place? How did the development team come together?
GM: Nearly four years ago, Colby Young began work on a personal RPG boardgame which served as the protoype for FTK. Blending tabletop mechanics with digital RPG mechanics into a fluent boardgame adventure, his creation garnered the interest of friends and the online community. After dozens of fun playtests and refining of the rules, he soon realized the next step was to take this game to the digital realm.
With the help of David Lam and myself, two industry veterans with over thirty years combined experience, For The King was born. From day one, maintaining the cooperative camaraderie was a core design pillar of ours, and as such, an online cooperative roguelike was born. We feel that this is a new type of roguelike experience that has yet to be fully explored.
AF: For the King had a very successful Kickstarter campaign. How has your experience been with crowdfunding?
GM: We were absolutely thrilled with how successful our Kickstarter campaign was. It took a lot of time and effort, but was well worth it. Our backers have been essential in the early testing of the game and idea generation.
AF: Have there been any significant changes made as a result of feedback from the Early Access and Kickstarter betas?
Absolutely. We listen very attentively to our backers and player base and have developed a thriving community on Discord where players can speak directly with us for feedback and suggestions. From overall user experience to game balance, our players have been instrumental in helping us polish and shape the game on all levels.
AF: "Don't split the party" is one of the big pieces of advice given for tabletop RPGs, but For the King seems to suggest this is a perfectly valid option. What are some of the advantages and dangers of doing so?
GM: For The King is all about creating your own unique adventure. In order to do this, we realized we needed to give the players options. One of the main decisions you'll have to make in FTK is whether to strike out on your own, or stay in the safety of numbers. A party that splits up can cover more ground, find more locations, and run more side quests to gain valuable loot. However you're much more vulnerable on your own so there's an inherent risk in doing so.
If you value safety, then sticking together as a party might be a better strategy. You'll tend to have the advantage in numbers against enemy groups and can make use of each other's items and abilities. The trade-off being you'll move more slowly and might not get to discover everything or complete every quest. Parties that are able to balance the risk vs. reward of sticking together vs. splitting up will be the most successful.
AF: Can you explain how the procedural generation for maps and events in the game works? Will events or choices made earlier in the game affect ones later on?
GM: Each game will randomize the map and realms so that it's never the same experience. Death is a part of FTK, so you'll most likely have to start over from scratch several times before completing an adventure. Having a procedural map system helps keeps things fresh and interesting.
Each play through you'll reveal more and more about the mystery surrounding the King's death and the source of Chaos. FTK keeps the story quite light as it's simply meant to guide you along your own personal adventure. Each adventuring party will experience different challenges and rewards and unique highs and lows, making the story very personal.
AF: The roguelike elements imply that it is a game built around multiple playthroughs, with likely many failures in the process. Are there any bonuses you can unlock that might help in subsequent playthroughs?
GM: Absolutely. Throughout your playthroughs you'll earn Lore, FTK's in-game currency. You can spend the Lore you collect to unlock new items, locations, events, aesthetics, and playable characters to aid you in your quest. In this sense, everyone's adventures will be slightly different based off what they've unlocked in the Lore Store.
AF: For the King has a nice and distinctive graphical style. What have been some of the ideas and thoughts behind the art style?
GM: The art style is very much an homage to the first generation of 3D RPGs from which FTK draws a lot of its inspiration. We also wanted a simple and clean style that would allow our small team to create hundreds of items, enemies, and realms as variety is super important for roguelike games.
AF: What options do players have to strengthen their characters throughout the game?
GM: As characters earn more experience in game they level up, becoming stronger and increasing their max HP. However the primary way to increase a character's stats and abilities is through equipment. Although different characters have inherent abilities that they begin the game with, new abilities and combat options are linked to weapons and armor. Characters aren't limited to using specific weapons or armor, but they'll be more proficient with certain types based off their stats.
Characters can also increase their stats by finding trainers, consuming special items, or through various encounters.
AF: Are there multiple endings or different ways to successfully complete the game? How long do most playthroughs take?
GM: There are three different adventures (with more to come), each with their own story and varying game length. The time it takes to complete an adventure really comes down to individual play style. A complete adventure from beginning to end can range anywhere from three to twelve hours.
AF: It looks like the game has been built to work the same for both single-player and co-op, were there any extra challenges or things you had to take into account with respect to the co-op?
GM: FTK was built from the ground up with co-op in mind. Originally drawing inspiration from a board game prototype, co-op gameplay was essential. In fact, it's our favorite way to play. That's why it can be played both locally and online, cooperatively or solo.
The main challenge we faced with co-op play was keeping a good pace for all players, specifically dealing with off-turns. This is an issue all boardgames deal with and fortunately one that a digital game is much better equipped to deal with. Maintaining quick turns and allowing players to trade, browse towns and sort their inventory during their off turn alleviates down time. You can of course be sucked into a nearby fight during your off-turn as well, so you always have to be ready for action!
AF: Do you anticipate any particular challenges in bringing the game to console, or is it one you feel would easily translate? What made you decide to work towards a console version?
GM: The transition to console should be fairly straightforward. From day one we've had controller support for local co-op and have designed the UX for enjoyment on a TV or monitor. It feels like a natural fit for console and we're super excited to see it on console in early 2019.
RPGamer would like to give our thanks to Gordon Moran and IronOak Games for their time and giving us the opportunity to talk about For the King, as well as to Plan of Attack for facilitating the interview. For the King releases for PC and Mac in April 2018, with a console release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch set for 2019.