While The Settlers—as a series of strategy games that originated in the '90s—never reached the critical acclamation of Warcraft or Heroes of Might and Magic, it remains dear to many gamers. At this year's Gamescom, the story about starting your own medieval colony and fighting other settlers returned, as Ubisoft announced not one but two games: The History Collection, which includes the first seven Settlers games, and a brand new game that reboots the franchise. Gamnesia recently had a chance to talk to Volker Wertich, the man behind the series and Creative Director for the upcoming reboot, about the past and future of Settlers.
I started playing Settlers 1 when I was a little kid, and I think a lot of people are very nostalgic about the first two or three games. And since they're fairly old games, you can't play them unless you have old hardware lying around. Have you seen a demand from fans wanting to play these old games again?
Absolutely. For the Settlers, there are fans of each. Some are fans of the older ones, some are fans of the newer ones, and some are fans of all of them. And you know, the series is very old now. I created the first one when I was only 21 years old, 25 years ago. And of course, those games don't run on modern PCs, so we wanted to bring those games back on Windows 10.
Have you done any modifications to the older games?
Yes. The modifications will vary from game to game, but one thing we've implemented is multiplayer, both local and online. In Settlers 1, for instance, you can play local split screen by connecting two mice to your PC, so it's really nostalgic. Now, I have to say that I'm not as involved with the History Collection as with the new Settlers, so I'm not sure of all the features. But I know that in Settlers 2 and 3 there is also 4K and multi-monitor support, which should help on larger maps.
Do you know if the changes made are done to improve the original games? Or is your goal more so to preserve the original as much as possible, while—as you mentioned—giving players some new tools such as online multiplayer and dual-monitor support?
The first priority is to make them work on modern PCs, but for the very first game we've improved the controls a bit to work a bit more like a modern RTS. We didn't want to change too much, because this is really a celebration of the series and it's also an opportunity to show people where the series began and where it's going with the new game.
How does it feel for you personally to look back on the History Collection going as far back as Settlers 1 and then to the newest titles? Do you feel like you've constantly improved the series since then, or have there been mistakes along the way? And of course, how does that factor into the making of the next Settlers game?
Before we started developing the new Settlers game, we took a step back and looked at what's been done in the past with Settlers. As I'm the original inventor of the series, I can say that there's a DNA to the series that describes what the game is about and what elements a Settlers game should have. For instance, The Settlers has a strong sense of "What you see is what you get." Ideally, every process of the game—every transportation process or production process—should be visualized. You should be able to see as many game variables as possible. It should not be like in Civilization [where you might have one farm providing one food but you never see the one unit of food visualized other than in the food counter]. You give commands to your minions, which will go execute those commands. This makes it nice to just watch the game, not just interesting. We call that the Aquarium effect.
Other examples of the DNA is that you also have a lot of freedom in the game and also having a relaxing click rate. Settlers is not about handling your mouse with perfect speed and click rate. And I think that for some of the past games, all that has been well executed, and with others we might have gotten a bit lost in the direction that they went. With the new one, we tried to focus on what makes Settlers unique. We think this is the best way to attract fans of the series as well as new players.
So, that was a long answer. *laughs*
It was a good answer, so it's okay. Do you think that you will be able to appease both fans of the new Settlers game and the old Settlers games? Because they are quite different.
Absolutely. I think there must be some people who think it must be impossible to make everyone happy. But what I can say is that with an earlier build of the game—six months older than the build we are presenting here—we did a play test, and we invited people who have never played Settlers before. We invited fans of the older games and fans of the newer ones and we asked them if they felt like it was an experience of two kinds of Settlers. They then agreed or disagreed, and out of a score of 5, the average was 4.8. So I think we really have managed to find a balance.
What is the single biggest new feature in the game that you think people will enjoy?
Well, of course we have a systems that have appeared in previous games that we have renewed or redesigned. But there are also new features, and one of the biggest ones is different winning methods. There are ways besides combat to win the game, and it's not just going to be collecting a score, something more deeply implemented into the game.
So the game is releasing in the fall of 2019. What are you going to do between today and 2019?
I can hardly foresee the future completely. We are currently at pre-alpha stage, so we have a lot of work ahead of us, and we also want time to polish the game.
There is a bit of a trend in the gaming industry to release a game quickly and then patch it post-release. Is that something you want to avoid?
That's of course what we plan to do. This is a reboot of the franchise. So it's crucial that we do a good job.
So is "The Settlers" the final title?
Okay, thank you so much for your time, and we'll be looking forward to seeing more of The Settlers in the future.