If you’re in the market for a beautifully animated RPG then the release of Yaga on PC and console will surely be something to keep an eye on. Having already taken down a Nordic Games Discovery Contest, it promises to provide a journey through an action RPG world like no other, as the tale and characters react to everything you do. It certainly looks a promising prospect and so we caught up with the lead game designer and writer behind Yaga, Catalin Zima-Zegreanu, to find out more.
Please introduce yourself – what is your role at Breadcrumbs and what are you to blame for in the creation of Yaga?
I’m Catalin Zima-Zegreanu. I’m the lead game designer and writer for Yaga, so I’m to “blame” for the overall mechanics of the game, and its main story and dialogues. Especially the rhymes you’ll get to hear.
With so many other games on the market, why do you think gamers should look forward to playing Yaga?
One of the things we wanted to achieve with this game when we started working on it, was to show a side of Slavic folklore that is not often seen in games. Other games pulled from the strange and creepy creatures as well, but in Yaga you can discover a collection of vignettes that highlight peasant life and beliefs from 14th century Slavic countries. One of our favourite games is Guacamelee, and we loved how it managed to wonderfully highlight certain aspects of the Mexican culture through its story and aesthetics. With Yaga, we wanted to give the same treatment to eastern European beliefs, superstitions, customs and characters.
Another thing we spent a lot of time on was making sure that the choices you make during dialogues have a strong influence over how your character evolves. An aggressive character will learn how to fight better, a selfish character will learn how to make more money, and so on. And all the little choices throughout the game come together in the end, where you can discover several different endings.
Lastly, the aesthetics of the game are something we spent a lot of time on. The art style incorporates details from Russian storybook illustrations, traditional clothing motifs and rural art from the countryside of several eastern European countries, while the music is a combination of modern hip hop tunes with folkloric elements and instruments used centuries ago. The result is something rather unique that we’re sure will delight gamers.
As we already know, Yaga is based on Slavic folklore. What creative mediums or stories would you name as the main inspiration to its world and characters?
Our initial source of inspiration was two books with Russian tales we remembered from our childhood: a collection of “Enchanted Russian Tales” with beautiful illustrations, and the story of “The Little Humpbacked Horse” by Piotr Ershov. But these were just the start. After reading these again, we delved long into lots of books: story collections, encyclopedias, studies of peasant life in 14th century Russia and studies of characters and themes in folk tales. If I had to point to the three tales that had the most direct influence on the main characters and story of the game, they would be:
- – “The One-Eyed Likho” – the primary inspiration for the main character
- – “Go I Know Not Whither and Fetch I Know Not What” – inspiration for the Tzar and story structure
- – “Maria Morevna”
Visually, we were inspired by the beautiful illustrations of Ivan Bilibin and Nikolai Kocerghin, as well as visual motifs from traditional art, decorations and garments from Romania. Our artists gathered lots of references, and then took the liberty to bring their own take on them and experiment with different directions.
Throughout its story, Yaga features a set of decisions for players to make. How big of an impact will they have on the plot and its conclusion?
At many points throughout the story, you’ll get to make choices that affect a combination of small-scale immediate consequences, and large-scale effects.
At the small scale of this, choices lead to encounters being solved in different ways, yielding different rewards based on your action: helping people, looking out for your own wallet, or having a soft spot for troubled peasants.
At the large scale of this, the overall plot points are fixed, but how each chapter of the plot is resolved differs with your choices. And the conclusion of the game will be dictated by the choices you have been taking at the beginning of the game. There are choices early on in the game that basically lock you out of certain endings.
Ivan is a one-handed blacksmith who can install various upgrades on his arm. How will these upgrades affect gameplay within and outside of combat?
Having lost an arm, Ivan tries to improvise and turn some ordinary items (a cart wheel, a shovel, etc) into attachments for his stump. These tools directly affect combat, and change the way you approach different encounters. A few upgrades also unlock some traversal and exploration mechanics that allow you to find new treasures.
Beyond these, there are lots of other upgrade mechanics that can significantly alter how combat unfolds. Talismans and magic items are things you buy from various vendors, you gain blessings from interacting with people, and perks tied to different personalities.
And through the crafting mechanics you have the opportunity to forge a large variety of hammers by mixing and matching metals with enhancements. You can make hammers that bounce between multiple enemies and freeze all of them before coming back to your hand; or hammers that spin around your character and shoot lightning bolts to nearby enemies. The more combinations you try, the greater the chance you’ll find a unique combination.
He also battles wolves, bears, witches and other horrifying creatures. As a rogue-lite game, how challenging will Yaga be for players?
The main focus of the game is the narrative experience, so our goal was to be more forgiving that the usual rogue-lite. This all comes from trying to be consistent with the experience we’re trying to create. Folktale heroes rarely die during the story, and even when they do, they get last-minute help, or get resurrected by their allies. The harder things get, the more you want them to get back on their feet and succeed. In Yaga, this applies as well. You will get the opportunity to call for help when enemies overwhelm you, or gather your strength for one last push. And when that is not enough, the game doesn’t simply show a “Game Over” screen. You lose some progress, you lose some items, but the character carries on having learned something and it can try again.
Based on its harsh environments — swamps and taiga — will Yaga feature any survival elements, like hunger and cold?
It does not. We didn’t feel mechanics like hunger and cold map well to the game, and didn’t add them in. We have some difficulty modifiers based on weather, time of day and hunger level, but these are fully in the player’s control, and are thought out rather as “choose your own difficulty”, and not as survival mechanics per se.
Early screenshots give us a look at the bartering and reputation systems. How will these systems work?
For the reputation system, the game tracks the choices you make and the character evolves in one of four personality traits: Aggressive, Selfish, Righteous and Foolish. The impact of this is immediately visible when you get to pick upgrades for your characters, and the perks in the game are attached to these personalities. An aggressive player character might get upgrades related to more damage, while a selfish player character can get better prices, more opportunities for gold, and others.
Also, there’s no “right” way to play the game. We specifically chose these four personality traits such that there’s no “good vs evil”, “paragon vs renegade”, but rather different flaws that each of us has in one measure or another.
In Yaga, among other tasks, Ivan is sent on a quest to find himself a bride and flirting with one doesn’t end well for him. Will there be multiple brides for Ivan to potentially marry?
While there are different opportunities for Ivan to flirt and engage with potential partners, there is a single bride that can make Ivan’s grandma happy. However, I will avoid any additional details around this topic, and let you discover this in the game.
And finally… Slavic folklore, bears and snowy forests. Will Yaga feature Vladimir Putin as a boss battle?
No Vladimir Putin, sadly. But we do have a huge bear rocking out music on his wooden balalaika!
Massive thank you for taking the time to answer our quick questions. Very much looking forward to seeing what Yaga has to hold when it drops onto Xbox One.
Thank you as well! We’re really excited to show you the game and we hope you’ll enjoy what we’ve made.
Huge thanks go out to Catalin for taking the time out to answer our questions and to provide further insight into the world of Yaga. If you wish to know more than we’ll be sure to keep you updated with the full development process as the weeks and months pan out. There may be no Putin, but a bear rocking out music? Pretty much ensures a nailed on purchase.