Interview

How Summoners Fate is trying to build a new kind of turn-based tactics/deckbuilding game

Summoners Fate placed second at The Big Indie Pitch

How Summoners Fate is trying to build a new kind of turn-based tactics/deckbuilding game

The Big Indie Pitch is a regular event run by the makers of PocketGamer.biz.

It sees indie developers engage in a speed-dating-style pitching competition for fame and those sweet, sweet promotional packages.

The event gives indies five minutes to pitch their games to a panel of press, publishers and industry pundits. The judges then pick three winners and everybody gets valuable feedback.

The indie view

The Big Indie Pitch is getting bigger and bigger as we bring it to events all across the world.

To give you an idea of what the event is like, who attends the events and the games on show, we've sat down with a number of past BIP contestants to offer their views.

The Big Indie Pitch goes digital.

This time, we spoke to D20Studios developer Ross Przybylski who recently pitched Summoners Fate as a part of The Digital Big Indie Pitch #7 (Mobile Edition) and walked away with the third-place prize.

PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a little about yourself and your indie studio - who is on the team, and what are their inspirations?

Ross Przybylski: I founded D20Studios in 2009 with the goal of combining the best elements of the strategy genre to create new experiences that can be easily accessed and enjoyed on any platform. The team is myself (game developer), my wife Kelly (marketing), and Peter (art and animation).

We're inspired by classic tabletop and roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons, Chess, HeroQuest, Magic the Gathering and Warhammer. As kids, these games ignited our imagination with the endless possibilities of how we could use creativity to solve problems in fun ways.

Listen to your players. Listen to industry experts.
Ross Przybylski

Can you tell us about the game Summoners Fate that you pitched at the competition? 

Summoners Fate is a turn-based tactics and deckbuilding game that challenges you to command your favourite fantasy characters in novel ways. When I say "novel" - I mean wild and crazy stuff, like hurling a squirrel at an orc. I loved seeing the judges chuckle at the oh-so-satisfying thud the squirrel makes as it donks the unsuspecting monster.

However, even more fun is when you get to play your cards and then mutate that little squirrel into a superhuman hulk squirrel. Then, play another card to "breed" him into an army of superhuman hulk squirrels who overtake the enemy in a most delightful melee.

What do you think are the most unique and interesting aspects of Summoners Fate that players may never have seen before?

Aside from hurling squirrels, you mean? Exploding fireballs that blast enemies into the waiting broadsword of your Barbarian. Guardian angels that fall from the sky to protect you. Time-travelling steampunk rats. I could go on and on with our vast array of unique card and tactics possibilities. But another signature thing about Summoners Fate is the top-down perspective and how the characters look up at you (literally) to command their fate.

We wanted to make the game feel as if your table miniatures came to life and were asking your help to decide their destiny. It's pretty cool, actually, how breaking the fourth wall with the characters giving the player direct eye contact establishes this connection to them that you wouldn't otherwise get from a strategy game.

Summoners Fate is a game that gives the player a lot of choices whilst also blending a range of different genres together, such as turn-based tactical combat, deckbuilding and even free-roam exploration. What made you choose this kind of blend, and what do you think you bring that may not have been seen before?

I think the genre blend is the natural conclusion of the games I mentioned earlier that inspired us. To add to that, I wanted to solve a problem. You see, the kind of games we love playing are harder and harder to access as an adult with very limited time.

With Summoners Fate, we've been perfecting highly intuitive play mechanics that let you jump right into the most exciting aspects of these genres without sacrificing the strategic depth that makes them so immersive. All the staple tactical elements, like timing, positioning, facing and environment are there - but commanding your forces is as easy as dragging a path to an enemy or dropping a card onto the battlefield.

We've also introduced mechanics never-before-seen in the genre, like shield blocking and knockback combos. For example, you can use a giant club or a gravity spell to knock an enemy into an ally who then gets an immediate free attack that avoids the enemy counterattack. A really clever player can use this to set up Rube Goldberg style outcomes that are absolutely incredible to watch unfold - even when you're on the unfortunate end of it.

Our free-roam exploration allows you to traverse an open world and make strategic decisions about which battles to fight or flee, when to rest at a campsite, and when to spend your dice. That's right. Dice are a resource in Summoners Fate. You earn them for winning battles and you roll them to decide the outcome of a fated encounter. Do you free the caged bear? Does he attack, run away or join your team? Roll the dice and... exciting things happen!

How did you come to choose the platforms that you would develop Summoners Fate for?

To make our games as widely accessible as possible, I develop and have our games playtested in cross-platform from day one. Summoners Fate will be available on PC, Mac, iOS and Android and supports cross-platform multiplayer. I aim to take it to consoles as well, though there's some special focus work there, so not until after our worldwide release.

Looking at the studio a little more now, how hard is it to survive as an Indie developer?

Though Summoners Fate is my second indie game title, it's my first full-time project as an indie developer. Having done both moonlight and full-time, I can say that each has its advantages and disadvantages. Moonlighting forces you to prioritise in places you might linger towards perfectionism as a full-time developer. However, if you've also got a family and kids - I think it becomes a necessity to go full-time else you spread yourself too thin.

It's hard to survive and it takes incredible discipline. You have to be willing to commit yourself and go "all-in" to succeed. I constantly explore opportunities - but I can't do them all. I have to carefully manage my most precious resource: time. It takes an incredibly strong support network. Your family must believe in you. Your players must believe in you. And most importantly, you must believe in yourself.

Never question or turn away feedback, even when it hurts to hear it.
Ross Przybylski

Are there any tips and/or advice you would give to an independent developer out there who is just starting out?

Yes. My number one piece of advice is that attitude is everything. More than anything, I've learned that you need to align your outlook positively and embrace patience and gratitude. Don't set unrealistic expectations that just because you make something, people are going to play it.

While modern tools have made it easier to produce games quickly, it's a long process to create a quality game that will resonate with a particular audience and achieve greatness. Listen to your players. Listen to industry experts. Never question or turn away feedback, even when it hurts to hear it.

Take one step at a time. Be grateful for everyone that gives you the gift of their time. Don't just ask others for favours - give help to others. The last one is important. The greatest moves I've made in my career have never come not from something I asked for, but from something I did for someone else without expecting anything in return.

How did you find your experience pitching as a part of the Big Indie Pitch?

It was awesome! While I thrive on in-person interactions, the virtual venue was exceptionally well-organised and it was also very convenient and nice for an indie budget to avoid travel.

I liked meeting such a diverse group of developers from all over the world, all in different time zones, and being able to come together to share our work, our passion with the judges. I highly recommend this to my fellow entrepreneurs.

What do you feel you have gained from the experience, and what do you still hope to gain?

There's an intrinsically satisfying quality to having your work judged. When I'm working through a marathon sprint, I'm hyper-critical of my work and often worry about whether or not it's good enough.

It's validating to receive feedback, to be recognised by industry experts, to feel that your work creates the kind of impact that you intended. It's also valuable to get realistic calibrations from the judges on what I should expect and what I should consider doing to improve.

Image credit: D20Studios

I'm very grateful for our judges' time, and I was amazed at how receptive they were to offer more follow-up feedback. Even now, weeks after the competition, I'm still in contact with them and continue to receive their guidance.

What are your hopes for this game in the future, and do you have any plans for any future projects?

I put all my eggs in the Summoners Fate basket. I aim to grow a positive and engaged player community around it. I want our players to collaborate with us and help us to expand the game for the next decade or more into the future.

It's my hope that when the game launches worldwide, it receives a reception that reflects the countless hours, hard work, love and passion that's gone into its creation. I certainly don't expect Summoners Fate, a turn-based tactics and deckbuilding game to become as ubiquitous as the next Fortnite. However, to the niche audience of fans, the genre blend is designed to serve, nothing would make me happier than to have Summoners Fate known as an exceptionally great game that helped improve the genre in a significant way.

So, if you're reading this interview and count yourself among that group, please accept my invitation to wishlist our game, join our community, share your feedback and let me know your thoughts on what more I can do to make that happen.


Want to show off your exciting new game? We host Big Indie Pitch events throughout the year, so be sure to keep an eye out on our events page for an event near you, or even our new Digital pitches.

All our upcoming pitches including how to enter can be found over on our upcoming events page on BigIndiePitch.com.

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Developer Evangelist & Big Indie Pitch Manager / Special Features Writer

Queen of all things Indie. Sophia is Steel Media’s Big Indie Pitch Manager and Developer Evangelist. She’s also a global speaker and lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that she’s written a thesis on one and lived in the other.

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