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Hand of Fate: Beta Impressions and Developer Q&A
I first came across Hand of Fate during one of my many time-sapping trawls through Kickstarter and while I didn’t actually end up funding the game at that point, I was still very much intrigued by its premise.
I spent some time with the game’s early access release and caught up with Defiant Development’s founder, Morgan Jaffit, for a short Q&A about the game.
Hand of Fate is a deck-based action rogue-like which is a bit of a tricky game to describe – although it does a great job of explaining itself and after a few rounds with the game, it all works rather well. Imagine a grid-based rogue-like in which each square of the grid is an encounter. These encounters range from short dialogue sequences to chance-based challenges and, of course, combat encounters.
During combat encounters the game discards its board game trappings and becomes a 3D brawler that’s straight out of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Left clicking launches light attacks while right click handles heavy ones. For the most part combat is quite quick, fast and fun – although certain enemy designs (I’m talking about you Wizard-dudes!) don’t seem to have a clear weakness or strategy at this point and it does sometimes become more of an atrocious slog.
These sections of Hand of Fate look quite good visually and It’s very cool to enter a combat encounter and watch the card versions of the weapons and armor you’ve found transform into the items themselves. On the whole the presentation is very strong; the voice-over for the dealer is quite limited at the moment but the little there is is quite good.
One of the coolest and most exciting aspects was the customization options for your deck. All encounters and items in the game are drawn out from the deck and the more of Hand of Fate you play, the more control you have over this. I’m really excited to see what future updates bring in regards to this and it could lead to a really interesting situation come the game’s release, particularly if the developers decide to push for mod support.
Leviathyn: So there’s a lot of rogue-like-inspired games around these days – but, credit to you, Hand of Fate feels like something really cool and new. Where did the idea for the game come from?
Morgan Jaffit: We always try and think about the games we’ve made previously, and the ways we can do something new with our next game. We’d just finished up an iOS dungeon crawler called Heroes Call, and we wanted to use that as a base to build from, but we also wanted to do something new. At the same time, we played lots of card and board games at lunch in the office, and spent a lot of time talking about those sorts of mechanics. Over time, we started thinking about how we could combine the two, and that’s where we got really excited. Once we added cards, the ideas just began to flow in terms of the ways we could use all these elements together.
There’s an impressive amount of complexity to the game, what do you have planned to help ensure more casual players don’t fall into the deep end? Have you thought about implementing a tutorial or narrative-driven component of the game to teach new players the ropes?
The learning curve is definitely too steep right now. We’re working hard on streamlining the way content is introduced, so people don’t get hit with too much up front. We’re also adding in a lot of tutorial prompts when the player discovers new mechanics, and dealer voice over to help explain things. Ultimately, we’re just continuing to refine the way we present our mechanics in order to make them as easy to understand and as intuitive as possible. We’ve come a long way since our earliest builds, but we still have a long way to go yet. Having our Kickstarter backers offer feedback and commentary along the way has been a huge help on that front – they keep giving us pointers on what needs work.
I really liked combat in the game but there’s only a handful of enemies available at the moment. How do you plan to handle bigger monsters as the game continues development?
As you play on you’ll encounter more varied enemy types, along with special opponents like the Mages and the Minotaur. The other thing we do is take all of the one-off bosses, and once you’ve defeated them they’re added to the normal deck. So you can encounter them in normal encounters from that point on, which really helps to keep the variety up.
What’s more important when it comes to monster design in the game – creating foes that a skilled player can defeat or creating foes that reward smart players for making the most of the deck-buildings systems in the game?
Both! That’s really the major point the games system hinge on, ultimately. We’ve spent a lot of time (and still are) looking at the best ways to open up both skill and card based solutions to most of the issues the game throws at you.
A lot of RPGs don’t really bother with managing their heroes’ potential starvation – what drove you to include food as an important mechanic in the game?
We really wanted the player to have a limited resource, so that exploration was a choice with consequences. Food heals you with every step you take, which helps to allow the player to recover from bad encounters and evens out the difficulty curve. If you run out, you start to lose health though, so you need to make your choices wisely.
I was a big fan of Ian Livingstone’s work when I was younger and it feels like his particular flavor of fantasy has definitely influenced Hand of Fate. What others influences the cool style that you’ve got going?
Fighting Fantasy books were the first things that opened my eyes to the huge world of RPG’s, and I’ll always owe Ian a debt of gratitude for that. Those encounters and the presentation of those books are seared into my mind, for sure. We’ve also drawn pretty heavily on medieval woodcuts, and tarot art and mythology to build the art of the cards. We’ve been lucky to have a hugely talented art team, and they’ve really helped to build something special as we’ve gone.
Do you plan to develop the world and lore of Hand of Fate as time goes or keep it as maintain that cool minimalist and archetypal style that the early access build showcases?
The whole tarot approach means we’ve gone for a pretty archetypal approach – it’s all about big themes and hero’s journey, in one sense. On the other hand, the cards of Hand of Fate are drawn from the players memories and experience, so we could build different themes as we go.
I really loved the deck-building mechanics in the game. Can we possibly expect further expansion packs of mod-support for this side of the game as time goes on?
We would love to add DLC and expansion packs, and we’ve got some thoughts on how that will go right now. If the game finds its audience (and we’re optimistic it will) then we’ll definitely keep making more content as we go.
Special thanks to Defiant Development for providing us with a beta code and agreeing to answer our questions.