Magic Ritual - A Look Back at GoTA Development

Lead Game Designer for Game of Thrones Ascent, Tim Crosby takes a look back through the game's development.

In many ways, creating a game is like performing a dangerous magic ritual.

I don’t mean that they require human sacrifice -- although there is fair amount of metaphorical blood, sweat, and tears that go into a game. What I really mean is that what you conjure up may surprise you. Through the development of Game of Thrones Ascent, we always knew the core of the game … but there was also a lot that changed as we made it.



Constant Aspirations

Any given bit of code, snippet of writing, or piece of artwork may be revised, but the core of Game of Thrones Ascent has always remained the same.

We knew that for the game to feel good and to be fun, we had to adhere to certain design principles. These are the guidelines by which we evaluated every aspect of the game:

Authenticity: Westeros is more than just the characters and events. There is an entire universe, a feel of the world that we wanted to capture.

Choice: Every game action involves a choice, whether you are choosing where to spend your silver, which Sworn Sword to send off to an uncertain fate, or what to do about the smallfolk clamoring for your attention.

Consequence: Choices have to matter. What you decide has an effect on your holdings, your family, and your place in the realm.

Danger: Westeros is a brutal place, and success is not guaranteed. Sometimes you can master fate, and sometimes you need to react to the unexpected.

Continuous Improvement: You should always be able to get better and stronger and sneakier and wealthier. Almost everything in the game can be upgraded or improved.

And we’ve stayed true to our first principle. The vision for Game of Thrones Ascent has been clear and strong since we first came to these shores and began to weave our spells.

The way we’ve expressed the ideas has changed somewhat over time.

Maester Lucas


Changing View

Games are an inherently iterative process. The team is continually makes elements of the game, trying them out, and revising them.

Although we had planned on the city-building aspect of the game from the beginning, the form you see now is different from the original conception. Originally, the player was going to be able to place a chosen building in one of many designated spots on the screen. The initial test of this idea proved it wasn’t working. The interchangeability of the buildings meant that none of them felt unique or interesting, and the details were hidden when the building was placed far away. We eventually shifted to a the landscape view of the holdings that we have now, which lets us show the growth of buildings as they improve and maintains the high bar we wanted for visual style.

Another major difference from our original concepts was the importance of Sworn Swords – the henchmen or heroes that execute your noble’s will outside of your holdings. As we played through early versions of the game, we realized that the Sworn Swords were of critical importance to the player’s progression and ability to affect the world. We added the concept of Adventures that enabled the player to ensure that none of their Sworn Swords were ever idle, and included the Sworn Sword status bar on the left hand side of the screen.

There were, of course, many other aspects that morphed along the way. In every case, we were always sure to return to the core concepts when evaluating what we needed to improve.


The Ongoing Spell-Weaving

As a living, breathing thing, we will continually work on Game of Thrones Ascent -- to mold it based on player feedback and the progression of the TV series storyline. Perhaps that’s the difference between a magical ritual and the development of a game -- a ritual eventually comes to an end. The chanting stops and the offerings are consumed.

But with Game of Thrones Ascent, we’ll continue to make it better. We’ll add content, we’ll continue to modify and improve the balance and the mechanics, and we’ll craft new features. The work is ongoing, is continuous, is perpetual. And we think you’ll like it – because that’s the real magic for us.