Massive Chalice interview: "You have to have thick skin"

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Tactical strategy game Massive Chalice is Double Fine's second Kickstarted project, and one of many that fans have been able to watch very closely during development. Between Amnesia Fortnight projects such as Spacebase DF-9 and other Early Access games such as Hack 'n' Slash, Double Fine has invited fans to watch them pitch concepts, create art, and balance character stats in spreadsheets via developer diaries and Twitch streams.

It's all super interesting stuff if you want to see how games are made, but there have been problems. Recently, there was some controversy around Spacebase's unexpected transition from Early Access to v1.0, and planned features lost in the process. When I sat down with Massive Chalice Project Lead Brad Muir, I asked him if this caused Double Fine to reconsider its approach.

PC Gamer: Did you discuss how to better manage expectations when developing a game in full view after the reaction to Spacebase's release?

Brad Muir: We talked about it a little bit but I think our communication has been good, really transparent...Massive Chalice is really mechanical and procedural, so we're content complete at this point. There are small features, enemy behavior, some abilities we want to tweak. Lots of number tweaks. Overall balance to the game is going to change dramatically, especially the second half of it. That's one thing about any sort of long term, strategic game: the further you deviate from the beginning, the less testing you're going to get on it. I'm excited to have all these people helping test the game.

What's it been like developing Massive Chalice with constant feedback from backers?

One of our tenants as a Kickstarter project is that we didn't have the whole thing designed, and we had a lot of people come to us with ideas that were better than ours. One of our classes is an alchemist that throws exploding flasks. This guy on the forums, zdesert, did this quick talent tree in MS Paint and drew all these icons that the alchemist character would have. Some of them were fine, some of them were bad, but one of them, it was a jar of bees. I wanted some kind of area denial ability, like poison gas, but this kid...I actually don't even know if he's a kid, maybe he's like 45, I have no idea, but he made this thing that's even more interesting because it can move around the map, it can create this hazard that can break up and shift for a few turns before it dissipates, and that's a lot more interesting than a cloud of poison gas.

Does he know it's in the game?

Absolutely he knows. He's so stoked. He will forever be able to say that he had an idea that went right into this game.

Massive Chalice

The origin of 'bees in a bottle.'

Creatively, what's the downside of working this way? If I had to write something on a Twitch stream I'd be too self-conscious.

It's impossible to know what this game would look like if we just closed the doors and developed it internally. For sure, you have to have thick skin because people are going to talk shit about it, and say some inflammatory, angry things, and you just have to do your best to ignore it I guess. Just the other day, there was a guy who came into our forums, TrashMan, and he was like, "What the fuck, these classes are stupid."

We have three core classes in the game and we tried to make something that's not just magic and wizards and fireballs flying around. That stuff is cool, but there are so many games that exhibit that kind of orcs and elves, Tolkien-esque high fantasy stuff.

When someone like the TrashMan appears—I love that he's called that, it's so perfect—there are other backers saying "check out Teamstream number 3, where they went through all this stuff." It's been nice, but there's an ugly side to it—the internet gives everyone a voice. And the other thing is, I don't know anything about these people, that's one part I find very strange about this. I would like to know more about zdesert. He might be a girl, I don't know. It's weird. And this TrashMan guy, I'd like to think that he's just an angry kid, but he might be 40 and through two divorces.

Are you scared that this is taking some of the magic away, showing how the sausage is made?

I think one of the cool things about Kickstarter is you're choosing to be more involved, you're choosing to make this thing happen, though you don't have too. You don't have to gaze upon the making of the sausage.

I don't think that it will ruin it for people. I hope there are more people like zdesert that are just that much more invested because of it, because they saw it grow from nothing. We made Massive Chalice with their help. That's really cool.