INTERVIEW: John Rhee, Creator of Liege

Monday, July 15th, 2013

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Liege

I recently reached out to John Rhee, creator of the upcoming indie tactical RPG Liege, for more details regarding the game’s creation and development. Liege has already surpassed its initial Kickstarter goal and is now reaching for its stretch goals. If you’d like to contribute to the game’s Kickstarter fund, click here. Liege is also up for vote on Steam Greenlight. If you would like to see the game released through Steam, you may cast your vote here.

Daymon: When did you first become interested in creating your own game?

John: The first time I thought about it was way back in elementary school, when a friend first introduced me to pen-and-paper RPGs. He got a few of us together and led us through these amazing stories in his notebook, which showed me that pretty much anyone can make games. Not long after that, I played games like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger for the first time, and I knew exactly the type of games I wanted to make.

Daymon: What was it about games like Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, and chess that inspired you to make the game a tactical/strategy RPG?

John: The first time I played FF Tactics, I was too young to really get it, and I lost interest. I picked it up again a few years later, and when I really started getting into it, my mind was just blown by the depth of it all. It just completely surpassed anything I’d played anywhere else and got me hooked on the genre.

As I started exploring the genre, though, I noticed a lot of unnecessary complexity that didn’t add to the enjoyment of the game. At the same time, I became fascinated by the incredible amount of depth that emerges from the minimalist ruleset of chess. My hope with Liege is to borrow some of the elegance of chess and mix it in with the elements that make tactical RPGs so fun to play.

Liege | oprainfall

Daymon: The art design is rather unique. How did you decide to go with a hand-drawn style versus sprite work or computer-generated characters and environments?

John: I’ve always wanted to do a game with a hand-painted feel. Even back in the 16-bit days, when everyone was looking forward to the possibilities of 3D and photorealism, I always wanted to see a game that felt like a painting come to life. A lot of people have done realistic and toon styles really well, but that hand-painted look still hasn’t been fully explored. I’m surprised it hasn’t been done more, especially in games that take place in a fantasy setting.

Daymon: How long has Liege been in development?

John: Parts of the game have been in development since around two years ago, and that’s around when I started coming up with the story. I’d been working on the game part-time from then until around March this year, when I began pursuing it full-time. It’s definitely come a long way in the last few months!

Daymon: It’s impressive that you have taken this project on by yourself. What made you decide to work solo on Liege?

John: From the beginning, I had very specific ideas for the game’s direction, so I wanted full control in its early stages. It’s easy to tell when games are developed by one or two people versus a larger team, since they tend to have a much more unified feel. The story, the gameplay, the interface, and the art style all tend to fit together better when they come from the same source. For example, in Liege, the battle system and narrative have deep, seamless ties because they weren’t designed by separate teams.

That said, now that the groundwork has been laid, and since the Kickstarter’s doing well so far, I’m hoping to start bringing additional talent on board to really take things to the next level!

Liege | oprainfall

Daymon: What are the challenges of working on this project by yourself?

John: Time. There’s just a ton of things that need to be done to get a playable game together: constructing the environments, designing the character concepts, animating the characters, setting up the UI, designing, implementing, and balancing the game mechanics, coding the AI, etc. The list goes on and on. On top of that, generating awareness for your project, building a community, and handling the business end of things to keep the project sustainable takes a huge amount of time and energy.

I’ve been able to get a lot of this in place over the last few years, but as mentioned above, I’ll definitely be looking [to] get some additional hands on board to speed things up once the campaign ends!

Daymon: What are the benefits of working on this project by yourself?

John: Creative control. Working solo on a project gives you complete freedom to implement things exactly how you want, and it’s really an awesome feeling to see all the separate parts coming together into something you can actually play.

Daymon: Are there any additional details you’d be willing to share about the game’s battle mechanics?

John: I did my best to give an introduction to the mechanics on the Kickstarter page as well as the initial gameplay video, but one point I’d like to highlight is the class system. Unit classes will definitely play a huge role in combat, and using the right classes effectively will be key to gaining an advantage in battle. For example, certain scenarios will require you to utilize fast-moving rogues to outmaneuver heavier enemies, while others will call for more defense-oriented units to block passageways. Mages will also make an appearance in certain battles and will completely change the dynamics of combat. I’m planning on sharing a second gameplay video showing some of this before the campaign ends. Stay tuned!

Liege | oprainfall

Daymon: What inspired the plot of Liege?

John: Most of the inspiration for the story came from books and TV shows I watched growing up. The main ones that come to mind are Dune, Battlestar Galactica, and, of course, Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire—basically, anything that’s filled with interesting, believable characters trapped in epic power struggles involving lots of intrigue.

Daymon: What made you decide to go with the orchestral composition versus a chiptune soundtrack?

John: The overall tone of the game and its story made an orchestral soundtrack an easy choice. Despite the mostly top-down view, I’m hoping to give the game a big, cinematic feel and wanted a soundtrack that would add to that.

Daymon: How are you creating the game’s soundtrack?

John: I’ve been lucky enough to run into a few really amazing composers since the project has gone public, and one of the reasons I launched the Kickstarter was so that I could bring their talent on board.

Daymon: How involved in the sound development are you?

John: Given everything that needs to get done, my plan is to hand the sound development off to my composers. I have a high-level direction in mind, but I’ll be trusting them to score the game as they see fit.

Liege | oprainfall

Daymon: How has your experience with Kickstarter been?

John: Amazing and stressful! Managing a Kickstarter campaign properly is absolutely a full-time commitment, and you need to really work hard to get noticed. Getting the word out and maintaining interest is definitely a challenge for smaller projects like mine, but the amount of support that’s been shown so far has been nothing short of incredible. The great thing about Kickstarter is that it can bring so much visibility to your project early on and help you build a really solid core audience that’s invested in the project’s outcome from the very beginning.

Daymon: Do you have any desire to work with any certain publisher, or do you intend to self-publish Liege?

John: No plans as of now, but I’m open to working with a publisher if I feel like they really understand what the project is about and can contribute in a meaningful way to reaching a bigger audience.

Daymon: What are your plans after the Liege trilogy is released?

John: If the series does well, my hope is to establish a small studio that can remain independent and keep making great games!

About Daymon Trapold

Daymon joined oprainfall because he has a deep, nerdy love for niche games—basically anything Atlus-/XSEED-/Aksys-/NIS-related. An obscene collector of such games (some may call it obsessive), he is also a part-time bassoonist and a full-time dork.