Interview: Gordian Quest Developers Mixed Realms

Interview: Gordian Quest Developers Mixed Realms
Gamelancer recently had the opportunity to played the new deck-building RPG Gordian Quest from Singapore-based studio, Mixed Realms. You can read our review here.

We also had a chance to sit down with Mixed Realms to talk about the game and pick their brains about why they decided to produce one of the most content-packed indie RPGs in recent years.

Check out their Kickstarter campaign to bring Gordian Quest to consoles, play the game on Steam now, and check out our awesome convo with the team below.
Gamelancer: Card-based games have become increasingly popular in the last few years. We’ve seen several card-based RPGs. There are even card-based first person shooters. What made your team want to produce your own card-based RPG, and what do you think sets it apart from other games?

Mixed Realms: It all started some three odd years ago. After having made our name in the virtual reality space with our first game Sairento VR, we decided that we wanted to expand our audience and push our boundaries by working on a PC title. Being fans of deck-building and various types of RPGs, it felt like a natural fit to try and combine the two, iterate and see what our vision of that could look like.
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GL: What was your main goal with the gameplay of Gordian Quest?

MR: The main goal of the gameplay and the mechanics supporting it was to convey a sense of deep customization and endless possibilities. In many ways, this is a shared goal of both the deckbuilding and action RPG genre, with the main difference being the element of luck and ability to change or reset your options. We love to see our community engaged in theorycrafting and figuring out how to make certain skills, builds, and items work for them. Seeing our players brainstorm their findings and strategies with other players is one of the sweetest joys we experience as a developer.
GL: Unlike some of the other digital card games and card-based RPGs out there, Gordian Quest is doing a lot more. There’s the card-based battling, but there’s also the complex skill tree, the dungeon-crawling sequences, the exploration mini game, and the Dungeons and Dragons-inspired dice roll events. You can even play the game as a Rogue-like, Rogue-lite, or standard RPG. This is like the “everything but the kitchen sink” RPG. What made you want to pack so many different game mechanics into the game?

MR: There’s definitely a lot to unpack in the crossing of both the RPG and deckbuilding genre. One genre is about grinding levels and having deterministic ways to build up power. The latter is about balancing strategy, luck and chaos. As we developed the game over Early Access and garnered feedback from players, we found that most players enjoyed the core system but wanted more from both extreme ends of the genre, so we focused on adding more mechanics which to bolster the RPG department, and then worked backward to see how it could be adjusted to fit into the roguelite “Realm Mode”.
GL: What were your main sources of inspiration for Gordian Quest? Which video games were you most inspired by, and were there any non-video games (tabletop games, movies, books, etc) that inspired you as well?

MR: Diablo and Path of Exile are the biggest inspirations on the Action RPG side, while Slay the Spire was the biggest inspiration on the deck-building side. These modern titles aside, the roots go far deeper in the form of tabletop RPGs and their CRPG counterparts. Ultima and the Gold Box games were commonly brought up during the conceptualization phase.
GL: Regardless of other inspiration, the Dungeons and Dragons influence is very obvious in the game - especially during the dice roll events. Is anybody on the team a big DND or other tabletop RPG player?

MR: Our game director and community manager are both big tabletop geeks, and may have an unhealthy obsession with owning more dice than they know what to do with. Their favorite classes are the Sorcerer and Bard respectively.
GL: The one thing the game doesn’t have as much of is the story that you see in some of these games. The characters are mostly silent and interchangeable. Was this in a purposeful effort to re-create the DND aesthetic where the player is truly the character in the game?

MR: Like CRPGs of old, the main “lead character” was usually a stand-in for the player and a vehicle for them to make their choices, though there would still be bigger story beats that they would be tied into, which is the approach we took.

As our game modes are a blend of the longer form RPG and shorter form roguelite playstyle, this translated into a scenario where each character’s story would not be as prominent as the game mechanics itself due to the length of a game and party permutations. Most of their individual backstory and dialogue only comes across when traveling the map or in camping scenes, where they reveal bits and pieces of their lore over time.
GL: As part of the development of the game you basically had to invent an entirely new trading card game to use for the battle system. Did you base the card game on any existing TCGs?

MR: Apart from the common themes in TCGs like drawing cards in your hand, having a discard pile, and a draw pile, we did not strongly base it off any TCG as there is not an equivalent element of scarcity or trading present in our game.
GL: How is designing a TCG different then designing a video game?

MR: There are definitely a different set of values and metrics when it comes to designing cards in a TCG, as traditionally a card’s worth would be tied to either its power or rarity. Being able to trade these cards whether physically or digitally would mean having to strongly consider how limited a card should be, its impact on future expansions, and its “worth”. We don’t strictly see Gordian Quest as a TCG as it is a single player experience where we try to allow as much flexibility in the level and progression system, letting you reroll and build up your deck to your heart’s content (though not as freely in the faster paced Realm Mode).
GL: What’s the most challenging part of creating a trading card game?

MR: The most difficult part in our opinion would be keeping the game’s power economy in check, as there are only so many ways to create a sidegrade without introducing more keywords or tags, which complicates things. As feature and power creep happens, certain combos could become gamebreaking under the right conditions, so keeping a mind on this while conceptualizing new cards is an ever-evolving and constant task.
GL: What is the most challenging aspect of developing Gordian Quest?

MR: The most challenging aspect was finding a good balance between the two genres that the game straddles. RPG and deck-building tend to be diametrically opposite design ideas, and it goes so far as to influence elements like game length, difficulty, and “grindiness”. With that in mind, we work on the common ground elements as the basis for something enjoyable.
GL: What is the most fun aspect of developing Gordian Quest?

MR: The answer would probably vary depending on which team member you ask - I think each one of us in the studio is passionate about a certain part of the game e.g designing the characters and monsters, environments, or conceptualizing legendary items that can become a cornerstone of a yet undiscovered build.
GL: I haven’t seen many single player card battlers go into early access. What was your goal with the Open Beta phase of the game, and did you get any interesting feedback out of it?

MR: We approach Early Access as a way of finding out what we’re doing right with the game, and to garner useful feedback from players to guide future development. Our philosophy is that we are ultimately making a game meant to be enjoyed not just by ourselves but by our players. Even today, we receive a huge volume of suggestions every day via an easy reporting system in game, and many of these cover ways of making certain skills or mechanics more viable for certain builds, even ones we would never have thought of putting together ourselves, so there is no lack of interesting feedback.
GL: Were there any meaningful changes that came out of the early access phase?

MR: There have been countless changes over EA as a result of our communication with players, and while it is impossible to cater to every one of them, we do try to make adjustments where possible to strike a good balance. Some examples include streamlining optional mechanics in the game, changing skills or items to become specific build enablers, and influencing the development of more meta-game elements like achievements and leaderboards.
GL: You recently launched a Kickstarter to bring it to consoles. Do you have anything special planned for the console releases that players can’t get on PC?

MR: No. We are sensitive and grateful to all our supporters and gamers, and to offer something for the consoles that we won’t bring to PC may be unfair to the latter, hence this is something we avoid doing.
GL: What’s next for your studio? Do you have your next project planned?

MR: Later this year, we are looking to launch our 3rd and latest game - Hellsweeper VR. It is best described as the spiritual successor to our first game - Sairento VR - offering even more over-the-top action and violent fun. Already it has gained a lot of buzz and traction online! Also, we are already planning our 4th game. We can’t say a lot about it except that we are likely to release it on Steam’s Early Access in 2023.
 
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