Yaga is a new action RPG from Breadcrumbs Interaction that challenges players to step into the role of a one-handed blacksmith plagued by bad luck. Stuck between a Tzar giving him nearly impossible quests, a grandmother urging him to find a good wife to settle down with, and a powerful witch looking to control him, Ivan has a long road ahead filled with friendship and a few creative superstitious hiccups along the way.
Liana Ruppert from Greenlit Content recently sat down with Catalin Zima-Zegreanu, the writer and lead designer for this charming tale, to talk a little more about the inspiration behind such a unique story while also diving into a few other secrets like what didn’t make the cutting room floor, and what the indie scene is like in Romania.
Liana Ruppert: The game development community is smaller in Romania, has that been an unforeseen blessing when developing such a charming RPG like Yaga?
Catalin Zima-Zegreanu, Lead Designer: It might have helped with the theme since slavic folklore is under-represented in the gaming world (besides Witcher), but we think that having a bigger community could only be a good thing long term, so we’re trying our best to attract young people into game development. We think that games are a very powerful medium of expression since the barrier of entry is low, so the more people we have making games the better the world would be at spreading awareness of fringe or forgotten cultures.
Liana Ruppert: Ivan is a very interesting character, what was the inspiration behind the one-handed blacksmith with notoriously bad luck?
Catalin Zima-Zegreanu, Lead Designer: We started off knowing that we wanted to make something inspired by the folk tales we heard from our parents and grandparents. The more obscure ones that we never saw being referenced in the western media are full of down-to-earth unlucky folks and what’s more unlucky than a blacksmith losing an arm. Losing limbs is pretty common in slavik folklore and we always found it amusing how it’s treated very loosely. “Oh, you had to chop of an arm to feed a wild bird ..oh well, that’s life!” The story “The One Eyed Evil” is the primary starting point for our character.
Liana Ruppert: Visually this game is absolutely stunning, can you tell us a little bit about the creative process behind the world's overall aesthetic?
Catalin Zima-Zegreanu, Lead Designer: We knew how much first impression matters when it comes to setting expectations for the game, so we began with the styles that existed in the old eastern european story books. The guiding principle was something that looks hand-drawn and would fit in a story-book so we asked friends and team members to dig up old illustrated books of slavic fairy tales and bring them over for us to study.
We quickly settled on details from Russian illustrations, using traditional clothing and tried to mix rural art from a variety of slavic countries. Our biggest inspiration was the beautiful illustrations of Ivan Bilibin and Nikolai Kocerghin, but we didn’t stop at that, we even looked at garments that are being preserved from those centuries.
The soundtrack we wanted was known from day one since most of us were fans of a romanian band that perfectly blends modern rhythms with old folk instruments and melodies. The guys at Subcarpati were a great fit for our audio needs and the players seem to agree with us on this, which is why we ended up having the soundtrack of the game as a bundle.
Liana Ruppert: With Yaga being so Pagan and folklore-focused, what are some of your favorite stories that helped inspire this game in ways that players might not think of?
Catalin Zima-Zegreanu, Lead Designer: The concept of (bad) luck is something that is present in many folk tales and helped us define our hero’s journey and the main antagonist. Ivan sets off to find some ore for his grandma’s needles saying that “if there’s misfortune in the world, I haven’t met it yet” - hinting to one of the tales in which the main character says that before getting into trouble. The game is infused with all sorts of folktale references, some more discreet than others. For instance, you can find the magical comb that sprouts a forest, used in fairytales by Vasilisa against Baba Yaga.
Liana Ruppert: With a variety of weapons and play style choices, were there any unique challenges that came up during this development process?
Catalin Zima-Zegreanu, Lead Designer: Oh boy, where do I start… We knew the emergent behaviour having so many different combinations could be overwhelming, but that was the point behind it. We wanted the replayability of that emergence. What we didn’t expect were just the sheer amount of cases that would have an unpredictable behaviour which would break the rules of the game. We have to admit that there were many times when we had to go back to a specific enhancement and rewrite it to work with a specific tool or weapon in a specific place in the game. Balancing every case, but also making sure the combinations remain surprising and exciting was a monumental task.
Liana Ruppert: Were there any ideas that didn't quite make the cutting room floor when making this game? Can you tell us some of them?
Catalin Zima-Zegreanu, Lead Designer: One of our quest designers had a “thing” for putting a quest with a giant’s foot inside the game. But for technical reasons, this was a lot harder than you might suspect at first, as everything about that would break certain constraints in the game so sadly we had to scrape it until we have a solution. We also have two stories inspired by real-life characters that lived in one of our grandma’s villages: an arsonist burning down a block of houses, and a creepy blind beggar, which we had to cut due to time restrictions. But we’re doing our best to make sure you see these later on.
Liana Ruppert: If you could invoke one reaction from players, what would it be?
Catalin Zima-Zegreanu, Lead Designer: One of our design pillars was to make the player feel like a folk tale hero. Besides that, if we’re lucky and players enjoy playing the game, we would love to be able and make more of them... so I guess we would want to invoke curiosity and a cultural hunger for more tales from our parts of the world.
Yaga will be available on November 12th on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.