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Citadel: Forged With Fire – Early Access Interview

Earlier this week, Blue Isle Studios announced the upcoming early access and free beta weekend for Citadel: Forged with Fire, a new high fantasy online sandbox RPG. With the sandbox scene heating up, we spoke with Alex Tintor, Managing Director from Blue Isle Studios, about Citadel: Forged with Fire’s early access debut.

Tell us a little more about Citadel: Forged with Fire.

Alex: Citadel is basically a big open world online fantasy game. We’ve been planning this game quite frankly for a couple of years and it only started to come to light a few years ago when we started taking it a little more seriously. We looked around the world and said “There’s a lot of great fantasy games out there, but we haven’t really seen a game that’s combined crafting, open world online multiplayer building castles, flying on dragons, flying on broomsticks, doing all kinds of crazy stuff.” We kind of said this is too cool of an opportunity not to pursue, and we’re all huge fantasy and RPG fans in the studio. Myself I grew up on the Harry Potter movies, Lord of the Rings, more recently things like Game of Thrones, and in the gaming sphere there’s obviously a ton of great RPGs I’ve grown up playing. There’s so much cool stuff we can do, why not combine this into what we like to call our version of the ultimate sandbox fantasy game? We figured early access gives us a great opportunity to build that alongside a community of people. This is an opportunity that really didn’t exist that many years ago where games were kind of developed in a vacuum. We got really excited and that brings us to where we are today, ready to launch on Wednesday next week.

We’ve seen some of the influences you’ve mentioned in the new trailer. How are you hoping to stand out from other sandbox titles?

Alex: We set out on this project truly wanting this to be an early access title done right. I think there are some examples of developers who have done a fantastic job in early access, and there have been examples of developers who have not used it in the best way. When we started we said we want to build a huge fantasy game – there’s a lot of fantasy games out there and sandbox games out there – but what makes us unique is that we’re combining some of the coolest parts of fantasy. You have RPG elements where you level up as a character. You’re going on raids, raiding dungeons, enemy camps. What’s really cool about this is that we’ve combined some elements with loot systems and crafting systems and we’ve made it available online in first or third person. We think it’s a really interesting recipe of ingredients that hasn’t been done this way specifically.

But more importantly than that, going back to when I said we want to do early access right, we really want to build this alongside the community. Early access gives us a huge opportunity to build a strong core game. We think we’ve done at this point and we’ve put that foundation on Steam. We’ve said “here’s what we’re building, here’s what we think it should be,” but more importantly than what we want to build we want to hear what the community wants. We want to deliver them content aggressively. We want to be putting out content every single week, we want to talk to them every single day. We’ve made a big push to be on the message boards constantly all day long to communicate with people. We want to give people an opportunity to not only play a game but play a large role in building the game with us. Obviously in the studio we’re the ones creating code and artwork, but we want to try and take down those walls between somebody who’s playing a game and somebody who’s building a game. We think over the long term we can show people this is a really cool opportunity to not only play a game but kind of be involved in the development of the game and we think people will find that to be an exciting opportunity.

One problem we see frequently with developers with Early Access on Steam is that you’re also opening yourself up to Steam reviews. Early reviews where people come in and play the game for say ten hours, and leave a Steam review that’s negative and walk away. How do you plan on dealing with that kind of fractional part of the community where players come in, give their early impressions, and then leave without helping further build the game?

Alex: Being a developer we’re pretty used to feedback of all kinds, whether it’s positive, neutral, or negative. Quite frankly negative is sometimes the best kind, and is often the best kind, because it tells us what we need to improve or what we’ve done wrong. We obviously hope somebody wouldn’t just give up the game after seven or ten hours. One thing we can do to specifically address that is our frequent content drops. So we’ve seen a few other developers do this really well and it’s been really inspiring to watch. We want to support this game as long as possible and as frequently as possible. So every single week when you come back into the game there’s going to be something new to see, whether it’s a new weapon or spell or armor set, new type of castle to build, new types of enemies to fight. We really want this game to be constantly growing and we’ve said that from day one of development. We’re not just going to put this on early access and walk away. We really want to see this through to completion. And I think when people see how seriously we’re trying to take this I hope we can sway some of those people who come into an early access game and say I’ve gotten my few hours, it’s not ready yet, here’s my review. We welcome those reviews and take those to heart, but we hope we can bring those people back to see what we keep adding to the game. The game we’re putting out Wednesday next week is going to be very different than the game will be a year from today and we hope to keep evolving and growing it like a living breathing thing unto itself.

Let’s talk about the situation evolving with Dark and Light. We know that Dark and Light is a direct competitor now being published by Snail Games. Shortly after Citadel: Forged with Fire’s early access date was announced for July 26, Dark and Light also announced its early access for July 20. Then as they launched, they also suddenly announced an early access discount for the first two weeks, which seems to again match with the plans for Citadel. What is your reaction to this apparent competitiveness between the two games?

Alex: You know, it’s been interesting to be honest. We’ve obviously been watching this happen, and to be frank, we saw their announcement which was quite sudden. We were obviously surprised.  I didn’t even know we were on their radar to be honest. They’re a massive Chinese conglomerate and we’re definitely your more typical small indie studio. So the fact we were even on their radar was surprising to us. It’s been interesting to watch, it seems like things have heated up – but to be honest from our side of things we’re just doing our thing. We planned to announce our game when we did, we planned to launch when we did, and we had our price planned out many months ago. Seeing some reactions which are seemingly a direct result of what we’re doing is interesting to say the least. On the one hand, this really only benefits the consumer which is fantastic for them because competition only helps them. At the end of the day they have our game to look at which we feel very confident in, and there’s other games to look at too. I want to make sure that people are able to get a look at all the games out there and see which one they like. So from our side of things, it’s been kind of interesting to observe to say the least.

Was the public beta on Saturday also planned before the Dark and Light announcement or was that done in reaction to it?

Alex: The larger beta test was not originally planned, but surprisingly, we didn’t really announce it as a result of Dark and Light. It was more a result of our first beta test. We kept it kind of smaller and we had no NDAs because we wanted to make sure anybody could see our game. We’re proud of it and we’re not hiding behind anything. We saw a lot of people streaming the game last weekend and we were kind of taken aback quite frankly at how many people were saying “please, please, I want to play this game.” We originally thought people would be satisfied just seeing it on Twitch and getting hyped through that. But in less than 48 hours we had about 20,000 sign ups to our beta test and we’ve had a lot more since. So we kind of had a flurry of activity where we had a lot of people saying “please let me get in let me get in” and we spoke to Valve about it and they were really cool in supporting us with this. So we just kind of made a last minute decision to go big with it – let’s let everyone in, or as many people as we have keys for, and let’s let everybody play the game and hopefully get people excited for Wednesday.

The beta test on Saturday is a one day thing. Is there a particular reason for that?

Alex: The beta test for us is largely a chance to stress test the servers. We want to try to simulate a launch day environment and importantly we want to try to get as much feedback from players as we can. Obviously being an early access there’s going to be quirks here and there and maybe some balance issues, stuff like that, so we wanted to keep it one day only because that will be plenty of time to get the data we need to fine tune the game for launch. So really that’s our biggest reason, we want to make sure that when we fully open the flood gates on Wednesday we are as well prepared as we possibly can be.

Early access titles often have a Steam Page description that proves to be more ambitious than the current state of the game. Do you have any plans, besides the Early Access label, to help people understand that features are still coming?

Alex: For clarity’s sake, everything on the Steam page is in the game. Obviously some systems need to be built out further, but we have been pretty careful to not falsely advertise. We take that pretty seriously. I will say that during the last beta there were few players who reached higher levels, so there is a lot of content that has not been seen at all. As for your question, that’s what this beta is for. We were very deliberate in not wanting NDAs on this, especially this coming Saturday. We wanted to be public beta, anybody can get in, anybody can stream the game, anybody can show it – we’re really hoping that people do so that it can help them make that decision. If they do feel that our Steam page description is a bit misleading, we’re not stopping anyone from going and playing the game or taking a look at the game and seeing exactly what it is. Obviously we’re going to build this game as big and best as we can, but just to make sure everyone knows what they are getting into, I would encourage everybody to please play the game this weekend, or watch a stream or talk to someone who has played, and you’ll see exactly what you’re getting.

Are you planning on possibly offering any more free beta weekends or free trial weekends during the Early Access period, to give those players additional chances to check out the game without having to purchase it?

Alex: We don’t have any plans right now for that, but we like to consider all options. The biggest thing I would say to people who really want to see the game but don’t want to put down the investment into buying it – just watch a couple streams, talk to people who are playing. We’re pretty active and try to be as transparent as possible in answering questions and interacting with people. When we launch we plan on essentially building out a road map and making it public, and saying on this week we’re launching this content, two months from now we’re having this update, three months this update – we want to be as transparent as possible so people know exactly what they’re getting when they buy the game: Here’s what the game looks like today, and here’s what we plan on having the game look like two months from now, six months from now, a year from now. Free Weekends we’ll look into, but we have no plans right now.

Are you currently or looking to build a program to help support streamers and the community boost Citadel: Forged with Fire and promote and help share the game?

Alex: We’d love to work closely besides streamers and besides people who can help share the game with others by let’s plays and Twitch streams. We’re actually working on a partner program right now which streamers can sign up for. We don’t have the specific details just yet but we’re working on it and long story short – we do want to work with these people as closely as possible, support them, and help support their communities. We’ve been pretty surprised at the interest we’ve got from roleplay communities, and they’ve been communicating with us quite a bit since we announced, and we’ve been doing a lot of initiatives with them. We’re going to do roleplay specific servers just for them, we’re going to allow people to host their own servers where you can configure all kinds of settings to your liking, you can do PvP or PvE. We want this game to be as welcoming to everyone as possible, and I think that starts with streamers and influencers. We’ve been communicating with a lot of them lately and hearing what they want to see in the game, and they’ve had a lot of great suggestions. We were talking recently about our plans for voice chat in the game and they had some suggestions on what they’d like to see, so we’ve just gone about implementing some of those things. We definitely want to talk with them, keep the communication open, source ideas from them, and keep supporting them because ultimately when they’re playing our game it helps us because it gets the word out more. It’s a really good relationship to have.

You mentioned official servers and being able to host your own servers. What kind of servers does Citadel offer?

Alex: This beta will offer official servers only, but on launch day we’ll allow anyone to run a server if they want. You can run a server on your own computer if you want, and it’s just a click of a button and changing a few settings to your liking. We’re also working out some partnerships with some larger scale server providers, and those folks can offer an opportunity for fans of the game to rent private servers. They would have the same performance as an official server, they can password protect them, they can have just their friends in there, they can make building free if they want, they can kind of go nuts and have fun with the game as they see fit.

You’ve also mentioned modding support will be added. What are your current plans for including modding support? Do they include Steam Workshop?

Alex: Modding support is still a work in progress. We don’t have concrete information just yet on how it’s going to work, but we’d love to leverage the Steam community as much as possible. We’ll definitely be looking into Steam Workshop and making sure people can be as creative as they want with the game. It really goes back to our overarching philosophy of community first, this is a community-driven game and a community experience. I will say in the studio, a lot of us got our start in the modding community, so we are huge believers in modding and what it can do. It taught me how to make games so it’s something I really want to support and get behind. We will announce our modding support details when we know them over the next few months.

Obviously Citadel is a sandbox style game, but do you have any systems for like NPCs, NPC dialogue, questing, and things of that nature – now or planned in the future?

Alex: Right now, all communication is between the players. There are no NPCs to interact with or give quests. But we have a lot of interesting ideas in the future of what we want to do. Something we’d like to launch into the game at some point is the ability to set up store fronts, that you can either man yourself or take one of your tamed NPCs and put them in charge of your storefront, set your prices, and buy and sell items. Another thing we’re considering – and I don’t want to say too much until we’re concrete on the details – but there’s been a lot of chatter in the studio about doing some cool procedural quest system so players can set up quests for other players to embark on. So, if I’m a high level player and need five dragon scales but don’t feel like going and fighting five dragons, I can almost put a bounty on them and players can approach that, go on a quest, and get those five dragon scales for me, bring it back to me, and in exchange I’ll give them a reward. There’s a lot of social systems we’d like to build in the future, but we really want to see how the community plays the game as it is currently and then we want to talk to them and say “Does this sound like something you want?” and if it is, we’ll make that a priority. So that’s kind of our plans there. For NPCs specifically, we’re not sure – if people want to see more quests, and quests driven by NPCs and storylines, we’ll deliver that. For now, we want to see what players can come up with. We give people what we call soft agendas. There’s all kinds of caves in the world you can raid and get some rare, valuable loot from it, there’s NPC camps which have loot, there’s boss fights coming soon. Those are all optional objectives, we don’t have any mandatory objectives, but if that’s something players are really interested in we’ll definitely make it a priority to deliver that.

Do you plan on eventually expanding the world size out from the single map during Early Access, or waiting for later in development?

Alex: We have a lot of plans to expand the map. We’re not sure yet whether we’re going to just a straight up expansion of the map and make it bigger, or introduce different worlds which would act as different zones. I will say that when we were designing this map, and we knew we had 36 square kilometers to work with, we set up three distinct biomes for players to explore across the world. But we had a really difficult time narrowing down our ideas into what’s actually feasible to get into a game. So we have a ton of ideas that are kind of left on the cutting room floor, so to speak, and we want to bring a lot of those back as future content. Like I said earlier, we’ll be adding enemies, weapons, spells, but that also extends to the map as well – we want to add new areas, we want to grow it bigger, we want to give people as much content to explore as we possibly can and our team here is going to be working around the clock to make that happen and make sure that people always have something new to see. So if you’ve leveled up to 60 and you think you’ve seen all the content, well, come back in two weeks and there’s probably going to be a lot of new stuff to see. And that’s a high priority for us.

That brings one other thought to mind – what is the map verticality like? How high can you fly up, or how deep can you can explore?

Alex: The map has a fair degree of verticality to it. There are some really big mountains you can scale right to the top of. You can get on a dragon or a broomstick and you can fly even higher than that. I don’t know exactly how high in kilometers we go upwards, but it’s quite significant. We have a lot of deep dark caves to explore far underneath the mountains and underneath the world. On top of that we’re going to be adding very soon a rich underwater portion of the world. There’s a fair degree of verticality and that’s important, because we’ve added broom sticks, and flight potions, and flying dragons. We want to make sure players have enough room to have aerial combat, fly around on your broomsticks chasing others and shoot each other high up in the sky above the mountains. We wanted to make sure there were a lot of opportunities for players to do that. Being a sandbox we don’t like to put walls around people, we just say “Here’s this massive world, you can go on foot, by water, by air – explore like crazy and have fun.” We’ve tried to be very liberal with our use of freedom and exploration and that certainly extends to the caves and mountaintops.

Did you have any last thoughts to share?

Alex: I hope people enjoy what we’ve done and I hope people can be as vocal as possible with us. We’d love to hear your thoughts and we want to keep the lines of communication open.

Thanks to Blue Isle Studios for giving us their time! You can check out Citadel: Forged with Fire on Steam!

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