Of all the indie developers and titles we’ve featured here so far, League of Geeks and their upcoming title Armello likely have the biggest pre-release fan following. Since first announcing Armello back in September of 2012, the game has stolen the hearts of nearly everyone who’s been lucky enough to get an inside look or, luckier still, get some hands-on time with a pre-alpha build. By the end of today’s segment, it won’t be difficult to see why.
For those who don’t know about League of Geeks, they are a collective of talented individuals from not just game development backgrounds, but other industries as well. Together, they form an indie development studio with the goal of creating the best games to the best of their ability. To tackle such an ambitious endeavor, LoG is headed by five directors: Trent Kusters, John Sietsma, Ty Carrey, Blake Mizzi, and Jacek Tuschewski.
Their debut project, Armello, is a digital board game mixed with RPG elements and an emphasis on strategic play through the use of animated playing cards. Players assume the role of a “Hero”, an animal representative from one of four clans: Bear, Rabbit, Wolf, or Rat. Their mission? To quest across a fully animated 3D world in hopes of overthrowing the Mad King and restoring peace and prosperity to the land. To get a better sense of the atmosphere and tone, here’s a look at the announcement trailer for Armello:
Armello first caught the industry’s attention with its beautiful art style and intriguing concept. But after a couple months of showing off a pre-alpha build of the game in action, most recently at PAX Australia, the anticipation to see the finished product is bubbling over. I had the opportunity to chat with Trent Kusters about the team in general, and also get the latest details about the future of Armello. Here is what I found out:
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IGX Pro: League of Geeks is sort of a patchwork of talent made up of more than just traditional video game developers. Walk me through the origin story, how did it all come together?
Trent Kusters: I was becoming disenfranchised with the studio I was design director at, so I left. I went to GDC, and got a heap of interviews for some amazing jobs, but the HR bull**** and red tape you encounter when trying to land employment at those places is a real turn off and just a super unnatural thing to experience. I kept thinking, ‘why do I want these jobs?’ And the answer was, because I wanted to collaborate with incredibly talented people on the type of things I’m into making. So the next apparent thought was ‘well, can’t I just do that? Surely I don’t need a million dollars to do it.’ Meanwhile, whilst all this was happening, I’d already founded League of Geeks for another purpose and had the first two co-directors on board, Ty and Jacek, and they were just dying for us to do something. So after a few things aligned, I had the basic idea for the collective, with a points based profit share system and just thought ‘F*** it, let’s try this.’
I guess that’s how it started as a seed of an idea. Then came all the work. Haha.
IGX: While Armello is certainly its own game, there’s a welcome sense of familiarity to both the art style and aspects of the gameplay as well. What were some of the influences that inspired the game’s development?
Trent: There are too many to specifically mention, but you’re right, Armello is familiar, yet different for a very specific reason. That’s simply because we didn’t sit down and say ‘let’s make a game with this mechanic meets this mechanic’ or ‘this game crossed with this game.’ When we started talking about what Armello had to be, it was a game where you could sit down with your friends and create these incredible stories together; stories that were far more literal and immediate as opposed to the abstracted style of narrative delivery often found in tabletop design. Most of all though, it had to have that magical sense of wonder that comes with experiencing great tales of adventure.
Like those weeks when nothing in your life matters except that new RPG, or the way you’re blasted back to your childhood when you watch a Studio Ghibli film. We grew up on those amazing adventure tales, when they still had consequence, when they were a little darker. There are some obvious influences, like Princess Mononoke, Red Wall, Game of Thrones, and of course all the major tropes and archetypes from fairy-tales, folklore and mythology that we lean upon; but really, it’s such a huge tapestry of all of our interests and influences that not even we can pin it down to one thing. I think that’s why Armello feels so different, yet warmly familiar. It’s us. It’s reflective of our personal passions and inspirations. People tend to find their own nostalgia in it, which is great. We’ve heard everything from The Secret of Nimh to Civilization and Disney classics.
IGX: You guys recently showed off a pre-alpha build of Armello at PAX Austrailia. Can you talk a little bit about the experience, and how it felt to have a lot of folks consider your game one of the best on the show floor?
Trent: It’s always terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time to show your game so early to so many people, but it went really well. There wasn’t a single person that walked away uninterested. Everyone liked it, which when you think about it is ridiculous, really. You’d expect one person to hate it, and maybe they did, but we didn’t see them. Terribly inspiring though. It just proves we’re onto something truly special. For so many different people of so many different interests and backgrounds to like, what would typically be considered a niche title, is a really good sign to have this early on.
IGX: Armello offers four separate characters to choose from, representing four distinct animal clans. In terms of gameplay though, what are the benefits/advantages of choosing one animal over another?
Trent: We’ll talk more about this in future, but each hero not only has their own distinct personality, backstory and place in the world of Armello, but they all have different starting stats and resources as well as different skills and perks available to them, lending each to different playstyles and strengths. Not to mention unique animations, sound effects, and much, much more. So yeah, there’s a lot of value in each character in regards to the experience you’ll get when playing Armello.
IGX: Cards play a significant role in Armello. Are there any details you can provide about the different types of cards and how they’re used during combat?
Trent: Yeah sure, we’ve spoken a little bit about this, and there’s much more to come, but you’ll be playing cards non-stop in Armello. You can play them to the board, onto other heroes or characters on the board, you can do so immediately or as a trap (what we call Perils), you can equip them, you’ll discover treasure cards, meet characters that you can recruit to your party, and much more. Whether it be Machiavellian tactics, summoning monsters, attacking other players, healing allies, or flirting with the dark powers of the Rot, there’s a lot you can do with the card play in Armello. It’s quite unique also, we didn’t base it on any existing games or systems; it was specifically designed to compliment the board play and geo-politics of Armello whilst allowing players to weave rich stories with each other.
IGX: Armello features both single-screen and online multiplayer. Are there any other multiplayer features you’re looking to include? Perhaps the ability to trade cards with friends?
Trent: Yeah, there’s more on this coming, but there are a lot of multiplayer features we want to get in. We’re talking with some pretty exciting partners just to make sure we get this aspect of it right. Hopefully we’ll have more details on this next year.
IGX: There are a number of different tiles which offer different types of terrain to venture across. Beyond the aesthetic differences, how does terrain and the day/night cycle affect gameplay?
Trent: Yeah, sure. It’s pretty standard for tiles to provide variances to gameplay in strategy or board games, but with the day/night cycle and card play affecting this, there are some really brilliant moments that arise in Armello. Not to mention that the board is procedurally generated every game, so the maps can throw some great terrain combos at the players that vastly shift the way games play out. To answer the question, we have combat bonuses, as well as penalties, places to recover resources and ways to tactically outmaneuver your opponents, or perhaps just places where horrible monsters emerge from. The biggest combo that tile types and the day/night system affords is stealth play though, which is pretty exciting on a digital platform. It’s just another way that we’re trying to make typically abstracted tabletop mechanics far more literal and immediate.
IGX: Beyond tablet devices, what are the long-term goals for Armello as far as platforms and availability?
Trent: Everywhere and everything. That’s the simple answer. The long answer is a lot more complicated. We want Armello to be big, on every platform it should be, and playable by everyone. We’re even seriously committed to creating experiences within the world of Armello outside the realm of games. But… we’re an indie collective. There’s only so much we can do at any one time, so it’s all a matter of how and when these things come together. It all depends on the response we get from our fans and people who see the game, as well as opportunities to fund and support our craft without selling our souls. We’re managing so far though, so we’ll see.
IGX: I know you can’t go into too much narrative detail, but can you offer any tidbits about the world of Armello besides the basic premise of clans uniting to dethrone a corrupt ruler?
Trent: Yeah, you may have to wait a little bit for some more info on this stuff. Some info on the clans and the first four of our heroes is on its way very soon. Suffice to say, the game and its premise is only one small snapshot of our world. The world of Armello is a super rich universe and we plan on revealing more of this magical place, introducing more characters and telling more of Armello‘s stories as we move forward.
IGX: For folks looking to get some hands-on time with Armello, or hear more about the game in-person, what’s on the agenda in the short-term? Are there any events in the near future League of Geeks will be attending?
Trent: Yeah, sure. We’ll be at PAX Prime as part of the Indie Megabooth! If you’re going to be at PAX come by and say ‘hi’. We’ll have a pre-alpha build of Armello to get your hands on and try out right there on the show floor.
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While I haven’t yet gotten my hands on Armello to feel the game out for myself, everything I’ve seen so far looks nothing short of fantastic. As Trent mentioned, the game features a procedurally generated map that mixes up the board every time players dive in to the adventure; which not only offers a fresh aesthetic perspective, but also dynamically alters the tactics one must employ to successfully complete objectives and survive combat encounters. As far as the cards players will come to rely on, there are over 100 to collect; each uniquely animated to further bring the journey to life.
Armello is also heavily focused on allowing players to tell their own tales and create an adventure all their own. Customization obviously plays a huge role in that, so each Hero will have customizable load-outs and starting skills. As previously mentioned, the game will feature both local and online multiplayer allowing the opportunity to influence a friend‘s game, with more features to be detailed in the near future . The dynamic quest system and central narrative are shaped by the choices players make and can be influenced by a number of different factors. All of this helps further the goal of creating a new adventure for every playthrough. If all goes according to plan, Armello will create an endlessly immersive world that feels unique and personalized each time the story unfolds.
I have high hopes for Armello. The game looks set to tell an interesting story through engaging gameplay, and the thought of potentially branching out across other forms of media is equally exciting. The only disappointing thing I can say about the game so far is that it doesn’t have a firm release date yet. But when it does finally launch, it will be available on tablet devices first, with the intent to release on other platforms if possible down the line. For those interested in keeping up to date with the latest Armello updates, as if you haven’t already guessed, you can follow along on Twitter and Facebook. Of course, you could always cut out the middle man and just check out the game’s official website as well. If you’re curious about LoG or their future projects and want to track their slightly less whimsical real-world adventures, you can do so through their website, on their Facebook page, or @LeagueofGeeks. To see more gameplay screenshots, check out the gallery below.
Be sure to check back next week for another segment of Indie Spotlight. In the meantime, what are your thoughts about Armello so far? Being a digital board game, what platform would you most consider playing the game on? What additional multiplayer features should be included in the final version? Offer up your thoughts in the usual place, and don’t forget to like IGXPro on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or give us the ‘ol +1 on Google+. If you can’t get enough of my shenanigans, (who could blame you?) you can check me out @GamingsNirvana, or add +VinnyParisi to your circles.