The Banner Saga at PAX South: Interview with Drew McGee

Live from PAX South, APGNation interviews Drew McGree, writer for the hit indie tactical RPG The Banner Saga. Steeped in the lore and aesthetic of viking culture and history, The Banner Saga is a difficult game that first hit it big on Kickstarter several years ago, then found considerable success on iOS, Android, and other devices where it has been hailed as an engaging and fun gameplay experience with excellent story and music.

Mr. McGee begins by recounting the history of the game. When the game was kickstarted in 2012 with over 20,000 backers, he was then still a part of Bioware working on Star Wars: The Old Republic, but eventually left for Austrailia to join the development team Stoic. From there he would join up with the likes of Alex Thomas, the game’s main story quest writer, head composer Austin Wintory, and head programmer John Watson to form the team that would bring the viking epic to life. All skilled professionals in their respective fields, McGee recounts that Wintory actually went so far as to create a mathematical algorithm that would change the flow and tempo of the game’s battle music depending on how combat was progressing. He stresses that this was not something the programmer asked for, but rather Wintory did it just for the heck of it.

But more importantly, McGee was nice enough to give us a behind the scenes knowledge of The Banner Saga 2. With more money and time to work with than when the first game was in development, it seems the developers will be able to implement many cool ideas that couldn’t go into the first installment, such as offering a better variety of generic units. Of these changes, the most discussed is the idea of a branching narrative. Choices players made in the first Banner Saga will carry into the second and then into the planned third game. McGee suggests players treat the story like a choose-your-own-adventure book, but also that players should thumb ahead and spoil themselves in the process. In addition to player choices echoing down through the story, character death will also play a major role in future games. The story will change to reflect important character deaths, and those who die will actually stay dead. McGee also says that while they are trying to improve on the first game, they also do not want to make the same game twice. So the team is doing their best to make The Banner Saga 2 feel different yet familiar to its older counterpart.

After discussing The Banner Saga, APGNation was able to ask a few questions about McGee’s influences when writing The Banner Saga to which he replied that titles like Breath of Fire, Final Fantasy, Oregon Trail, and Age of Empires were sources of inspiration for the development team. He also gives a shout out to all the fans of The Banner Saga for being so great, and then recounts that while they’ve often heard that the game is very difficult, that it actually was harder at one point and had to be toned down.

For more, check out the unedited audio of our interview below:

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Nicole Seraphita
Written by
My name is Nicole Seraphita and I’m 27. I’ve been gaming since the days of the NES and have owned at least one system from each generation since then. My favorite type of games if most definitely RPGs, with my favorites being titles like Chrono Cross, Persona 4, and Tales of Xillia, though I also sometimes dabble in platforming games, fighting games, and visual novels. When I’m not writing for APGNation or playing games, I enjoy table top and card games, watch anime, and write fiction that I occasionally publish online. I tend to write a lot of Sci-fi and the occasional bit of fantasy, with the often overlooked sub-genre of Biopunk being my favorite. I’ve also written a few visual novels, though only one of them has made it all the way to completion thus far. My current dream is to be able to bring the Monster Girl genre to a western audience.

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