Saga Games
Written by Daniel Westerstal   
Sunday, 25 November 2007

We interviewed Andrew Grierson, Project Lead for the online RTS-game Saga.  Get ready for some exclusive screenshots and inside info.

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What makes Saga different from other online RTS-games?

Two huge differences: 1. Persistency. RTS really comes to life when your city-building and empire-establishing isn't temporary. It's like the difference between a battle and a war. Old RTS only allowed isolated battles that had little meaning in any lasting sense. In Saga, every battle has real consequences. If your buildings are damaged, it's going to take time and money to repair them later. If your troops are killed, it's going to take God Favor to resurrect them. That's pretty exciting when compared to classical RTS strategy, which only sees as far as a battle, or perhaps a few battles in a campaign. Even when logged off, peasants are still working, buildings are being built, and if you're at war, battles are happening without you... 

With thousands of players on the same world, it's not simply a game lobby where you find matches. There is a robust market
system, espionage, guilds, raiding and many other MMO features.

The graphics sure are pretty in Saga, could you explain more about the graphics engine?

Our graphics engine is a work in progress. We've been doing a lot of work over the last months taking it from something fairly simple to a system capable of producing some spectacular scenes. Graphics is something we'll continue to improve forever in Saga, until we're at the leading edge. Good as it might get, it can always get better.

Instead of having subscription fees you require the players to buy a booster pack with troops. What are the benefits with this model compared to the subscription model seen in other online games?

I should point out that players aren't 'required' to buy boosters. There are other ways in game to get more troops and spells. If they like, they can simply "trade up" on the market, or create a thriving economy and buy their troops and spells from other players. Booster packs are just an exciting way of getting your troops. And, it allows us as a developer to forego the monthly subscription. If a player wants more troops and spells right away for a bigger strategy selection in his army, sure, he can buy booster packs, but if he's a little tight financially he can still enjoy the game without having to worry about coming up with a monthly fee. Other MMOs have what I'd call the 'gym membership' revenue model. They know that lots of people hardly use their membership, but it's too much a bother to cancel and restart it all the time, so they make bank off the bad management skills of their players. We try to give players something for their money: the fun of opening a random booster pack. If you want to spend fifteen bucks a month and call it a subscription, great. But we're not going to charge anyone just for access to the game. The game's free, and if you want to support us, you'll spend money, and so far, so good. Players have been supporting us by spending lots even in Beta!

We've also worked hard to design Saga such that the best players aren't at all necessarily the big spenders Simply buying troops doesn't make your army good. Training and equipping your units with better weapons and armor can only be done in-game, by completing quests and PvP. Good strategy in battle is the real key to winning. Buying boosters just helps build your army faster. This also lowers the entry barrier for new players and for casual players. You don't have to be hardcore to play Saga, and you don't have to spend money; the choice of whether to play isn't difficult; start when you want to, drop it for a month, pick it back up, level up slowly or quickly, we accommodate any play style.

Saga has five different factions; Nature, Magic, War, Light and Machines. What are their different characteristics?

Each of the five main races serves their own god, and have their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, giants serve Ari-Alia, the goddess of Light, justice and order. Many humans also serve Ari-Alia, but human troops are found among all factions. The other races follow similar patterns. Here's a basic breakdown:

Nature - Elves and Giants comprise the servants of Nature. They focus on a high movement speed and the ability to do damage quickly in battle.

Magic - Dark elves are the core of the servants of Magic and are the most proficient in using both offensive and defensive magics.

War - Orcs and Ogres are the primary races supporting the god of War. They are the most proficient warriors and are welll rounded in all areas
of combat but have few magical spells to augment them.

Light - Humans and Giants comprise the servants of Light who focus on high defensive capabilities and some excellent flying units.

Machines - Dwarves serve the god Tek who has taught them much about machinery and the strengths of ranged combat.

What sources of inspiration did you have when developing Saga (games, books, movies and so on)?

Most of us have been huge fantasy fans since childhood so we've enjoyed everything from the books to role-playing. It's hard to say which exact
sources have been most influential - the end result, however, is a world that feels familiar to almost anyone who has delved into fantasy. Those who look will actually find lots of easter-egg-like homages to many of our favorite fantasy worlds.

There are two aspects of gameplay in Saga, can you explain their differences?

The two main modes of gameplay in Saga are nation management and battle. The nation building is simliar to most RTS games, except that it takes place outside of battle. You build up your city over time with resources you gain, task your peasants to jobs, develop technologies and increase your economic might, strategize and organize your armies, equip them with gear, etc.

The second main aspect of Saga is of course battle. But all the choices made in nation building affect the outcome of battles. Defensive structures shoot your enemies, houses spawn peasant militia, god favor allows you to cast spells. All nation development is tied one way or another into battling. Questing is a major feature in Saga. Hundreds of quests provide the storyline, and victory in these scenarios brings rewards of gold and other resources, and weapons and armor to upgrade your units. Your troops gain experience and level up. Over time your abilities as a commander also increase allowing you to field and control more units on the field of battle.

These two primary aspects also support one another. If you have a strong and healthy nation you can use its resources to make your army more efficient in training and other areas. Your army on the other hand protects your nation and is a secondary source for income, allowing you to increase your holdings and technology.

Of course, some players will focus on PvP and leave the nation management in chaos. Others will avoid PvP and micro-manage for maximum efficiency. Both are viable strategies, and can be effective working together in a guild, but of course the fastest and best way to succeed is to excel in both areas.

How far from release is Saga?

We're currently aiming for a release during the first quarter of 2008.  Right now we're almost ready to launch our Beta 2 phase. We invite everyone to come sign up at www.playsaga.com!