As a fan of the real time strategy genre, I found my curiosity piqued by Blight of the Immortals. Blight of the Immortals is a slow, real-time, co-operative online strategy game with impressive polish for a title that has only recently entered open beta. Taking inspiration from elements of board game design, and coming from a strong background in all areas of game design, solo developer Jay Kyburz managed to find time in his busy schedule to take me through where Blight came from and what it is all about.
AL: Can you tell me a little bit about how Blight of the Immortals came about?
JK: I really love board games too and the constraints that they place on games designers, forcing them to keep the mechanics fairly simple. So, I’ve taken that over into my games. Most of what I love about board games, though, is the social interaction, you know, you can chat to players and you can’t play it single player, or rather, there aren’t many good single player board games. I used to work at a big studio – 2K – and I worked on games like Bioshock and Tribes and things like that, but I got sick of that and I wanted to make an indie game.
I really liked playing multi-player, online games like Starcraft but it was always really hard to get my friends online at the same time and all that sort of stuff, so I did an experiment. My first game was a space strategy game called Neptune’s Pride, which is a really really slow, real time strategy game. Games can last a month, or even six weeks or so and I found that it’s a cool way to play games with your friends. Everyone can just login when they’ve got some free time and do their turns and chat and plot and scheme with the other players.
AL: So, is it very much like a board game in that you take your turn and then they take theirs?
JK: No, it’s simultaneous. So everyone can just log in and do their stuff. So you’re not waiting for other players.
AL: Yeah, because I find that kind of waiting frustrating – in games like Catan Anytime or Words With Friends, it only takes one person to break the chain…
JK: Exactly! And then the game can take forever.
JK: Yeah, so that’s what’s great about the real time in Blight of the Immortals. The game is ticking away, and it’s up to the players to keep up.
AL: Demands a little bit more from you, which is nice.
JK: Yeah, so my new game, Blight of the Immortals, looks even more like a board game (compared to Neptune’s Pride). It’s a sort of fantasy board game, but with the same way of playing; a very slow, real-time game. But this time, instead of being a head to head, PvP (player versus player) kind of confrontational game, it’s co-op; all the players work together against a horde of zombies which is slowly marching across the map.
AL: So how did the name come about, ‘Blight of the Immortals’? Are the ‘Immortals’ the zombies?
JK: Yeah, they are. I thought it was kind of interesting, that these things are already dead and so they’re not going to die; they’re going to live forever.
AL: Yeah, that’s true. We always say undead, but I suppose what we really mean is “never going to die unless someone does something about it”.
JK: Yeah, the name is a bit weird; not everyone gets it. But I was just looking for something unique.
AL: Oh, well I think it sounds really cool. ‘Blight of the Immortals’ sounds very fantasy and epic.
JK: That’s good! It’s a fantasy game with six core races. Elves, Dwarves, Orcs et cetera. And every time the ‘Blight’ comes to a particular town and turns the people who live there into zombies, Orc towns produce Orc zombies, and Elf towns produce Elf zombies. And those zombies have attributes that are kind of similar, but twisted versions of that race.
AL: That’s cool. I know that in a lot of games, like I remember in one of the Warcraft games, the plague would infect people and they would turn into zombies, but everyone just looked like the same zombie.
JK: Yeah, exactly. In the Warcraft universe undead is its own race, whereas in ours, you’re an undead of that race. So there’s a dragon and there’s a zombie dragon. There’s a giant and there’s a zombie giant. For everything there is in the game there’s a sort of undead variation.
AL: Awesome. Okay, well let’s move onto some questions?
AL: Great. So you said that the game is a slow, cooperative game but in what sense do you mean slow? You’ve mentioned that the game goes for a long time but, in terms of gameplay, what exactly is ‘slow’ about it?
JK: So when you give a unit a ‘move’ order, it might take six or eight hours for it to move down the road. When you cast a magic spell, it might take six hours to recharge.
AL: Okay, and what is the advantage of that to the player?
JK: Well, it’s kind of cool because every time the player logs on to play throughout the day, they don’t have to dedicate a long time to play out a scenario; you can just come in and do whatever is ready at the time. Every time you pick up your phone or switch over to the game on your PC, there might be a new power that you can activate, or some more gold that you can spend.
AL: So it’s almost like ‘checking in’, the same way that we do with social media? You check in with the game, just do your actions and come back later and something will have happened.
JK: Yeah, it’s exactly the same. You can check in on Blight as often as you would normally check in on Facebook.
AL: Awesome, so you’ve already mentioned that you like board games, and that inspired this, were there any particular board games which inspired this genre of game for you?
JK: Well, I don’t think you can point to specific board games and simply say “this inspired that”, but I just generally like the constraints that board game designers have. It forces them to make the games in such a way that you could teach everyone the rules in under half an hour; it kind of forces things to be simple. And then you can stop worrying about the rules and start thinking about the situation that the game puts you in, which is interesting. You know, it’s like the classic Settlers of Catan. You can learn all the rules in a few minutes, but it starts to get complicated when all the territory gets claimed, and lots of board games are like that.
AL: So it’s the strategy that appears after the ruleset is sort of ‘let go’?
JK: Yeah, exactly. I also really like TCGs (Trading Card Games) and so there are some TCG elements in the game. You bring a deck of heroes into each map and each hero has special abilities, so there are gameplay elements which revolve around finding combos of powers and how to best use those heroes, where you should deploy them, that kind of thing.
AL: Ok cool. So what is the plan for the game’s release?
JK: Well it was in closed beta up until PAX, but I opened it up, even though it’s maybe a little bit early, I thought PAX was a great opportunity to invite players to come help me test and play. As a solo developer I kind of need people to come and let me know what’s working and what’s not working and throw ideas around. There are not too many bugs. We’ve had a lot of people play all the way through. We don’t have a lot of missions yet – we’re still building up the content. But, yes you play it right now.
AL: Awesome. It *looks* pretty close to being done, in terms of polish everything looks quite nice.
JK: Yeah, the core game is there, it’s just about content now, more maps, more scenarios and managing balance. The game is too difficult at the moment; it probably needs to be made a little easier. Things like what the tutorial should be like and what it should teach are still being tweaked, but I think the game is definitely far enough along that you can have fun.
AL: That’s great. I think that’s a great place to be at for a time like PAX, because you really get an idea of what the players want and you can apply that feedback after the event.
JK: Yeah, it’s not a great game to actually play here at PAX, because it’s so slow, but I hope I’m getting enough interest that people might go home and give it a try.
AL: Yeah, developing that curiosity at events like this is great. Thanks for the chat Jay; I’ll definitely be checking the beta out.
JK: Awesome, no problem.
Blight of the Immortals is in currently in open beta and you can sign up to play, for free, here.