A few years ago we ran a preview of Galactic Keep: Dice Battles, an impressive-looking title by Gilded Skull Games, made in the style of a tabletop RPG. Lots of gamers were looking forward to it, but then it seemed to disappear. Now it’s back, and Gilded Skull is working hard to finish it. We chatted with Gilded Skull CEO Rob Lemon about what the game is, what happened to it, and how it’s coming along.
STP: What’s the basic premise of Galactic Keep: Dice Battles?
Rob: The basic premise of the game has always been to bring a tabletop RPG game onto the iPhone, and that’s still our goal.
From a story perspective, the Galactic Keep universe is brimming with various sentient alien species all vying for power (or trying to be left alone). It is a volatile time, as the whole galaxy is in a constant state of internal revolution and interplanetary war. The humans appear, seemingly from out of nowhere, right into the middle of this chaos.
The central question asked in the game involves figuring out how the humans arrived in this galaxy… and how, if possible, they can get back to their true home world.
The game begins with the player choosing a character from a cast of outlaws, bandits and heroes from across the galaxy. They roll to customize and are quickly thrust into their first mission: raid a mysterious, ancient and derelict spacecraft that is housing a recently “activated” temporal anomaly.
STP: Will there be a multiplayer mode? If so, how will it work?
Rob: Yes. We are planning on starting out with a multiplayer offering that consists of four player co-operative adventuring. Each multiplayer session would require the players to complete a mission made up of 5 (or more) objectives.
Players will be able to explore as a group or splinter off and explore the map themselves. In some cases, objectives will require the players to split up. Players all take their turns simultaneously. Once they have all completed their turns, the enemies on the map will take theirs. Situations might arise that require players to ‘vote’ on an outcome, any ties are broken with a dice roll. Fights may involve multiple enemies and players simultaneously… at least that what we’re going to attempt.
STP: Will multiplayer be local, online, or both?
Rob: We’re planning on having it be both. Online would be best.
STP: You were working on Galactic Keep a couple of years ago. What happened that made you put it aside?
Rob: Galactic Keep was sidelined unexpectedly and our focus shifted because we were given the opportunity to work on several high profile Nickelodeon games. They are very robust and feature-rich games that, at the time, required our full attention. The plan was to funnel resources from those projects into the company so that we could, inevitably, make Galactic Keep.
Along the way, we had the idea for Skull Smasher. Skull Smasher had a scope that we could wedge between bouts of development of the Nickelodeon games. Also, we knew that we were going to have to update our core code (engine) to accommodate the new hardware that had launched since Galactic Keep was announced. Skull Smasher allowed us to do that, to hit the ground running when we were ready to get back to work on Galactic Keep.
STP: When you started working on Galactic Keep again last month, how much of the original game did you keep?
Rob: We’re keeping the same style. A lot of the art will be the same as it was but we are recomposing the ‘flow’ of the game and transforming some of the core components. About 1/4 of the original Galactic Keep code will remain in the engine and tools that’ll be used in the updated version of the game.
While reviewing at the game after the two year hiatus we decided that there were a lot of things that needed to be revised and overhauled.
We had envisioned pre-constructed maps that were hand-crafted, hand drawn with wacky, non gridded tiles. We found that this quickly became cumbersome and overly complicated. In the new version, we needed to have a map creation system that would allow us to create large and unique maps quickly, so that is what we’re working on right now! Maps will still look hand drawn but they will be much more easily constructed and can be a lot larger than we originally planned.
We had conceived of a more hardcore approach to weapons and battles: characters held one weapon and had one special attack. If a character found another weapon, they dropped the old one and picked up the new one.
When starting over, we decided to update to a more flexible approach and are giving characters an inventory: a deck of item cards. In battle, a player can use their turn to do a host of things: attack, block (and try to heal, or hope for a critical fail on the part of their enemy), use an item or swap their weapon. Species and classes will have bonuses when using certain weapons and some weapons will be banned from some species and classes.
It’s a bit less hardcore, probably less like a traditional tabletop RPG wherein many cases you have a very strict inventory and your character fights with one main weapon, but it certainly makes for a more fun videogame.
STP: Are you redoing the art assets? Did you keep the mission story lines you had come up with?
Rob: Luckily, we made the art much larger than we needed it, so we’ll be able to keep it. A lot of new art will need to be created, for example: all the map assets!
We are adding an adventure game-style puzzle component to the missions. In some situations players will be able to solve a problem they are faced with in various ways: use an item, roll a die, or attack someone for example.
If you didn’t use the fuel you had to power the sentry turret guarding the hallway, you could use it to start up the generator and power the electro-locked door blocking the passage… or you could try an INT roll to see if you can fix the solar array that’s also connected to the door instead… or maybe you’d chose to just blast the door with some C4.
STP: What game-books or tabletop RPGs inspired you to make the game?
Rob: We’re big fans of the Fallout series. The original “Gamma World” was an influence on me. HeroQuest was all about having a versatile role-playing experience in a compact board game; that was an influence. I’m a big fan of Steve Jackson’s games, I own a few of the older ones. One of my favorites was “Car Wars.” I’ve been making rules and drawing map-based dungeon-crawling games (with dice, monsters and cards) since I was about eight or so. Making Galactic Keep was almost inevitable.
Dungeon of Death, designed by a young Rob Lemon, circa 1980.
STP: When do you plan to release Galactic Keep: Dice Battles, and how much will it cost?
Rob: We’re not totally sure on the price yet. Under $4. We’re trying very, VERY hard to launch the game before the end of the year.