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How a vibrant community is helping shape the future of 60-second RPG Exiles of Embermark

Tim Harris talks us through the latest in Exiles' development
How a vibrant community is helping shape the future of 60-second RPG Exiles of Embermark
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Back in February 2016, Industrial Toys' CEO Tim Harris decided it was time to spin off a new studioto work on a brand new game.

Titled Exiles of Embermark, the game was pitched as a 60-second RPG with PvP mechanics and a deep story dictated by the players themselves.

We spoke with Harris not long after he established the new studio to find out what he had in mind for the game. But six months is a long time in mobile game development and a lot has happened in that time.

You can keep track of the game's progress on its Twitter, Tumblr, and various other social media accounts, but we decided to have a chat with the man himself about what's going on at his new company Gunslinger Studios. It's been six months since we last spoke to you about Exiles of Embermark – how happy are you with your progress on the game since then?

Tim Harris: I'm crazy insane stupid happy. We're a smallish crew at Gunslinger, but we're hungry and evil.

We share a lot of detail out there, so you can see how the game has gone from some interesting ideas and assumptions to a full experience that has a look, gameplay style and setting that should get under some players' skin, and seems to be resonating with our early community.

What would you say is the biggest addition you've made to the game since we last spoke?

I think that's a tie between the evolution of our competitive plus organised play and our narrative system.

From the days when we were playing "wouldn't it be cool if" to now, the PVP system has been changing and getting more interesting.

Our core belief that players want an RPG that lets them bash each other and then, win or lose, take a meaningful step forward in a fantasy setting is still at the centre of our design - I wrote a rant about that here - and the implications of our one minute gameplay have taken on a life of their own.

We'll have the type of PVP options you'd expect – with both normal and ranked matchmaking, but our short sessions mean that events can be executed within pretty short timeframes.

That means that rolling tournaments, challenges and two-man-enter-one-man-leaves melees all become not just playable, but watchable too.

The narrative system is developing into potentially the most interesting thing we're doing with Exiles.

And by "interesting" I mean that it could be the coolest thing ever or a total disaster, and we're excited about that.

Players will have a lot of choices in the game, and many of them will affect the narrative. Some of these choices are ones they'll make every session such as what Quests to undertake, what types of PVP they'll engage with and which events they participate in.

Periodically, they'll also have some qualitative choices - think "Choose Your Own Adventure" - where they have to ask themselves why they're choosing what they're choosing.

All of those choices will affect the way each Season progresses in the game - as of now, a Season is a month of real-time. We'll choose what events open up, what storylines progress and what happens to the global population in Embermark.

Being a "someone", like the Paragon of House Ronin, will be within a player's grasp. Some of this will be reported on in the game and some will show up in the prose of our partner app, Bound, where we'll present the story in episodic chunks.

It's glorious in my own mind right now, but players will have to guide us on how effective this storytelling method actually is.

I reject outright the idea that mobile games can't foster a vibrant community that rallies around the game.

The good news is that we're building the system to translate lots of inputs into the story, and we have a rich lore to build on that players will hopefully find exciting.

How has the community around the game grown over the last six months?

We made a conscious choice at the beginning of Exiles development to take a community-first approach.

We'd share, ask, collaborate and make development choices that were directly influenced by the community.

I reject outright the idea that mobile games can't foster a vibrant community that rallies around the game the way so many communities do on other platforms.

Around April of this year, we branched from centering everything around our own forums to a more natural "where you wanna be" approach that has worked great. Now you can get content of different types in most of the usual social channels, forums, Reddit, etc. and it differs by channel.

Every community around content has different members who engage at multiple levels. We have some who we talk to literally every single day, and some we hear from once a month. And we have our lurkers who never say anything.

And that's awesome. I'm one, or all of, those people depending on what game, comic or another obsession I'm invested in.

The community has grown a ton in the past few months and it's continuing to gain momentum, which we're pumped up about.

We're working on tools to empower it to do all sorts of things, from organising itself to communicating to delivering meaningful feedback that helps shape the game.

You've been very open about the game's development in blogs and social media posts – has feedback from the community shaped the game at all?

Definitely. The Exiles community has been with the game every step of the way and is having an effect on pretty much every aspect, from art and UI to the narrative system in the game and the lore itself.

One player's character already has a guaranteed mention somewhere in the Exiles lore and will be explicitly called out.

Another is already woven into the ranks of an order of Mages that didn't escape from the continent of Embermark when everything was going wrong and then had to survive for thousands of years. If he's reading this, that player now knows who he is.

We regularly post and share equipment, monsters, and ideas for feedback from the community, and there's a constant conversation amongst the dev team about that feedback.

Just today, we let the community decide which dagger silhouette from the art team we'd pursue. Recently, we had the community start asking about how our endgame systems would work, so we started sharing information way before we'd expected to.

The Exiles community has been with the game every step of the way and is having an effect on pretty much every aspect.

Given the fact that the community is always coming up with things that we wouldn't ourselves, we started what we call a "Design Quest" in the game's forums that's a full-on collaboration with the community to design a Zone within the worldmap of Embermark.

They're actively coming up with the history, flora, fauna, and current activity within that Zone and deciding amongst themselves which ideas are the strongest.

We'll then incorporate that Zone into the PVE experience of the game along with some hidden shoutouts to those who contributed.

Another way the community is shaping the game is something that I'm personally very excited about - they're independently creating additional functionality for the community themselves.

Players are building the subreddit for the game. Our open live chat on Discord is always hopping and a player-coded the bot that we use on our server to do everything from "rolling dice" to organising chat events. That stuff fills me with righteous magicks.

Your blogs focus mostly on the game's content, but what kind of monetisation strategies are you currently looking at for when you release the game?

Exiles is about competitive multiplayer and developing a character over time into someone who can withstand the rigors of a sometimes hostile fantasy world.

Which means there will be a need for lots of powerful and different loot. And we're making a tonne.

Concept art for the various tiers of Mage armour
Concept art for the various tiers of Mage armour

Most of the collecting aspects and arms race aspects of the game are centred around loot. We're big fans of offering what we consider to be real value to folks who buy things within our games.

When you buy stuff, you should get stuff. That means things you own and can use in whatever way you like.

Our monetisation is centred around that – you can buy chests and keys, which give you distributions of differently tiered loot that you can also find/earn in the game.

You can also enter events for money, which will always return right around that currency amount in loot/goods/crafting materials etc., regardless of how you perform.

When players start making content about the game, it gives the community something to get into.

Are there any lessons from the launch of Midnight Star: Renegade that you'll be taking into account as you continue on the development of Exiles?

I think it reinforced how watching/viewing/learning about a game contributes to ongoing interest from different types of players.

Although a shooter, Renegade had people streaming on Twitch or broadcasting the game on YouTube and that generated not only additional player interest, but tonnes of content about the game that wasn't made by the developers.

That's a key differentiator for any game that achieves ongoing enthusiasm. When players start making content about the game, it gives the community something to get into that isn't being presented to them directly by the creators.

We want to help that process in every way we can.

Is there any word on when Exiles of Embermark might be released?

I don't have a launch window just yet, but we will begin closed user testing in the next month or two, and look to go into soft launch/beta early next year. Players wanting an invitation to all of that can register on our forums.

Once we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, we'll share a launch window. And then things will get ridiculous.