Interview: Craig Ritchie/ Leanne Taylor-Giles (Drop Bear Bytes)
One the sidelines of PAX 2022 I was lucky enough to experience a hands on demo of upcoming CRPG Broken Roads from Drop Bear Bytes. Not only did I get to play through the demo, but I got the chance to sit down with Founder and Game Director Craig Ritchie and Narrative Director Leanne Taylor-Giles and get some more information about what we will see in Broken Roads, their favourite characters, the wacky and the shady, as well as some release date speculation for good measure.
(As silly as it sounds, I did not even think to ask about the inclusions of Drop Bears in the game. In an email exchange Craig Ritchie did confirm there will be Drop Bears present, they are just not ready to be shown publicly.)
Answers have been slightly edited for clarity.
Shaun Nicholls – Seeing the Morality Compass in action, it’s really cool. I’m the sorta guy who usually, I know you guys have talked about wanting to move away from the binary choice of “this is your good option and this is your bad option”, or the one that pisses people off and you’re a hard ass…
Craig Ritchie – laughing – Leanne’s options, the ones that Leane wrote
SN – So normally, when I play a game I’ll go through and do one playthrough as a good guy, and one playthrough as the bad guy…
CR – And you’ve seen all the content on both playthroughs
SN – And you’re like OK I’ve done it, sometimes I don’t actually make it through being a bad guy the whole way because I just hate myself, but I try at least. But with the Moral Compass, you really have the options there. It’s like for example, I talked the kid down to save him but when it came time to deal with the merc I’m like “I really don’t give a stuff about him. I’m just going to threaten him. Just show how out of his depth he is going to be.
CR – So you didn’t fight him?
SN – No
CR – Ok cool, because you can fight him, you can pay him you can intimidate him
Leanne Taylor-Giles – You intimidated him
SN – I ended up intimidating him and he ran off.
CR – Did you see him in the bar in the end sequences? There’s other end sequences where if you fight him he is lying dead. So everything you have done there, those different end sequences that you saw show all these different outcomes. Interesting to hear that you threatened him, because we have seen it all, threaten, pay, kill, bribe…
LTG – Give him your gun
SN – I was thinking should I just pay him, and I was like, I don’t even know if I have the money to pay him, so I just went we will see how this plays out. So just having that option of the Moral Compass and going, yeah I’m a good guy but I’m going to do this.
LTG – You can be a hard-ass and a good bloke
CR – That’s why we made the motivations count, so an event is not inherently good or bad or morally right or wrong. I could be motivated to threaten him because he is stealing money from Tina, or whatever it is, that means that in that instance being a dick-head is, it could be the right action.
SN – It gets him gone, it doesn’t cost me anything and it makes Tina happy. What sort of time length are you guys aiming for someone to really get into just a single playthrough?
CR – So average probably like 25 to 30 hours, like what we would call standard CRPG length. Completionists much longer. We are not designing it to be speedrun. We are measuring the fastest routes through the game.
LTG – At the moment my husband has been trying to bug-test really quickly, so he has been mashing the one button and skipping a bunch of stuff and it still takes him 45 minutes to get to halfway through the game.
CR – But that is avoiding all combat, so obviously combat time would increase. We are accounting for people who might want to rush it, we know people love speed runs and we’ve also got a pacifist playthrough, so you can, if you are careful with your choices and your character build, there’s multiple paths through the game where you don’t actually have to kill anyone. So you can play the whole thing without combat or you can go full-on “I’m here to kill everyone in the wasteland.” We are not letting you just initiate combat where you want. Some of that stuff will just ruin the narrative or kill key characters. We decided that’s kind of out-of-scope for such a small team.
LTG – It’s also not really in our world
CR – No, exactly. We are not making a dungeon crawler in the slightest. So yeah, 25 hours, much more for completionists and replayability through the roof. We know that not even everyone does play the game twice but we have four origin stories, 36000 places you can be on the Moral Compass, multiple endings, various companion party make-ups and they have their own dynamics and stuff. So we want each individual playthrough to feel amazing and we want people to talk about it later and like “I didn’t have that content at all, I had a different party composition that went on a totally different quest because of it because each companion has their own Moral Compass as well
SN – Even in the interaction with the kid, because I was mainly Humanitarian and Utilitarian and being able to see the options there was like “Ohh when I play through if I aim for that I can use that option.” It is cool being able to at least see what you are missing. You are not going to find out the effects of course, but being able to go ok I want to experiment with that later, then you know you can go back and start again
CR – On that topic, we’ve actually got more feedback that people want it hidden. They don’t want to see how they can game it and always pick the Nihilist option or I can always pick the Machiavellian. If we hide what quadrant it’s in until afterwards, but we are going to do it as an option, so you go to settings and can choose how you want to play the game when you create your character and at any point, you can turn those options on or off.
LTG – And hide the options you can’t take as well.
CR – Yes, that’s it. So you might have a failed speech check. Some people want that visible like Fallout, some people want that hidden and, like Leanne said, you won’t see the Nihilist option that is not available to your character.
LTG – Unless you turn it on.
CR – So you’ve described a completely valid way that the U.I. can be but interestingly at Gamescom wh more than 300 people play it and we had more people saying “Oh we’d like to have this hidden.” Maybe that’s the German audience who are big CRPG fans as well.
SN – There is definitely that “Oooh” moment if you are doing a playthrough and you come across an event, and you’re like, “hang on I didn’t have that option before.” It really I suppose comes down to the individual player and having the option there…
CR – If there is no penalty to having it displayed or not…
LTG – It’s just more about how much you want to roleplay versus how much you want to do different to what you did last time. Myself, when I play a game I play as myself and then whenever I try to play it again it’s really hard for me not to do the things I want to do so that tag will help me to be like no, no, I have to choose the Machiavellian option this time.
SN – When it comes to exploring the world, is it a linear experience or do they get to a point and they can just go off in any direction that they want?
LTG – At some point, the world opens up and it’s a full free-roaming world map. You can go wherever you want. You will unlock some places after you have done quests or you have talked to someone. There will be random encounters between towns, so those will be created experiences but randomly placed and they won’t all happen in the same sequence so you might not get them all in one playthrough. So we want to make it feel as much like a living open world as possible.
CR – There are defined chapters, so we have a defined path until the pub that you experienced (in the hands-on demo), and then a couple more storytelling sequences and then the world opens up. So everyone will be funnelled to the pub and soon after that, you can do anything.
SN – Has there been anything really crazy that one of the team suggested and you had to have it in the game?
CR – There has been a lot of those (laughter). We have a page full of easter eggs and stuff that we want to go in there. Not all that crazy, does something come to mind?
LTG – I don’t know what you want me to say because…
CR – Just go for it.
LTG – Wombat Riders. There is giant mutated wombats that these people ride around on and there is like 3 of them and there is a posse, or they all ride different animals. Then there’s the giant fire-breathing red kangaroo,
CR – The thing is again you might not experience these in your playthrough but the game intentionally starts really normal. The game starts around a farming town in WA and it’s just barely post-apocalyptic, and you’re like OK this isn’t that far gone.
SN – Civilisation still somewhat exists.
CR – Exactly, but then as you start getting out and progressing further into the game it becomes more weird and more out there and leans more into the Mad Max/Fallout wacky, like what the hell is going on stuff. So we really do crank up the weird stuff by the end of it. Colin McCombe is our Creative Lead, he’s got a lot of weird ideas. He has worked on Planescape Torment and Torment: Tides of Numenera, which Leanne wrote on as well. He’s full of crazy ideas.
LTG – (Laughing) That is definitely a thing he is full of. I can see you crossed out a question
SN – Yeah about using a wombat as a pack mule or a combat function. Obviously, you are well ahead of that.
CR – We’ve got camels as pack creatures, we got people who ride a wombat. I don’t think the player will be able to ride a wombat.
LTG – No I think that they are not that big, that’s why they are called the tiny jockeys (in-house working name only), smaller than average people.
CR – But I do like that your questions are the right thing. (both laughing)
SN – Your favourite weapons or if you can your favourite character?
LTG – My favourite weapon is Mads weapon. She is one of the party members. She has a cricket bat with saw blades in it. She is great, I wanted to have her in the demo but we couldn’t quite make it happen. My favourite character, ooh there’s too many…
CR – I know who mine is. Honest Wade
LTG – Oh Honest Wade, fair enough. Mine is probably Ella. She is a companion character and she is one of those people that you have to give her distance so you can become closer.
CR – So my favourite character is not an NPC or a companion, he is not part of your journey basically, he is a, I was going to say merchant, but he is a shifty bastard and he runs Honest Wade’s, and he is the used car salesman of the future style thing. He runs a shop in Ardath, which is our hive of scum and villainy in the game and we just had so much fun with him because he just leans so hard into the, I don’t want to say crazy stuff because he is not that late into the game, it’s just more into the …
LTG – Eccentric, he has enough money and he is eccentric,
CR – Totally, and he has cool stuff. He has old CRTs…
LTG – Anything you lose is going to end up in his shop.
CR – And stolen stuff and he is just dodgy. He leans into every used car salesman cliche and he is a lot of fun in my favourite town in the game as well which is Ardath. In terms of a favourite weapon, we designed a bunch of recipes which we haven’t even tested yet, so we don’t have full crafting but like Baldur’s Gate 2 and many other games where if you get certain items and bring it to the right character they will make something else from it. Of the base items for sure I think Mads cricket bat is awesome, it was one of the earliest ones we designed and is in the key art and everything. Some of the recipes are going to be pretty cool.
LTG – I forgot about Dead Ringer, Dead Ringer is my favourite. Dead Ringer is a raider in a cage in Brookton when you first get there and you can let him out, and if you don’t, minor spoiler he dies, but if you let him out he has this series of hijinks that get weirder and weirder until eventually… Yeah I’ll stop there
CR – But we are really trying to reward the attentive player. Like if you pay attention, that person you saved will be found drinking at the bar, or that person has just appeared in this town and is up to no good. Oh, there’s a theme running through with that guy I saved. So we are having a lot of fun with it and we really want the players who dive into this the same way we dived in Baldur’s Gate and Fallout, early games and those deep RPGs, I feel like it’s rewarding the player that’s invested in it.
SN – So you mentioned losing items or having items stolen. Is that as in if a companion goes down you will lose their gear or is it just scripted event-type things?
LTG – It’s more like if you have a chance to get a quest item and you don’t take that chance, it will end up at Honest Wade’s.
SN – So even if you for whatever reason don’t do you still have a chance to get that item.
LTG – Yeah, especially for things that are vital to the quest but also, for example, solar panels. So at some point, someone asks you for solar panels. There are lots of ways you can get it. One of the towns gets abandoned at the beginning of the game and there are some solar panels there. So you can go and get those ones and get them repaired, or half of them are in Ardath now because Honest Wade went and stole the rest. So it will be based on time and progression through the game and if you don’t do something by a certain time he might go and get it himself and things like that. So it’s a little bit more dynamic.
CR – Because we do have chapters, and if you haven’t done X by this chapter, the new chapter begins and certain things in the game will change.
LTG – So quest items will be in different locations depending on what time of the game it is.
CR – So you might not get something stolen from your party.
LTG – No he won’t steal from you, but we have persistent containers in the world where you can leave stuff, you also have an unlimited inventory so it’s not really an issue, but say that you put something in a container and then you go back and it’s not there well it’s going to be at Honest Wade’s.
SN – So obviously with the Australian setting, we have a lot less firearms than the United States. Are you guys sticking with that, as in the firearms are going to be harder to find and source, or is it going to be a suspension of disbelief, where in this world the guns are there?
CR – Hopefully between the two. We modelled the weapons on what’s available primarily with the ADF (Australian Defence Force). So the weapons are weapons that are here, and then also we can just write the fiction, you know, the world goes to shit in the next twenty years and then there’s this massive apocalypse and this is a hundred years later. So the scouts, their ancestors were doomsday preppers. So they have weapons and they have ammo and have those kinds of things. Not every who comes up to you has just got a gun.
LTG – Most people won’t have guns.
CR – Yeah, so there’s melee and all those kinds of things as well. It’s definitely not like the range and prevalence of guns that you might see in the Fallout games, but we also didn’t want to go… Fun is first, absolutely, so for you to have some weapons and there is a player expectation that we are satisfying, we will have some weapons and we will have some guns. We don’t have bazookas, like that kind of thing, but we do have the same sniper rifle as you currently find in the ADF and the same kind of handguns and that kind of thing that you get licensed over here.
LTG – And we do have unlimited ammo.
CR – Yeah that’s the other thing. You just reload XCOM style. We thought it would actually be less fun for people to run out of ammo. The penalties on Action Point cost in combat, that’s the penalty as opposed to trying and find ammo.
LTG – There will be weapons that have a limited number of uses, kind of like the Fatboys in Fallout 3, where you could go around and you could find the little mini-nukes. So there will be a couple of weapons like that, but for the most part, we don’t want people to be doing the inventory management during combat, we want them to just enjoy combat.
SN – One thing that’s been playing on my mind since I first saw Broken Roads at PAX in 2019 is that if your alignment on the Moral Compass shifts too far out of alignment with a companion’s view, they will up and leave you. Do you have the chance to get them back again later once you swing back (your alignment) around?
LTG – You can have disagreements with your party characters. They might be adventuring with you, you go to make a decision and they say “I will not support you.” If you continue they will go back to the Convoy. So you can’t ever really lose them but when you get back it’s going to be a hard discussion to convince them to join you. We also have tension between companions, so if you have two companions with diametrically opposed views, at some point one of them is probably just going to be like “if he’s here, I’m not here.” They will go back to the convoy and you can let them sort it out, or you can talk to them and try and mediate. There are very few things you can do that will force a companion to leave permanently, and they will be really well-flagged ahead of time, but definitely, the companions are going to like you more or less based on how much you adhere to their worldviews, and since we have so many worldviews and so many characters, you can’t please everyone.
CR – While we love the Baldurs Gates and that kind of thing I always felt it was a little bit punishing if “oh I really like this character and he didn’t like what I did and he’s left the group,” and he is gone from the game, you can’t pick him up again.
LTG – And he took your armour.
CR – So we just decided, no they might leave you but they will go back to Convoy, because after the origin stories you then have the convoy as a central hub location that you can adventure from, and they will just go back there and be grumpy with you for a while.
SN – I know you’re not going to tell me when the release date is but is there any speculation on when we will get an announcement of the release date?
CR – We are going to have to announce the proper release date, I mean, probably Q2 next year we will know for certain when it is. We are aiming for mid-next-year launch, but we are only saying 2023 because 2022 didn’t happen. But there is a lot of reasons why we are confident we will be ready to ship and we have to ship in 2023, and yeah I’m aiming for the middle of the year.
LTG – Can I just say my preferred date?
CR – Chuckles
LTG – I have been pushing for years to launch on May 8th so it’s M8. If we can get there I’m going to yell at people.
CR – Feel free to print that. I don’t think we are going to hit it.
LTG – I stole that from the comedians who want to change Australia Day to May 8th. That would be the perfect day.
CR – I am pretty sure that May 8th is not going to be doable, but I would love it to be mentioned.
SN – Thanks you both for your time, I can’t wait for the game!
CR/LTG – Thanks Shaun