Golem Gates has just released on Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch, blending action strategy with card battling in a way like we’ve never seen before. Coming about via a partnership between Digerati and the development team at Laser Guided Games, we felt there was enough intrigue in this hybrid experience to warrant a deeper look. So we grabbed Matt Oelfke, the lead designer and programmer on the game, for a little chat.
Hi. Please could you introduce yourself – what has been your role at Laser Guided Games and in the creation of Golem Gates?
Hello! I’m Matt Oelfke, Lead Designer & Programmer for Golem Gates. I designed the core game mechanics, most of the glyphs, and built the AI for the game.
So, sell it to us… why should gamers buy Golem Gates on Xbox One?
Golem Gates is a unique action strategy game using card game mechanics to create units, buildings and instant effects. Skip past the resource gathering and research; get right into the action and play Glyphs where and when you need them. We support a variety of modes involving singleplayer, co-op and competitive play so no matter how you like it we have something for you.
What games did you take inspiration from when creating Golem Gates?
We adapted some bits and pieces from a variety of sources. Some of the core Glyph-playing mechanics are similar to a now-defunct game called Battleforge. The Glyph unlocking scheme is similar to Guild Wars 1 or Culdcept. Heroes of the Storm inspired the idea of using a capturable boss unit to help break stalemates. And of course plenty of other past strategy games were played to see what we should (or perhaps should not!) try out.
Recent years have seen a number of different card games arrive on Xbox One and make a big impact – Gwent, Hand of Fate, etc. What does Golem Gates offer that can’t be found elsewhere?
Perhaps the most noticeable and important element of the game is that you can play Glyphs anywhere you have existing units or structures – including directly in combat in many cases. This creates a unique feel of escalation when a simple scout from each side can quickly turn into a large battle as both players summon in new units or throw attacks and debuffs at their opponent to try to get ahead.
It seems there are two key areas that define combat – deck building, and real-time strategy battles. How do these work together, and how much of an impact does your deck have on any given battle?
Your deck contains all of the units, structures, buffs and other effects that you’ll bring into the battle, so your strategy informs your deck and vice-versa. If you want to play a faster rush game, you can bring cheaper units. If you want to play a more defensive game, add in more structures and more expensive units. Bring in more buffs if you prefer a few supercharged units over many weaker units. And so on…
There are several game modes for players to be getting involved in within Golem Gates, with a full campaign, versus modes, Co-op and challenges all available. How many hours would it take a player to finish everything you have on offer within the game?
We estimate that most players will be able to complete all of the set content and have a full Glyph collection in 20-25 hours. Even after that, there is a random map generation available for co-op and there’s always new decks to build or compete against in multiplayer, so there’s plenty more to do.
There are many cards – better known as Glyphs – within the game; are all of them available to be earned and collected through gameplay?
Yes, all Glyphs can be unlocked through play. There are no loot boxes here.
Whilst Golem Gates is a new arrival for Xbox One, it initially arrived on PC back in March 2018, what challenges have you had to overcome or changes have you had to make to bring it to Xbox One?
The most important challenge was developing a control scheme. We want to maintain as many options as possible for players, but the game needs to be easy to pick up. We also need to account for moving the camera around and fine-grained targeting being different.
The trailer is certainly enough to get most players interested, however games that incorporate real-time strategy or deck building mechanics can often be seen as challenging for the casual gamer. Have you got anything in place to ease newcomers into the genre?
To some extent our gameplay design already helps, since there’s less need to move your camera around away from where your units are, but we felt we could do even better, so we created an automatic suggestion system when selecting Glyphs that will start off the cursor at a good target. For example, if you select a buff, it will start out hovering over your best unit, so often you can just press A and get what you want. Of course, you can use the analog stick to move it wherever you want, but the less you have to do that, the more you can focus on your tactics.
If you were to give your top tips to any new player what would it be?
Be aggressive! The resource nodes are the key to creating an advantage. Don’t be afraid to use a small group or even a single unit; you can usually summon more units near them if they get into trouble.
It’s my understanding that Golem Gates utilises randomised drawing in each battle to keep things feeling fresh in play. How much does this affect a pre-planned deck and what are the chances of pre-planned tactics being utterly destroyed by an unlucky randomised draw?
Since the resources are in the map and not in your deck, you generally won’t get into situations where you can’t play anything just because you got a bad draw. Also, your Harbinger can summon a cheap unit if you need a backup. However, it is true that this is a game where you aren’t going to just be following a set build order every game like some other strategy games. You will have to adapt a little to what you have available and what the opponent is doing. We really don’t think those kinds of “starting scripts” are beneficial, especially to newer players.
The visuals of Golem Gates are incredible and look very much on par with many triple-A titles on the market today. Has it been hard to keep such a high level of quality with such a small team?
It was a lot of work 🙂
Josh Nizzi (Lead Artist) did an amazing job with not a lot of resources and we were all able to coordinate different aspects to put it all together. I don’t think any of us initially thought it was going to turn out as well as it did, but when you have the drive and the talent, you find a way.
The Harbinger character is very much a central focus to gameplay, but if he dies, then you’re out of the game. Was it challenging to create such a pivotal character and what is the best way to utilise the characters’ full power and ability?
Two things that led to the Harbinger’s mechanics were that we wanted a clear and achievable win condition (unlike a lot of strategy games where ultimately one side just surrenders to get it over with) and we wanted to avoid the Harbinger being so powerful early game that players feel they need to micromanage it all over the field. To that end it’s set up as a backline commander type unit – summoning units or buildings nearby will give them a temporary buff, but the Harbinger’s personal attack is not that strong, so you generally want to keep him away from direct combat.
Finally, with Golem Gates having been around for a little while now, is the console release essentially a definitive version? Or will there be more content arriving later on?
Right now there’s nothing more planned, but if the game finds a lot of success on console, we’d sure love to be able to do more. There’s plenty of Glyph ideas yet to explore.
Massive thanks go out to Matt for taking the time out in the lead up to Golem Gates releasing on Xbox One. We hope these questions, and his answers, are able to give you a bit more of an insight into the inner workings of Golem Gates, and will consider giving it a shot now that it has launched on Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. Of course, our full review will be swiftly following this piece – keep an eye out for it.