Try and shake the image of Czech no-fantasy role-playing game Kingdom Come: Deliverance being a small indie thing. Yes it is crowdfunded, to a degree, but no it isn't small. We're talking about a handsome 3D game world powered by CryEngine 3, and about an experience at least 50 hours long, says Daniel Vavra, the man in charge. Deliverance has a 70-person team behind it. Vavra calls it "triple-A", which may be a little over the top, but the point is it's not far off.
Today we're a year-and-a-half on from the original Ł1.1m Kickstarter campaign and approaching the announced summer 2016 release date on PC and Mac. The technical alpha build, which you can play if you backed the game (and you can still do so), has welcomed sword fighting, and with it the distinguishing feature of the wants-to-be-realistic game. But along the way some things have had to change, so I sat down with Vavra at Gamescom to find out what.
Is it still coming to console?
"We definitely are working on it and it's part of the plan," he says. "Let's say [PC/Mac] should be August or something: consoles are going to be, I don't know, September, for example - not like half-a-year after it. As soon as possible.
"It's on CryEngine so we don't have to port the code. Basically we take the PC version, we run it on the console and it should work, but we maybe optimise the memory," he adds. "A couple of months ago it worked properly, the previous build. It wasn't optimised so the frame-rate was lower but it wasn't a major issue. It's working; it needs some optimisations as always, but I don't think it's that major issue.
Pad controls are already built into the tech alpha that's available to backers. "Currently it plays better with joypad actually," he adds, but with tweaks, the two should be equal.
There's also the potential for virtual reality, as CryEngine supports it and Warhorse, the developer, has an Oculus Rift dev kit. But the tricky issue of motion sickness will need solving first. "We are going to support it," Vavra says. "What I don't know yet is how much work it's going to be or if it's even possible to avoid the motion sickness with the type of game we are making. With, for example, horse riding in first-person, it could cause motion sickness now even without the VR!" Vavra says he suffers motion sickness from VR so it's something he's sensitive to.
What's the alpha and beta roadmap to summer 2016 release?
"We plan to have another alpha in two months or so [said in mid-August] that will have our crime system, so we will finally be able to try to break the world - currently you can't fight with civilians but this will be possible in next iteration," he says.
"And then we plan to have another release sometime around the end of the year, maybe January, that's not decided yet, but it should have all the mechanics. It should be, gameplay mechanics-wise, the final thing with almost all the stuff, and some bigger quests. Right now we have some smaller side-quests to introduce features but we would like to have something more orientated on the story so we can show how it will be told, because so far we haven't told about the story and some people think it's some kind of walking simulator or something, which it isn't, we just aren't showing it yet."
KC Deliverance is not available on Steam Early Access at the moment - only through the game's website - because Vavra didn't want to muddy the message and release something people wouldn't yet understand.
What haven't you been able to do that you thought you could?
"A lot of stuff actually!" he says with a giggle. "It depends. So far I am quite happy but there are some compromises we have to do. For example, we are not sure if we are able to do polearms - it's a problem technically.
"We will have long swords and short swords; all the weapons combined with shields; most likely a sword and dagger, which was a common combination; then we will have maces, axes, sabres; we have bows already; crossbow is another thing that may or may not be there - it would be great if it was but maybe not; then polearms are the issue. We would love to have them in some simple form and improve it later, maybe in the sequel or some add-on, but I'm not sure about it.
"The horse combat is also something really tricky,” he adds. "We are working on it but it may be possible that we will release a simplified version and improve it later, because it's very complicated. I'm not sure if it's good to release a 'bad' version or a too-simple version, or if it's better to wait and release proper awesome version later."
There will also be no multiplayer. Co-operative multiplayer was something people, in a poll, said they wanted, "[but] it's not possible at the moment at all”, Vavra says. "Maybe sometime in the future we will have some form of multiplayer somewhere, but not in this Act One."
Are you still planning another two Kingdom Come instalments after this?Lionhead: the inside story The rise and fall of a British institution, as told by those who made it.
"Initially we split the game into three [instalments] to go to Kickstarter and be able to do it with the money,” he says. "Over time, as we grew up, somehow even Act One [the first game, Deliverance] is bigger than what we planned; so now it's definitely like 50-hour core gameplay.
"We've partially decided that maybe with Act Two [and] Act Three it would be better to release it as one proper sequel rather than two DLCs or two smaller games. So this is going to be one big game, full-scale RPG, and then we would like to sell another even bigger RPG with the additional two acts together."
Whether Warhorse will go back to Kickstarter depends on how well KC Deliverance sells at release. If it makes enough money, Vavra would like to fund a sequel himself. "It would seem to me kind of greedy to go to KS," he says. But Kickstarter also provides benefits beyond simple income, such as helping gauge popularity of a game concept as well providing additional feedback.
Deliverance has had the help of a private investor to realise it. Even before Kickstarter it had had 18 months development and the equivalent of around $3m spent (were the team in the US). Presumably some of the "millions of dollars" are still coming from that investor, and there's also money still rolling in from the public - an additional $700,000 was raised in a year, "so it's not too bad", shrugs Vavra.
Daniel Vavra is outspoken - will the game be?
Daniel Vavra is known for being outspoken on Twitter and for associating with GamerGate. As I see it, he fights against what he feels are - or will be - impositions on his creative freedom. Kotaku's Stephen Totilo broached the topic with Vavra at E3. I liked the article and we talk a bit about it. I wonder, particularly, whether Vavra will use Kingdom Come: Deliverance to air his beliefs.
"That's a funny thing," he says, "because I really do think that I want to be one of those progressive people who are making games to be a little bit more than just 'fun' or pointless action or something. We are actually touching very sensitive topics in the game.
"There is a playable female character and we will definitely show, somehow, how women were treated or accepted in the society at the time, which was very tough for them. Then there might be some racism; there was anti-Semitism, people were very anti-Semitic at the time." And if it's included, Vavra says, it will be a whole narrative - done in depth, in other words.
There's an even trickier topic that comes from that historical period that involves animosity, to put it mildly, between Czechs and Germans. "One of the main motives for the game is that the initial scene in the game is about hatred between Czechs and Germans," he says, "and Germans are our major audience basically! There was a really huge aggressiveness between Czechs and Germans because 30 per cent of people living in Bohemia at the time were Germans, and they were the rich guys. There was a movement against Germans; we were one of the first nationalist countries.
"This also sends a very sensitive or controversial topic and I'm a little bit afraid Germans will be like, 'What the f*** - they are making fun of us?' But that's not the point: we try to show it. And writing it, I should be very cautious.
"So we are doing such things," he adds. "I don't think that many games do it, so it feels bizarre that on top of it you are accused of being something you'd like to avoid to be, just because you don't do everything. I don't follow list of checkboxes of I have to do this this this this this - it's ridiculous. I want it to be smart and interesting but my checklist is different from some politician."