Developers Speak – Sinister Design

What does it take to make an RPG in this day and age? An angsty youth, spiky hair, and swords so large that not even God could lift them.

Oops, I was thinking of Square-Enix RPGs!

Since Square-Enix refuses to talk to me — even after all those requests I sent written with letters cut out of magazines — it’s probably worth a broader exploration of the subject. With that in mind, I turn to Sinister Design to ask them what they are all about. (SPOILER ALERT: they are all about making games!)

DNF: Thanks for taking time out to talk with us.

Sinister Design: Not at all!

DNF: Give us some background on Sinister Design.

Sinister Design: Sinister Design is a tiny studio in Chicago that makes role-playing and strategy games for PC, Mac and Linux. Right now we’re mostly known for the Telepath RPG series, consisting mostly of steampunk turn-based tactical RPGs.

DNF: I gave you a mixed review for Telepath RPG. Do you curse me every night for that?

Sinister Design: Nah. The funny thing is, you loved the combat in Telepath RPG: Servants of God but never got into the story–several reviewers actually had the exact opposite reaction, loving the story but wanting more from the combat. And then there were those who really liked both, but thought the game’s pacing was off.

It’s a bit like the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Different people expect different things from a game, and those tastes and expectations color their reactions. So you always have to look at a review through that lens: it ultimately says as much about the tastes of the reviewer as it does about the thing being reviewed.

DNF: I thought Adobe Air was as real as the loch ness monster. Then I had to install it for Telepath RPG. Why did you decide to use it?

Sinister Design: AIR is actually a really great platform. For one thing, it lets you release a game simultaneously for Windows, Mac and Linux on a single installer–that feature alone makes AIR worth its weight in gold. But then you have to consider that AIR is a way of packaging Flash, which means that on top of the multi-platform installer, you can also go ahead and also release a browser version of your game, getting tens of thousands of hits on sites like Newgrounds and Kongregate. It also uses a really strong, intuitive scripting language that makes it easy to port the game to other platforms. I’m honestly amazed that more people aren’t using it.

DNF: I have been playing a lot of Psy Arena. Do you feel bad for making such a cool game that drains hours and hours and hours from a persons life?

Sinister Design: Not even slightly. 🙂

DNF: So what are you working on now?

Sinister Design: Another cool game that drains hours and hours of a person’s time! This one is a multiplayer outing with a brand new engine and a reworked, much more sophisticated version of the Telepath RPG combat system. It’s called Telepath Tactics–I think a lot of folks are really going to like it.

DNF: You have my attention. Keep talking.

Sinister Design: So, I basically listened to every criticism I could find about the Telepath RPG combat system, thought through my own reservations, and then built a brand new engine from scratch.

We’re talking beautiful new pixel art style in 3/4 oblique perspective; a totally overhauled and streamlined mouse-based user interface; battle maps of any size; a minimap that lets you click to zoom anywhere on the battlefield; up to 6 armies per match, each with up to 24 characters; 22 unique classes of units; a more sophisticated system of elemental strengths and weaknesses; random item drops; explosives; destructible walls, bridges, trees and other objects; the ability to build different types of bridges and barricades during the battle; knockback attacks; the ability to push, pull and throw characters and objects; elevation bonuses for claiming the high ground and falling damage for getting knocked off of it; environmental hazards like water and lava; more status effect attacks (burning, blinding, weakness, freezing…); and so on.

I’m especially proud of the random item drop system; it’s one of the ways that the game encourages players to control the map and not just hole up in a little well-defended corner. (I actually took the idea for that feature from Super Smash Brothers, of all places.) Leave too much of the map under your opponent’s control, and you run the risk that he or she will snatch up all of the useful bonuses that spawn.

On top of all that, Telepath Tactics is hugely customizable. It features multiple game types, as well as options for fog of war, ally pass-through, turn time limits, shifting in-game alliances and entirely randomized armies. The game features a really robust map editor with unlimited undo/redo and support for custom tiles. On top of that, you can easily edit the game to mod in brand new attacks and battlefield objects, or even rebalance the game’s character classes to your liking.

Oh, and it supports asynchronous internet multiplayer via email. Did I mention that?

DNF: Your logo gives me the “heeby jeebies”. Why?

Sinister Design: Because it’s sinister? (Nyuk nyuk.) I guess a half-concealed, inhuman face staring at you would be enough to give anyone the heeby-jeebies.

DNF: Thanks for talking with us today! Care to promote your social media outlets?

Sure thing! Here’s my Twitter, here are my forums, and here is my Youtube channel. Also, feel free to become a fan on Facebook. And speaking of fans: my fans work very hard maintaining a really excellent wiki on the Telepath series–if you ever need a walkthrough or want some background information on something in one of my games, I recommend it.


DNF: I have a prediction, when Telepath Tactics is released, the productivity of this office will grind to a halt. I plan on forcing Bitterly to play it, since he is not a fan of Tactics games. I will then laugh as he loses horribly to me. Thanks again to Sinister Design for taking some time to talk with us today. Make sure to click all those links above, and if you have anything you want to ask them, post it below and I will pass it along.

About Donald Conrad

Donald Conrad is an avid father and a dedicated gamer -- or maybe that's the other way around. He loves his games, and he loves his family, and he's pretty sure he loves sleep, even if he doesn't remember what it was like. Follow his life confusion on Twitter @ConManEd