Since I first stumbled upon Shardbound at TwitchCon last year, I’ve been interested in tracking its progression, namely when it went live with its Kickstarter project just over a month ago. I connected with Caleb Epps, who in turn put me in touch with CEO Dave Cerra, Designer Dave Gibson and Art Director Joshua Nadelberg to discuss the project in a bit more detail and share just what makes Shardbound such an exciting project. Enjoy!
Tell us a little bit about Spiritwalk Games. Your team comes from a variety of backgrounds including Riot Games, Disney, EA, etc… Was Shardbound the project that formed this partnership? Or was there something else in mind?
Dave Cerra, CEO: Spiritwalk was formed to make the game that became Shardbound, but we didn’t know exactly what that would mean at the beginning. The founding team came together from the various places you named at EA. We made a game there called Dawngate. After EA moved away from PC free to play and closed that game down, we left. We founded Spiritwalk to create games that we believed in, and to make them with people who we wanted to work with.
How did Shardbound get started, and what were some of the major inspirations in designing the game?
Dave: Shardbound came together very quickly. We are constantly thinking about what’s missing from all of gamerdom that we wish we could play. We saw a gap in the tactical space for a fast, deep PvP experience. We also saw a huge opportunity designing for the intersection of playing games and watching them on services like Twitch. And so the scaffolding of what we thought could be a really fun to play and make, something that we thought would be a real contribution to gaming, was born.
Creatively, there’s a ton of influence on the core design of the game. Everything from Magic the Gathering to Hearthstone on the card side, and from Final Fantasy Tactics to Civ to X-Com on the tactics side. Thematically, there’s a lot of love at the studio for sci-fi and fantasy combos, anime, and modern emerging visual styles that are sort of pan-cultural. We’re blending it all together to create something that we just geek out on making, and that we hope is uniquely Shardbound.
What are some key elements of Shardbound that you think make it unique?
Dan Gibson, Designer: Nothing stands out as a unique element more than the Twitch integration. Since we’ve put that feature live, going home and playing with people who are streaming the game has been my favorite thing. Watching it work with the streamer who has 20 viewers and the streamer who has 3000 is really awesome. While the feature’s still in its infancy, it shows so much promise to the future of playing and interacting directly with streamers in Shardbound.
With such a varied background in game design from other members of the team, what were some mechanics or elements that you wanted to avoid putting into Shardbound, if any?
Dan: I have a lot of hesitance around gameplay focused around hidden information. Of course you never know exactly what cards your opponent has, but at least you have complete information around the state of the board. Things like Stealth cards or Trap cards are interesting design spaces, but often end up simply being frustrating for new players and trivial for experienced players – there are ways to tackle it, but they must really be done with care.
There’s a major focus on Twitch streaming as an element of Shardbound. Why is that?
Dan: On our previous project Dawngate, we worked really closely with a lot of streamers both small and large. It was rewarding both for us as developers and our community, and the impact to the game was fantastic. A major takeaway for us was the importance of streamers and the amount of impact they can have on a game like Shardbound – integrating that into the core design of the metagame seemed like a great way to attract and engage all kinds of streamers.
Do you have any intention of porting Shardbound to a mobile platform once the game officially launches?
Dan: There’s a lot of factors involved, but it’s something we’re definitely interested in doing!
One of the striking elements of Shardbound is the character design of the various factions. What were some inspirations for the look and feel of your character models?
Joshua Nadelberg, Art Director: We wanted to make sure that there was a little something for everybody in our unit design. We have 6 factions, ranging from the technologically advanced Steelsingers, and their robots and exosuits to the Oathkeepers who share a deep connection to magical primal creatures. We wanted to defy expectations a bit, so for example, with the Steelsingers, we designed the robots with these flowing almost Art Nouveau inspired shapes. This gives them a beautiful elegance that’s different from what you might expect from the high-tech mech faction. The Oathkeepers are our tribal/primitive faction, but we spent a bunch of time designing their outfits so they felt modern and finely crafted, while still using traditionally primitive materials like leather and fur. We iterated on the direction of each faction until we felt like we had something special, and then began designing the specific units. Having the visual language for the faction clearly established allowed us to focus on character and personality, and making sure we were clearly conveying each unit’s gameplay in their design. We have been so lucky to work with a team of amazing concept artists and modelers who have brought these characters to life so vividly.
Tell us a little bit about your strategy going into the Kickstarter project. What sort of pre-work did you do? Did anyone on the team have previous experience managing a successful Kickstarter?
Josh: None of us had ever run a Kickstarter before, so we spent some time early on looking at campaigns that we liked, and learning from what other people had done. We had been working on the game for almost two years, which meant we had a beautiful game that was already really fun to play, so there was plenty of material for the video and the Kickstarter page. The thing that we spent the most time on was making sure that we clearly explained the Twitch integration features that we’ve designed into the game. They’re unlike anything anyone has done before, and we wanted people to walk away with a sense for what makes Shardbound unique.
How have fans been responding to this project so far?
Josh: As a studio we believe that online games are essentially communities, so early on we began testing the game with a small group of very engaged players. From day one, they were there to support us, and help raise awareness of the campaign. We’ve also been working with our friends in the Twitch community, inviting streamers to play the game throughout development. They were a huge help throughout the campaign, streaming Shardbound to their communities on Twitch and exposing it to thousands of interested gamers. Overall, we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response the project has received, and we’re so grateful for all of the support and encouragement we’ve received over the course of the campaign.
Mithical Entertainment would like to thank Spiritwalk Games for taking the time to answer our questions! Even though the Kickstarter timeline is closed, you can see the project here. Keep an eye out for the Steam early access period beginning April 6th!