Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga Interview
Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga is a retro-inspired strategy RPG received a surprise release on June 10, 2022, for PC on Steam. We interview one of the developers of the game, Phil Hamilton, of Dancing Dragon Games about the game’s inspirations, gameplay mechanics, and future. This interview is a transcription of a live recording, with some edits for conciseness; the full audio is available at the bottom of this article.
Johnathan Stringer (RPGamer): Hello, this is Johnathan Stringer from RPGamer.com and I’m interviewing Dancing Dragon Games developer Phil Hamilton, who has just recently released Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga. How are you doing today, Phil?
Phil Hamilton (Co-Founder, Dancing Dragon Games): Good, how are you?
JS: I am doing great. I’ve been playing his new game after seeing recommendations on social media. It looked like it’s right up my alley, so I jumped in, and have really been enjoying it so far. I haven’t quite beaten it yet, but I’m probably halfway or a little over halfway through. I want to toss it over to you to give us an overview and description of the game from your point of view.
PH: My partner and I’ve been making games for twelve years on the side. This is the first game where we’ve fully dedicated our lives. I actually resigned from my job and just completely threw myself into this one. We started making an engine for a strategy RPG game basically in RPG Maker, and people’s jaws hit the floor when they hear RPG Maker, but it’s done after six years.
It took a while, and there’s very little RPG Maker left in the game. You can barely notice that it was made in the engine because it’s all just been covered up by this custom engine that we’ve got now. It’s inspired by the greats; if I could name a few, we’ve got Ogre Battle as a really, really big one. People are immediately clinging to as “oh, the devs probably like this game.” And yes, guilty as charged. We’ve got Soul Nomad and Vestaria Saga. We’ve got Advance Wars in there. We’ve got Heroes of Might and Magic in there and, you know, a very, very popular SRPG series that starts with F that we all know what that is.
So, it ended up becoming kind of its own thing. I name all those games, but I think a lot of people have actually realized that this isn’t an Ogre Battle clone, it’s just Symphony of War. It’s just a new thing, and the reception has been insane. You know it’s been really, really cool, so we definitely know now we can continue on and make more, and make it a whole series so… that’d be great, yeah?
JS: I’ve been playing it, and I definitely see the Ogre Battle connections there, obviously with the battles and the way that’s done. But, to me, like you said a series that starts with “F”; it really feels most similar to a Fire Emblem game in most aspects, at least from my point of view.
PH: Yeah, depending on the person you ask, you get that, you get Ogre Battle, sometimes you get Soul Nomad.
JS: Besides yourself, can you give us an overview of the development team and who did what to make this game?
PH: Yeah, the concept was mostly my vision, put to life by my partner Mithran. I really call it not mine or his, but we came up with it. It couldn’t happen without him. But I did the story. I did the music. I did the level design, basically a lot of design decisions and all that stuff. And my programmer did the programming, the engine level stuff, like the under the hood stuff, right?
I guess largely after the story was written, the cutscenes were made, the levels were made, the music was written, and all the art was made, I basically then functioned as a project manager. I was interfacing with contractors, mostly art contractors, because I can edit stuff pretty good and especially because I have to resize things and edit things to have them fit into the game as game assets. But original art is a skill that neither of us really have in terms of a really refined professional skill. So, we hired out for that.
I manage those relationships, I manage the business, and the relationship with our publisher Freedom Games and all that stuff.
JS: So it’s mostly a two-man show then?
PH: Yeah, other than hiring out for sprites, portraits, and a little bit of voice acting, it is almost entirely just myself and him.
JS: Wow, so I guess that’s why it took six years. That’s a ton of work as it seems like a very large rich game with a lot of text.
PH: Yeah, we’re actually working on translating it now, most likely, but there’s a lot of text in it so, that that becomes a monumental challenge.
JS: What languages are you planning to translate it to?
PH: Well, I can’t make promises yet, but the plan is French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. Those plus English when all is said and done. I hope we can succeed in this this effort, but we don’t know yet.
JS: So, you wrote the story, and besides the inspirations we talked about already in Ogre Battle, Fire Emblem, and Soul Nomad, are there any other inspirations or ideas for the story, setting, and the plot?
PH: Yeah, I’m going to point to Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War. If you’ve played Symphony of War, you definitely see this is as Genealogy of the Holy War. You see a little bit from other entries, but you know how in Genealogy you have the holy blood, holy crusaders, and you have different generations and this kind of ancient lore that is tied directly to those holy crusaders? That’s kind of the linchpin for the whole story, as it is just bad guys messing around with those bloodlines basically. And it is not like bloodlines as much as it is just a kind of a divine metaphysical aspect of the characters.
The plot is very similar. It’s a political struggle largely enhanced and in the backdrop of that kind of divine struggle between a god-like evil and a god-like good. For most of the game, though, it is largely just a war game. You’re fighting a rebellion, then you’re fighting in a civil war, then you are a rebellion for a little bit, then you become a massive army and you become the big boy around the block.
JS: The story is pretty engaging so far, and I’m liking it. I don’t want to spoil anything though, for those who’ve yet to check it out. You said six years of development time, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced and overcame?
PH: I think the challenge was just how long it took for the engine to actually get done. You know, to write the script, and to make the cutscenes, and to write the music… basically everything I had to do, it probably only took about two years. But the rest of the engine was a larger undertaking, to say the least. So, what happened in those extra time in between was revision, after revision, after revision. So, this game luckily benefited from a lot more time.
I think it usually is good for things like the writing, and the character development, and level design. The level design got lots of revisions in that time. And, you know, writing, just let me just put it out there, that I’m working on that skill. I’ve become a lot better in this game, and so I think in the next game you’ll see a big improvement there. That hasn’t been my focus before this game really. I mostly make a plot just to be an excuse for the game to happen, and then the gameplay is the meat where the rubber hits the road.
Now keeping that in mind, the level design has definitely been a focus, and so I was able to really put tons and tons of my best creative energy into the level design part. So hopefully that comes across in the gameplay end.
JS: I see that, and I think it has come across. It looks like a lot of care has been given to it and I would say the writing has been solid so far. Especially when compared to a lot of this game’s inspirations and 90s Japanese RPG stories. I think this story has depth to it. I would say there are times it is maybe hit or miss, and like you said, it is you learning how to be a writer. But overall, I feel it’s very solid.
Probably the one thing that, if you don’t mind a critique as part of this interview, would be the relationship stories. While some of them are good, they seem a little disjointed sometimes from the main story. Maybe it’s just the nature of those things that it’s hard to tie them in, but other than that, I think it’s a great job so far.
PH: Right, and I don’t disagree with that at all. I think one of the challenges of having this really open-ended relationship system with a linear story is I had to kind of… so you see, here you have an outdated conversation feature, and then there’s some events in the story which actually prevent the bond from happening because of story events. So that is a challenge to juggle that, but I think what we wanted to do is sacrifice a little bit of story, immersion, and suspension of disbelief to give the player the ultimate flexibility in who they pair off with. But yeah, I would agree with that.
JS: I guess spoiler alert, there are potential romances in the game. Though I’m not really sure how some of the bonds happened. Because I was just playing along, I read the convos, after each battle when they come up, and then suddenly I had a romance and I’m with this person, and I didn’t even know how it happened.
PH: So Fire Emblem has, I think, trained a lot of SRPG players that you kind of need to grind, like affinity, and there’s nothing like that in this game. We really focus on removing things that are not fun, and I always thought that was not very fun. And so, it’s very, very simple in this game. It’s just story progress and progressing through the conversations. That’s literally it.
JS: So how would you pick which person you romance? Do you have to be closer to them in battle, or just happen to click on their stories?
PH: No, it’s literally just story progress and then go through the conversations. You get to Chapter 6, and then this conversation opens up, and then the conditions for the bond is eventually get to Chapter 18 or whatever, and then you’ve watched this conversation. That’s literally it. And once you bond off, then those two characters are excluded from anybody else for the rest of the game.
JS: I want to jump back over to the gameplay. You said a lot of attention has been put there and the combat. To me, what always seems one of the most challenging things to do in the game is AI. So how much effort was put into there and how tough was it to get the enemy AI just right?
PH: Yeah, the AI was kind of the frosting on the cake. It was the one of the last features that we had going pre-launch. And it’s still on our road map to refine the AI. They still do a couple of weird things, like choose odd attack types and all that. But I actually think that AI went swimmingly well. We created a rough draft, and then we went into early beta testing, and players liked the rough draft a lot. So, we kind of went with the rough draft and continued to iterate on it. We did make a lot of improvements to it before the end of the closed beta. So those did make it into the full launch, but yeah, an important point that the road map is continuing AI refinement, so that it gets smarter and the game will get a little harder.
JS: Well you have the threat mechanic which is supposed to help decide, if the AI have multiple targets, which of your troops the enemy will attack, correct?
PH: So that is actually something you can predict, almost with absolute certainty, based on the threat rating of a squad. If the enemy can go for the lowest threat, it will. It’s basically a measure of how scary the squad is to other people. Am I going to go attack this 20,000 threat rating versus this 5,000? Yeah, of course I’m going to go to the one with 5,000. So that is an absolute predictor currently.
JS: Does your threat lower if one of the units in your party dies?
PH: Yeah, it adjusts. And there’s an item called the Noisy Cricket, which adjusts down the threat rating artificially in a kind of hidden way so that a really high threat squad has the potential to attract more attacks than it normally would have.
JS: I could tell if one of my units starts to get beat up a little bit they just swarm them, the enemy swarms them and kills them off.
PH: Oh yeah! They’re already pretty cruel, and on harder difficulties we plan to make them much more cruel. They’re going to actually make sacrifices just to go after a squad with more healers, for example. They’re going to be really mean and really clever.
JS: One thing I want to talk about with the Ogre Battle references. I’m a huge Ogre Battle fan, Tactics Ogre and Ogre Battle 64…
PH: Right on!
JS: The combat, for those of you may not know, instead of just having one character be a squad, you basically have the character as a leader and then you fill in that group with up to eight other units. The squad can expand bigger if that leader has a higher leadership rating, and if your units have a higher loyalty, then their leadership costs will be less. So I really like that you can you can grow your team with increasing leadership. I think that’s a really cool mechanic and is something new, a new wrinkle added.
But the thing I wanted to ask is about the positioning in the three rows. Why are there no different attacks for classes in the different rows?
PH: Well, when we designed this system, one of the foundational pillars of the design, was that we know that we have squads, and so we also know that there’s going to be a lot of micromanagement. So, what we did was we made every character class — and there’s a whole lot of character classes — do one thing, and on very rare occasions they do two things. Like you have a valkyrie or a paladin who can heal if somebody is below 50% HP, otherwise they’ll attack. You have a samurai who has a bow, so if you’re from range he uses the bow and if you’re up close he uses his spear. But the vast majority of the classes just do one thing, and so we strictly kept to that design principle of no matter what you do with this class, no matter where they are, they will just do that one thing.
And then the other part of why we did that… Because, you know, Ogre Battle has those positional changes, but a work in progress is we have aggressive, cautious, target leader, and force surrender tactics that you can use. Currently, other than forcing a surrender as it works just fine, the other ones are just stats changes. We want to change that entirely so they’re not stat changes at all. Well, probably we’ll keep some, but they will change what type of attack everyone does. So, a healer might not heal, and might actually try and inflict a status debuff if you’re doing a very aggressive maneuver. Cautious might make it so that your heavy infantry only attack once, but then they have a big damage mitigation in that exchange for example. So that is a major feature plan for the future, therefore, we didn’t want to add yet another layer of positional based attacks onto that. We thought that would be too confusing, too micromanagey, knowing that the tactics eventually will change those.
JS: One aspect of it is I can protect a unit if I move them back, but then they lose an attack. It is kind of a risk/reward thing to move them around in your group. But for the most part, right now, positioning is just more of who’s protected from melee attacks, right?
PH: Right, and there’s a couple other considerations there, like if you are going up against a lot of fire mages, you can assemble yourself in a thin line. Because they sideswipe attack there, and if you have your guys arranged in a nice, neat row for them to burn down, right? So, you can look at the map beforehand and see, oh, there’s a bunch of fire mages here, so instead of being a wide three columns, I’ll be two columns. So that way those fire skills only hit two at a time or one at a time, right?
JS: Right. So, most units get 2 rounds of attacks, right? I think the gunners initially only get one, unless you spec him out to get another. Is there any consideration with some of these upgrade classes to, you know à la Ogre Battle, get three attacks instead of two, or get one group wide attack upgrades like that?
PH: Yeah, so that’s another feature of the Ogre Battle series that we’re aware of, that we literally did not want to include because we have the morale feature. Which as you’ve probably experienced already, when it’s a little bit high, or very high, you have an increased chance of extra attacks. We didn’t want to then trivialize that feature by just giving a whole bunch of extra attacks to a class.
JS: Do you get the extra attacks if your morale is just high, or do you get them if your morale is higher than the enemy?
PH: You get them if it’s high. It doesn’t consider the difference and the enemy also has a chance for high morale extra attacks.
JS: Interesting. Another thing I noticed is in the way you have combat not done by an initiative or a speed rating. It’s more Fire Emblem; your side gets to go, their side gets to go, in that regard.
JS: But also, even in battle, the attacker always attacks first, so it’s kind of an attacker’s advantage I’ve noticed. In Ogre Battle, it feels like unless you just have a superpower squad, squads have to battle each other multiple times before you really start killing each other. In Symphony of War, it feels more like Fire Emblem where you attack them, you do a lot of damage, and you can easily wipe their squad/unit out in one attack or two attacks, maybe three at most. Fill us in on that design decision and some of the thoughts you had behind it.
PH: We are probably going to continue to do balance patches that address the intended amount of exchanges that we want players to do. That said, you know with the Steam review rating the way it is, we’re very cautious to mess with it. I mean, we really don’t want to… you know… the people have spoken. The secret sauce is in, right? So, if we change it. They might go, this game was good, now it’s not, so thumbs down, right? But I think there is definitely an ongoing precedent for us taking a look at how many volleys it takes for that combat to resolve, knowing that there is such a heavy advantage to whoever phase it is. You will find that if you don’t properly prepare for the enemy phase, and on higher difficulty levels with permadeath on, I’ve gotten myself into situations where like oh, never mind, I just lost half my guys.
JS: Oh, it’s definitely easy to lose your guys in that regard, that’s true. Especially when you’re fighting cannons and gunners.
PH: Yeah, yeah, especially firearms troops that have the initiative, just don’t be on the wrong side of those ever and you’re fine.
JS: I guess I didn’t mean that to sound as a criticism at all, but more of what was the thought process in the design decision?
PH: I think the thought process was, and no I didn’t take it as a criticism, that is kind of one of the fundamental core loops of Fire Emblem that we didn’t deliberately remove. And in Ogre Battle, you have the agility stat which does mix up who gets to go first. In this game, we didn’t have that.
We have what’s basically a volley-based system. So you have your archers and mages go first, and then your melee goes. Yeah, it’s just kind of the way it turned out, and I think in the future players should try to expect we will most likely rein in some of these, really powerful offensive tactics that the player can do if they mass a certain amount of units. Which, right now, looks to be dragons and mages that just get bad if you have two to three in a squad. They’re hard to get. They’re expensive late game units with rare resources that are required, but once you do get three of them in one squad, they just steamroll stuff really hard. And the enemy also has some squads that have three mages and three dragons in them too, and they are really tough to take down. I think in the future it’s probably that we will rein in some of those super overpowered mass tactics, and/or increase the max HP of enemies on higher difficulties. Just so that it’s a little bit more difficult to alpha strike your way to victory every single time.
JS: Yeah, I have some mages in my parties and when you upgrade them, they’re very satisfying to use. So, my ice mage just goes and blasts people, and the animations that come up are pretty cool. I got a kick out of the first time that happened and just that one mage decimates groups sometimes by itself.
PH: I think some of my favorite animations are the mages, especially the fire mage and how he does that swipe and then the wall of fire goes across. I get to brag a little bit about that because I didn’t do it. That was an extremely talented sprite artist that made that.
JS: I saw some talk in the Discord today in your dev-blog that there’s been criticism of the portraits. And if we’re talking about art and such, I do like the sprite work, it’s really good. One of the things I really love, and it kind of reminds me of Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, are some of the background art. I think there’s one in like an inn maybe or around a bar. I like some of those background still-art pieces, and the sprite work, but can you comment on some of the art direction changes you were talking about in the dev-blog?
PH: Well, so the portraits… have you’ve heard of Legends of Runeterra? And I’m sure you’ve heard of League of Legends. So, the guy who did the portraits actually does splash screens for those games, but he did them six years ago before he started working on those games. And so, there is, I think, a skill gap between then and now. That’s why he eventually just stopped working for me as a contractor, because he got those jobs. But, I think there is kind of an inconsistency. I think the female heroine sprite is an example of one that looks great. I love how that one looks, and then you have some others that aren’t quite as quality as her. So, that’s my personal biggest gripe with how our portraits are now, it is just the inconsistency.
Some folks are saying that it’s a stylistic clash. I will admit that can get a tad… well, you know it’s a portrait suite, how many games completely replace their portraits, right? It’s quite an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. Mostly time consuming at this point, because it would take three to six months at least, to get that sort of job done. So, it’s mostly consideration for the future, and looking at the different types of art styles. Like these portraits are painterly. They’re not line-art, they’re not cel-shaded, they’re just… you take a really, really, high-resolution painterly base, which is 5,000 pixels tall, and then you interpolate it down to squeeze it into the game. I think a lot of the original quality kind of gets lost. Whereas, if you go with a line-art style, or a cel-shaded style, then it looks more video gamey. I think that’s the word I want to go with because people call it pixelated. Well, you don’t really want it to be pixelated or sharp, well sometimes sharp is not good. So what we’re looking for is video gamey!
An example is Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. It has very much a line-art style. It’s not anime, it’s just the Fire Emblem style. Cartoony, I think, would be another good descriptor of that. And that would much more closely match the style of the animated sprites. Nobody doesn’t like those, everyone is gaga over those.
JS: They’re good, and I would say from my point of view I don’t think the portraits are bad on their own by any means. It’s just I can see where it does feel like a little bit of a clash sometimes. Or so at first it more catches you off guard, but now that I’ve been playing the game, I don’t even really notice it anymore. So, I think maybe it’s just more of a first impression.
PH: A lot of people have said the same thing. They’re used to it. So now I’m like, hey, if we’re going to be looking here, if we found that perfect artist who can do those line-art portraits and say we actually redid the ones from this game, I think at this point it’s too late. I think people would actually be like “Oh no, we liked the old ones.”
JS: One other thing I was going to ask that I haven’t seen much of yet. Do you have any plans, maybe for this one or the future, maybe I’m missing it, but are there any secrets or unlockable type things to find?
PH: Well, so the unique mercenaries are kind of a Pokémon “Gotta catch’ em all” situation. There’s a whole bunch of them in there and you can potentially not find all of them in one run. So, that’s a little bit of RNG-based “what am I going to get?” There are two different endings, with a whole bunch of different outcomes based on how you paired off your characters. So, there’s a little bit more of those kind of discoverables. In terms of like secret classes? Not really. I mean, there’s unlockables like the firearms tree and the dragon rider tree, which are explicitly told to you in the tech tree. Not in the traditional sense, in terms of secrets, but it’s really more just a giant amount of stuff that you can get that you won’t necessarily get in every play. Some folks might call it a crapshoot. I like to call it just more of a fun gambling aspect. Like you’ll get Cloudrender Athelis, which is one of the best unique mercenaries, in Mission 6, and he’s a silver dragon rider with crazy high stats. So he will completely change the game for you for many, many missions, or sometimes you’ll never see him.
JS: Nope, I never saw him and did not get him in my playthrough.
PH: Very rare, very rare.
JS: So, no Ogre Battle treasure “find out,” huh?
PH: Just like the ones that don’t even show up on the map? No, nothing like that. You can see them all.
JS: You mentioned earlier the reception has been great. I think as of today it has “Overwhelmingly Positive” reviews on Steam with 1,300 reviews. How has the reception overall been for you? And, obviously no need to divulge sales numbers, but has it met expectations, far exceeded, or maybe you hoped it was better? What is your feeling right now?
PH: Exceeded expectations for sure. The Steam reviews… so my other game, that did somewhat well, is called Skyborn. It’s a JRPG from back in way ancient history. In 2012 we put it on Steam. It Still has about 500 reviews at around 88 to 90% positive. So, a small hit, but not a hit like this. I’m absolutely shocked at the reception that this game has got. Knowing now that there’s so many people that were just starving for Ogre Battle-style, squad-based auto-battler core loop. I guess there was just a starved market. If you think about it, there really hasn’t been a great deal of big development studio love given to this genre at all. And even looking at Fire Emblem, even though this is I think further from Fire Emblem than it is close to Ogre Battle, is kind of getting away from what I consider peak Fire Emblem. My favorite Fire Emblem entries are a little bit in the past… Awakening, Path of Radiance, Radiant Dawn, and Genealogy. Of course, that’s very ancient Fire Emblem, but Three Houses didn’t really resonate with me.
I guess just this whole thing has been not neglected entirely, but certainly not given enough love by established studios, and so we kind of slid into that niche at just the right time. And we’re super stoked and definitely going to embrace that. I want people to know that because of the reception, because of your support, we are going to do a lot more improvements to Symphony of War than we had originally planned. We’re going to continue to do what we originally planned, but we’re going to add some more campaigns, like DLC campaigns, in the future. Game modes are coming, like post-game and new game plus type stuff. We don’t know exactly how we’re going to do that. That’s going to be just part of the free regular patch updates, content updates. But whole new campaigns, like an entirely different main story, which is obviously a much bigger undertaking. I did not plan on doing one of those, but I definitely am now. I think it’s just very appropriate, so that would be my opportunity to thank the community. Obviously, it’s because of you, and because of your support, that we can make Symphony of War a robust ongoing series.
JS: I guess you’re kind of on a developer high right? You created this thing after years and people like it. There’s not much more rewarding than that, huh?
PH: Absolutely! You don’t go into indie game development thinking you’re going to make a whole bunch of money. Maybe there’s a game that you wish somebody else had made and they just didn’t get made, ever. And so, you’re like, screw it, I will make it, and that’s actually one of the reasons behind this game. It doesn’t exist, so let’s just make it. And yeah, getting people saying that this scratches an itch they haven’t had, and didn’t even know they had. Or “I haven’t had an Ogre Battle type experience for years, thank you. Finally, you made this.” That’s so rewarding. That’s huge. I could go on forever about just that, hearing the impact on people, but I will stop myself.
JS: I’ve seen you very much engaged in the community Discord with all the fans that have jumped on. And even since I joined there, every day the general chat gets spammed with more new people coming in. So, it’s really catching on and spreading. What would you attribute the popularity it’s recieved? I know indies have a hard time getting noticed on Steam. There’s just so many indie games. How did how did Symphony of War catch on?
PH: Well, I have to give props to our publisher partner Freedom Games, in terms of how it was released, and when it was released, during that IGN spot. It was a surprise launch, which goes against the instinct of a lot of established industry standards. But we just decided to do it, and kind of not so much a Hail Mary, as much as a calculated risk. So, we embraced that, and we did it. I do also think that it’s literally just an underserved market that was out there. They were hungry for something like this.
Frankly, I got to admit, when I first got my hands on the engine, when we finally were able to put it into a playable thing, I was like this is really fun. I didn’t even expect it to be so. I did like just the fact that you don’t have to control the battles, you just set it up in the home base phase, and then you just watch it play out. And it plays out in a way where you can actually make sense of what’s happening. Like Advance Wars, you clash, you can tell what’s happening, but it’s not turn-by-turn this happened and this happened. What we’ve done is fast paced, but you can still tell, ok, my mages did this, my archers did this, and then my melee troops did this. So, it was almost a happy accident. Mithran, the partner, was like, “oh, this is fun” and this was maybe a year before we launched. We were in the very early phase of the actual game coming together. Call it a happy accident if you want, I don’t care, that’s fine, it just turned out.
JS: That’s awesome. A lot of gamer devs dream that they make a game they love as a passion project, but that is also successful, right? It’s great to hear and congrats on that.
You started answering some of my future questions already, which is what’s next for Symphony of War? And a lot of people are going to ask for a console release. Is it just going to stay on Steam, or do you have other platforms you might be looking to explore?
PH: So, that’s killing me. We’re currently at a bit of a dead end on console release. It would be on Switch, and I think it would do very well, and function very well on Switch. I’m currently trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between those systems, and I very much hope for a miracle breakthrough on that one. I would say people should expect no earlier than mid 2023 for a Switch release. Though, don’t wait for Switch, just buy it on PC. But if we can, absolutely. We will pour, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into a Switch release. I guess the silver lining there is it’ll have that much more time to get bug fixes out and more quality-of-life features in before it hits the Switch.
In the meantime, we’re continuing to work on Symphone of War 1 [the current PC release], and the current project is the UI/UX redesign. We’re greatly reducing the amount of clicks you need to do, kind of rearranging the menus. We’re going to blow it up so there’s more space for more information. We’re going to add more middle mouse button functionality so that it can work on any window as right now it’s a page up page down function. We’re going to probably add click and drag functionality from the base organized menu, so instead of having to go into squad operations, you can just click on a guy in your reserves and just drop them off in your squad. That’s the major project now.
Then, as I said, DLC campaigns. Something we did not plan on doing in the future, but we definitely will be now. I’m talking like an entirely new story, like you start from square one. And that would be concurrently with post-game features using your current save, so if you clear the game, then you can do either some kind of new game plus feature or an extra hard final boss mode game mode. Or some kind of sandbox mode, like an endless rogue-like mode, or a defense mode, or something like that. We’re playing around with a lot of ideas on that.
JS: This makes me think to ask, back on the Switch thing. What’s the limiting thing, or the struggle there just getting it ported over? What’s the set back there or the challenge?
PH: The engine. There is an engine layer down on our engine that we’re using that seems like it’s out of production at the moment, and so we would either need to revive that in order to bridge the gap between the Switch Dev Kit, or we would have to find, I guess you would call it, a port studio to pick up the pieces of that program and figure out what it does and how it works, which is difficult to do. Or rebuild the entire game in a different engine. Obviously, we want the first option to happen, because that’s the one that’s by far the easiest, and presents minimal technical barriers. I’ve got to say that’s killing me because this game would be such a fun game on Switch, and I really want to get it on there, and I can’t definitively say if we can or not at this point.
JS: I think it would be a hit on there, and to me, would be a really good candidate to pair up with a Limited Run Games for a physical release and that kind of active promotion. I think this kind of game is made for a partnership with the people like Limited Run, at least in my opinion.
PH: Yes, absolutely, yep.
JS: You’ve talked about these updates and changes to the first, but I’ve also heard you talking some about your plans for Symphony of War 2. A couple questions there. Where do you do the cut off between enhancing, or adding, to the first game instead of just pushing that effort into the second game.
PH: We’ll have to make that call. In terms of adding to 1, I think we are going to cut it off at basically the game modes and the quality-of-life changes that we wanted to put in the 1st place before launch. The UI/UX redesign, the sandbox/new game modes, that sort of thing. Then, I already actually have a whole bunch of the script for Symphony of War 2, and a lot of the cutscenes already done. But there are some unit types — and I guess I will tease this, undead, that don’t exist in Symphony of War 1, that we’d like to possibly include in just a gaiden story, or an entirely new campaign in Symphony of War 1. Just to be able to introduce that entirely new meta in Symphony of War 1 so that it can already be trained up in the player base for Symphony War 2, without having to specifically focus on an undead part of the Symphony of War 2 main story. Is that making sense?
JS: It does, yeah. Would you say these new stories would be related to the first game in just gameplay, or sequels, or in the same world? How do you envision that happening?
PH: A good question. The second game, what I’ve already made, actually takes place about 100 years after the end of this game. The characters that exist in this game have aged out of that timeline. But it is a direct timeline sequel, so I guess you could call it a sequel series rather than a direct sequel. We’re going to try our best not to retcon very much. Symphony of War 1 is in the same game universe of all of our past games, but it’s been retconned crazily to adapt to what we wanted to do in this game. We’ll try and keep that to a minimum for the next one.
JS: And then how do you avoid stealing ideas, or borrowing from your DLC campaigns, versus the storyline you have in mind for 2 and tying those all together? What’s your thought process or strategy on that?
PH: Well, like I said with the DLC that I want to do on Symphony of War 1, I haven’t even written it yet. I could take advantage of the fact that Symphony of War 2 does start 100 years after Symphony War 1 ends. So, a lot of things can happen in between there that don’t necessarily need to define what happens in the future of he game world.
JS: One of my last questions here. You’ve seen a lot of feedback and Symphony War 1 what are some of the things, besides what we have already talked about, that you are considering doing updates on?
PH: It’s largely been UI/UX feedback that people are asking for, and that is our focus right now. And some folks have asked for like new game plus. I don’t think we’re actually going to end up doing a traditional, straight-up new game plus, where you just replay the exact same campaign, but everyone’s levels are higher. We want to do something that is actually a sandbox mode that is in the main campaign. So, let’s say you wanted to train up some of your B-list squads, or your younger squads. You could have some skirmish or barracks training mode that wouldn’t be necessarily a way to grind, per se. Because we don’t like making players feel obligated to grind, as that shows that maybe there’s a weakness in the core gameplay. We want it to be an extra thing that you want to just do. Maybe it restricts you from bringing unique characters into it that typically are going to be very powerful out of the gate, like you see with your Dianas, and your Lysanders, and your Beatrix. Maybe you could just be restricted from bringing those. We haven’t really figured out the details yet, but it’s going to be not something that you need to wait to beat the game to do. It’s going to be part of just your first play. You go into your home base, I’ve got my arena tokens, maybe I want to do that, or maybe I want to do the skirmish mode and train up some of my lagging squads, and maybe I’ll just do that.
JS: Since you’ve already started on the second game, or some ideas with it, any things you can share as far as major gameplay changes or units that you’re adding? Or is it going to be more of the same as 1, but with new story and assets, or do you feel like you’re building upon the gameplay and classes and just changing things up?
PH: The major addition to any DLC we do with Symphony War 1, would be new classes and a new story. The gameplay loop I don’t really want to mess with that too much. It is kind of the secret sauce that people are liking. But the fact that new units are coming in do inherently present a change in the gameplay meta. Like I said, and I’ve been open with this in Discord, undead is what we want to add. With undead you have… you’ve played Heroes of Might & Magic?
JS: Yes, oh yes.
PH: Yeah, both me and the other developer are huge undead Heroes of Might and Magic nerds, and we want to draw…
PH: What’s that?
JS: Sandro, he was always the undead hero I picked in Heroes of Might & Magic.
PH: Oh yeah, I don’t remember which hero I picked. I think I change between the ones that give you better necromancy and then the ones that just have better active magic. I’d just like to mix it up a little bit.
For this one, it’ll take a lot of cues from that, in that you’re raising an army of skeletons from the things that you kill. I think how it would work, it would have a necromancer. And then you would have a skeleton minion of that Necromancer in a different tile. And then as you kill stuff, you add more participants to that skeleton tile so it becomes two skeletons, three skeletons… Which actually presents a very interesting counter to the surrender meta, which exists now, because if you surrender somebody, you can’t kill them and take their bodies and make them into skeletons. I think that just the fact that you know we would add necromancer and skeleton minions would present an entirely new meta of gameplay.
JS: Would you be the bad guy, or would you still be the hero protagonist in a story like this?
PH: I think that you’d still be the hero, but you would be facing off against certainly a lot of these undead, and then surely you would be given the option to make your own undead units.
JS: So, that’s for 1, but for, say, Symphony of War 2 you’d have maybe a little more agency to make changes if you felt like it, right? Is that being considered at all, or do you feel like it’s going to be more of 1 again with some new stuff enhanced?
PH: I think we’re probably never going to mess with that core loop, but we’re just going to continue to add more dimensions to it. For Symphony of War 2, I actually have naval ships that I wanted to get in there. You’ve got rivers and lakes in a lot of the maps in Symphony of War 1. In Symphony of War 2, I’m going to add more maps where you’ve got the open sea. You’ll be able to have naval ships that go in that you can actually design and customize, just like you can design and customize your squads. They can carry squads across the water, they can bombard of course, and they can shoot at other ships.
JS: I appreciate your time Phil. Again, Phil Hamilton of Dancing Dragon Games. Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga is currently on Steam right now, go and check it out. You’ll hear further news by following them on their Discord. Follow their website for further news on updates to this game and any news for a future Symphony of War 2.
PH: Right on, thanks.
We would lke to thank Phil for setting aside time to answer our questions about Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga. You can check out this new strategy RPG inspired by the classics now on PC via Steam.