When planning to release a new game into a genre already crowded by some established heavy hitters, new ideas and novel game mechanics will go a long way towards establishing success. With this in mind, industry veterans Cyanide Studios have been hard at work on their latest project, Rogue Lords. Drawing inspiration from hits such as Slay the Spire, Cyanide is spicing up the formula by introducing the Prince of Darkness as the protagonist (is the Devil even capable of being a protagonist?).
This turn-based adventure will see players guiding the Devil against countless foes as the ruler of hell commands some of history’s most dastardly entities, including Dracula, Bloody Mary, and the Headless Horseman.
I got the chance to sit down with Camille Lisoir, the Art Director on Rogue Lords, as well as Game Director Jérémie Monedero. The pair offers up some insight into the nexus of the project and the diabolical nature of its cast.
Where did the idea for this game come from?
Jérémie: The concept of Rogue Lords was conceived internally at Cyanide a long time ago. At the time, I had some availability, as my previous project had already been released and, initially, I was very keen on turn-based tactics. We experimented with different ideas and gameplay formulas, but even if we had not yet settled on the game’s world and aesthetic, we were already adamant about the idea of incarnating the Devil who, when weakened, would need to rely on his faithful lieutenants to recover his power and take revenge. It was then that Camille came up with the idea of the New England atmosphere and that the first characters began to be drawn by Sabrina, our concept artist. Very quickly, the art direction became a driving force for the project. However, Cyanide did not necessarily have the time or the resources for a passion project at the time, so the idea was dormant for a while.
Finally, probably unsurprisingly, it was while playing Slay the Spire that the idea took on a second life. We revisited the concept while keeping the initial design fundamentals of the world, artistic direction, and the idea of playing a revengeful Devil. At that time, we were also watching the Penny Dreadful series a lot and its vibe inspired us. On the gameplay side, it was essential in our vision to give the Devil a strong and unique mechanic, specific to playing the embodiment of evil, and this is how we integrated the idea that he could cheat by touching the interface. Not only does it match perfectly with the image of the supreme manipulator, but it also fits with the idea that the Devil is the player behind his screen!
A revengeful and cheating Devil, legendary characters, a gameplay idea inspired by Slay the Spire but offering enough differences to make it stand out - with all of this, we finally had a concept that was solid enough to see the light of day.
What were some of your inspirations?
Jérémie: As I explained in my response above, we drew a lot from Slay the Spire gameplay, whose structure can be found in Rogue Lords. Nonetheless, there were other inspirations! I loved how the group of characters share action points in Bard's Tale, for example, and I loved the overall consistency in BattleChasers: Nightwar, which offered a simple yet effective gameplay experience wrapped in a stimulating and beautiful setting. Generally speaking, what inspired us most for creating the gameplay are roguelike deck-builder mechanics but also group and tactical RPGs. That’s why you can find character sheets, attributes, skills, and stories in Rogue Lords.
Visually speaking, besides the Penny Dreadful influence, it would be ridiculous not to admit that Tim Burton's work was not a strong reference point. Although we are a small team and we keep a modest attitude in comparison to the material that has inspired us, the graphic team of the project does not have to be ashamed of its work!
Can you talk about the characters & world?
Camille: I think the first character in the game we should talk about is the Devil. This is the character that the player controls, the one who pulls the strings and therefore cannot be seen. We preferred to let the player imagine their own version of the Devil, to better take on the role of the character.
The Devil suffered a stinging defeat several years ago against the famous demon hunter Van Helsing. In Rogue Lords, he returns to Earth to reclaim his throne. And to do so, he is going to call on his disciples, famous legends that you all know such as Dracula or Bloody Mary. We tried to build a diverse and mixed character panel. We have studied the legends associated with each of them extensively and we have built original characters unique to Rogue Lords. Each has its own original story, personality, and its own personal connection to the Devil.
For the world we turned to the Salem Witch Trials era, and, in turn, 17th century New England. It is a time when hysteria and legends around the Devil were at their peak. We have created a real dystopia with its own religion, its own originalities. We took inspiration from the chosen era for the architecture, costumes, landscapes, and history. We gave them the unique dough of the game. The Devil faces two types of enemies: Demon Hunters like Van Helsing, which we redesigned in our own way, and the Sanctua Lumen, a mysterious sect invented for the game, which wishes to purge the Earth of evil.
Could this game work as a board game?
Jérémie: While, technically, any turn-based game could be adapted into a board game, I’d find it difficult to transfer Rogue Lords directly to that medium.
The gameplay could be adapted and all the randomness behind the game’s mechanics could be simulated, but rather it is the pacing and readability that could be overwhelming, making the game less fun. Rogue Lords relies on numerous calculations and parameters that are almost instantaneous on a PC and easily viewable on the screen. If, for example, the damage calculations (which take into account an immense amount of variables and small random draws) are to be carried out by hand, the pace of the game would slow to a crawl.
A combat round would take 15 minutes and a full combat encounter could last an hour. In addition, it would require complicated physical equipment to help players understand and analyze the situations presented (in the end, Rogue Lords fights are sometimes complex situations that represent a small mathematical puzzle for the player to solve). And this is just one example for combat situations! As it stands, the conversion to a board game wouldn't work naturally and would pose a big issue with pace and ergonomics, which would very likely make the game not fun.
But if the gameplay mechanics are rethought, changed, and adjusted then yes, the world and the artistic direction of Rogue Lords could totally lend themselves to the board game medium. Ultimately, this is quite easy to say for many video games. By modifying the gameplay to adapt to the constraints of a physical game, Rogue Lords could be an attractive board game! However, a lot of work would need to be done.
We’d like to thank Camille and Jérémie for taking the time to speak with us about Rogue Lords. The game is available now on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4.