Over the past years, we’ve seen a resurgence of RPG games in all possible shapes and forms. One of those games is the upcoming Externus – Path of the Solari. We talked with Kent Gambill, the Studio Head and Programmer over at Winterborn about this interesting project.
What inspired you to start working on Externus – Path of the Solari?
It was all about timing. This has always been something I’ve wanted to do but never truly had an opportunity to dive into. I had just left my programming position at Infinity Ward because my wife Genevieve and I had decided to leave Los Angeles and move to Seattle to start a family. I’d managed to pay off my college loans after many long years and saved up a little bit of money from my time in LA. Genevieve was amazingly supportive while I was playing around with the idea of actually trying to pursue my dream instead of immediately signing up for another software engineer position, and on top of that Moudy was free to do all our art because he had also just moved back to the east coast to be with family and hadn’t started his next job yet. With all these pieces falling in place we just couldn’t ignore the fact that it was time to give it a shot.
Can you tell me a bit more about the story of the game and the world behind it?
The story and world were really a collaborative work through many years of tabletop play. We had a homebrew tabletop game we developed and played for years and all the story and characters were developed and fleshed out through a lot of campaigns. The story for the game centers around a family that are members of an old order known as the Soldat Solari. They work as a loose knit team that is spread out across the world attempting to keep balance to prevent any one group or entity from amassing too much power or bring destructive changes to their lands. The game opens shortly after two lesser gods are killed and the other gods have fallen silent. Rumors are spreading of an all-powerful being that has killed them, though details are sketchy. The Soldat Solari are investigating these rumors to attempt to find out the truth behind what really happened to the gods, and attempt to prevent the chaos that is beginning to pop up everywhere knowing that the gods are absent and the natural order of the world is disrupted.
The game seems like a straightforward turn-based RPG experience. Any interesting features that will make this game different from its peers in the genre?
Our combat strives to be something that fans of the genre can quickly pick up and play, so we adhere to a lot of the TRPG standards regarding how turns, units, movement, and so on work. One thing we’re really pushing in our design are the changes each given battlefield brings to the battle. We deliberately left the demo levels relatively simple since we did not have time for a full tutorial prior to releasing it, but some of the more advanced battlefields have effects that can really change how the battle unfolds. From simpler things like destroying bridges and pushing boulders to more subtle changes like enhanced lightning damage on wet terrain or the inability to use certain spells underground.
The other thing we’re really wanting to push is player choice and lasting effects of those choices. Traditionally tactical RPGs are a very linear affair, and if they include permadeath it’s strictly a bad thing when your party members die. However, we’re making it a point that any party member who is killed brings an equal number of good and bad changes. I can’t get into too many specifics for fear of spoilers, but some of the good examples include recruiting characters you otherwise wouldn’t be able to or avoiding extremely difficult boss encounters entirely. We have a smaller example of this in the demo, where the final battle changes based upon whether the party member Trevor d’Osz dies earlier or not. If he dies you’re down to only two party members, but you actually are able to sneak into the enemy camp and position yourselves in a better position when the battle starts, so you’re able to instantly kill the high damage archer units by knocking them off a cliff instead of having to march up the stairs, taking arrows as you go.
In the alpha demo, you go from set piece to set piece. Will there be an exploration aspect to the game (similar to titles like Baldur’s Gate) or will you just go in a linear way on the map?
We don’t have an open exploration system like that. We played around with the idea early in development, but it just didn’t feel right with our exact style of TRPG with its Final Fantasy Tactics or Shining Force inspired gameplay. So, the main exploration is more like those games, going from different nodes on the world map. However, the demo is a lot more linear than the actual game for the sake of simplicity. In the actual game, once you’ve passed the initial bit of the game, the world opens up a lot and you can travel around doing optional quests and events. You can also tackle some of the major plot points in a different order as well.
There is a running Kickstarter campaign for the game. Do you plan on continuing the development even if it doesn’t succeed?
That’s the question, isn’t it? Crowdfunding is a difficult thing, and it would be disheartening to see this fail there. I do think development would continue, and we would likely turn to publishers / investors at that point. We’re really hoping to do this without going that route, as the IP is so important to us and we really want the only people to have any input in it be us and our fans. But we’re a stubborn bunch and we know there’s something special to this story and this world and want to share it with others. So yes, I think even if we have trouble with our Kickstarter you can expect to hear more about the game going forward as long as there is even one person out there excited about it.
Where could people find you in order to learn more about Externus – Path of the Solari and keep up with future updates?
We are also doing regular updates on our Kickstarter page itself.
What is the current status of the game? Do you expect to release it soon?
We’re pretty early in development in Pre-Alpha right now. Most games that aren’t going the early access route tend to hold off until Beta or at the very least Alpha before handing it off to players, but we really wanted to build a community and get feedback early. Right now, we’ve got a lot of the system level work finished and setup and are in content production – so making the levels, characters, quests, and so on. After all that we will be working to polish up all our systems and make everything look and feel nice. We currently are planning on launching in the summer of 2021, but exact timing will depend a lot on the success of the Kickstarter as we need to bring on some additional art support to complete the game in that timeframe.
And that’s it folks! If you like what you’ve seen so far, please consider supporting the Kickstarter campaign!