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Game Dev Recipes: Massive Chalice

How Double Fine's upcoming tactical RPG draws inspiration from XCOM, Final Fantasy Tactics, and oddly enough, Mega Man.

Analysis by Kat Bailey, .

As Pablo Picasso supposedly once said, "Good artists copy; great artists steal." The same can be said for game developers, almost of whom have a strong background in gaming and certainly inspiration from their favorite works.

Massive Chalice is an even better example than most. As Double Fine Productions' second Kickstarter project, its main goal is to bring the world of XCOM into a fantasy setting. It's much more than a mere clone though, introducing interesting elements such as the ability to pair up characters and raise kids. In that way, Massive Chalice derives inspiration from many sources.

With that in mind, I recently spoke with Massive Chalice creator Brad Muir, who shared with me the ways that his game was inspired by XCOM, Final Fantasy Tactics, and of all things, Mega Man. Here's the breakdown.

XCOM: 40 percent


As I've discussed in a previous article, Massive Chalice's tactical gameplay is strongly reminiscent of both XCOM: Enemy Unknown and its predecessor X-COM: UFO Defense in that it focuses on rationing action points, scouting, and building a diverse team that works well together. Of course, instead of featuring an alien invasion, Massive Chalice has a Game of Thrones-like fantasy setting.

Brad Says:

The idea of Massive Chalice originally came from playing a ton of the old XCOM and wondering how the mechanics would work in a fantasy setting. There were tons of things from fantasy tactics games that I wanted to see added to this formula: classes, leveling up, skill trees, etc. I really thought they'd be a natural fit! When new XCOM came out it actually contained a lot of these ideas. It was rad to see that they could work within that formula!

The new XCOM also reinvigorated the idea in my brain. I didn't think that gamers or publishers were really interested in a hardcore turn-based strategy game where you could lose after 10 hours or more. But seeing people get excited for the XCOM reboot really made me feel confident about picking the idea up again and trying to make it work.

I love the core XCOM formula, especially on the strategy side. You make your decisions on the Geoscape and then you speed up time, cross your fingers, and see what happens. Will your plasma rifles be researched before the aliens strike back? I really wanted to make a game that riffed off of that defensive, simulation-driven approach to the strategy side of things.

Final Fantasy Tactics: 20 percent

Final Fantasy Tactics is another sprawling turn-based strategy game that's perhaps best-known for its job system—class-based customization that encourages players to build up characters while mixing and matching skills. The job system has been the inspiration for many strategy games and RPGs over the years, including Massive Chalice.

Brad Says:

The job system of Final Fantasy Tactics has been hugely influential on me. I loved mixing and matching the different abilities from each classes to make sweet hybrid characters. In Massive Chalice we want everything to be more permanent, so you can't change the class of an individual character on the fly, but you can create hybrids by marrying two heroes of different classes together. The children that they (hopefully!) have as the timeline progresses will have skills from both parents.

Fire Emblem: 15 percent

Intelligent Systems' venerable strategy series is known for both its large rosters and fondness for perma-death mechanics. Relationships are also a big part of Fire Emblem's appeal, with characters building a repoire and earning stat boosts the more they fight together. Massive Chalice primarily derives its inspiration from that part of the series.

Brad Says:

Fire Emblem: Awakening had a cool relationship system that eventually led to characters having children together. This was a cool system, but ultimately it was really static with fixed characters and a fixed table that informed which children they would produce. With Massive Chalice we want to make a system that's really dynamic. Our characters are randomly generated and come with a ton of different genetic and personality traits. When you marry them together and retire them in the Keeps, they'll have children that inherit some of the traits of the parents. Our genetic system is based on a rudimentary high school biology understanding of genetics, so if you're familiar with Punnett Squares you'll have a distinct advantage! Ok, not really... the genetic code is hidden from players, but we're hoping that players who get really invested in Massive Chalice will try to reverse engineer which traits are dominant and which are recessive.

FTL: 10 percent

FTL caught everyone's attention in 2012 by marrying roguelike-style randomization with turn-based spaceship combat. Its goal was to travel through a handful of systems earning credits, weapons and crew members, with a menacing rebel fleet in hot pursuit. At first blush, Massive Chalice doesn't have much in common with FTL despite also being a turn-based RPG, but that doesn't mean the similarities aren't there.

Brad Says:

I really enjoyed the text-only event system from FTL. Players' imaginations are so powerful and so underused by modern games. By stripping everything down to just small blocks of text, the FTL team was able to generate a lot of content and produce some really gut-wrenching choices. We're implementing a very similar system in Massive Chalice that should hopefully produce some difficult choices with your heroes and the people of the nation as you manage them over 300 years.

Valkyria Chronicles: 10 percent

Sega's cult favorite RPG features a motley crew of civilians coming together to battle an incoming invasion. Though it struggled somewhat to meet sales expectations, it nevertheless turned heads with its dazzling cel-shaded animation and in-depth tactical gameplay.

Brad Says:

Similar to Fire Emblem, the characters in Valkyria Chronicles are static. But the breadth and depth of their traits (known as Potentials) are incredible! We looked at their impressive list a lot when designing our genetic and personality traits.

Mega Man: 5 percent

You know the drill by now: Mega Man is a classic platformer in which a blue robot with an arm cannon battles eight themed robot masters. But what does that have to do with a strategy game like Massive Chalice? Here's the connection.

Brad Says:

I love Mega Man so much! The core ingredient here is being able to leverage your enemies' abilities against them. When you defeat enough Cadence Pawns in Massive Chalice you'll unlock new research opportunities for weapons, armor, and items that take enemy abilities and let you fight fire with fire. It's always a great feeling to steal a fantastic ability from your foes and turn the tables on them!

Final Fantasy IV: 1 percent

Final Fantasy IV set the standard for Japanese RPGs in the 1990s, introducing many of the tropes that the genre is still known for today. It's beloved for its overwrought story, which features multiple heroic sacrifices, as well as its excellent soundtrack and fast-paced battles. But Massive Chalice's inspiration is mainly derviced from the way it handles its characters.

Brad Says:

Ok, this is a strange one! But it will make sense in a minute. I promise! FF4 is my favorite Final Fantasy game because, unlike most of the others, the narrative really forces you into having a different party composition throughout. Playing through most tactics games I'm always struck by the feeling that the best way to play is have one group of characters that you never deviate from. I feel like this leads to them getting stale quicker than they should! With Massive Chalice, I was looking for a way to constantly shuffle your party that wasn't artificial like the FF4 narrative. Having your characters age over time was really the answer! You can never count on having a character forever in Massive Chalice and your party is constantly changing based off of the ages of the characters of your various bloodlines. It's ended up feeling really reminiscent of FF4's constant party juggling and I'm super happy with it!

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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #1 DiscordInc 4 years ago
    I'll admit that I missed out on this game during it's kickstarter since it didn't sound like something I would be interested in. Reading this though, I may have been too hasty.
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  • Avatar for jeffk #2 jeffk 4 years ago
    This sounds fantastic. The Kickstarter wasn't really on my radar, but I'm definitely paying attention now.
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  • Avatar for docexe #3 docexe 4 years ago
    Ok, they now have my attention.
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  • Avatar for Arvis-Jaggamar #4 Arvis-Jaggamar 4 years ago
    Uh.... where to start? O____O

    Not only is Final Fantasy Tactics my favorite video game ever, but Fire Emblem, Valkyria Chronicles, and FTL would all be on or near my Top 10.

    The game has gone from "I think I've heard the name once" to "OMG DAY 1 BUY HOW SOON CAN I GET THIS" just from this one article.

    I'm literally salivating.

    -Arvis
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #5 Captain-Gonru 4 years ago
    This sounds right up my alley. I'll have to keep an eye on it whenever it comes to a system near me. As opposed to one I don't have.
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  • Avatar for DogNozzle #6 DogNozzle 4 years ago
    @Arvis-Jaggamar This is pretty much the best possible list of influences. Hope the game is just as good.
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  • Avatar for EnderTZero #7 EnderTZero 4 years ago
    I love background research elements perhaps too much. FFIX's on-weapon skills? Check. 4X games? Check. Browser-based real-time microtransaction sinks? An embarrassing check.
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  • Avatar for CountZeroOr #8 CountZeroOr 4 years ago
    I'm kinda wishing there was a way for me to pre-order this through Steam, as I'm pretty much sold.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #9 benjaminlu86 4 years ago
    101% sold on this game. But then again, I was a backer...
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  • Avatar for mickallen #10 mickallen A year ago
    Valkyria chronicles are indeed something that shouldn't me missed. Had to pay for term paper last month, cause needed a good research on the plot.
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