Driftland: The Magic Revival is a real-time 4X strategy game that also incorporates elements of classic god games like Godus or Populous. The setting is an archipelago of magical islands in the vein of Eador: Master of the Broken Worlds and Warlock II. We got in touch with lead developer Michal Sokolski for a Q&A to learn more about his game.
Could you start by telling us about your team?
We are a small, independent studio founded by two industry veterans and friends towards the end of 2014. We named our new company Star Drifters and quickly grew to a 10-person core team and several outsourcers.
What was the inspiration for your game?
We are big fans of the Civilization franchise, Heroes of Might and Magic III, Age of Wonders III, Starcraft, Endless Legend, the Settlers series and older games like Mega-Lo-Mania, Populus, and Majesty. Certainly all of these titles are inspiring for us, but we are trying to go our own way and create a game that combines elements of 4X, RTS and God game genres with unique features like, for example, a dynamic topography.
What about the setting? Could you quickly summarize the storyline and tell us about some big picture details?
Driftland: TMR is a fantasy game. The title, Driftland, is the name of a shattered planet broken into pieces (islands) by a devastating war between powerful mages. In the face of the destruction of an entire civilization, warring parties decided to call a truce and try to repair the damage. They had to use all the remaining magic resources to cast a powerful spell that keeps the world in relative balance. After many dark ages, new sources of magic have appeared. Along with the magic, the old conflict awakens. The player assumes the role of a mage controlling one of the surviving nations, whose objective is to gradually take control over Driftland and reestablish its lost balance.
Are there multiple factions in your game? Can you give us a few details about each one?
The individual flying islands are inhabited by many factions or tribes. These include the four major races: ambitious humans, industrious dwarves, pragmatic dark elves and nature-worshipping wild elves.
What is the object of play in your game? Is there more than one victory condition?
The main objective is to revive the balance in Driftland and making it your own kingdom.
We have several victory conditions in the game but only one at a time. That means there is one victory condition per scenario.
Let’s move on to combat. How will that work in this game?
The player develops the economic potential of their empire, allowing for the conquest and rebuilding of the planet. From the beginning of the game, the player has to fight single barbarians or hostile creatures. With the development of his or her empire, the player has to deal with bigger enemies like whole camps of barbarians and then will finally collide with other civilizations. With the development of an empire, the player builds their military potential and recruits an army from the population. Instead of controlling individual units, the player determines the objectives to be achieved and gives them weight. All units (except peasants) can gain experience and new skills. Experienced, veteran units are able to tame and ride dragons and other flying creatures. The exception is the race of dwarves who can not and do not want to tame creatures. Instead, they are able to build flying units.
Is combat handled on a separate tactical map or is it handled on the strategic map like Civ 5/6?
Everything in our game takes place on the same map. The view is dynamic and at greater distance becomes more symbolic, but it still retains full functionality.
How does empire management work in this game?
Driftland: TMR is a real time strategy game but thanks to setting goals instead of directly controlling units, players can focus on developing their empire. Construction of all buildings and structures takes place on the surface and edges of all the islands belonging to the player. To join another island, the player has to build a bridge to it. If the islands are too far apart to build a bridge, the islands have to be moved closer with a magic spell.
Is Driftland a pausable real time strategy game? If so, what can a player do while the game is paused? If not, why did you decide to go with that design?
In most games, the active pause is a workaround. We avoided situations in which we would be forced to use it. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to implement indirect unit control by setting goals. It gives the player all the necessary time to make decisions, even during the most intensive parts of the gameplay. Thanks to not using the active pause, we are able to offer a consistent experience in both singleplayer and multiplayer modes.
Are there any special resources or locations players will be able to exploit? How will they affect play?
In our game, there are many types of resources with varying impacts on gameplay. Starting with population and food through gold, mana, wood, stone, coal, iron etc. up to precious stones. The player must keep the right balance to efficiently expand.
What are the limits to expanding one’s empire in this game?
An empire’s development is limited by several factors – primarily by the size of the islands and the availability of resources. It becomes more expensive to maintain a growing number of islands in the empire.
Can this game be played tall? In other words, can a player win with just a few cities?
There are no cities in Driftland. The player builds an empire around his or her castle, which, like other buildings, can be upgraded. Expansion is carried out by connecting to other islands and building bridges. Structures can be built on the entire map within the imperial borders of the player.
Could you describe the nature of Research in your game?
We don’t have a single and visible tech/research tree. At the level of resources, we implemented a simple kind of geology. Beyond wood and stone, each island needs to be examined to discover what resources may be mined. Unlocking more types of buildings is based on a fairly typical dependency tree. That is, building one building allows you to construct another, and so forth. Individual units are able to gain experience, new levels, and skills. Units develop as they explore, encounter random events, engage with content, have their home building upgraded, and train in the appropriate structures . After meeting the relevant conditions, additional types of spells become available to the player. It’s another dependency tree.
Is there magic, and if so, how does it work?
As the title indicates, magic is a key element of Driftland: TMR. It’s closely related to the plot of the game and the game mechanics. The player has a wide range of spells that can be cast using a magical tower. First of all, thanks to powerful magic, the player is able to move and reunite parts of the planet. With spells, any type of terrain can be converted to one that suits your race or even be completely destroyed. We also have a whole arsenal of spells that affect individual units or buildings on the map. And some of the most powerful spells can only be cast with the assistance of mage units.
Are there ways to travel between islands besides a bridge such as magic gates or spells?
Yes. In Driftland: TMR you will find spells for creating magical tunnels and gates, which allow to move between them.
What role does randomness play in your game?
Randomness occurs with the generation of maps – shapes, sizes, and the character of the islands.. Later in the game the autonomous units also introduce a degree of randomness.
Will this game feature espionage or reconnaissance of any kind?
Yes, but mainly related to exploration and monitoring the progress of an opponent. The main tool that is used for this is a spell called Magic Eye.
What does your game have/do that no other similar game currently on the market can provide?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. Because our game combines elements of 4X, RTS and God game genres we don’t really have a direct comparison. Driftland: TMR offers a unique combination of four game pillars:
- Setting goals instead of directly controlling units
- Original game environments closely associated with the game mechanics
- Acquisition of new territories by moving and adjoining islands – parts of the planet
- High accessibility and replayability – easy to learn, hard to master
What do you hope to accomplish with your game? What do you hope people will remember most about it?
One of most important goals we set was to create a game that is easy to learn but hard to master. Another important thing for us is high replayability. We want Driftland remembered for the immersive and original world in which the game takes place.
Where does development of the game stand as of now?
We haven’t reach an alpha stage yet. At every stage of development we are maintaining a working multiplayer mode. Right now we are working on AI, the game economy, minor game mechanics and integrating other races.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the game’s development so far?
All islands of Driftland are floating in the air. This feature has a big impact on many aspects of the game’s mechanics. The AI units have to navigate and look for paths in a very dynamic environment. The classic fog of war concept had to be reinvented. We had to handle many scenarios that do not come up in other games, e.g., what happens if an explored island moves into an area covered by the fog of war?
Of course, there are many other minor challenges like, for example, how to generate good looking and playable archipelagos or how to create an intuitive and responsive user interface. Last but not least, a very common issue that is still challenging is the game economy.
On what operating systems do you anticipate releasing game?
Because we are small team we decided to release a Windows version first, then Mac and Linux.
Of all the aspects of your game, which are you the most excited about?
What pleases us most is the opportunity to create an original title – a game that we want to play and develop further after its release.
We saw that you attended the Game Designers Conference (GDC). How did it go?
We are currently right in the middle of the conference [at the time of this writing]. So far it has been a very successful event. It is a perfect opportunity for us to meet many other game developers, discuss the project, and get to know their point of view. It’s a very refreshing experience. It is also an opportunity to listen to veterans and/or stars such as Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley of Civilization fame.
Before closing, is there anything else you’d like to tell the fans about your game that we haven’t mentioned yet?
We could still say a lot about our game, but it’s probably high time for us to go back to development. For sure, there will be other occasions to talk about the world of Driftland: TMR
We’d like to thank Michal for answering all our questions. If you have any questions about Driftland: TMR, please feel free to post them in the comments below. We’ll direct the developers’ attention there.