DevDiary 14 - A look back
A Double Interview and a Look Back
Hello and welcome to our last DevDiary before release! We thought it would be best to do something special this time, so you are getting not just one one, but two Boi(y)ans interviewed, as we are celebrating our upcoming release by taking a fond retrospective look at the great games that started it all. We are Boian Spasov and Boyan Ivanov, co-creative directors of Jagged Alliance 3 and today we will be talking about our fond memories of Jagged Alliance 1 and Jagged Alliance 2 and the way these memories impacted the development of the sequel!
Question: Let’s start with an easy one – for how long have you wanted to make a Jagged Alliance game?
Boyan Ivanov: I’ve been fascinated with Jagged Alliance ever since I chanced upon JA2 in the early 2000s. I played it constantly for an entire summer. I’ve been wanting to try to make a game inspired by Jagged Alliance ever since my junior designer days more than a decade ago.
I’ve reached out to Jagged Alliance for inspiration multiple times over the years while working on other projects. Now having the chance to actually make the third installment of the series is still a bit unbelievable and overwhelming at times. The series is very near and dear to my heart.
Boian Spasov: There is a story that my colleagues love telling around but it bears repeating. When I applied for a game designer position at Haemimont Games way back in 2006 I was asked during my job interview to name any three existing games that I would love to work on if I ever get the chance. That question turned out oddly prophetic – one of the three was Tropico, a game series that Haemimont Games successfully revived and is famous for right now and another was Jagged Alliance - our most ambitious project yet.
So, for me quite literally Jagged Alliance 3 is a dream come true! I am incredibly grateful and humbled to have this opportunity not only because I always wanted to work on a sequel as a developer, but also because for many years I really wanted this game to exist as a fan of the series.
Boian Spasov: I remember that in my eyes there was no other game quite like it. There were not many tactical games back then in 1995, but Jagged Alliance was not just a tactical game but an unique genre hybrid – there was a strategic element to it, an RPG element, as well as a humongous cast of fully voiced player characters, something unseen at the times!
Jagged Alliance 1 was not the expansive and refined beast of a game that Jagged Alliance 2 turned out to be few years later, but it was a special, quirky game with its own charm identity. One thing I particularly liked was how distinctive each merc was – all of them had hidden traits and distinct personalities and hidden mini-mechanics. For example, the old mercs lost stats instead of gaining them with experience, the native guides often reveled useful information for each particular area, some mercs couldn’t swim well, others were kleptomaniac, struggled with phobias or had hidden abilities and interactions...
It was unpredictable, at times even chaotic and I loved every minute of it - the game felt very different on each playthrough just depending on whoever you picked on the team.
Boyan Ivanov: I became a fan of Jagged Alliance mostly through the second game but I do have some fond memories of playing JA1. Mostly of Tex and Ivan and their voice lines, mercs bantering with each other, but also of the whole team management aspect. Hiring mercs, managing their equipment finding new nifty items to use like the extended ear or the metal detector.
On the other hand I loved the strategic aspect. Going through the island sector by sector and claiming all the fallow trees (your source of income). Advancing time day by day and managing your mercs over a long period of time.
There were a lot of experimental games back in the 90s and JA1 felt like a very unique blend of genres. It didn’t fully click with me until Jagged Alliance 2 but I definitely have some fond and not so fond memories of the original title. Oh my god it’s full of eels!
Boyan Ivanov: Definitely not the eels. The cast of unique mercs is of course the most important aspect to carry over. However, I think our approach to building the world, narrative and open world nature has its origins in JA1. We carried on with the tradition of setting the game in a fictional war torn country. A world map divided into sectors and the freedom to move through this world as you wish. Managing time and money as you pick which merc contracts to extend, when to hire new mercs and if you should let go of someone that’s too expensive to keep.
Boian Spasov: One important aspect that was inspired from JA1 was the uniqueness of the mercs and the sense that each of them brings something distinct and irreplaceable to the team, enough to perhaps prompt you to start a new game just to explore new player characters.
Of course, as 25 years have passed, this couldn’t work exactly as it did in Jagged Alliance 1 but it was an important design goal and the main drive to iterate on character personalities and relationships as well as their Quirks and unique personal perks.
Boian Spasov: JA2 is a turn-based tactical game and one of the most realistic and entertaining combat sims at the time, but also so much more! It has this big and immersive sandbox world, rich with surprises and moral choices to make that I associated with RPG titles. Despite being primarily a tactical game, in my eyes JA2 often felt closer to the early Fallout games than to XCom.
The strategy/money management component was deepened and more developed as well – it was almost like an entire other game on top of the tactical battles.
I always had a soft spot in my heart for games that try to do things in their own way, breaking genre barriers and pushing the boundaries of game development ever further and to me JA2 is a prime example of this!
Boyan Ivanov: *epic trailer voice improv* In a world ruled by a tyrannical queen, one man - Enrico, will come to you to free the people of Arulco from his angry wife. Form a team of unlikely heroes. Hear them quip, cheer and bicker with each other as they mow down an entire army of red shirts.
Join the vastly outgunned rebels and hear Ira complain as she misses every goddamn shot. Capture and operate gold mines to fund your small private army and don’t forget to do some online shopping. You need that extra scope for your M14 after all.
Paint the map green as you capture sector after sector until you give up in Meduna as those tanks and rocket rifles are just too annoying. Also don’t forget the
aliens – genetically engineered insects – slay their queen and smear her jelly to make your armor stronger – yuck!
Screenshot courtesy of Lilura1, cRPG blog
Boyan Ivanov: *slap* Elliot! You Idiot! Definitely the “meanwhile…” cut-scenes make me chuckle every time I play JA2 again. And the fact that Elliot’s face gets worse and worse it really shows the attention to detail.
I love many of the side quests – the chalice of chance/hope, the one with the American tourists even the hicks near Cambria.
There are also many memorable locations like the military base at Alma, Tixa prison, San Mona. All of them presented a different challenge to get through and had enough interesting characters to be memorable and unique.
Boian Spasov: Oh, so hard to pick… If I have to settle on just one, it would be the custom merc character and the I.M.P. webpage/test used to create it. It was such a silly, yet entertaining way to create a character and I never once skipped it in all my years of re-playing the game.
Honorable mention goes to sending flowers to Deidranna – this little moment always manages to make me smile and remind me that the primary product of game development is simply “fun”.
Boian Spasov: One game in particular comes to mind – Omerta: City of Gangsters. It was a small tactical game we released just before the resurgence of the genre with the new XCom series. Although the core gameplay was very different, our approach to creating the characters was very Jagged Alliance inspired, even if limited by the small budget of the game…
Boyan Ivanov: Oh yeah, do you remember that Omerta even had a test for creating the main character loosely based on the I.M.P. test?
Even if Omerta was a small and humble title, we learned a lot from it and in a way it was our pilot title within the tactical genre. In a way it paved the road for our current, much more demanding, work on Jagged Alliance 3.
Question: How did the legacy of Jagged Alliance impacted the development of JA3 specifically?
Boyan Ivanov: It was a bit nerve-racking initially. There have been many that tried to take on the Jagged Alliance series and none have succeeded so far. Being fans of the series, we knew that we wanted to keep the third installment close to the originals and keep the core intact - the unique blend of open world RPG aspects, tactical combat and strategic team management.
We also wanted to capture the unique atmosphere – the light hearted and fun band of misfits that have been hired to do a seemingly impossible task. The more somber and unpredictable aspect of chaotic firefights with bullets flying everywhere. The feeling that you can explore the world as you see fit and that every playthrough can offer something new.
Boian Spasov: The most dramatic impact was simply setting our ambition for the title. One thing was certain for day one – we wanted to create a true sequel and not just another game in the same franchise and that immediately set very demanding expectations for our scope and features.
The pillars of Jagged Alliance 3 represent our interpretation on what made Jagged Alliance 1 and especially Jagged Alliance 2 special – deep and realistic turn-based combat, a large cast of unique characters and strategic gameplay in a sandbox open world.
Have we succeeded in doing justice to this legacy? The players will be the ultimate judges of that, but God knows that we tried!
The above image is now also available as wallpaper, you can download our wallpapers here.
Thank you for reading today’s DevDiary and for your interest in the game. We are looking forward to your follow-up questions in the upcoming DevStream, this Thursday, July 13th at 17:00 CEST / 11:00 AM EDT on the THQ Nordic channel: http://twitch.tv/thqnordic
And we are also doing the Launch Stream on July 14th starting early at 14:15 CEST / 8:15 AM EDT also on the THQ Nordic channel: http://twitch.tv/thqnordic