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The RPG Files: Pathfinder: Kingmaker Developer Interview

Interviews By Ed Orr on May 25, 2018

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Developer Interview

With Pathfinder: Kingmaker already in beta, the release of a brand new CRPG is surely imminent. After we dipped into Golarion for the first time, I had a chance to sit down and talk to Owlcat Games Creative Director, Alexander Mishulin, about the bringing this iconic table top game into the digital age.

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MMORPG: Why turn the Pathfinder tabletop experience to a CRPG?

Alexander Mishulin: We’ve played Pathfinder, and a lot of other tabletop RPGs, for quite a long time. It was a huge deal when tabletop gaming hit Russia around 20 years ago. Before then, there were almost no tabletop RPGs available. When they finally arrived, there were rumors of people bringing in this “Player’s Handbook” from a game called Dungeons and Dragons. After a while, people would manage to meet each other and start playing this game.

When I joined Nival Interactive, we played quite a lot of tabletop RPGs. Pathfinder became particularly intriguing when it moved to the 3.5 rule set. It is full of kingdoms that you really want to visit. Each of these Kingdoms is unique in some way and has some great adventure paths, which are essentially campaigns full of stories and opportunities to role play. It is a chance to feel something different from the same old hack and slash. Slashing through a dungeon can be fun but after a time you might want something more elaborate, and since Pathfinder allows you to build a kingdom, it was a difference that we found really interesting.

For a number of the team at Owlcat, our history is in making MMORPGs. We got a little tired of the enormity of these projects. When the chance to create an isometric RPG came up, we jumped at the chance. The obvious choice then became Pathfinder because we had all played it so much,  as a tabletop game.

MMORPG: That change in direction also seems to be reflected in the way the game was funded. Why choose to Kickstart Pathfinder rather than go directly to My.com?

AM: There are several reasons behind that decision. Firstly, while My.com is big they tend to focus on online projects. That makes an offline RPG uncharted territory for them. Going to Kickstarter and running a successful campaign, making almost 1 million dollars over target, proved that there was an interest in the product and it was viable.

Another aspect of the Kickstarter is Pathfinder’s size. We pitched a pretty expansive idea to My.com, but the Kickstarter allowed us to really expand the CRPG into a bigger world. The stretch goals allowed us to expand our kingdom, introduce an additional campaign, and enhance the story. So, basically improve the game in almost every aspect.

MMORPG: What campaigns can we expect to see in Kingmaker? Does it just include the core ruleset or is it a brand new campaign?

AM: In general, we approached Kingmaker by trying to transfer the Pathfinder core game and some additional rulebooks, as close as we possibly can in a real-time experience. Of course, there are some changes, which are necessary, to move this into a new environment but In most ways, it is an attempt to give you the Pathfinder experience. We do try to grab things from additional rulebooks, like the inclusion of the Inquisitor and the Alchemist. This is so we can provide a rich experience for players.

Lore, likewise, is based on the Pathfinder lore, and we have included some iconic characters from the core game. Everything we have done was approved by Paizo, so it was as close as we could get to the original Pathfinder lore.

MMORPG: That is a lot of lore. How big is the world of Kingmaker?

AM: It is a little difficult to measure but we provide an experience for the whole adventure path, from level one up to level twenty. It covers the land that exists within the adventure path. Because it is tied to one geographical location, the Stolen Lands, it does not cover a huge amount of physical ground. Still, it could take you as many as 50 hours to complete the main story. If you investigate every area of the game it might be more like 80 hours to get through.

MMORPG: It seems that lots of this time is spent in narrative dialogue. How do you know where to just stop, and draw the line?

AM: Basically, when Oleg comes to us and says “stop doing this!”.  To be honest, it is an iterative process. We are trying to take the core story and expand upon it. For example, our first playable slice of the game was given a great deal of polish. We worked on it for some time and included a ton of dialogue choices in it. When we took this demo and showed it to Paizo, to our friends, and to a few select fans of Pathfinder, we realized that this amount of variety and content was just about right.

We used that initial demo as a reference point for the amount of content that worked. Sometimes you get a bit carried away and other times time constraints mean you have to put in less. Generally, we tended to use that first iteration as a point of reference, however.

MMORPG: When you were creating those early demos, how influential was Chris Avelone’s input?

AM: Chris is absolutely great. We started working with him, initially on the main story arc and he gave us a lot of really interesting ideas on how to expand the game. He helped us to really sharpen the overall dialogue and gave great input on the choices that players have in the game.

MMORPG: Moving away from lore and dialogue and getting into the game, Kingmaker seems to streamline a lot of tabletop elements, like rolling for initiative and player actions. How did you go about streamlining these ideas?

AM: Initially, our intention was to implement the core rulebook as closely as we possibly could and give players all the feedback they would expect from the tabletop game. When we did that, however, we found that the game was very unforgiving. In the real world, there is normally a GM running things that understands the players. They know when a party needs to rest or can change the difficulty for less experienced players.

We realized that some players would love this authentic representation of Pathfinder, but many players will also want to have other experiences. To deal with this, we created a very diverse scale of difficulty. In story mode, for example,  it is expected that you will be paying a bit more attention to the story and dialogue choices, while in the toughest option you might be more interested in tactics and mechanics over the story. Due to this, we made a huge list of options that can be tweaked. This allows various aspects of the core system to be more or less important, depending on the player preference.

An example might be a particular encounter with a set of rouges, in some situations these rouges can get behind your characters and backstab you, completely destroying you in one shot. In this case, initiative becomes incredibly important and you may want to go back and work on that. You might want to slot spells to counteract the rogues. This is the kind of situation that makes exploring and learning these systems particularly interesting in Kingmaker.

MMORPG: I noticed that between the tutorial, tooltips, and in-game hints that Kingmaker seems to really embody Paizo’s approach to making an inclusive game. Was this a deliberate step?

AM: Well, we really want as many people to enjoy the game as possible. In fact, right now we are busy adding a bunch of detail to help players understand more about the game and Pathfinder’s rules. We will even be providing an internal encyclopaedia, which contains information on the monsters of Golarion, the game rules, and everything we can think of. We are trying to add additional information in the game via wiki links, for players who might not know the background of the world but still want to find out more.  We hope this will allow new players to enjoy the game just as much as those experienced with Pathfinder lore.

MMORPG: I can’t finish up without asking, how many dialogue choices are there in the game?

AM: The game is huge and, as of now, we have close to one million words already written. That is still ongoing and we are not finished yet. We were recently working on the epilogues and over 100 things could happen in this part of the game alone. So, it is still growing but it is pretty big.

I think somewhere on our trek towards the Stolen Lands I must have got turned around by bandits because I lost sight of Alexander in the fog. While I try to retrace my steps, you can find out more about this promising looking CRPG at the official website.