Chris Picone - CSH Picone
Ioan Lazu - The Scholastics
Interview by Chris Picone, 28 February 2022
I’ve been tracking Wigmund for a long time now; I first played the game when it was still in very Early Access – it struck me as very promising back then, even though there wasn’t enough content for me to review at the time. The game’s come leaps and bounds since then. The team’s still balancing and tweaking some of the mechanics but otherwise the game’s now all but content complete. Even in its current state, the game’s a lot of fun and I wanted to know more about it, so: Joining me today is Ioan Lazu; software engineer and game designer with The Scholastics, joins me to have a chat about soon-to-be released ARPG Wigmund.
CSH: First, let’s introduce you. The Scholastics studio are two brothers, correct? What skills and experience do you both bring to the party?
Ioan: Indeed, we are two brothers from Timisoara (Romania): Sebastian is our graphic designer (both 2D and 3D) and I, Ioan, am Wigmund’s developer/programmer and level designer.
CSH: Phew! I’ll admit I was a little confused – I couldn’t remember if I read about your being brother on your website or if I was getting mixed up with the main characters from. Have you both always worked in the videogame industry?
Ioan: We never worked in the videogame industry. I worked as a software developer in other fields of the IT industry - but NOT in the field of videogame industry. Some years ago we created some small games, and we tried to create a quest/adventure game named "The Unwritten Critias & the Lost Island" (its demo, probably, can still be found on some websites). But all these projects were - more or less - meant to help us learn the tools and the flow of the actual production of a digital game.
CSH: Now I already gave away that the main characters were brothers but can you give us some insight?
Ioan: Wigmund and his brother Wigstan are the sons of Lord Wyglaf, the head of King Alfred's imperial guards (also known as "The Lions of Templar"). As newborns, they were separated and hidden from the evil pseudo-king Antiochus who, through a coup d’état, removed King Alfred to proclaim himself king. Only one man, Raedan the Wise, King Alfred's advisor, knows where the twins were hiding. But no one knows what happened to King Alfred or the children's father, Lord Wyglaf. And this mystery must be solved...
CSH: Your website states that the character’s a fugitive bent on overthrowing an evil tyrant but the game doesn’t seem to have gone down that path at all. Well – I guess there’s still an evil tyrant. What happened?
Ioan: Our biggest problem stemmed from the impossibility of estimating from the beginning how long it would take us to develop the game without any budget, and only two of us. We established that we would dedicate a maximum of five years to this game. Along the way, however, we had to remove certain parts - which makes the overall plot more difficult to be seen/understood. Another issue: we only have a little voice acting and cinematics. If the first version of the full game will bring the necessary money, this would be something we would definitely add to the game. Then the story would be much more clearly "perceptible".
CSH: The game has definitely been in development for a long time. I recently read a thread on RPG Codex where some fans were concerned the game was going to turn out to be vapourware. Having played the game in Early Access though, I never had that fear. Long development for a game like this seems normal to me – RPGs by nature must take a long time to make and for an indie team I also recognise that you must be working around families, other work, limited resources…
The other comment that caught my eye on that forum was that the Wigmund logo and the Wizardry logo is very similar. Was this intentional? Was Wizardry one of the main inspirations behind the game?
Ioan: No, it's not intentional. We have never seen the Wizardry logo. Consequently, Wizardry is not one of the main inspirations behind our game. Wigmund’s main source of inspiration is the same historic world that inspired the creations of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien: the Anglo-Saxon world of the V-X centuries of the Christian era. Definitively, our passion for the works of J.R.R. Tokien is our main source of inspiration, the driving force behind our project.
CSH: Was Wigmund inspired by any other media? The Arthurian legend seems obvious. I’m guessing Beowulf? Anything else?
Ioan: As in the case of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, we are not very strongly influenced by the legends of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, although we know all these legends quite well. As I have mentioned, the main influence is the Anglo-Saxon culture. So it is obvious that works like Beowulf have had a great influence on us, but also Germanic legends like the famous Nibelungenlied (the Song of the Nibelungs).
CSH: Any other sources of inspiration? Nox?
Ioan: Even though we played - some years ago - Nox (and other classical RPGs like Dungeon Siege, Neverwinter Nights etc.) there is only one single source of inspiration from the world of computer games: an old RPG named Silver, published by Infogrames in 1999. We like very much its game-play, and we consider it the best. Why? Because it tries to simulate with the mouse the movements of real fencing. It is understood, therefore, that we prefer some kind of real-time combat game-play to a turn-based one.
CSH: Wigmund comes across as a fairly generic medieval fantasy game – I did feel like it had its own flavour, particularly in regard to the bagpipe music and small aesthetic features like the building designs, but it’s subtle. Can you draw out attention to some of the other key elements of your Celtic-inspired world building?
Ioan: What have you noticed is absolutely correct: first, it is about music. Besides the music, it's about the visual aspect, about the graphics of the game. Thus, some of our graphic concepts for the architecture of Lonely Valley and Clwyd houses as well as the decorative elements of certain weapons and armours are Celtic.
CSH: Regarding the Celtic historical influence, is Wigmund’s setting based in a real world time or place?
Ioan: No, the place is entirely fictional.
CSH: One of your key driving points for the game, and the main area you seem to want to differentiate Wigmund from other ARPGs, is the mouse-driven skill-based sword combat. How difficult is this to learn? What do people think of it?
Ioan: I cannot say - objectively speaking - how difficult is to learn Wigmund's game-play. I learned a similar type of game-play in 5 minutes when I played, for the first time, Silver (approx. fifteen years ago). Of course, to master it is another thing. That's why we have three levels of difficulty: Novice, Knight, and Master. And they precisely mean what they say: first, you must be Novice (in order to learn the game-play), second, you must be Knight and, finally, if you persevere, you can become a Master.
Until now, the feed-back has been mixed. Some players have enjoyed it. Other players have not enjoyed it. In some cases there were some things which, indeed, had to be calibrated (like the damage, the power of the enemies, the balance of the qualities of your character, etc.). In these cases, the feed-back was very helpful. But in other cases our game-play has been criticized mainly because it is NOT similar to that from AAA (click-and-play) RPGs. We consider this a matter of taste. For instance, even though I played some turn-based (and D&D) RPGs, I never enjoyed their game-play. I cannot explain WHY, but I don't like that kind of game-play. But I would not say that is "wrong" or "bad". Anyway, due to the negative feed-back regarding our game-play, we have done some important things: last year we introduced full-controller support and in January, this year, when we released the open-world part of the game we provided a (default) "Automatic Combat Gestures" setting. But, of course, we have NOT fundamentally changed the essential game-play because - for a team of two - this is not possible (the whole mechanic of our game has been implemented precisely to provide the player the opportunity to experience THIS particular game-play).
Both controller support and the already mentioned "Automatic Combat Gestures" setting have provided for those players who don't like our basic game-play. This is, concretely, all we could do for players who do not like our type of game-play. At the same time, we have added a WARNING regarding our game-play on the Steam store page. I quote:
"Our game-play combat is NOT a clone. Wigmund is neither a click-and-play nor a turn-based RPG. We have designed it because we want to propose a real-time combat game-play to those who would like to try something different. What's the purpose of such a new combat game-play? To offer a different experience compared to that offered by any existing RPG."
In addition, we will provide a demo soon. This is because we have learned from feedback and various polls that, in fact, a demo is preferred by players to the refund option offered by Steam.
CSH: For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed the combat in Wigmund. I mean I loved Diablo and Path of Exile but generally speaking I find those ARPGs can get very repetitive very fast. I often joke about the strategy guide I wrote for Diablo back in 1997: “Click, click, click, repeat.” Wigmund adds an element of strategy and skill to the genre that I found refreshing.
This has turned into a fairly length interview already, so we’d better wrap it up. I have a bit of a tradition of ending my interviews with the same question: Making something as lengthy and in-depth as a role-playing game is a process of learning as much as creation. What would you do differently and what will you do differently next time, knowing what you know now?
Ioan: Systematically and shortly:
1.) It is not a good idea (especially if you are indie) to release an Early Access version if you DO NOT have something viral (a trailer, a demo or a prototype) and/or if you do not have an almost finished game. To speak plainly, we consider the release of Wigmund’s Early Access version our biggest mistake.
2.) A demo is a very good idea because - as I said - the players ALWAYS prefer it instead of using the refund option offered by Steam.
3.) Creating a serious game like Wigmund (which took us five years) is easy compared to promoting it. This is a thing which in the context of the current, overwhelmed market MUST BE very seriously taken into consideration. To create a serious game WITHOUT the knowledge or the money necessary to pay a good/serious PR/Marketing company can be the path to failure.
4.) It seems that the best strategy is to "test" the game with a demo and a Kickstarter campaign (which, beware!, costs money to be promoted).
5.) Another unexpected but essential thing: if you are creating something that is in a genre where many big AAA companies are dominating the scene, your game will be compared to their games (which is unfair, but unavoidable and understandable).
6.) Many reviewers, journalists and players do NOT have the same patience and goodwill with an indie game as they do with a famous, well promoted AAA game.
7.) Point 6.) is ESPECIALLY applicable when an indie team is trying to propose something really different (like our game-play). We have been asked many times: "Why couldn't you make a game-play like in Path of Exile or like in Divinity. Original Sin?" We can ask back: why make a clone? Unfortunately, many would recommend you to create a clone instead of trying something new/different. Of course, it is clear that if you are trying this as an Indie team, the risk is maximum.
CSH: I’m sorry you’ve had that sort of experience with reviewers and journalists but I suppose that’s just one of the risks you have to take when you’re daring to try something new – which, I suspect, is part of the reason AAA companies just keep producing cookie cutter games. And why I find myself playing more and more indie games. Anyway, that’s a wrap unless you had anything else you’d like to add?
Ioan: This is all we have for now. Thank you for this opportunity!
No Ioan, thank you! I know developers are always very busy so I’m always extremely appreciative when they’re willing to set time aside to talk to me. I had a lot of fun with Wigmund as-is but I’m looking forward to playing through it all again when the full release comes out.
Links to developer/game websites:
Wigmund Steam Page: