The Kickstarter campaign for Stoic’s epic conclusion to the Banner Saga series quickly obliterated it’s $200,000 funding goal. With nearly 6,000 backers rallying behind them, Stoic took to Reddit on last week for an “Ask Me Anything” community interview.
Participants included; Stoic Founders John Watson and Arnie Jorgensen, Writer Drew McGee, Producer Zeb West, Composer Austin Wintory and other members of the Stoic team. Here are a few of our favorite questions and answers from the event.
PhorniCaiTe: What advice would you give to new devs as far as getting noticed?
Stoic: I believe the best way to get noticed is to find your “unfair advantage.” What is it that gives your game an advantage that other game devs simply can’t (or aren’t) providing? Something ‘new’ and ‘really well done’ will often times get noticed. If your first thought when starting a company is “How do we market something and get noticed” then I think you’ve got it bass-akwards. The question should be “what is giving our game an unfair advantage over the other games out there”. If you can answer that question then the marketing and notice-ability problems of your game start falling in line.
Ludonarrator: Unlike publisher backed studios, indie ones like Stoic usually find themselves using the proceeds of their current game to fund the next. With such pressure on getting it right the first time, what proportion of The Banner Saga was in your heads, and manifested (more or less) as is? And what proportion could you afford the luxury of spending precious resources and time on iterative discovery / pre-production for?
Stoic: The base game of Viking Oregon trail mixed with King of Dragon Pass was there from the beginning, but once we ran the Kickstarter for Banner Saga 1, a lot changed. For instance, we actually had no intention of showing the caravan traveling through the world, we were going to show a simple map with a map-chit sliding over it. Once we started hearing from our community “I CAN’T WAIT TO LIVE AND TRAVEL IN THIS WORLD!!!!” we said ‘uh-oh..’ and then made it happen. Much of what you see is very iterative. We know where we’re trying to go, but the ins-and-outs of how we get there are in constant flux. I think you can only do this on a small team as larger teams simply aren’t this agile. It takes a lot to change the course of a large cargo ship.
Nafeij: This one is for Austin! Seriously, you have to be one of the best composers out there. Half of what most people enjoy out of Journey and The Banner Saga is the soundtrack, and it’s no coincidence that those are my two most favourite games.
What’s the process by which you compose a piece? And what’s your preferred software for doing so?
Stoic Composer, Austin Wintory: That’s awfully (and overly!) kind. Thank you for those words, it means a lot. I feel so lucky to have games of this caliber to work on; Stoic have really given me an enormous gift and it’s the hope we’re just gonna keep on making games together for many years to come.
The software I use as my DAW is called Digital Performer. But ultimately I’m a big believer in letting ideas form completely independent from the tools we use. My process is a bit shifty, as I try to never repeat myself. Music is an act of exploration and curiosity for me, so any process that gets too static and regimented locks me into patterns.
I know that’s a bit vague but that’s best I’ve got for the moment 🙂
Working Together While Apart
PlumCantaloupe: Any insight you are willing to offer on how your team works together? I would be very curious to know how you organize the workload, decide on gameplay/art/music directions, how you handle remote work (if any), and any project management methodologies you stand by?
Stoic: Ooh! You wanna talk process? I’ll geek out on that any old time! (I’m the Producer/Project Manager so thanks for throwing a question my way :D)
We’re using Scrum, but in the loose way small teams do where the process needs to fit the project (lightweight, consistent, not too rigid): Daily standups (vidcon), demos, retrospectives, long planning sessions that everyone dreads (but afterwards are grateful for). We’re using Jira for sprint tracking and I have some spreadsheets to track the higher level project schedule.
We have remote groups for QA, Localization, SFX, Marketing/Sales, Animation, Porting, etc (Shoutouts to Sculpin, Testronic, Kpow, Versus Evil, Powerhouse, Austin Wintory, Shiny Shoe, Hidden Achievement, probably more). I have the most contact with them because I’m helping all groups track dependencies – so on one day me and John go talk to QA to triage bugs, and on another Arnie, Matt and I go review animations with Powerhouse.
I’d say the biggest methodology we follow is the ole Agile ‘inspect and adapt’ – I’ve always been a fan of admitting what’s happening and engaging people creatively to move forward from an honest assessment of where we’re at. Easy to get mired in problems or focus on minutia – with a small team like ours focus is our greatest resource, so picking out the right things to focus on is live or die. Thanks for your curiosity about this aspect of the project!
What’s Next For Stoic?
Zyphontic: After the main trilogy ends, is it possible we’ll be seeing other stories in this world? (Whatever form they might take.) If so, are there any big ideas of what might be next? Personally, I’d be very interested to see a story taking place in the Dalalond, or even beyond The Vast!
Stoic: Wow. What a fantastic thing to read. When it’s 4:00am and I’m still trying to get that travel scene just right, it’s knowing that people like you are out there and going to enjoy it that makes it worthwhile. Thank you. Are there going to be more stories in this world? We sure hope so. Oddly it’s only kind-of up to us. We’ve stated regularly that we’d love to do more, the story we’re telling is only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s up to the community really. Are people buying the game and telling their friends? That’s all we need. Even a small team needs to make enough money to continue the journey. We’ll see how Banner Saga 3 is received!