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It began as a tabletop game the devs played just for fun.
Keith Lee, the former lead programmer for the Ratchet and Clank series and more recently a lead producer for the Diablo franchise had been working in the mobile app game space for a while before beginning work on Duelyst, an upcoming game developed by his company Counterplay Games, with a Kickstarter that opened Monday, March 10th. Lee, and Counterplay, wanted to get away from the microtransaction economy of the mobile space and focus on “delivering content for value.” Duelyst, with its amazing pixel art and deep tactical gameplay looks to do just that.
A pixel art, synchronous, multiplayer tactical RPG, Duelyst puts you on the board with just your General at first who is a powerful unit who can issue other units, with the goal of defeating your opponent’s General. Unlike other online multiplayer tactical RPGs, Duelyst has a 90-second timer for each round to keep the player engaged; additionally, adding an extra tactical layer, you can see whatever your opponent cursor is on top of, over, or engages with, while the opponent is making his or her decision.
The first thing I noticed in Duelyst is the art. Lead Artist Glauber Kotaki (Rogue Legacy) designed the game to have that traditional 16-bit look commonly associated with classic games in the genre, like Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem. It’s more complex than that, though, with dynamic shadows cast on the battlefield and subtle bloom effects, bringing a higher level of visual fidelity that appears 16-bit but is actually much more polished. The characters themselves are animated in that familiar 15fps traditional motion that just exudes a kind of nostalgic charm. With Duelyst, Counterplay Games has put the aesthetic of 16-bit hand-drawn fighting games into a multiplayer tactical RPG.
The game is by no means smoke and mirrors, or just a pretty face. Lee and his companions at Counterplay started playing the game as an after-hours tabletop creation just for fun. When they began to look seriously at game concepts, they toyed with the idea of producing a tabletop version, but keeping track of the math involved with all the parameters in play made a video game a more ideal choice. In addition to the combat units, Duelyst also has a CCG element with spells deployed from a customizable deck, increasing the game’s tactical complexity and player choice.
The lush 2D look has a two-fold purpose according to Lee. Not only is the art fantastic, but it also allows them to focus on the gameplay rather than the visual development cost of 3D. When I asked what’s next, Lee told me that ideally they would attract a large enough userbase to expand from one-on-one battles to team-based matches—to create a larger competitive sphere. One reason for the synchronous gameplay is so that players can't avoid losses by bowing out of the game or not completing it—making the competition more of a draw—adding more players to the matches would help drive this goal further.
While Duelyst is being developed for PC, Mac, and Web browsers, prospective stretch goals include additional units and factions, maps, and other concepts. While not currently on its Kickstarter page (where at the time of this writing, the game has already achieved about half of their $68,000 goal in just the first few hours), there is the possibility of expanding the world through fiction, and Lee even showed me plans, if they are really successful, to port the game to PS4 and Xbox One.