A Moment With Stoic: Leaving Bioware And Going Full Indie
What do you do after making one of the biggest games ever made? That was the question Arnie Jorgensen, Alex Thomas and John Watson faced once work on Star Wars: The Old Republic had wrapped up. They decided to pack up their things over at Bioware and combine their experience and super powers to form Stoic Studio – a place they could call their own and make the games they wanted to make.
Now united as a triforce, work then commenced on The Banner Saga. This was to be a game they truly believed in; a turn-based strategy game with incredible artwork and a compelling story. They released the first details just the other day but we wanted to know a little bit more about Stoic and the direction they were going. We grabbed Alex Thomas, the Creative Director of the whole project, and asked him some questions to which he answered with Sleeping Beauty, vikings and not a light sabre in sight.
IGM: Why did you want to move into indie development?
Alex: Wow, that seems like a really odd question when I think about it. Why wouldn’t you want to get into indie development? Working at BioWare was a great experience for all three of us and being part of one of the biggest games ever made was pretty incredible, but I can’t think of a single developer out there who doesn’t dream of making their own games. Is there honestly a better reason than that? Once The Old Republic shipped the time was right and all the pieces fell in place.
Now as for why we went self-funded instead of finding a publisher or investor, that was… actually, that was just as easy. We’ve all been around the industry for a while and know that if somebody is paying you they call the shots, you may as well stay at a company. Plus, convincing a publisher to fund a 2D turn-based strategy game just wasn’t going to happen. So, we put together a plan and gave ourselves a deadline. Whether it succeeds spectacularly, fails miserably or comes to some kind of anticlimactic middle-ground we all agree we’d regret it if we didn’t try.
IGM: What experience does each member of the team have and what do they each bring to The Banner Saga?
Alex: We’ve each been in the industry for over a decade and done a wide array of things. I think the diversity of our team is probably our biggest strength. Arnie’s been a professional artist since he was born, working in the comics industry and as the lead concept artist on Star Wars Galaxies and The Old Republic. With a 2D game like The Banner Saga what he makes is what the game literally looks like, which is fantastic. He also does musical scores if you can believe that.
John claims to have started programming at eight years old and is an expert with both client and server architecture. He was lead combat programmer on The Old Republic and apparently people speak highly of him. I started as a 3D modeller doing characters and textures, did environments on The Old Republic for a few years then moved to design and did cinematics. I wrote a few screenplays in my spare time, now I’m doing the 2D animations for The Banner Saga. Without all the experience we’ve had in the industry I don’t think we could attempt something like this.
What are you hoping to achieve with The Banner Saga?
Alex: I know it sounds cliche but we’re making a game we’d like to play, which makes us think other people would like to play it too. Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies sit down and go “What game should we make? What do the kids like these days? Ok, a shooter.” A lot of companies are formed before they even know what they want to make.
Shooters, MMOs, big sandbox games and casual little games are all great but there are plenty of amazing options already out there. Nobody is begging for another game on that pile. We definitely think there is a hole forming around the role-playing genre and strategy games are drying up. Publishers would say that there aren’t enough people to support it, but unlike a huge development team we don’t need to sell tens of millions and we think there are plenty of people who want what we’re making, including us.
What makes The Banner Saga unique and what are you most proud of so far?
Alex: I might be biased but I think the art in this game is amazing. When you watch old Disney stuff like Sleeping Beauty the art style is something you don’t see anymore and it’s so unique you wonder if you’ll ever see it again. The lead artist on that movie was Eyvind Earle and he heavily influenced our style on The Banner Saga. It also influenced our decision to go with a traditional style of animation and right now the game looks and feels like you’re playing an animated film. We’ve even gone so far as to turn the conversation system into a 2D movie and we’re ecstatic about how well it works. It would be almost impossible to duplicate this look in a modern 3D game, and why would you want to anyway? I think we’re onto something there.
As for gameplay, I’m really excited about our combat system. I’ve been a die-hard fan of games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Shining Force since I was a kid and I think we captured that feeling while also adding a really unique dynamic I’ve never seen in turn-based strategy before. I can’t talk about that much now but we’ll be putting out more info on that pretty soon.
Alex also informed us that an announcement video will be on the way shortly and after that they will be putting The Banner Saga up on Kickstarter to help out with development costs. You’ll hear more from us and Stoic in the next issue of our magazine which is due out in March!
You can find out more information on Stoic and The Banner Saga on the official website.