Armello is a digital board game that goes beyond simply adapting an existing board game into a digital version. Armello was designed to be a board game played in a virtual space, including all the mechanics that just wouldn’t work for a real board game but work extremely well in a videogame. There’s also a huge nostalgia factor for me as the game draws influence from some of my favorite childhood books and movies. During PAX, I had a chance to speak with Jason Bakker about where the idea came from, what the development of the game has been like, and to see if I could wrangle myself a code for the Bandit Clan. (I couldn’t, as it turns out).
I mean, they’ve just picked the best animals and put them into a single clan! Except that squirrel – no one cares about squirrels.
First off, how did you guys get the idea for Armello and please tell me it has something to do with Redwall?
(laughing.) Yeah, definitely Redwall was a huge inspiration, and we’re all fans of Studio Ghibli movies and even things like Dust: An Elysian Tale, which was a cool game that we all liked. So yeah, those are definitely the key inspirations for us.
Did it start as a digital board game or did it start as something else and then move towards that?
We always knew that it was going to be digital, but we initially built it as a paper prototype. So, we built it and for about eight months or so we were iterating on a paper prototype and working on all kinds of different versions of it and possibilities, evolving it towards what it is now. Once we got the paper prototype to a stage that we were really happy with, that’s when we went digital.
One of the things I love about Armello is that there’s stuff that would be great for a board game but really would only work in a video game, which would be stuff like the stealth mechanic. How did handle that kind of thing while you were working with the paper version?
For certain things like the stealth system for the paper prototype, we would say, “Okay, this character is stealthed now,” and just trust that it was going to work. For the other stuff, we actually had two admins, two GM’s for the game who were managing all the little bits and pieces while people were actually playing it. They were kind of like simulating the computer, doing all the stuff behind the scenes – that’s how we managed to do it.
I’ve not seen this style of digital boardgame before, so were there any big “What the hell are we going to do?” moments? What was the biggest challenge for this development?
Yeah, definitely. Just the fact that we were trying to marry the two worlds of board games and digital games, and take the best of both worlds, it was difficult. One of the huge things from the development side was how players interact with the world and how they move their characters around to retain that feeling of moving a piece around a board. Then on the technical side of things the online multiplayer was such a huge headache to figure out but we made it in the end, and I think it’s pretty cool.
It’s such a rich world in this game, i love the narrative and storytelling that comes through in parts. Are you planning on doing anything else with that larger world?
Yeah, so as part of the Kickstarter rewards we’re going to be doing novellas in the world of Armello. Those will be written by Alex Kane, the writer of Dust: The Elysian Tale, and who wrote a bunch of the quests in Armello, he’s going to be helping us out with those novellas, and they’re going to be awesome. We love the world of Armello, and what you see in the game is kind of the tip of the iceberg in terms of the worldbuilding and stuff. We’re very excited about the future possibilities of making more things in that world, not even necessarily games.
“We love the world of Armello, and what you see in the game is kind of the tip of the iceberg in terms of the worldbuilding…”
LoG have mentioned a few expansions for Armello, the Bandit Clan among others, are you guys planning even further expansions and additional content for the game?
Yeah, we’re doing constant free updates on Steam and that we’re going to be doing that for as long as we can basically. As well as that, we’re also planning to do DLC – the Bandit DLC is coming out next year – and then we’re probably going to do some more types of DLC as well, and try to get the game onto more platforms.
If you were going to do another game in the world of Armello, would you consider making something of a different genre to the digital board game you’ve created?
Um… yeah, possibly. We’ve talked about all kinds of different possibilities for the future, but we haven’t really nailed anything down yet.
This also isn’t your first year at PAX, right? I remember seeing a demo version of the game awhile back on a tablet here and loving it. What’s your experience been like over the different shows?
I think it’s our third year at PAX Australia, yeah – it’s been awesome, it’s been amazing to have people come back who were there in the very early days and saw the iPad version, which was very much like a prototype version of the game. Then last year, PAX Australia was the first time we were showing off the multiplayer, and it was the first time we got to see new players come in and duke it out for the throne. Then this year, we’re released, and we’ve released on multiple platforms, and we’re supporting it. So many people have come past and been like “Oh, I saw this last year at PAX and I love it, so I grabbed it on Steam, and we’re fans of what you guys are doing.” It’s just really heartwarming to hear as a developer – it’s great stuff.
So how long does it take to put a game like this together?
It was from initial conception about four and a half years until release, because there was that eight month paper prototyping period. Then there was a period of digital prototyping and working towards an alpha, and then going from that alpha through to implementing the multiplayer and working through the design and trying to get it to the level that we all needed it to be at. We all have this incredibly high bar of quality for our respective disciplines for what we expected out of Armello – it did take quite awhile to get there, but we’re happy with where it’s at now.
“Yeah, we’re doing constant free updates on Steam and that we’re going to be doing that for as long as we can basically.”
Knowing that Brun is the best, who’s your favorite character?
Brun is awesome but I think my favorite is, and always will be Sana – I just love the idea of this awesome, kickass she-bear taking out Banes and claiming the throne. It’s really cool!
What’s your favorite game?
At the moment, my favorite game is actually another board game called Android Netrunner. I’ve been getting super into Netrunner recently, and I’ve done heaps of the packs and I’m really enjoying building decks. Building decks in Netrunner is its own sort of mini-game design challenge, I’ve been getting really into it.
And finally: Can I please have the Bandit Clan?
(laughing) Early next year you’ll be able to grab the Bandit Clan, and that will be great. We’ll be really happy to get that out there to everyone to play with.
… So… Not now then?