A Chat About Sanctuary RPG with Daniel Doan of Black Shell Media

Sanctuary RPG combines the old with the new, by fusing Text Adventure, Roguelike and strategy together into one humorous package.

SanctuaryRPG is a game that's a real throwback to another time -- a time where paper-based RPGs were just beginning to be adapted to computers and computer games were naturally in their infancy. Back then, they were commonly known as Text Adventures.

The game is a combination of several genres, including roguelike, strategy and RPG, combined together into the aforementioned Text Adventure format. It somehow manages to combine the old with the new by modernizing this format with ASCII graphics and fluid combat mechanics. While all of this is occurring, it also parodies many other RPGs, introducing an obvious comedic angle to its proceedings.

SanctuaryRPG was released in February 2015 and has garnered some extremely high praise from critics and users alike with hundreds of "very positive" reviews on Steam.

GameSkinny managed to chat with Daniel Doan of Black Shell Media to discuss their hit game, SanctuaryRPG.

(A "Vicious Gushy Slime" from SanctuaryRPG. Don't know about you, but I think I would runaway)

GS: Looking at the game, it's obvious it takes inspiration from some old text-based RPGs which have naturally fallen out of popularity. How do you believe you compensated for that?

Daniel Doan: "I was really inspired by games such as Diablo and games such as Spelunky, Nethack and Zork and I kind of just fused them together. So, even though there's not a lot of people playing those Text Adventures today, there's people playing Action RPGs, and it's really cool to be able to fuse the old with new. SanctuaryRPG has modern mechanics with an old-school flair."

GS: Humor is another thing which the game seems to manage flawlessly, as it references, and consequently parodies, different RPGs from the past. What particular RPGs were the influences here regarding the game?

DD: "Interestingly enough, I didn't actually draw the humor from any game in particular. I basically just tried to recreate kind of a Diablo-like feel with my own brand of personal humor."

GS: The difficulty of the game is another element which seems pertinent. Did you take a certain amount of influence from Dark Souls, or similar games, and what exactly was your approach to designing challenging scenarios?

DD: "I followed examples of difficult games and fused them with Roguelikes. I actually did play Dark Souls, but I was never really that great at it, so I kind of gave up after the first level. But as far as the difficulty is concerned a lot of Roguelikes generally have that feel of, "Wow, that's really hard! But, if I could learn the game mechanics well enough, I could beat it." So, yeah, I would say I took influences from games such as Dark Souls, Diablo and Spelunky to design challenging scenarios"

GS: The graphical approach is also something which provides a much more visual experience than previous text adventures, with the use of ASCII, incidentally reminding me of Teletext in the UK. What was the particular draw of that approach and would you say it potentially added to the comedy?

DD: "To be completely transparent, I used ASCII because I'm horrible at art, so when I first came out with the game concept, I was thinking it's not a good idea to make a game with art. I focused on ASCII, so I could focus on my strengths; I could iterate all the gameplay mechanics and focus on game design, which I have a strong passion for. Basically, I used ASCII because I thought that it was more relevant to my skill-set at the time.

I wouldn't say it added much to the comedy, but I would say that it might have made the comedy much easier to digest. Especially because if it was a different genre of game, there might have been a completely different kind of comedy involved, whereas SanctuaryRPG has a lot of text and so the humor is almost completely all in the writing."

GS: I've already delved into the fact it is a game out of its time. So, how do you believe your game has managed to bridge the gap between old and new?

DD: "So, my thing with that was to basically combine old, retro looks with the fresh, modern gameplay. Old-school, retro players will appreciate them because they grew up with those games, and the newer generation of players will be surprised because they've never seen that kind of game before... but they're going to play it and potentially like it because it has modern design elements."

GS: The story is something which possesses exaggerated personalities and the like, resulting in an entertaining experience. Was the approach here for the game to purely be entertaining and not take itself serious, and what do you think were the ways it manages to do that?

DD: "I definitely didn't want the game to take itself seriously from the get-go, since there's a lot of serious RPGs out there. I wanted SanctuaryRPG to really take a light-hearted approach because reading a bunch of text can get kind of monotonous over time. I wanted there to be humour in there, because me personally, I like to be humorous in a way that's a bit nonsensical... so, there's a lot of nonsensical humour in there, venturing into absurd.

GS: The battle system naturally involves typing. What do you think the development challenges were when it came to making the combat genuinely feel like combat, even if it is far removed from modern day games?

DD: "The battle system is as intricate as a lot of modern combat systems, while maintaining its simplicity. The battle system doesn't really involve typing as it does pressing buttons, which is pretty similar to most modern games. 

The most challenging part, though, is getting the player to feel like they're really immersed in the combat situation instead of just reading some text. I guess we tried accomplishing that by making it so that there was a range system, so that when enemies charged at you, you could dodge and move farther away by re-positioning. You could also go in really close and attack, making opponents run away.

I guess it was more about adding depth to the combat by making it much more complex than simply hitting and consequently being hit by enemies. I tried to make it as imaginative as I could with a sense of spatial awareness where players could use their imagination as much as possible when they're fighting enemies and exploring the land."

("Blinding Deception has kicked you in the genitalia! You may have heard you can romance a cow." Now, that sounds like an intriguing confrontation).

I would like to thank Daniel Doan of  Black Shell Media for taking the time to answer my questions once again. If you're interested in Black Shell Media's SanctuaryRPG Black Edition, it is currently available on Steam.

Published Jul. 15th 2016
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