Last week, Robert Grosso looked at Backdrop, a unique role-playing game currently seeking funding on Kickstarter with quite the premise: a 2D role-playing game based around the stage play epics of Renissance-era Europe. Needless to say, it captivated my interest, one that made me desperate to know more about what the title has in store. So, I was able to get in contact with one of the developers and industry veteran Jan Wagner to discuss Backdrop's visuals, gameplay, and more!
TechRaptor: Why made you choose Backdrop's theater aesthetic?
Jan: The base came from 18th and 19th century fairy tales, like The Brothers Grimm, Andersen and E.T.A. Hoffmann and the early and pre-Victorian age and the darkishly romantic writing inspired the setting. Using the aesthetic of the time, with its sort of stiffness yet blossoming of romantic art, we looked at what the right setting for a fairy tale world would be. With this mix we quickly arrived at the theatre as the ideal setting, which also made sense in so many gameplay ways!
TechRaptor: What will the combat system be like in Backdrop?
Jan: Combat in Backdrop is first and foremost dramatic. Like in swashbuckling movies or on stage, you won’t find the slow hacking away of hitpoints or the one-hit kill of hordes of monsters. Instead combat is going to be a back and forth, a dance of attack and parry, both sides trading blows until one gets in the fatal strike. In our setting, no one bleeds (unless prodigiously for dramatic purpose), there is no “flesh wound” – when you hit, you will gain an advantage, making it more likely to hit again…you sort of build up for the killing blow, which will be a dramatically powerful and cool attack. Of course you need to time your hits well, so you sort of have windows of opportunity where you need to be close enough to strike and prevent being hit (which will stop your build-up and make you start over) at the same time. So you need to constantly move back and forth, getting close enough to hit, but being quick to parry or evade the enemy’s blow. And each weapon plays differently. A dagger for example, may have 3-4 “chances” to hit within a 5 second period, but you will only have a split second to hit each “opening”. A heavy mace may only have 2 chances in the same time, so you cannot strike in between, but your window of opportunity is larger, so you are more likely to hit. Whenever you do hit, your next window of opportunity gets longer, so if you time ti right, you can chain up those hits to get in the kill. Kind of like building up a combo move in some games. So combat actually requires skill and timing, not button mashing, and every enemy and weapon will have different patterns and abilities.
TechRaptor: Roughly how long do you plan to make Backdrop?
Jan: That honestly entirely depends on the budget. We have enough ideas for about 12 hours of gameplay already planned, but the current budget from a successful kickstarter would probably allow for half that. That being said, we are in talks for government grants and additional funding, which will allow us to realize the full game story.
TechRaptor: The website says players can "slash holes in the background, blow away enemies with a gust of wind or be burnt to cinders by a candle toppled over during a heated fight." Just how will interacting with the environment work in Backdrop?
Jan: Well, the world is literally a stage, meaning its building materials are paper, light wood, clothes, feathers, rope and the occasional piece of metal. And everyone is a 2D paper-made character (like Paper Mario) – yet at the same time they are all real and have real powers. This makes for interesting physics: If you had a shard of glass for example, you could slice a hole into the cloth covering a frame that depicts a wall for example. This way you could enter the castle behind it. Or if you have a wind spell, you can simply blow away most enemies. Now we won’t have a fully interactive environment (not on the current budget at least) and we don’t want the player simply burning down the whole game setting with a torch he carries, so this will usually be tied to certain areas and scenes, where these actions make sense story wise, though they may not always be obvious.
TechRaptor: What can players expect from Backdrop in the way of optional content?
Jan: Well, we have some stretch goals prepared that allow for example to play part of the Princess’ story instead of just the Prince. Also many NPCs have their own stories, the player can explore. In the example of the beach scene, it would allow the player to follow the Mermaid to an underwater scene in the ocean, where he can find a powerful emotion in the mermaid’s tears, which he can use later in the game.
TechRaptor: The page says being good or evil could create "powerful effects." Could you give any examples?
Jan: Well everything important the player does or says will change his good or evil power reservoir. Kind of a mana storage with ethical flavor. Now the player can learn to use effects like “deadly blow”, allowing him to instantly build up a kill from the “evil” power pool. Or he could use a “cleansing light” that destroys undead from the good pool. Remember: The game does not judge: Good and evil both have their place in a play. But the Prince has rid himself of the role he was cast in, so he now can choose freely how to behave. It may seem really cool to get the “deadly blow” power, but that means you may have to kill the mermaid after vanquishing her captor. That is your decision to make…
TechRaptor: How can players amass emotional moments and memories to use in gameplay?
Jan: They will gain those from either simply witnessing something or talking to people – if I listen to the sad tale of the mermaid after freeing her, I will “gain” her tears to use (but this consumes the memory). But not every mask a player has will be understanding or have the patience to listen to the half-fish blubbering about her lost sisters, so depending on which mask you wear, the opportunity may not arise. I could also threaten to kill her and her palpable fear may net you a nice memory to frighten someone into co-operating with you at a later stage. As you collect those memories and emotions, each has an effect, almost like a magical item, but in a much more personalized way.
TechRaptor: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to share about Backdrop?
Jan: Well, only that we are building a real RPG – a lot of people see it and think point-and-click adventure. While it is certainly strong on narration the main thing here is, that narration itself is at the core of our game play. Subverting the fairy tales, playing with their rules and conventions and using them as a game mechanic is at the heart of our concept. But make no mistake: Player skill and tactics are important in every aspect – from communication to combat. Oh, and Yancey Strickler, the CEO of kickstarter himself has backed us, so there must be something in there.
TechRaptor: Thank you for your time.