Playwood Project’s medieval tabletop-inspired real time strategy game Wartile recently arrived on Steam Early Access. Featuring stunning, highly detailed digital dioramas and innovative, tactical gameplay, Wartile takes players on a journey through intricately crafted environments as they lead a hoard of Viking warriors through a series of beautifully detailed battle boards, each with its own story and lore.
I caught up with Michael Rud Jakobsen, Founder and Creative Director of Playwood Project, to discuss Wartile’s approach to role playing, turn-based combat and real time strategy while investigating the ways in which Unreal Engine is assisting development.
Wartile certainly seems unique. How did the initial concept for the project come about?
In my childhood, I spent lots of time playing with miniature figurines, building small miniature landscapes and bringing everything to life in my imagination. Today I am still spellbound by the beauty of miniature figures and diorama landscapes, it somehow ignites your fantasy.
This was what we wanted to recreate, the feeling of playing around in a miniature universe, with small figurines and beautifully handcrafted diorama battle boards that suddenly comes to life before you.
We also wanted the action to keep going, not breaking up the flow with waiting on turns, as it would break the immersion. We still wanted to maintain the flavor of turn-based games though and ended up with our figurine cool down system that creates a very unique game play style.
From the intricate animations to the campaign board, Wartile is filled with character and charm. How important was it to this project to capture the feel of bringing a board game to life?
It’s essential to the whole fantasy that we are true to the vision of creating a real miniature and table top feel, of dragging units around, playing cards, etc., while we also enhance the experience by adding special effects and sounds to the environment.
We still want to push it even further, with small birds flying around in the air, grass blowing in the wind, and the shadows of clouds on the ground. It’s a fine balance of keeping the static and physical feel of the miniature world while choosing the aspects that should be brought to life.
In the end, we want the player to feel visually rewarded when entering a new battle board and intrigued by all the mysterious things that are going on. We want players to be connected with the personality of the figurines.
How do the equipment and card systems contribute to the customization of your characters?
Each figurine is unique - even within the same class. They have different stat points and are going to have three unique abilities. By carefully selecting your equipment, certain stats and ability card, the figurine’s role in the battle can be defined. Should it act like an impenetrable wall of defense or should it push and break enemy lines? It’s all about designing your favorite lineup of figurines that fits the different challenges you will meet throughout the game.
How do the various environments impact gameplay?
We chose to use tiles to traverse the environment as it had a huge impact on the tactical aspect of the game. It makes it clear as to where you could move and how the battlefield was laid out, apart from also looking great. We design each battle board in coherence with what type of challenge we want to present to the players. The Lost Norse is about hordes of Undead coming at you. It had to be open, but still with a few alternative yet narrow routes so that the player could avoid getting surrounded. Meanwhile, The Hillside offers high passes and towers exposing the player to enemy archers, or small caves with harden enemy melee fighters and little space to fight.
When we know what challenge and experience we want the player to have, we build the environment around that vision.
Who do you think is the target audience for the game?
Our target audience is almost equally divided between role playing gamers, turn based gamers and real time strategy gamers with some emphasis placed on role playing games in particular.
We’ve experienced some difficulty in penetrating the turn based audience since our look and feel really attracts this demographic, but the cool down game mechanic seems to hold off many players, making them skeptical if they would like the game or not.
Thankfully, our user research shows a very high level of satisfaction, and we are happy to learn that some hard core turn based players end up really enjoying the game and the different take on the turn based genre that it offers.
Why did you choose Unreal Engine for this project?
From the start, we wanted to make a game with a high visual production value, and as an artist and game play designer with no coding background, Unreal’s advanced Blueprint visual scripting system was very appealing. It enabled me and future level/game designers working on the project to actively apply game code, which relieves a lot of pressure on our programmers in the future.
Which aspects of Unreal Engine have you found to be the most beneficial during development?
Overall, we find the workflow in Unreal to be easy to get into and fast to work with. It doesn’t take much effort to make things look pretty from the onset, and it’s easy for the artists to go deep into creating good shaders, special effect or lighting setups in the levels.
Unreal’s Blueprint is a blessing, and we are really happy with it as it enables anyone with an understanding of basic coding practice to code content into the game. Of course, complete C++ source code access also expose the code in a way where anyone can go in and see what is happening inside the engine of the game should they want or need to do so.
You recently entered Early Access on Steam. What type of feedback have you received thus far?
Entering Early Access has been awesome and the feedback we have received thus far has been very positive. We have also received many bug fix requests and suggestions on how we can improve the game and the overall engagement of our community has been great.
We’ve had overwhelmingly positive reviews on Steam and are working hard to make this even better, by attending to bugs, adding content and listening to the concerns from our community.
Where can people go to learn more about the game?
Currently our Steam store page and the community hub is the best place to go, but I could also recommend watching some of the popular Let’s Play videos of Wartile in action on Youtube. We would also like to use this opportunity to send out a huge thanks to Epic for receiving the Unreal Dev Grant, The Danish Film Institute for supporting us through the Danish Game Scheme and also Zaxis for funding us.
For more information on Wartile, visit the game’s official website.