RPGamer Feature - Telepath Tactics Interview
Telepath Tactics
Developer: Sinister Design
Release Date: 2014

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Tactical RPGs are hot right now, especially with the success of Nintendo's Fire Emblem: Awakening. Hot on the heels of this release comes news of a new indie tactical RPG called Telepath Tactics. As his Kickstarter gets underway, I was able to chat with Craig Stern, developer for Sinister Design, about this upcoming game's single-player campaign.

Michael A. Cunningham (RPGamer, Editor-in-Chief): Greetings. I wanted to touch base with you to chat about the single-player campaign in Telepath Tactics. I just wanted an idea of what it will be like. Is it very similar to Fire Emblem?
Craig Stern (Sinister Design, Developer): It's modeled on Fire Emblem, in that it consists of battles and cutscenes; no exploration mode. It's a little more flexible than most Fire Emblem titles, though, in that it supports dialog trees that can do everything from changing character relationships to branching the campaigns themselves.

MAC: So unlike Fire Emblem: Awakening, but like some of the older titles, you simply move from one chapter to the next. Where does the dialogue take place?
CS: Dialog takes place in cutscenes, on the battlefield--literally anywhere that a trigger is set up to trigger it.

MAC: For example?
CS: So, for instance: if a character dies, there might be a death monologue (which we all know and love from Fire Emblem). But you can also trigger a conversation if, say, a battle gets to a certain turn, or if a certain destructible object is destroyed, or if a certain amount of money is reached, etc. There's a pretty flexible scripting system in the game that allows me to do this (and later, will allow modders to do the same).

MAC: Sorry, I should have been more specific about dialogue. I was curious about dialogue trees and how it allows for branching paths and changes in relationships.
CS: Ah! Branching dialog is basically just dialog where you include more than one reply option. Different replies take you to different branches of the conversation. The scripting system, in turn, lets you create and modify custom variables based on which branch of a dialog you're on (including variables tracking how much different characters like each other).

So, just to give a really simplistic example: let's say Bob and Maria are conversing, and Maria says "Ugh, this armor is too tight." Let's say that we decide to give Bob two possible replies:

(1) Here, let me loosen the straps for you a bit.
(2) That's because you're fat.

Each of these replies will then take the player in different directions in the conversation, and we can have the game "remember" how Maria feels about Bob based on what he said. (Bob and Maria aren't actual characters in Telepath Tactics--I'm just giving a hypothetical here.)

MAC: Understood, I've dealt with branching dialogue before, but was curious how relationships will be impacted in Telepath Tactics. Will "Maria" boost "Bob's" stats if he's nice to her or will she try to kill him in the next battle if he's mean?
CS: There aren't any automated systems relating to character relationships at the moment; I'm not trying to copy Fire Emblem there. But we can definitely do things like give characters stat boosts, have them give each other items as gifts, or even kill one another if we like.

Put another way: there won't be any "keep these characters close together for a bunch of turns to make them like each other" sort of mechanics.

MAC: So branching dialogue is more like character personality development, not for stat increases or the like?
CS: It can be for both. For instance: I'm currently planning to make it so you can select a starting class for one (or possibly two) of the main characters at the start of the campaign. That would happen via dialog. So you could choose to have a hero who is a spearman, swordsman, or bowman, say. The engine supports that, and I definitely want to have instances where dialog choices have those sorts of significant effects on the game outside of dialog.

MAC: So about characters for the single player, are they player-created or do you have a cast of characters planned?
CS: The latter. The plan is to use dialog to give the player choices between recruiting different characters (a bit like what happens midway through Shining Force 2) in order to provide some variety in the characters players get over the course of a game.

MAC: Oh nice. That helps clear things up, any other bits of info on the single player side you'd like to share?
CS: Sure! I recently decided to rework the game's story. It was very high-level political stuff before, which is cool, but it was tough to make it work because the main characters aren't from the ruling class. (You'll notice that that's how Fire Emblem games make those stories work: the protagonist is almost invariably royalty, or else becomes embroiled in protecting royalty very soon after the game starts.)

So I've opted for something a little more small-scale and personal to hook players and introduce them more gradually to the world in which Telepath Tactics takes place. I'm trying to avoid leading off with a massive geopolitical exposition dump.

MAC: Excellent. Any solid plans for platforms other than PC/Mac/Linux?
CS: Nothing solid just yet; I want to make sure the PC/Mac/Linux release is absolutely solid before I start working on ports. However, I will say that the game is 100% playable with just the mouse, so it's quite possible that this will be getting a mobile port in the future.

I've also been approached about console ports, but setting it up to work with a gamepad would take a little extra work. It's not out of the question, but it's not anywhere near top priority in my thinking right now.

MAC: Estimated release date?
CS: It depends; I'm running a Kickstarter beginning on Thursday. If it's funded (Editor's Note: The game is already funded), I can confidently say it'll be released in early-to-mid 2014. If not, it could take a lot longer to scrabble together the assets I need. (High quality sprite animations are hard to come by!)

So if this interview has piqued your interest, check out the Telepath Tactics Kickstarter which is going on right now. It details more about the game, including the multiplayer aspects, custom campaign design, and map editor. Thanks to Craig from Sinister Design for taking the time to chat with us about his project. The Kickstarter has already been completely funded just a few days in, but check out the stretch goals and see if you'd like to donate. Also, visit the official Sinister Design website for more information on some of the studio's prior games such as Telepath RPG.

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