Disciples: Liberation – Developer Interview With Frima Studio

Disciples: Liberation is the latest title in the beloved series of turn-based strategy titles. The game invites players back to Nevendaar, to follow the story of Avyanna, the child of Iron and Sky, on an epic, mature dark-fantasy adventure that explores the rich world and asks hard questions. Which factions will you befriend? Who will stand beside you? Who will live to see another day – or die by your hand?

We had the pleasure of chatting with Louis Lamarche, Studio Creative Director, and Eric Latouche, Disciples Creative Director, and asking them a few questions about the game.

Gamespace: Hello! Please introduce yourself and tell us about your position at Frima Studio. Tell us a bit about the studio and how it became involved with the Disciples franchise?

Louis Lamarche, Studio Creative Director: Hello Gamespace, my name is Louis Lamarche, I am Studio Creative Director at Frima Studio. Frima is an independent studio based in Quebec City, Canada, and has been developing PC, Console and Mobile titles for over 18 years. Disciples: Liberation is our latest and greatest release.

Over 22 Months ago, Frima was presented with the opportunity to develop a new game in the Disciples Franchise. Being long-time fans of the world and lore of Nevendaar, we simply jumped on the opportunity with all our passion, delivering a quick game prototype to Kalypso in about a month and a half. A few weeks later, Kalypso and Frima kicked off our awesome collaboration and so was born Disciples: Liberation.

Gamespace: Was it difficult to work on a sequel to a beloved series, considering community expectations?

Louis: Quite a challenge, yes!  The biggest of them all was how to design and modernize a Strategy RPG within the lore of Nevendaar that both old fans, and new ones would enjoy.  I could not possibly go through all the creative spins we had in mind and discussed, there were so many possible paths during the conception phase.  Would it be a sequel, a side story, a respin of the world, etc.  Would we modernize core Strategy RPG gameplay, keep it as is, or not.

Through multiple brainstorm sessions and side conversations, we really liked the idea of building upon the lore of Disciples and building a narrative and gameplay experience that would tell the story of Avyanna. Her character design really opened up quite a bit of flexibility and player choices due to the fact that we made her a neutral character, a blank canvas that each player could mold based on their action. And so was born Liberation.  It is not Disciples 4, it is a unique story with gameplay innovation that resides within the amazing world of Nevendaar.

Gamespace: How did you come up with the decision of taking the game in such a vastly different direction in terms of gameplay compared to Disciples 2? Exploring the world in real-time and having turn-based grid battles feels like an interesting combination.

Louis: My answer above has some of the main reasons but additionally to these, we really wanted to design and develop what we felt was a modern twist to strategy RPG games that could hold its own vs. Open World AAA RPGs. Disciples: Liberation needed to offer more than grid-based combat, it needed to hit on other player motivation. Exploration, story, empowerment, options and choices.

Gamespace: Usually in games like Disciples or HoMM, a hero is tightly linked to a certain faction. Can you give us a glimpse into how you decided on Avyanna as protagonist and her neutral alignment in the beginning? Does it have to do with her general position as a Nephilim – being between Angels and Demons, between Light and Darkness, between mortals and gods, and, thus, between factions?

Louis: Exactly, your observations are quite on par with our intentions :). We wanted to have a character that could change faction standing and thus change the strategies related to unit composition and combat. As you may have noticed, Avyanna can still order different faction units in her team, but, faction standing will give both positive and negative morale bonuses.

Gamespace: I love the ability to build structures of various factions in a single city. How did you come up with that feature?

Louis: It pretty much naturally occurred once we decided that we focused on Avyanna’s narrative experience. Her initial mercenary role, her independent choices and her non-affiliation to Nevendaar’s faction somewhat created a challenge when it came to City Management. Yllian became itself neutral and undefined and naturally, we designed features that would offer players flexibility in mounding it to their strategies and tactics. Phasing buildings in and out was not part of the original concept.

Disciples Liberation - Yllian Screenshot

Gamespace: Disciples: Liberation appears to have a more realistic, grittier aesthetic compared to its predecessors. What was the design philosophy behind this decision?

Louis: Our primary goal on Liberation was to keep the Dark Fantasy aesthetic of Disciples while still utilising rendering features of today’s modern GPUs on PC and Consoles. High-resolution textures really bring the style closer to realism.  HDR also brings a lot more contrast and colors in some areas of Nevendaar.  It was a fine and challenging balance for our Art Director and Art team.

Gamespace: In Disciples 2, when a unit reached a certain level it would be upgraded to a different type if the prerequisites were met (like a Foot Soldier evolving into a Knight). Why did you opt to forgo such a system?

Eric Latouche, Disciples Creative Director: Units’ evolution is a great and empowering feature, and from the community feedback we received, many players do miss it in Liberation.

As we mentioned earlier, from conception to release the game was developed in under 2 years which is a quite short timeline for an 80 hour game. Like on most projects, hard decisions had to be made and unit evolution did not make it into Liberation. This sacrifice allowed us to create a large variety of unique units as well as a deep main character progression system with gear, abilities and spells. We firmly believe that this offers a great level of tactical depth while allowing players to experience many army configurations as they explore the grim world of Nevendaar.

That being said, like the community, we do believe that unit evolution is extremely interesting and rewarding, we would seriously consider having it back on future installment of the franchise.

Gamespace: The game features a variety of unique companions. Who’s your favorite and why? I am very taken with Illmeren, both gameplay and story-wise!

Eric: I like many of the companions of course, but Ejamar has a special place in my heart, not necessarily because of his raw strength but rather for his wittiness, which is exposed quite brilliantly in the dialogues. Players are up for a good show if they bring him along! That, and I believe I’m going through an Undead Hordes phase at the moment. I do appreciate their appetite for battle 😉

Louis: It is a bit hard to like one specific companion being their use in tactical play.  Bagthal is my favorite due to his character and functional design being highly based on my play style.  Kick ass and ask questions later.  He is also highly based on a popular character, can you guess who?

Gamespace: Disciples: Liberation is heavily centered around players’ choices. Some quests had me pause and consider the possible ramifications of my decisions for quite a while. Was it an interesting process to work out such a branching out narrative?

Louis: It is one of the main items that made Disciples: Liberation such a great and challenging project to work on.  Our Narrative Director, James Mittag, really took all of his past experiences on player narrative and action choices and pushed the design further. We really wanted Avyanna to be a blank slate personality wise.  James really limited himself at defining her previous, pre-Liberation story. His reasons were simple, to offer a unique opportunity to define who Avyanna is as the player moves forward in her story.  In other words, she becomes who the player wants her to become. We had to consider every possible avenue and roads the player could take.

Gamespace: Do you have any plans for post-launch content?

Louis: You will be among the first to know!

Gamespace: We really appreciate the opportunity for this interview. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Louis: Thanks for taking the time to play our game and send us your questions. We sincerely hope you are enjoying every last bit of it as much as we enjoyed developing it.

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