A massively successful mobile games company, Russian-based dev studio Herocraft have been making heavy-hitting iOS and Android games for over ten years. However, whilst in the past their games were likely to cost less than a pint of beer and were designed to make a five minute toilet trip just that little bit more exciting, now they have decided they have the experience and clout to push into the PC gaming market. A studio ‘full of strategy game fans’, they are currently working on what is planned to be their first ever non-casual release, but not their last. Publishing Director Victor Zaletov talks to us about Lords of Discord – a game in the style of Heroes of Might and Magic and of plans to make more not-so-casual games.
Strategy Informer: How would you summarise Lords of Discord for those who haven’t heard of it?
Victor Zaletov: It’s a classic strategy set in a fantasy world. For the moment, it features two races – demons and humans – and turn-based battles similar perhaps to the ones you’d see in the Disciples series of games.
In general every game starts with the hero you choose, which could be a war lord, a scout or a mage. You begin in your undeveloped castle which maybe just has the castle wall and the barracks. Then you start to explore the map, which initially is covered in fog of war.
Strategy Informer: Would you say the first part of the game is much like a dash for resources and unit recruitment like in HoMM?
Victor Zaletov: Yes, it’s something like that. You need to be careful about choosing where to go, which neutral creatures to fight first and so on. For example; fighting more difficult mobs will provide greater benefits, but of course it’s easier to be killed by them and that would force you to have to start all over again.
You also need to grab territory, which you do with your terra-morphing units. These units convert the neutral land to your territory. Each player starts with their own territory and uses these units to convert neutral land into theirs. This will give you some kind of boost; we’re still experimenting with that but it will involve something like unit speed boosts and defence against enemy global spells.
We wanted to give the impression that it shouldn’t be so easy for you to move around on enemy territory. You can go there, but still the enemy player has some advantages against you. So you need to plan your moves carefully. In the same way, you can try to convert your enemy’s land to be yours. Or perhaps you can try to lure your enemy into a battle on your territory which would give you the advantage.
Strategy Informer: Could you talk a little more about the battle system itself?
Victor Zaletov: The battles start with unit placement. Probably you will want to place heavy warrior units at the front and have units like mages, healers and archers at the back. Warriors can only attack hand-to-hand so it’s important for you to be able to handle problems coming from the back of the enemy ranks because they can rain arrows and magic spells down on you.
One way of counter-attacking that would be to, for example, hire some assassins. These are units with a very high initiative – that’s the stat used to determine the order which the units move in – and this allows them to attack archers and mages on the first time. So for example; mages, who can attack whole groups of units with powerful spells, have a very low initiative.
Your units gain experience from battles which you then distribute how you wish amongst your troops. Just a simple peasant could become a powerful warrior, an archer can become an assassin and a healer could eventually get an ability to resurrect fallen warriors and so on. Because units can become so powerful it’s often very important to protect your experienced unit. You may win a battle but lose a unit with a lot of experience and it could work out as a loss in the bigger picture.
Strategy Informer: There’s a story-driven campaign in the game. Could you talk to us a little about that?
Victor Zaletov: We are really working hard to make a great single-player campaign. The game will begin with the 12 mission human campaign and we later plan on releasing the demon one.
Both campaigns will involve an interwoven story, so there may, for example, be the opportunity to play the same mission but from the human and demon perspective. We want to show the player the two different perspectives and make it so the player gets a feeling for what’s happening there. That there is an opinion on what’s happening in the gaming world from the human race and then there is the demon’s perspective.
Strategy Informer: And what about the multiplayer options?
Victor Zaletov: The standard multiplayer involves ordered turns, so there will be a player one, two etc and they take their turns in sequence. There will be a timer in this mode which will only give you a set amount of time to take your time.
Also turn-by-turn asynchronous based e-mail play will be an option. A game can take several hours to play a full game and we understand that some players don’t have enough time to play so we wanted to include this option. So this gives people the option to play their turns when they can and have several games being played simultaneously. Finally, we have hotseat play where you can play the game on the same device; which is great.
In addition, we would like to add cross-platform support for the game so that you could literally grab your game to play on your device and then you can pick-up the same game on another device to play on the bus or on your home computer. Another possibility would be cross-platform multiplayer, although it’s too early to say if these things will be possible.
Strategy Informer: This could be considered the first hard-core game Herocraft have designed. Presumably that was a conscious decision, why would you say the company is now aiming at creating games for real gamers rather than casuals?
Victor Zaletov: A lot of us here are gamers who play hard-core games and now we feel we have a lot of experience and we are a very big company. Lords of Discord may be the first example of this but we are planning more and you should expect more of them from us for mobile devices but also for PC as well. This is something we want to do and now we feel that the market wants this.
Strategy Informer: ...which is probably good because the iOS and Android in particular could really do with some more games like that.
Victor Zaletov: Yeah and our opinion here is the same. We think we can give this kind of classic genre to new players who have never played this kind of game and we can bring these genres to new devices.
Strategy Informer: How has turning to more serious games affected your design process?
Victor Zaletov: Casual gamers tend to like fast gameplay. They are not likely to spend a long time playing. We are still trying to make it so it won’t take a very long time to play a game, so people won’t need to commit a whole day. However, we are looking at maybe a more intense experience than our previous games.
Strategy Informer: What would you say has proven to be the most challenging development aspect of Lords of Discord so far?
Victor Zaletov: I think the strategic balance for us has been the most challenging thing. It’s easy to create some units that are just a bit stronger than others and you can particularly see this in multiplayer. So we are spending a lot of time on that aspect to make sure it’s balanced. Yes, we only have two races now but we are planning to add more in the future.
Strategy Informer: And in terms of the unit types the two races have, do they mirror each other or are they more asymmetrical?
Victor Zaletov: They will have different units. Maybe not in all cases, for example some lower level warriors may be quite similar. However, for example, the demons will not have healers at all but will have very powerful mages and fast initiative units. Human units tend to have more armour and hit points and therefore normally play with a more defensive style.
Strategy Informer: How far down the development process are you right now?
Victor Zaletov: It’s too early to invite users to test it, but the game is about 60% finished. The code and technical aspects are all done; but we still need to spend time on the maps, the balancing and the units. We are planning to launch the game in June next year.
Strategy Informer: Thanks very much for your time!
Lords of Discord is currently a Steam greenlight candidate and has a Kickstarter campaign running at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1637037674/lords-of-discord.