Sword Coast Legends is an upcoming cRPG with one foot in the past, one in the future, and a virtual world of possibilities in between. Set to launch on October 20, 2015 for PC, Linux and Mac, a series of Head Start preview weekends have given gamers a neat vertical slice of what they can expect in the full release.
The team at n-Space is understandably busy at this point, working through the list of lingering bugs and getting the game ready for prime time. While there have been a couple of delays with the initial release (Sword Coast Legends was originally targeted for an early September release) fans seem largely receptive of the notion that any delays will help insure a better final product.
Having spent a decent amount of time in the Head Start weekends up to this point, I had a number of questions for the team at n-Space, and they were awesome enough to take some time out of their busy schedules for a lengthy chat about the game. Joining me were Dan Tudge, the Game Director for Sword Coast Legends and President at n-Space, and Ash Sevilla, Community Manager at n-Space.
Since the Head Start previews began last month, the reception from fans has been what Dan describes as “passionate”. To put a quantifiable metric on things, some players have already spent in excess of 100 hours in SCL so far. That’s a sizable chunk of time once you consider that players haven’t even begun to chew through the main story campaign as of yet (said to be roughly 40 hours of gameplay), with the Head Start previews largely focused on robust Dungeon Master (DM) tools baked into the game client.
Introducing the DM tools to players before releasing the full campaign hasn’t been without its challenges. As Dan explained, players are introduced to the proper tutorial for the game in story mode so haven’t had the benefit of learning the basics via that tutorial during the Head Start. At the same time, it does speak volumes about the overall accessibility of the game and how intuitive the DM tools are for new users that so many have been able to get into the game with relative ease.
Touching on the intuitive nature of the DM tools for a moment, Dan elaborated on that aspect of the game’s design and the intent of the development team at n-Space.
“On the DM side, I think that’s come off wonderfully intuitive. That was one of the core values of the vision of product was to make that intuitive. To make sure that people could get in easily, and didn’t need to do any sort of complex scripting. We wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just prettied up dev tools, that this was something that everybody could use, but still had as close as we could get to the depth of dev tools.
There is certainly room for improvements, and we’re going to make those improvements, but think that we’ve definitely hit that mark for accessibility. The evidence there was the amount of content that was created right out of the gate.”
By this point, thousands of modules have been created, with hundreds upon hundreds shared between players, forming the foundation of an excellent creative ecosystem for members of the community. For some, nothing is more daunting than seeing that blank slate and not knowing where to begin. Between the ability to see how other players have approached and overcome the same hurdle, and a simple process of trial and error, the creative community is already beginning to flourish. This bodes well for the full release of Sword Coast Legends and the caliber of player created content we can expect to see once users have had more time to really dig into the DM tools and apply their creativity.
Dan and Ash also noted that one thing that caught them by surprise is how many people immediately got into the game and began playing other people’s modules. Perhaps even more surprising was how many people would create a module and then consume them as players along with their friends, and not necessarily as the DM. In many ways this is like creating your own homebrew campaign and then playing through it, yet with a divergent twist from what you’d expect during a tabletop experience.
The ability to create not only mods, but fully playable modules for a game is kind of a big deal, and not something we see very often. From my experiences, one of the trickiest pieces of that puzzle is based on the ability to find and consume the creations of my fellow gamers. Sword Coast Legends will face this same challenge, with n-Space allowing players to ultimately help determine what content floats to the top.
We’ve seen examples on both sides of the coin many times in the past. On one side you’ll have the passionate creatives who channel loads of energy into making the best content possible. On the other, there are the attempts to game the system to make things easier, typically by creating very basic grinds to help expedite things like leveling.
Dan also provided some insights as to how this is being approached with Sword Coast Legends.
“People can rate content, and I think that’s one of the biggest things. You do get people that create level-grinders or the cheat dungeons, or whatever you want to call them, but the community can vote those down. We’ve seen that already where they will vote those down, and may even report those players. But the good content that people want to play gets voted up, and floats to the top of the list.”
As we continued discussing this particular aspect of the game, Dan went on to share an interesting anecdote about his team’s experiences with module creation and sharing during Head Start. To help seed the initial Head Start with some modules, most people at n-Space made some modules for the community to play through. Initially these were met with a very positive reception, but it wasn’t long before the community was creating new modules that ultimately surpassed the number of votes received by those initial team creations.
For all intents and purposes, n-Space is breaking new ground in the realm of online multiplayer by giving players the ability to not only create custom modules, but actively participate in the experience as a proper DM in real time. While bits and pieces of this concept have existed previously, there really hasn’t been a cRPG that properly facilitates that particular aspect of the tabletop Dungeons & Dragons experience.
When asked about any unforeseen challenges in achieving the original goals for the DM tools, interestingly enough Dan noted that the real challenges came in an altogether different form, based on the design choice of giving players persistent characters.
“This is something that I’m not sure people are even fully aware of, and that is the ability to create a character, and then play that character in your own story campaign, then jump over to somebody else’s story campaign to play in co-op, and then jump back into your own story campaign. When you finish that campaign, you can start another one at a higher level. The fluidity of being able to take this character you’re investing all this time and energy in, and play with that character in all these different modes honestly came together way better than I had expected.”
Being a core MMO gamer, I can appreciate the hidden complexities of keeping a certain degree of persistence to characters between multiple game modes. Most studios ultimately confront the issue by injecting rulesets specific to a given game mode, or attempt to compensate by adding stats to gear that confer a benefit based on the content currently being consumed. Some titles, like Guild Wars 2, have gone so far as to completely separate the PvE and PvP experience while also attempting to avoid opening the massive can of worms known as “skill splits” that were liberally used in the original Guild Wars as a crutch / tool for being able to add to one game mode without having it impact the balance of another.
Sword Coast Legends takes a more challenging road by keeping character persistence intact even though it has also meant that many systems have had to be factored into the process. A perfect example that Dan shared with me is based on encumbrance.
“In D&D your strength determines the weight of the equipment you can carry before you’re encumbered. We have a party-based inventory, so the conundrum we had was that when you’re playing in multiplayer, you’re only playing with that one character. So if I set my weight for my whole party in story mode with my companions and then go into multiplayer, I’m going to have four times the amount of gear that I should be able to carry.
So we had to make a decision. The weight of your party-based inventory is then based on the strength of your primary character. So when you do move into somebody else’s story, that weight makes sense across the board.”
Working with Digital Extremes
A piece of the Sword Coast Legends puzzle I was also eager to discuss with Dan and Ash (not to be confused with Daniel Ash from Bauhaus) is the relationship with Digital Extremes. Having been a longtime fan of DE, I’ve spent a sizable chunk of time over the past couple of years playing Warframe – a title I would encourage just about anyone with an interest in online multiplayer to check out.
Given his long and highly successful career in the industry, it spoke volumes to me when Dan stated that Digital Extremes is one of the best partners he’s ever worked with. Much of that is based on both n-Space and DE coming from the same roots as developers, and being a part of the industry for 20 or so years at this point.
“There is a lot of developer empathy that I think not only creates a lot less friction, but also empowers us to work a lot better together. We don’t have to have a lot of those discussions you’d have to have with a publisher – we can cut straight to the dev side of things.”
Dan went on to note that Digital Extremes has been gaining a lot of experience as a publisher and with digital distribution in particular. Going back to Warframe as a perfect example, we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the success of the game first on Steam and then eventually on console as well. This experience and understanding of the inherent challenges present for an independent studio to push for a multi-platform release will no doubt be a major boon for n-Space given that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 game clients are still in the works, currently slated for a Q1 2016 release.
Head Start and Beyond
As a final note before our discussion wound down, I also asked Dan about what level of support the creative community can expect to see post-launch. The good news here is that players won’t have to wait for a major expansion or themed DLC drop for new assets to enter play for your DM creations. While new assets will indeed come into play at those points, you can also expect to see smaller packs of DM content released over time as well. A roadmap will be released closer to launch that will provide some additional clarity on what players can expect following the live date for the game.
Gamers interested in checking out Sword Coast Legends prior to the full release on October 20th will want to check out the various pre-order options that come bundled with access to the Head Start previews. To avoid major story campaign spoilers the Head Start is primarily focused on the player-created module slice of the game, and still very much worth taking the time to explore.
We’d like to thank Dan and Ash for taking the time out of their busy schedules to discuss Sword Coast Legends with us, and are looking forward to diving into the story campaign later this month!
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Sword Coast Legends Game Page.