Developer Interview: Chip Flory on Fictorum

by Taliesin Coward

A Kickstarter success story, Scraping Bottom Games’ Fictorum is a mage simulator like no other, and Big Bytes and Small Nibbles is delighted to be able to present the following interview with Developer Chip Flory. An action RPG, in Fictorum players are cast in the role of a wizard powerful enough to literally tear castles apart, summon wild lightning storms, unleash shockwaves which send enemies flying, or even turn foes into snowmen (there’s nothing quite like hurling fireballs around with wild abandon, and watching the results!). If you haven’t done so already, be sure to also check-out our review of Fictorum.

Congratulations on creating one of the most delightfully destructive mage simulators ever! Can you tell me about Fictorum’s origin? Where did the idea come from and what were some of its inspirations?

Thank you! It started about 4 years ago when my long-time friend, college roommate, and now codeveloper, Greg [Greg Curran], mentioned that the Unreal Engine is now available to the public for free (if you’re not releasing anything). We’ve both had an interest in game development, but now neither of us had a good excuse to not dive into it. We’ve always enjoyed books, games (our biggest inspirations were The Elder Scrolls series and FTL: Faster Than Light, and movies about wizards, but I didn’t quite feel like there was a game that allowed you to play as one of those world-ending wizards that you hear about. Once we came up with the idea of the shaping triangle, the project grabbed us and took us along for the ride.

Playing Fictorum, your character really does feel like a world-breaker, capable of easily demolishing the largest of fortresses with a rain of fireballs, or wiping out an entire army of foes. Most games only hand this level of power to the players (if they hand it to them at all) a long way into the game, and then only in limited amounts – such as the BFG. How did you balance giving players this much power from the start?

“God-like, but still mortal” has been our standby saying. Enemies are deadly and numerous and the only way of healing is from magical vendors (which becomes increasingly expensive), resting (which allows your pursuers time to catch up to you), or the rare healing potion found in the world.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as landing a fire-ball in the middle of a building and watching the entire structure fly apart in a shower of debris. What were some of the challenges in implementing the destruction physics?

Performance has always been a struggle for us with destruction physics in Unreal. There’s a maximum number of destructible pieces that are allowed in the Unreal Engine and as you get closer to that cap, frame rate suffers. Considering that towards the end of the game you can create spells that will demolish just about everything on the map, it doesn’t take long to hit that cap. We’ve gotten really creative with some of our solutions and have things fairly well managed now, but there are new destruction physics coming to Unreal that will have an unprecedented level of performance that we’re really looking forward to playing with.

Can you tell me about your use of procedural generation – where you use it, and what are some of the advantages and challenges of using this approach?

Our levels aren’t procedurally generated—we tried that approach when the game was in its infancy but it led to really uninteresting looking towns and landscapes. We procedurally generate our chapter map, however.

We fell in love with FTL’s chapter map and the natural, non-linear story and replayability that develops from using one. Our biggest struggle with the chapter map was making it look like a believable mountain range—we’ve gone through three overhauls of it so far and are about to start our fourth.

Combining runes can create some surprising interactions. For example, adding a storm cloud and tower runes to my lightning-bolt spell resulted in a cloud which randomly placed towers which then shot lightning at my foes. Has this system created surprising, amusing or unexpected interactions, and are there any combinations which players should definitely try?

There were absolutely some surprises that we’ve seen. One of my favorites was Frozen Spear with Pierce, Seek, and Bounce, which basically becomes Yondu’s arrow from Guardians of the Galaxy. Other favourites were a transcribed Slow Time with an Echo rune or Telekinesis with Spread. Our players often send us videos of their crazy combos in action and I’m still getting surprised by new ones!

You encourage players to give their feedback and ideas as you continue to develop the game. How has this impacted game development, and how different is the game now from when it was originally released?

The game is drastically different because of the feedback we’ve gotten from players and, as I’m sitting here thinking about it, I can’t imagine what Fictorum would be like without it. Huge design choices like events being displayed on a scroll as part of an ongoing story was a comment from a redditor. The new three spell schools that we’re adding were a great suggestion from a player. Transcription (which allows you to apply runes to abilities like blink or telekinesis) came to be because of player requests. We have plans for a sandbox mode because several players have asked for it. I feel incredibly fortunate that our game has attracted smart, thoughtful, and generally friendly players that are so generous with their ideas to improve a game they love. It’s honestly a dream come true and I love interacting with them.

Are there any future developments planned for Fictorum that you’d like to share?

Right now, we’re working on Fictorum v1.3, which should be out this summer. It’ll bring the aforementioned new spell schools (Earth, Wind, and Corruption), five brand new bosses, significant AI improvements, new unique items, and tons of quality of life changes. We’ve been working towards this for most of a year and we’re very excited to have it nearly done.

Finally, on a more general note, we’re seeing more and more ads for people to enrol in game-design courses (at least we are in Australia). How did you get started in the industry?

Greg and I simply downloaded the Unreal Engine, opened up the third person game type template, went through the in-engine tutorials, and started playing around—YouTube tutorials and Unreal AnswerHub posts almost always helped us whenever we got stuck. We became huge fans of Unreal’s visual programming (blueprints) which is very powerful and intuitive and used that to create 99.5% of the game’s code. I highly recommend it for anyone curious about game development. ■

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