The Hand of Merlin Developer Interview

The Hand of Merlin is a tactical roguelike rooted in Arthurian legend with cosmic horror sprinkled in. Initially released on PC over a year ago, The Hand of Merlin is set to release on the Nintendo Switch June 14, 2022. We were given the opportunity to ask a few questions to the developer.

View the launch trailer here.


Gio

Q.Whom do we have the pleasure of interviewing?

Robert – Room-C Games

I’m Robert, the founder and CEO of Room-C Games. But since we’re a small indie team, each of us has multiple roles. So, I help out with programming, project management, game design, and a few other things!

Gio

Q.How big is the development studio?

Robert – Room-C Games

That depends on how you look at it! With outsourced roles like music composition and narrative design, we hovered around 10-12 people. But in-house, we currently have 7 full time employees.

Gio

Q.What other titles have you worked on?

Robert – Room-C Games

As a studio, we are just releasing our first title, The Hand of Merlin, on June 14th. But as individuals, we’ve worked on other projects like Serious Sam and The Talos Principle.

Gio

Q.Who is the composer?

Robert – Room-C Games

The composer is a one-man band named Old Sorcery. I was looking for a specific type of sound that would fit the otherworldly narrative in The Hand of Merlin, and that’s when I discovered a whole new genre of music called dungeon synth. It’s about expressing medieval or Tolkien-esque themes using synth sounds. That sort of clash of flavors really fit our off-kilter narrative! I particularly liked the tracks I found on Old Sorcery’s YouTube channel, so I contacted them, and – the rest is history. 🙂

Gio

Q.What is The Hand of Merlin?

Robert – Room-C Games

The Hand of Merlin is a tactical, turn-based roguelite. So, it’s really a fusion of genres! There’s the tactical aspect: you have a party of Heroes who can act during the player’s turn, by moving across tiles in a grid or executing attacks or special skills. But there’s also the roguelike aspect: exploring the world, by visiting nodes on a map, where each one is a random encounter with various risks and rewards.

There’s no going back, and you have to manage your resources carefully. So weighing those risks and rewards and making the right call is important, especially since a Hero’s death in combat is permanent. You can recruit a replacement, of course, but then perhaps you’ll miss out on another path that could have given you some good loot.

Gio

Q.What should gamers know about The Hand of Merlin? Is there anything in particular you’d like to share about the title?

Robert – Room-C Games

What I enjoy most about the game is the freedom. There’s so many different ways to play! You can explore all the various synergies: which Hero classes to take into your party, what skills to pick at level up (which are randomly drafted), relics to trade, spells to select… There’s so many different builds, and even the weird ones can be totally viable. This is pretty much the core of the whole roguelike experience: exploring, figuring things out, and feeling pure glee when you discover a strong synergy, a strategy that not only works but kicks ass!

Gio

Q.How long has The Hand of Merlin been in development for?

Robert – Room-C Games

Work on the earliest prototype began way back in 2016, so that’s six years ago. Production on the game in its current form (using Serious Engine 4.0) started in 2018. We released the game into Early Access in 2021, and now, we’re ready for the full release on June 14th, 2022.

Gio

Q.What were the major influences behind The Hand of Merlin?

Robert – Room-C Games

The biggest influence on the combat gameplay was X-COM, but also games like The Banner Saga and Divinity: Original Sin. We also loved FTL – its freedom of world exploration and that sense of wanderlust, of never knowing exactly what lies in wait on the next step of your journey. But you want to push forward, in spite of the danger of the unknown, and find ways to make your little ship stronger, faster, better, even against all odds. I think we managed to fuse this into an interesting combination with turn-based tactical battles.

Gio

Q.Were there any major changes or shifts in The Hand of Merlin when it was in development?

Robert – Room-C Games

Oh yes! The early prototype was meant to be a 2.5D game, with hand-drawn assets and 2D animated characters. We had even built our custom engine for this! But we scrapped that whole idea since, it turns out, drawing and animating a character in 2D, again each time for four different orientations, is a painstaking and long process.

And that means it’s expensive. So we moved to a fully 3D, but hand-painted content pipeline. We also switched to Serious Engine 4.0, as it’s a mature and field-tested engine with good multi-platform support, and one that we knew quite well from our past projects.

Gio

Q.The Hand of Merlin was in Steam’s Early Access for quite a while, when did you feel the time was right to bring it to an official launch?

Robert – Room-C Games

Yes, we took the time we felt we needed to fully realize all of the game systems and deliver all of the content we planned. More than that, we took the time to balance, observe, test and re-balance the game, pretty much with every major update. We’ve had 8 major updates, and quite a lot of small updates in between. It was a great experience to have passionate, smart players join our Discord and provide great insights and feedback.

A lot of this community input went directly into subsequent patches! So, Early Access definitely helped us create a better game. So finally, we reached a point where we ourselves felt satisfied with the amount of content and the level of polish – enough to officially leave Early Access. Of course, that does not mean we’re “done”. On the contrary, we plan to continue listening to feedback and community requests, and push patches even after 1.0 release.

Gio

Q.What sets The Hand of Merlin apart from other tactical RPGs?

Robert – Room-C Games

Labels are a dangerous thing because they simplify things – even if that’s also why they’re useful! If I had to stick a label on The Hand of Merlin, I’d call it a tactical turn-based roguelike RPG. Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? But the game really is a take on multiple genres at once. So yes, it is a tactical RPG, but unlike traditional ones which may feature a long, continuous campaign with a set story and longer battles, as a roguelike we instead offer a series of short, intense skirmishes intermixed with random social/exploration encounters.

Since these are randomized and progress very differently based on your choices, you get emergent storytelling. Each run will be different, each choice you make a memorable moment that makes that run your particular story.

Gio

Q.Blending Cosmic Horror and the Arthurian legend, why?

Robert – Room-C Games

As soon as you hear the word “Merlin”, you might start to think: ah, this is a game about sorcerers and knights, and perhaps a dragon or two. Well, brace yourself! 🙂
We took a rather bold approach and asked the question: What if… a cataclysmic event tore open a celestial doorway for alien monstrosities to seep into Arthurian Britain? How would the Knights of the Round Table react to a cosmic horror from beyond?

What if Merlin was a transdimensional being trying to save not one world, but infinite ones?
This unique blend provided us with a wonderful narrative device to achieve variety and spice. Each time you start a new run (and it probably will take a few attempts to even reach the final boss!), things change. The world is different, a new king may rule Albion or a new caliph may be found in al-Andalus. Landmarks such as Stonehenge will stay in their (rough) locations, but new and different events may occur at them.

Gio

Q.Have there been any technical challenges in porting The Hand of Merlin to Switch? Has anything needed to be changed, be it graphically or in terms of content?

Robert – Room-C Games

Yes, porting the game to Switch did present a set of challenges. Primarily, we wanted to make sure that the game runs well even in handheld mode. This means a smooth, stable framerate. But we also wanted to make sure the game would remain true to its visual identity, with as few visible differences from the PC as possible. Ultimately, through a lot of careful optimizations and some smart solutions, we were able to achieve our goal.

The secondary challenge was memory constraints. This too required some thinking, but we were able to find ways to make everything we need fit in memory at once, while also minimizing load times by preloading just what we need, when we need it.

Gio

Q.How was the process of porting over a mouse based game to using only a controller?

Robert – Room-C Games

This took us several iterations to get just right! The first, naive implementation was to simply have a virtual pointer that you control via the stick or D-pad. That was quite tedious and slow, so the second iteration was to directly map each game screen’s controls to individual buttons. For example, on the hero selection screen, each action you could take (assign hero, unassign hero, inspect attributes, inspect starting skills) was mapped to a unique button on the controller. This required each screen to have a legend displaying how to use it. As you can imagine, this was neither intuitive nor easy to learn, even though it was a very quick-to-use interface once you did learn all the hotkeys.

But we scrapped this approach too, and opted for what is probably the standard in every modern console UI: the concept of “selected UI element”, and switching your selection using the stick or D-pad. This selected widget becomes your active context, within which there is a common set of operations like accept, cancel or extra that always map to the same buttons as used by the console’s native dashboard. This way, instead of a large legend, we only needed to put little icons around the selected UI element to indicate which actions you can take on it. This was immediately intuitive (even for things like drag-and-drop, for the inventory), took up little screen space, and was easy enough to use.

Gio

Q.Will there be touch screen support for the Switch?

Robert – Room-C Games

No, we don’t plan to add touch screen support. Since the game plays quite well using the controllers, we felt no need for adding a touch interface.

Gio

Q.Typically text in handheld mode can be an issue for most Switch RPG Gamers, is there an ability to modify text size?

Robert – Room-C Games

We’ve put a lot of effort into making the UI legible on wildly different display sizes and resolutions. To achieve this, we have a dynamically scaling UI which can re-rasterize fonts and resample all textures with no loss in quality. This means that all UI elements will be rendered crisp and pixel-perfect for your target resolution, be it 720p, 1080p or 4K.

On top of that, we support so-called TV Mode, which is activated when the game detects it’s running on a TV or handheld display (rather than on a computer monitor). In this mode, we further enlarge all the UI elements, sometimes even using different layouts for some screens. This is necessary as you will typically be seated much farther away from your TV than your monitor, so you’ll need to have a larger UI to keep it legible. This same principle also works for handheld displays.

So in short – you don’t have to worry about configuring anything manually, it should all work automatically!

Gio

Q.Any plans for expanded content? Local Multiplayer/coop? Online?

Robert – Room-C Games

No, our vision for The Hand of Merlin is that of a single-player only game. We have no plans to add either local or online multiplayer.

Gio

Q.What’s next for you? Do you imagine you’ll continue to support Switch in the future?

Robert – Room-C Games

For sure! Even if our primary development platform is PC, there’s lots of hidden benefits to supporting Switch, such as all the general performance and memory optimizations that benefit all the platforms. But more than that, it’s awesome to be able to bring our game to another platform and experience it in a different way. And I’m sure there’s lots of players who would agree with me!

Gio

Q.And lastly, is there any message you’d like to say to the Nintendo community specifically?

Robert – Room-C Games

Live long and prosper! 🙂


The Hand of Merlin is out TODAY on the Nintendo Switch!

About the Author

Gio Pimentel

Gio Pimentel

Content creator for the SwitchRPG YouTube Division and co-host of the SwitchRPG podcast.

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