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Subterranea Interview

by Couchpotato, 2014-03-05

Subterranea is the one of the newest RPG Kickstarters to go live this week. It's the brain child of a man called John Mabbott who founded a studio called Cloud Nine Games.

He describes his game as the following, " An Adventure through a world rife with peril and intrigue, to solve a dangerous mystery in this fantasy, turn-based CRPG".

I had the chance to ask him a few questions in my latest interview. We talked about his game, his Kickstarter, and a few other various questions.

Game Questions

RPGWatch:Thanks for agreeing to the interview John. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your game Subterranea?

Cloud Nine Games: I'm a long-time fan of single-player CRPGs, and grew up on Pool of Radiance, Bards Tale, Ultima, Might & Magic and some Wizardry. My day job took me into software development for banks, however I've always had a burning desire to build a CRPG like the ones I used to play, in a modern engine with all that offers, including "newer" graphics, smooth animations, physics, etc. The time has come to make this come true!

Although I know it's an over-used setting, I still love the typical D&D high fantasy setting, and think that there still some ways to keep parts of it fresh. I like a realistic/gritty world rather than a cartoony/over-the-top one, so Subterranea will be closer to the vibe of a Witcher or Gothic, rather than a Kingdoms of Amalur, although obviously the gameplay will not be like those ARPGs!

My design philosophy with Subterranea is to push some of the technical boundaries of what's been seen in tactical, party-based CRPGs to-date. The best examples of the genre tend to use beautifully-drawn, but static, 2D backgrounds. I want a dynamic, vibrant, fully-3D world, full of emergent gameplay possibilities.


RPGWatch: Where did you get inspiration for Subterranea? I'm just curious as the game reminds me of a few classic RPGs.

Cloud Nine Games: The CRPGs listed above are my inspiration, along with the Baldurs Gate series, non-fantasy RPGs like Fallout and the Temple of Elemental Evil, which I think has some clever UI design for a relatively-modern CRPG. 3 key pieces of specific inspiration I'm drawing from are:

Pool of Radiance: Custom party of up-to 6 characters, tactical turn-based combat, strong satisfaction from exploration and progress (clearing the slums) and political intrigue (the council).

The Bard's Tale: The challenging difficulty.

Ultima Underworld: The sense of being in a "real", living, breathing dungeon. The feeling of being trapped deep underground with hordes of monsters to battle through. The vaguely unsettling vibe, that the somewhat discordant soundtrack contributed to.


RPGWatch: I noticed combat in your game will be turn-based. What made you decide to go this route instead of some type of action based combat?

Cloud Nine Games: The under-the-hood complex nature of the ruleset I'm using (by a well-known PnP publisher!) wouldn't be given justice in a non turn-based game. I don't think you could give anything more than the most basic commands to a party of up-to 6 in realtime mode. Even with the realtime-with-pause system used in other CRPGs, I often just let the character's battle away, as pausing and issuing commands, while following what's actually going on, can become difficult quickly.

I prefer to think through what I'm doing for each of the character's actions. Although that will only be fun if there are a lot of possible actions for each character to take. The game's physics should be leveraged to think of non-typical tactical CRPG actions, like rolling barrels into foes, throwing jugs of oil and setting them on fire, etc.


RPGWatch:Can you go into detail on how character creation work? I remember you posted a video earlier this month that showed off some of the options.

Cloud Nine Games: Character creation closely follows the rules as specified by the Open Game Content (think D&D 3.5 edition), so everyone who has played the pen and paper version of the game, or D&D 3.5e CRPGs like Neverwinter Nights 2 and TOEE will be perfectly familiar with picking the ability scores, feats, skills, spells, etc.

However, no prior knowledge of the rules is assumed, and hovering over any field in any of the character creation screens will give you an in-depth description of what they mean and what effects changing those attribute will have later on in the game. This "in-game manual" via tool-tips continues after you begin the adventure, with as much information as you need to make the best decisions, always being available by hovering the mouse.


RPGWatch:  How will character interaction work? Will your party members also interact with other?

Cloud Nine Games: Character interaction with NPCs works in a familiar way to most CRPGs. When conversation is initiated with an NPC, the PC on your side of the conversation is presented with a list of response options at each branching dialogue point. Some of these options require Difficulty Checks, with Bluff, Intimidate or Diplomacy skills.

As far as inter-party interaction goes though, this is not a feature that has been planned. I think that would only make sense in a PC + NPCs party model, like Baldurs Gate, not an all-PC model like Subterranea. Although the BGs and Planescape:Torment are, in my view, the best examples of the genre, I actually prefer to create my own party, rather than recruit NPCs like you did in those games.


RPGWatch: As a bonus for our members will the female voice actor be returning? It seems a few people think the voice is sexy.

Cloud Nine Games: Yes! She is currently set to voice most of the female parts in the game, using a few different accents.

Kickstarter Questions

RPGWatch: The first question is easy why kickstarter?

Cloud Nine Games: I need some funding to finish. Crowdfunding is the most attractive and frankly achievable method for a relatively-unknown indie developer. Kickstarter is the most effective crowdfunding site. That's the logical progression!

For me, the two most exciting aspects to the crowdfunding approach for these type of games are:

1) People who are willing to help fund the development of a game by definition already have some investment of themselves in its success. The biggest group of backers will be looking to effectively give you a pre-order at a discounted price, but a subset within that will be interested enough to help with the alpha and beta testing. This is essential to an indie - I think these type of people will be very proactive testers who will give a lot of valuable feedback.

2) Getting design input from people who are eventually going to play your game is also invaluable. It's easy to get blinkered when making design decisions as a small indie, especially with highly-controversial areas like UI design! Effectively out-sourcing, or simply just validating, some of your design to people who want to back you is exciting for both sides.


RPGWatch: I see that the goal of the project is $12,500 AUD. Will it be enough to help fund your game, and why the low amount?

Cloud Nine Games: Yes, that's a fairly rigorously-budgeted amount. Like any development project, the vast majority of the development costs are usually paid to resources for programming, content creation, etc. For Subterranea, any custom work will be very targeted. I'll look to the more "mass market" game arts vendors first. There are many vendors online who sell professional animation packs, character packs, building packs, item packs, etc. for great prices. The trade-off of not getting a piece of art customized exactly to my liking versus getting the game built with off-the-shelf assets that look and feel great, is worth it from a pragmatic cost and time perspective, I believe.

I think I'm also following the spending model of commercial indie developers like Spiderweb Software, Basilisk Games, Rampant Games, Heroic Fantasy Games, etc. who are lead by multi-skilled individuals capable of creating all of the different programming and content creation aspects that their games require, whilst choosing to contract out specific pieces of work to either get higher-quality work from specialists, or just to save their own time.

If you think about it from that perspective, it's such a cost-effective approach that those guys didn't even need crowdfunding at all to deliver their commercial indie games (thought obviously some of the games in question came out before crowdfunding arrived!).

The stated purpose of Kickstarter is to ask for the funding you'll need to finish your project, not to fund your own living costs. I don't need any money for living costs and any shortfall on funding will be made up for out of my own pocket. There's no risk of failure from that perspective.


RPGWatch: Some people might think you are over promising in your Kickstarter. How would you respond to them?

Cloud Nine Games: I think there's two main ways of over-promising for this type of game, either on the gameplay systems or the content. In terms of gameplay, most Subterranea gameplay systems are complete. You can have tactical turn-based battles, cast spells, take advantage of features like attacks of opportunity, tumbles, etc. I think my main risk is over-promising on content.

The scope of the game was originally envisaged as 1 town, 1 swamp and 1 massive megadungeon. Purchasing or creating all of the content required for those environments is quite achievable in the timeframe I am proposing - a target release date of March, 2015. More funding would obviously introduce more variety and better-looking assets of course!


RPGWatch: What's your opinion on crowd-funding, and do you think it's a viable alternative to publishers?

Cloud Nine Games: I think it's becoming the only alternative for a first-time indie. I see the publishers getting more conservative, as self-publishing development companies continue to squeeze them. How many publishers would take a chance on a first-time indie these days? I think they are going more conservative to survive, so I think that crowdfunding is a much more likely avenue for games like this.


RPGWatch:  Do you want to add anything before we finish the interview?

Cloud Nine Games: I hope I'm right that there's an under-serviced niche that Subterranea can fill, as a custom party, D&D-type, tactical, turn-based RPG. Combine that with new possibilities like physics-based emergent gameplay for this type of game and I hope people will think that Subterranea offers a compelling new twist on the genre that I love!

Well that's all I enjoyed doing the interview, and if you have any questions the developer is very active on our forums under the name of JMab.

Box Art

Information about


Developer: Cloud Nine Games

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Canceled
· Publisher: Cloud Nine Games

More information