Narborion Saga Interview

Narborion Saga Interview
I used to love Fighting Fantasy books, I played loads of them and borrowed as many of them as I could from my local library and friends. Time, and technology, has moved on. No longer do you have to scribble hit points in a margin, roll dice, or keep your finger on the page in case you made the wrong decision, because games like Narborion have advanced the genre into the wonderful world of smart phones and tablets.

The Naborion Saga is the brainchild of Dan Csiszár and Dr Tom Pollak, hardcore tabletop RPG players who wanted to make an epic series of fantasy game books. I spoke to Dan about how they started out in gaming and the development of Naborion.

“I started to play AD&D 2nd Edition 23 years ago,” explains lead developer Dan Csiszár, “while Tom started D&D 1st Edition in 1977. We met in a roleplaying summer camp in 1994 and we have been playing together ever since. Both of us like to be Dungeon Masters, we really enjoy creating adventures and telling good stories. When Dragon Magazine was launched in Hungary, Tom was the editor-in-chief and I was editor of the horror section.”

As any old school roleplaying gamer knows, TSR crumbled and took Dragon Magazine down with it, but it didn’t separate Tom and Dan. “We have organized one of the local Summer RPG Camps for more than a decade, and then passed it on to the younger generation a couple of years ago. We still miss it a lot, but it’s not so simple with families, work (and in Tom’s case, grandchildren) now…”

During that time Tom also worked for Novatrade, a Hungarian video games developer famous for games like Contra and Ecco the Dolphin. Novotrade may have gone the same way as Dragon Magazine but Tom’s thirst for creating a fantasy video game has not.

 “Tom approached me in the summer of 2013 with his idea about doing a browser-based PC game in the Fighting Fantasy style. He wanted to make an epic series of high fantasy game books. We started to brainstorm and after a couple of months, the first concept behind Narborion was born.”
Narborion Saga Beast

But it was the love of creating adventures that led both of them to think about developing their own game. “The real inspiration is that we want to be DMs again. With Narborion, we’re creating an almost RPG like adventure for tens of thousands of players. We are supporting them on Facebook, Twitter, email, Skype; it’s really like being DM again. We want to reproduce tabletop roleplaying on mobile, PC, tablet… as much as possible.”

And it’s this lofty goal to create a fantasy world much like an epic campaign of Dungeons & Dragons that drives Narborion forward. “Every effort we make, every development we do, every story we create is dedicated to reach this goal. This idea might be utopian, but if we are able to make what we plan to, we’ll get there. Well, you cannot open a bottle of wine and sit under a tree listening to stories on your mobile, but we’d like to give a much as possible to players.”

So that brings us to today, as the second book of the Narborion Saga, God of Orcs has been released on smartphone and tablets and the Narborion team still have plans to further the game’s release. “Currently we run on Android, iOS and Kindle Fire platforms, but having developed the entire game in a cross-platform environment, we’re currently investigating the options for going to PC.”

The line has been drawn at consoles though, “reading a lot on TV screen is not very convenient.”

The team’s choice to keep to smartphones and tablets has not been the limiting choice you would first assume. Although the game was originally conceived as a PC browser game, the use of a common development platform has made it relatively simple to port the game between devices. It’s also meant that the vision of Narborion was never compromised because of the choice of technology. Getting the game running the same on every device is not quite as simple.

“The nightmare is to optimize for the thousands of different devices out there, as for example the Android OS is almost the same on every device, but the problem is in the word ‘almost’…”

Tim however is a man who developed games for the NES and Sega Megadrive, modern smart phones aren’t really an issue, “A mobile device is stronger than my 3rd PC during my university years and they become more and more powerful, so hardware limitations are really not an issue here.”

Narborion Saga mage

God of Orcs is the second in a series of twelve planned game books, with the third adventure being available around late June, early July. It may only be the second book but a lot has changed since the first in the series. “We redesigned more than half of the engine: we introduced the new grid-like battle system, the ability to upload your favourite figurine as a photo to the game, we have character evolution, a better dynamic storytelling engine, a Battle Arena for the hack-n-slash players, a more friendly monetization, and so on…”

Combat is a key element of the game, and God of Orcs introduced a new grid-based combat system to Narborion
“we wanted to reproduce tabletop combat: a nicely set grid, paper minis, dice rolling... of course we wanted to simplify it as much as possible, but with keeping the options to customize your combat strategy. We set up some basic rules like movement, ranged attacks, melee combat, spells - and the dev team came back with this. I personally love it. We'll keep adding special abilities, like vampiric touch, energy drain, anti-magic, and so on to have as many different monsters as possible. I hope we can recreate the entire Monster Manual at a point.”

But the team’s plans don’t stop there: “We will also start working on parallel game book series, which are not set in the world of Narborion soon.”

“With the new SagaScribe engine behind Book 2, we’d like to offer the opportunity for third-party authors out there to make game books like Narborion. So if somebody has a good story and is looking for a game engine, he should contact us right away!”

Narborion Saga Combat

By already deciding on a set of twelve books the team could be accused of making a rod for their own back, but the team’s willingness to change has meant that the story and software has the power to adapt.

‎”It will most surely change a lot, based on user feedback but the general direction and the overall story concepts are there. From around Book 4, you will have to make difficult decisions that will affect your long term fate. Moral ones, then ones about character development, taking sides and so on - the story will get more complicated at that point.”

With such a rich story, background, characters and even an in built combat system, where the team every tempted to make Narborian an old school tabletop RPG?

“I would love a Narborion pen-and-paper RPG or boardgame. If someone out there is willing to dedicate the effort, we’d be happy cooperate.”

I would like to thank Dan for taking the time to answer my questions. Books 1 and 2 of the Narborion Saga are available free for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire.

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