Interview: Owlcat Games discusses Pathfinder: Kingmaker

Anyone who’s ever played the pen-and-paper Pathfinder RPG knows that the world inside of the walled garden of Wizards of the Coast is not as appealing as it seems. While D&D is currently in the fifth edition, many of us will never forget the tragic release of fourth edition and what seemed like certain doom for the pen-and-paper RPG.

But, it wasn’t all bad, that same year Paizo released the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, all the way back in 2008. While not the first alternative to the mainstream, Pathfinder quickly picked up steam in its drive to become a community favorite, offering more customization, an open (as in free) rulebook, and fantastic customer service for players who needed a little extra help.

This approach and Paizo’s community-driven focus has today lead them to become the number two RPG played today, according to ICv2. The passion that players have for this game and the world Paizo created has manifested in many ways, and it has also inspired the creation of the Pathfinder: Kingmaker CRPG video game being worked on by budding international studio Owlcat Games in partnership with of Allod’s Online and Skyforge fame.

The team at Owlcat Games is currently running a Kickstarter campaign, which met their funding goal of $500,000 with 20 days to go, to build support for the game before it’s release and give players a chance to contribute toward the creation of new features through their funding of stretch goals.

With so much support from the community and gamers at large, we had to reach out to the developers to learn more about Pathfinder: Kingmaker and their new studio. They got back to us, and this week we had an opportunity to interview Studio Head of Owlcat Games Oleg Shpilchevsky and Creative Director Alexander Mishulin.

Note: Our questions in bold
With all of the experience your team brings to the table, what new challenges has making Pathfinder: Kingmaker presented that you didn’t see before and how have you tackled those?

Alexander: Every game has some challenges that are unique to it. For Pathfinder: Kingmaker we have several of those. First one is a story – we are quite capable of making a story for a strategy or MMORPG, but an RPG takes this to an entirely new level. And for this we are excited to collaborate with Chris Avellone, who worked on games such as Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment and has enormous talent and experience in crafting the story. Another fascinating challenge is Kingdom – how can we make it not only strategic, but also a role-playing experience where every character shines and opens in an entirely new way.

What lead to choosing as your partner and how has this partnership benefited the production of the game?

Oleg: We are developers, and our expertise is making – we hope –  good games. We are extremely grateful to our friends from who help us with an enormous amount of work regarding PR, marketing, site production and all that necessary stuff. Their insight and assistances in these matters has been invaluable. We’ve always had a great working relationship with though our previous projects, so when the opportunity came up to work on the Pathfinder series, we couldn’t think of a better partner to help bring our vision to life.

How was Paizo involved in the creation of the digital version of their game world and were there sacrifices that had to be made to achieve a better video game when transitioning the content from pen and paper?

Alexander: We are glad we are working with Paizo, in a sense, they are part of the team. We communicate on a daily basis discussing every aspect of the game. Transitioning the game between mediums is an interesting task. Computer RPG requires some adaptations to make every aspect of the game interesting and still be able to present the same level of freedom as Adventure Path. 
However, being players of pen-and-paper Pathfinder RPG ourselves, we are trying to preserve that unique Pathfinder feel in every aspect of the game. Some feats and abilities will work in different ways, but will have the effect rather close to what they were doing in the pen-and-paper version. 
Take for example skills, we reduced their amount (and they are close to the consolidated skills in Pathfinder Unchained), but many of their applications are in the game. Same goes for the events from Adventure Path – you will encounter familiar events (like sad giant or gnomes at the river ford), but even those who completed Kingmaker at the table will find something new in the game.

What motivated the decision to make the game a single-player, instead of a multiplayer, experience?

Oleg: We have been doing big MMO games, such as Allods Online and Skyforge, for the last ten years. MMO is a great genre, and there are a lot of interesting art and design decisions you can experiment with while making and supporting the game. 
But there is one field where MMO will always be behind a single-player game – story. Honestly speaking we were dreaming about making story-driven games. So when we saw the opportunity to make one in Pathfinder universe – we never had a moment of doubt.

Valeri Concept

Valeri Concept

What challenges and benefits have you seen when creating a new game studio in the Russian Federation, are there any programs to support new digital businesses in your jurisdiction?

Oleg: The main benefit for Moscow – and some other big Russian cities - as a location is that there is a significant pool of talented people who are passionate about game development. You can find amazing programmers and QA engineers, artists and game designers here. Let along the cost of production is lower than in Western Europe and the US which is a significant advantage.

The main challenge – at least for Owlcat Games – is time difference with the US. The majority of our audience, our partners from Paizo, and USA colleagues – Chris Avellone and others – are 10 hours away from Moscow. So some of us have to be real owls and have a midnight lifestyle. Not very surprising for game developers, though.

What advice do you have for up and coming game designers who are inspired by Pathfinder: Kingmaker to go into the field themselves?

Alexander: To make great games you have to love making games, not only playing them. Erudition in games is of vital importance, but you have to get fun from making games and watching others play them. 
Try to run a Pathfinder game, make a mod to some game and share with your friends, try to make any game and let others play it. If it feels great, then start learning how to make games. There are great books and tutorials. Start with small games and prototypes and eventually you will be building something big.

Kobold from sketch to model

Kobold from sketch to model

What is something new that you will be bringing to the table in this game that players haven’t seen before and what do you hope players will take away from the game?

Alexander: I will start with the last part, I hope players will remember a great time exploring Stolen Lands and then governing in the kingdom of their own. There is more to the tale we are telling, but I cannot explain that without spoiling the story. 
As for innovations and new experiences – we are trying to build isometric RPG that will be as atmospheric and interesting as such legendary games as Baldur’s Gate II, but a bit adapted to the modern playstyle, while not sacrificing any depth from the games we all love. 
Also, we want to bring back the camping experience from the pen-and-paper game allowing for such options as making companions stand watch, go hunting, or listening to their stories by the campfire.

Will you be doing a public beta?

Oleg: The way we see it, Pathfinder was always a game that was driven by fans. Let along we can’t imagine how it is possible to make a good game without feedback from future players. Luckily, Kickstarter gives us the opportunity to address to Pathfinders directly and be sure that there are a lot of people who are willing to play our game asap.
We are going to start iterations of game testing as soon as possible. We hope to do the first alpha test in Fall and the beta test for our backers in Q2 2018.

What digital distribution platforms will you be using to distribute the game?

Oleg: Steam, for sure, and we are going to be on GoG as well. Our ultimate plan is to be available on all popular distribution platforms, so our players may choose the most convenient way to download the game.

What’s next for your new studio after Pathfinder: Kingmaker is on digital shelves?

Oleg: We like the idea of thinking about other marvelous Adventure Paths that might be brought to PC … and other platforms as well. But right now, we are 200% focused on the goal to complete Pathfinder: Kingmaker and bring it as soon as possible to Pathfinders.