If you’re like us, the idea of a procedurally generated, fantasy X-Com is enough to subconsciously whack our wallet out and start putting notes on the table. Go on, take our money. We’re suckers for a turn-based strategy game, and an endless one with fantasy trappings is music to our ears.
It’s the premise of Cookiebyte’s game, Fort Triumph, which has been newly unleashed on the Xbox, but has been out for over a year on PC. Bringing a game to Xbox, particularly one as console-unfriendly as a turn-based battler, will always be a challenge, so we approached Cookiebyte about how they managed it with Fort Triumph, as well as the joys of getting their game launched on our fair green shores.
Could you please introduce yourself and your role on Fort Triumph?
Hey there, my name is Tomer Noiman, I am Cookiebyte’s in-house writer and PR guy. In Fort Triumph I was co-writer to the company’s founder, Adam Zeira.
How would you pitch Fort Triumph to someone who’s never heard of it?
Unofficially? We call it ‘fantasy X-Com’ or a ‘cross between Heroes of Might and Magic and X-Com’. We were obviously inspired and influenced by both games. But if I were to present it to someone new, I’d say it’s a turn-based tactics game with a lighthearted fantasy theme.
How hard is it to bring this kind of game and its associated depth to console, with the limitations of a controller for example? Have you nailed the transition?
Well, we didn’t work on consoles, but regarding controllers support (which we did implement), it was surprisingly not that hard. The most difficult part in our case was that, due to the environment being targetable with most abilities, we couldn’t use a ‘previous/next’ button without making battles very tedious. However, by keeping the “cursor” in “world-space” as opposed to “screen-space” we managed to overcome this problem.
I’ll let our publisher answer this question in more depth regarding console:
The game was ported by Monster Couch with support from CookieByte. We came across some challenges while working on it, but it was great training for us. In order to ensure smooth performance we had to rethink some systems that worked well on PC, but were not necessarily compatible with consoles. Apart from that, creating accessible UI was challenging. We are planning on releasing a patch that will improve UI readability soon. We did our best to ensure it’s user friendly while maintaining the original aesthetics. It was a lot of work, but in the end we are very happy with the result.
As someone with a lot of love for Heroes of Might and Magic, I get the same vibe from playing Fort Triumph – a similar charm and depth. Was it a touchstone for you?
It was definitely an influence. The funny thing is, when Fort Triumph was originally conceived, it didn’t have that strategic layer. So our devs sat down to think – what should that aspect of the game look like? And since, at the time, budget constraints were very tight (that was before we had a publisher), it had to be simple enough. So HOMM ticked a lot of boxes for us – it was fun, nostalgic and easy to implement.
Character permadeath is a bold choice! What does it bring to Fort Triumph?
It adds a lot of tension! We’re big fans of permadeath in general and we believe it can contribute much to the feeling that something is at stake. It did present a challenge when writing the story, but the humorous tone of the plot allowed us to take liberties we wouldn’t have gone with otherwise.
So much of Fort Triumph is procedurally generated. What are the challenges in getting that kind of system right?
The biggest challenge was to get things to look well visually and feel like a single entity (especially around the seams, though not only). This problem was exacerbated by the fact that in the tactical layer most things are destructible, which introduced lots of issues with lighting (which became aggravated with procedural generation). In the strategic layer, it made it a lot harder for our artists to get the same level of quality with a tile-based system (which was needed for the procedural generation to work properly with no seams). In fact, the original non-procedural world-maps were very well crafted. Some of these minute details didn’t make it to the final procedural version. Sometimes you have to give something to gain something.
There’s a lot of humour in Fort Triumph, which is so, so hard to get right in a video game. How did you capture the right comedic tone?
Oh boy. The decision to go with a satire fantasy world was made before I was brought on to the team, so it presented a lot of challenges. Adam and I worked in tandem. He would pen down the main events, I would write the actual scenes, and then he would go over them and polish the dialogue. The main problem was how to balance story progression with comedy, while not boring the player. Being a writer, my initial tendency was to write as much story as possible, but that doesn’t work well in games, and especially not in comedy. Eventually we stuck to a certain rule: no scene should be longer than ten lines, preferably less. Then we just read the dialogue and kept whatever made us chuckle.
The presentation, both in the audio and visuals, is lovely. The characters have a chunkiness to them that makes them a joy to move around the world. When was the moment that you thought ‘yes, this is the right look for the game?’
The art direction was inspired by World of Warcraft’s stylized and robust shape design. In terms of production, it was easy for our art team to follow and for our tech team to support. Hand-painted textures were also something we personally love doing, so it was an easy choice, and one that we were able to commit to and execute from early on.
Fort Triumph, for a turn-based tactics game, isn’t massively long. How are you encouraging people to replay? And does Fort Triumph’s length matter?
Replay value exists mostly in the skirmish mode, allowing playing with the different factions. We also added a dynamic skill-tree and traits, in order to make classes not play out the same every time. However, there is always a demand from our players for more: classes, maps, campaigns, artifacts, skills… It’s a positive thing, in our opinion, it means they can’t get enough of the game.
We don’t believe it truly lacks content, but rather that much of it is unlocked too quickly.
What have you learned from the twelve months that Fort Triumph has been live on PC? Have any of those learnings made it into the console versions?
It’s actually 16 months at this point, and that’s without EA. If you take EA into account, Fort Triumph has been live on PC for more than 3 years. During that time, the game has changed drastically – the world map aspect was completely over-hauled, the skill tree was changed twice, the story itself was almost completely re-written, with almost all story missions were re-done from scratch. Since full launch on PC, we’ve added quite a bit of content to the world map. We also made some changes to how the physics system works, via a beta branch we’ve had.
All of this obviously affected the console versions, as they received a much more polished version of the game. However, we didn’t make any changes specifically for the consoles.
And finally, pillow fort or cardboard fort?
With the team being so occupied with developing our next game, I am left to answer this final, most difficult question on my own. If I am to make my last stand, I shall make it in a pillow fort. Raise the alarm, strip the duvets and bring out all the sofa cushions, tonight we dine in bed.
Fort Triumph is out now on Xbox for the princely sum of £17.99. We’re still hacking our way through hordes of procedurally generated wizards and warriors, but will have a review with you soon. If you can’t wait, you’re a bit of a Heroes of Might and Magic fan, or you enjoyed the words written in this interview so much that you have to hand someone, anyone, eighteen quid, then you can always pony up for it without our verdict. You madman.