August 12th, 2013 | By Tom Christiansen
Recently I was able to chat with Arcen Games lead programmer and designer, Chris Park, about Skyward Collapse’s first major expansion, Nihon no Mura. Released last May, Skyward Collapse is a turn-based strategy game which tasks players with creating and maintaining the world of Luminith. With Nihon no Mura, Arcen Games is adding in a Japanese faction to compliment the existing Norse and Greek factions. The expansion will also introduce Hamlets into the game, furthering the level of strategic planning that players will have to take into consideration.
Nihon no Mura is due out later this month, and will be available for $2.99.
IGM: How do the Japanese differ from the Norse and Greek factions, beyond just having different gods?
Park: First some context for those not familiar: In the base game, the Greeks have a strong military while the Norse have a weak one. The Norse have a stronger mythology, while the Greeks have a weaker one. Both the Greeks and the Norse have gods who just kind of laze around until you put out one of their tokens; and each god has three tokens, many of which are devastatingly powerful.
The Japanese are really different. First of all, some of their military units are kind of middling, while a few others are devastatingly powerful. This has its pluses and its minuses. Secondly, their gods are actively rampaging around the map attacking units, unlike the Greeks and Norse. This is mostly a minus, because it unbalances things in the favor of the Japanese. Remember, you’re trying to balance the factions, so the factions being asymmetrically unbalanced is really important to having an interesting fun time.
Lastly, the Japanese gods (there are eight of them, as with the Greeks and Norse) have no “god tokens.” Aka, no abilities whatsoever. This is a big deal, because the god tokens were a huge source of points (something required to win) on the Greek and Norse sides. Instead of three god tokens, each Japanese god has three unique mythological creatures that you can spawn. These range from upper-middling to insanely-powerful, and give more points than usual creatures, but still less than the god tokens of the other factions. So you have to play a bunch of these Japanese creatures, and that further unbalances things in favor of the Japanese.
Really the strategy with the Japanese is completely different. Dealing with bandits is in many senses easier, because you can muster so much force. But not overwhelming the other side is hard. It’s kind of like trying to drive a race car in a suburb: you’re trying to go 25 mph, but this thing wants to go 100+ mph. Out of the three factions, they are the most unique in general, given that their premise is completely novel for the game.
IGM: Are the gods from actual Japanese lore, or are they made up for the purposes of the game? Do you have a favorite?
Park: Pretty much everything in the factions of the game, Japanese and Greek and Norse alike, are historically-based (out of either real life or real lore). There were a few things where we had to take creative license, like having a Greek unit named “Xiphos,” which is just Greek for sword. Or having to invent some believable Norse siege weaponry, since they didn’t really use siege tactics. Everything else is pretty much research-based.
The bandits are an exception: for them, most of them are completely fantastical things that we just made up. Someday if the game remains popular, we might do a completely fictional faction or two, just for the fun of pitting those against the real-life ones.
The Japanese lore we were drawing on is… well, a whole different level of crazy (in the best way). Inanimate objects that become animate (and wise) after existing for a hundred years. The red hand of an infant hanging from a tree… not really for any purpose other than to creep people out. Yes, a fire-breathing chicken. This genderless blobby person that smells like rotting flesh. Apes that can read minds, zombies that are stuck with their torso in the ground and cannot get out. A lazy priest-servant turned demon-ghost who likes to kill children.
I mean, holy smokes. There was so much cool (and often creepy) stuff for us to draw on for our research.
IGM: Do you have a favorite?
Park: In terms of my favorite, I would have to say mine is the Bakezori. It’s said to be an old zori sandal that was mistreated, and now runs through the house chanting “kararin, kororin, kankororin!” It does this at night. We thought it would be funny to make it so that all the other units near the Bakezori would find it so annoying that they would chase after it to kill it before noticing each other.
IGM: What strategic value do the new Hamlets bring to Skyward Collapse?
Park: For one thing, the Hamlets can be played as a whole new game type, minus basically everything else that normally makes Skyward Collapse what it is. The “Hamlet Idyll” game mode has no bandits, no gods, no units, no tokens, no land or building placement beyond the new hamlet ones… and so on. It’s just hamlets. It’s a cool completely new “game within a game” that we’re going to roll out to our beta players next week.
In terms of Hamlets as part of the main game, their sole purpose is generating Culture, which is a new resource. Culture has a number of uses, not all of which you’ll be pursuing in a single game. The biggest two new options they provide are Luminith Arks/Towers and Large Towns.
Large Towns are 7×7 in size, instead of the normal 5×5. This raises the total number of non-town-center plots from 24 to 48. That’s… huge. With the “town specialization” mechanics, you can now make super-producers of various resources. You can build fewer towns overall, but still have a very powerful economy and military. You can even use the larger towns to indirectly make larger hamlets.
IGM: Were there any other cultures you had considered before settling on the Japanese for the expansion, and why ultimately did you decide on the Japanese?
Park: Definitely, there were tons. We discussed it a lot with our core fanbase. Egypt was actually the faction suggestion with the most support, but in our own research we thought the Japanese would be more interesting for a first expansion. Their mythology was just too interesting, and it provided an opportunity to use a gameplay design so different from the other existing factions for the game.
For a second expansion, we are planning on using the Egyptians. Those had such popular support, and some of our staff are super keen on them, too. The Egyptians are a lot heavier on gods than creatures and artifacts in their mythology, though, so I had viewed that as a problem previously. Another reason we went with the Japanese over them. But just like the Japanese have such a focus on creatures instead of artifacts, we’ve come up with the idea of having a lot more gods on the Egyptian side when we get to those. Should make for yet another really unique faction once we finish designing those out later.