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Interview #024: Ilya - Vallynne (Shores Unknown)

JP'S SWITCHMANIA is proud to welcome Ilya from Vallynne as he shares about his gaming passion, studio, and upcoming debut title, Shores Unknown. We've got a lot to cover, so let's get right to it!

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello and thank you too! My name’s Ilya, and I’m the game designer/programmer and project lead on Shores Unknown. Originally from Russia, I now live in Japan with my wife and a cat. I’ve been involved in game development professionally for about 10 years now, and most of my life as a hobbyist if you count making pen & paper games at school!

What was your first console and game you remember playing?

My first and most vivid memory of “playing” a game is Transport Tycoon when I was like... 3 years old? That was way more than I could handle back then, thought the goal of the game was to open as many of those follow camera windows as possible, and since those automatically disappeared after some time, I basically kept “losing”.

My first console - you’d be surprised - was Panasonic 3DO. Lots of fond memories playing Star Control 2, The Horde and Lucienne’s Quest on that one.

What is your fondest childhood video game memory?

Oof, too many to count. But I guess, if I was to pick one, then making my first maps in Warcraft 2 editor? That was one of the first times my love for games was felt from a creator’s standpoint, not that of a consumer.

Growing up, did you always want to work in the video game industry?

I guess I sort of quietly wanted to be an intergalactic overlord until fifth grade. But after that, yea, making games became the main form of expressing myself creatively - though I wasn’t thinking about the industry back then, or earning money through this. I just wanted to make games.

What inspired you to pursue this career?

So yea, as I said, for quite some time I just wanted to make the games as a hobby, and as most childhood hobbies, it started fading away during high school years. The change came in my early twenties, when I was looking for a job after quitting a somewhat boring gig doing cold calls at an internet marketing agency, and stumbled upon the opening for a QA position in one of the biggest game publisher companies in Russia at that time. The possibility blew my mind a bit. So I hastily applied and a few weeks later got the job.

Let's talk about Vallynne, a multinational development studio comprised of numerous veterans in the industry. Could you tell us how you all came together and possibly spotlight your team members?

As it often happens, we started with a friends & family core, with my friend and ex-colleague George managing level design; another friend, Anton, who previously worked as a scenario writer and editor, handling the game’s story; and my wife Yuiko helping me with 2D art and 3D modelling. Finally, the amazing piece of promo art we have was created by another industry friend of mine, Mike Mishkin.

After the game took shape, I started building up our social media presence. Twitter really is a fantastic networking tool - thanks to it, we were contacted by Claudi Martinez (previously worked on Kingdom of Loot and Eye of the Temple) who is now our composer and sound director. Twitter is also where I first got in touch with Jordan from, by the way!

I also did some active recruitment, which is how we ended up partnering with Linx agency and working with Oli Chance and Morgan Rushton (who worked on some very well known titles in the Final Fantasy series, Ni No Kuni, Dragon Quest games and more!), who now form our narrative team together with Anton.

Shores Unknown, previously titled Project Shore, is the studio's debut title. The world of Shores Unknown is filled with danger at every turn. Whether it's the Crown, Empire, or nature's elements, the heroes will have a treacherous journey ahead of themselves. Where did the inspiration for the game originate?

Oh, many places. There’s quite a bit of inspiration from old-school CRPGs such as Baldur’s Gate series and my all-time favorite Planescape: Torment. You probably also noticed the quote at the beginning of the trailer which belongs to a Canadian novelist Steven Erikson, the author of Malazan Book of the Fallen, which happened to change my understanding of how fantasy literature should operate. We also take quite a bit of inspiration from Japanese RPGs such as Romancing SaGa and The Last Remnant (which is getting a remaster soon - definitely check that out!).

In regard to the gameplay mechanics, this is a single player tactical RPG mixed with a rich narrative, epic boss battles (there was a dragon in the trailer!) and much character customization. How important is it for all these elements to work in unison as gamers embark on their adventure? Does one tend to take a more prominent role?

At the core of the game lies its combat system, but no good RPG strives on combat alone. We aim to deliver a unique story which will stay with you even after you’ve finished the game, and there wouldn’t be much fun in the combat without interesting places to explore, beasties to slay and shinies to loot. And to be sure, not every conflict has to be solved with blood.

Could you elaborate on the combat system? From the initial trailer, it was unclear if you lose your party members permanently should they fall in battle?

Sure! The biggest change compared to combat systems we’re used to is that you don’t give direct action commands (“use ability A on enemy X”) in Shores. Instead you have what we call an “Order phase” (during which the game is technically paused, but characters will still move around and emote) in which you order your character parties sort of like an actual commander on a battlefield would - “slam that squad with magic!”, “try to flank this group”.

Once you’re done giving out orders, there’s a quick ready check, and then an “Action phase” begins in which the characters will follow your orders to their best ability. A bunch of variables come into play here - for example, your characters who you ordered to attack that big brutish-looking guy could get intercepted by another, quicker enemy on their way to their target. Or the target they were ordered to attack already got killed by an ally, in which case they will switch to support abilities instead.

Oh, and if you’ve ever led a raid in an MMORPG, our combat feels a bit like that.

And to answer your other question - there won’t be perma-death in the game, but characters who fall in battle will incur lasting wounds which will affect their efficiency in combat and may even have consequences in the story. In addition, we made a choice to not have any combat resurrection abilities in the game, so any character falling in battle stays down until it’s over.

Will the adventure move away from the shore onto the sea at some point in the game or is this land-based only?

While the bulk of the game takes place on land, expect at least one very cool seafaring sequence!

Will there be multiple endings to the story based on choices made throughout the game?

There will be different endings depending on the choices you made and the characters you befriended, yes!

Is there a release date already determined?

We’re aiming for Holidays 2019.

Although its still early, are there talks already of a physical release for the Switch?

Can make no promises, but we're eagerly looking into it. Let us know if you know somebody!

Nintendo Switch will be your debut console. What is it about the Switch that you felt was the right system to bring Shores Unknown onto?

We love the portability of it, of course, and Shores plays very well in shorter sessions, so the transition from PC to Switch was pretty much seamless. If you want to play for a longer time, you can always go docked, too!

From the market standpoint, Switch is a very welcoming platform for indie games in general, but we felt there weren’t too many classic RPGs available to play, so with Shores we’re definitely aiming at that niche.

Although still in development, is your team already thinking about the next title or even genre you'd like to delve into? If so, can you share?

Nothing concrete yet, though I’d like to give the combat system another spin in a sci-fi environment, maybe with mecha instead of dudes with swords?

As we near the end of our interview, what game(s) are you and your team currently playing and looking forward to?

Personally, I can’t wait to sink my teeth in Pathfinder: Kingmaker, very excited about that game for reasons that should be obvious from my previous answers! The latest I played was God of War on PS4 and Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire on PC. Anton was recently spotted playing Witcher 3 for the first time. And my wife’s playing Stardew Valley now and recently finished Octopath Traveler on Switch.

Is there anything else you'd like to share today?

Just want to thank you one more time for this interview! Looking forward to talking with you again for all of our big updates and surprises :)

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