Stoneshard Interview – Proper Hardcore
Stoneshard is fucking hard. I know I sound like a babyback bitch when I say that. And I’d like to go on the record as not being a wuss. I used to play Dark Souls blackout drunk to chill out after a long day of eating gravel and carving diamonds with my eyeballs. I’ve beaten Gothic and Fallout. I even got past the first boss in I Wanna Be The Guy! I’m well-tempered in the world’s hottest gaming forges. And even so, it took me a while to get used to Stoneshard.
If you’re not familiar, Stoneshard is a new indie CRPG that’s making quite the splash on Steam. Developer Ink Stains Games released it into Early Access on February 6th and has already sold over 200k copies. At $15 a pop, that’s about $3 million worth of sales in just 12 days. So chances are we’ll be seeing Stoneshard getting the development it deserves. Even at this early stage, it’s clear what Ink Stains is all about. The boilerplate on their presskit just says, “Develop hard games.” They know what they’re about. And they deliver.
There’s still a long way and a lot of work left for Stoneshard. The most recent update was version 0.5.7.16, and development is planned into 2021. Still, there’s no denying that what Stoneshard offers so far is still fun, playable, and damn challenging. So I wanted to get the chance to find out what was in store for the future of Stoneshard. Had fan reactions changed their goals? What was on their development shortlist? How did they decide on this kind of setting and style? Luckily, I got a chance to shoot some questions over to Stoneshard‘s Game Designer Andrey Tsypaiev. Here’s what he had for me:
DXP: Okay, why is the game so hard?
Andrey: Mainly it’s because we ourselves like difficult games a lot. We feel like high difficulty and overall “hostility” of the world were the reasons why some old-school CRPGs (like Gothic, for example) became cult classics. There’s something very special about learning how to play the game, step-by-step – and as you get more familiar with the rules, you realize that it’s not as difficult and complicated as it seems at first glance.
DXP: After dumping a hundred hours into Battle Brothers, I’ve got a hankering for ultra-low-fantasy. Stories about the peasants and footmen that the lords and ladies never even think of. In Stoneshard, you make clear very quickly that “you are not the hero.” You’re just some guy/gal, making their way through this world. How did you decide this was the story you want to tell?
Andrey: The thing is that we really dislike the default high fantasy. We feel like games have reached a point where stories about extraordinary heroes have become cliche – as such, they don’t evoke any emotions in the player. What’s the point of player’s progress, if all this time the story sets you apart from everyone else as the “chosen one”? On the other hand, being as insignificant as a grain of sand in a cold, unforgiving world makes every achievement matter.
DXP: That all being said, you can’t escape the fact that you still are the “hero” of this game. How do you go about balancing the character’s overall worldly insignificance with the fact that the player is going to want to have fun and be a badass?
Andrey: We won’t rob the player of this desire – through the course of the game you’ll become very powerful, if you survive long enough. Our goal is to provide the players with as many tools as we can, while restraining them as little as possible – even if it means we’re gonna have to spend a lot of time balancing the game. This is the main reason why Stoneshard doesn’t have class, stat and level restrictions – we truly believe that it’s very important to have this freedom.
DXP: A lot of low-fantasy shies away from overt magic. Fireballs, wizards, all that jazz. However, you give the player the chance to play as a caster. How did you go about working magic into the world in a way that wouldn’t make it feel too fantastical or overpowered?
Andrey: In the world of Stoneshard magic is very combat-oriented – and while other kinds of magic do exist, they’re very difficult to use, causing harm to the caster’s body. That’s why in Stoneshard, magic is relatively commonplace – but is still treated with caution. We feel that it’s very similar to how gunpowder was treated by commonfolk during the Middle Ages.
DXP: I notice a lot of the weapons currently aren’t implemented. What’s the timeline for implementation, and what is in store for us that isn’t currently visible on the skills list?
Andrey: We’d like to implement all of the remaining weapon skill trees by the end of this year. Developing magic skill trees will most likely take a chunk of next year as well. You can check out the rest of the skills we plan to make available during Early Access in the game itself. We have some ideas for at least 5 new skill trees but as long as we haven’t added the core skills, adding new ones is on a low priority.
DXP: Your team took a novel approach to stealth. Are there any plans to flesh out this element more or make it more obvious?
Andrey: For now stealth is temporarily removed from the game while we are reworking it. We plan to remake it from scratch and make it available in one of the upcoming major updates by adding a special sneaking mode. It will definitely make it easier to use stealth.
DXP: Followup question, what other mechanics do you plan to flesh out more in the coming months? How is the game going to look by 2021?
Andrey: We don’t want to make an actual update schedule for the whole year as we all know that development can be very unpredictable and some of the features might take much longer than we initially plan. However, we can definitely say that for now our highest priorities are adding more content to the game, fully reworking the AI, adding the caravan feature and working on the traits and illnesses system.
DXP: So far, critical reception to the game has been mixed. A lot of players appreciate the setting, tone, and overall difficulty, but a lot of base mechanics seem to be missing. I know you folks JUST implemented a save system at the bandit camps and a map key (thank you, btw), what other systems are you aware need improvement for the average players?
Andrey: For now the most common concern our players have is the UX. For the most part it’s due to the work in progress status of the development – a lot of features are present in a very early stage. For example, once we implement the global map, all the problems players have with poor navigation will no longer be a thing. Same goes for the storage system that will be reworked as we add more options to store your loot such as bags and sub bags.
DXP: There are a lot of players out there that are scared of the “early access” tag. They prefer to wait for the full game to commit. What does Stoneshard offer in its current state that might entice those players? Furthermore, what are the benefits of playing in this unfinished state?
Andrey: There are plenty of people who enjoy following the development process and affecting it by providing feedback and making suggestions. We feel like this is a very good reason to become a part of the community of the game on its early development stage. We keep track of all the reviews and discussions and even though not all of them are constructive they can be very enlightening.
DXP: For players loving it/wanting to find a place to ask questions/burning with desire to air their grievances, where can they follow development and chat with the community?
Andrey: Our favorite channel of communication is Discord (discord.gg/stoneshard). You can discuss the game with other players, ask a question to a member of the development team, make a suggestion and report a bug you’ve encountered.
With Stoneshard looking at a long and winding development road, I’m sure I’ll have plenty more questions in the future. It’ll be fun to see the game grow. Getting it in customer’s hands at such an early state takes guts, and I’m sure the Stoneshard we see by 2021 will look much different than it does now. If you want to get into the action now and be part of the discussion, you can get Stoneshard now on Steam for $15 by clicking the link here. Just be ready to die. A lot.