Since the rise of Auto Chess, the auto-battler genre rose in popularity along with it. From DotA Underlords to Teamfight Tactics, its easy-to-learn approach charmed players enough to stick around and get into the genre.
One of those players is Charlie Keane, the developer of the upcoming Auto-Battler roguelite game Supernova Tactics, a game you get if the Auto-Battler and Roguelite genres had a baby. We talked to Charlie, who goes by the nickname Ajido, about how the game came about, the challenges that came along with the development process, and more.
Roguelites.com (RLC): Hello roguemates! Cerebro here from Roguelites.com, and I’m with Charles Keane aka Ajido, developer of the Auto-Tactics Roguelite game Supernova Tactics. Hello Charlie, how are you today?
Ajido: I’m doing great, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me and discuss my upcoming game release.
RLC: The honor and privilege are all ours, that’s for sure!
Anyway, I referred to Supernova Tactics just now as an Auto-Tactics Roguelite. Is Auto-Tactics the proper term for games like Supernova Tactics? Because I’m not really sure what its subgenre is supposed to be called, if it already has an official subgenre classification, that is.
Ajido: I believe the first game of its kind was a custom game made inside the Dota 2 engine called Auto Chess. This spun off many games of a similar nature which I believe are typically referred to as Auto-Battlers. But Auto-Tactics has a cool ring to it!
RLC: Oh right, Auto-Battlers! How could I forget such a cool-sounding subgenre name?
Since you’ve mentioned Auto Chess, is that the game Supernova Tactics is inspired by, or are there other ones aside from it?
Ajido: To be honest, I’ve never played the original Auto Chess, but I did fall in love with some of the more popular titles to spin off from it, such as Teamfight Tactics and DotA Underlords. Those games were huge inspirations for the project.
RLC: Oh right! I managed to play Teamfight Tactics as well, but let’s just say I was straight-up doodoo! How about you, what’s your rank so far in TFT?
Ajido: I’ve reached the top rank of Challenger a few times, and even competed in a TFT esports event last year. I’ve also been Challenger in League of Legends for a few seasons, though I don’t really play the game as much anymore. I guess I’m a bit of a competitive gamer, which definitely influenced some of the game design decisions with Supernova Tactics.
RLC: Oh wow! I’ve delved into tournaments myself, but your accomplishments are pretty darn impressive!
Going back into Supernova Tactics, is this a solo project of yours, or do you have a group that helps you with its development?
Ajido: I worked on everything alone, though I don’t have any artistic skills so things like the 3D models and music you see and hear in the game were all purchased from talented folks and incorporated into the game. As an indie developer, you need to be a jack of all trades and be able to do a little bit of everything, it’s been an interesting journey.
Even for indie developers who have such skills, many will still purchase assets because it’s just too time-consuming to do absolutely everything on your own. You need to manage your time to the best of your ability.
RLC: I totally agree with what you said, especially with time management.
You’ve mentioned your journey from starting the game from scratch a few years ago to releasing the game on August 1, less than 3 weeks away. Tell me, what was the most difficult challenge that came up while developing the game?
Ajido: Initially, the biggest blocker was just a lack of technical skills. I started this project with the goal to learn how to use Unity, learn the process of developing a game, practice my coding, and maybe one day use the game as something of a portfolio to help me get a job. I wasn’t sure I’d actually finish, refine and release a full game but here we are.
After I became more comfortable with my technical skills, the game design portion of development became the larger challenge. How do I balance this? Is this fun? What changes should I make, what content should I add? I found implementing things to be somewhat simple once I came up with the idea I liked.
And finally, toward the end of the project, I decided to localize the game into a few different languages that make up the majority of Steam’s player base. The game is translated into Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, and German. This also added a new challenge because now anytime I wanted to add more content or text to the game, I needed to reach out and pay translators.
Also, the game was originally just named “Supernova” and was actually at first a tower defense game. I also experimented with making it a VR game since I owned an Oculus Rift, but ultimately it became what it is today, and I added “Tactics” to the name because it seemed fitting for the genre and is an homage to Teamfight Tactics.
RLC: Oh wow! Things might have been pretty different if you took the Tower Defense route!
Since you’ve mentioned VR, do you have plans of integrating that into the game in future updates?
Ajido: I ended up selling my VR headset, so probably not haha. But I do feel the VR space is really exciting to develop for, both because the technology is just very cool and the market isn’t totally flooded with games yet.
RLC: I agree! While VR is a bit of a niche market right now, the boom potential is there.
Anyway, I’ve gone through the first-hour playthrough of Supernova Tactics (we’ll post the video of that soon, so stay tuned!) and I saw an inkling of that VR mode in a mode in the game called “Explore”. That was pretty interesting, and I think if you delve into VR in the future, the explore mode is a great starting point.
The other thing I experienced while playing the game is that I died pretty early in my runs. I usually died in Round 3, but I believe there also was a time I even died in Round 2! While I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m not good with auto-battler games, other players might be on the same boat as me or even worse, they might be complete beginners in the genre that might get discouraged when they lose very early on.
All that said, I’d like to know how the game would cater to those people who are not that great at auto-battlers or even complete beginners.
Ajido: There is a tutorial by default that should help new players get situated, it explains the process of buying and upgrading your units, and suggests how to best position them to protect your General, who must survive or the game will end. The first shop that you’re offered is always the same and contains 3 of the same units, which will upgrade it to a two-star. They also both have the Bulwark trait which gives them and your whole team Armor to help them survive, they’re basically a good starter team to add to your board.
RLC: Ahh, that’s great! I guess me skipping the tutorial is why I keep on losing very early hahaha! NEVER SKIP THE TUTORIALS, PEOPLE!
Ajido: I’m guilty of that myself, and it’s why I tried to design the tutorial to be as non-invasive as possible. Many of the tutorial pop-up messages occur while the round is in progress. And since this is an Auto-Battler where you as the player aren’t too busy during the round, it seemed like a good time to read a tutorial message.
RLC: Ahh, gotcha. Aside from that, any other advice you could give us in terms of which units to buy or some sort?
Ajido: In each playthrough of Supernova Tactics, 10 random units are designated as “Elites” for that run. This means at collecting 3, 6, and 9 of them they gain bonuses stats and/or effects. For example, a unit’s spell ability cannot critically strike by default, but when upgrading the unit to a high enough Elite tier they may unlock that bonus. Elites are balanced in such a way that you should never feel like you have to use them, but it’s more so along the line of “Hmm, I wouldn’t normally want to play this unit but in this situation, I’m in it may be a good fit due to the Elite bonus”. It’s a mechanic to make each run play and feel different, and to give the player more choices.
RLC: Wow, that is some pretty advanced stuff! I’ll keep that in mind in my future runs!
Ajido: The Elite mechanic is also tied to how the player wins the game. It is sort of like a Pokemon “gotta catch ’em all” play style where you must fully upgrade those 10 units to “Elite 3”, which basically means find 9 of each of them. Each playthrough of Supernova Tactics is sort of two game modes built into one. Initially, the player is trying to achieve a “Fastest Win”, which means collecting them all with a lower round number. After you win though, you can continue your playthrough to achieve a “Highest Round” survived.
There are Steam leaderboards for both Fastest Wins, and Highest Round achieved, for each of the 3 difficulties and two game modes. A total of 12 leaderboards to compete on.
RLC: I like the implementation of the Leaderboards so people can compete with other players. We’ll see a lot of fantastic players get on that scoreboard in no time!
Anyway, so the game has a release date of August 1 this year. Once it has been released, what’s on the horizon for Supernova Tactics?
Ajido: I’ve had some ideas for new content I would like to add to the game. These would be free updates, not paid DLC or anything like that. The two main things I wanted to add were unlockable Generals, and then the player can choose which one they want to use for their run. The choice of General would have a major impact on how the player plays out their run. One of my favorite games is Faster Than Light, so choosing a General would be akin to playing different ships in that game, where some ships might be focused on heavy weaponry, others using drones, boarding parties, etc. And then there are a couple of new game modes I would like to add in as well.
RLC: How nice of you to mention FTL, that one was a banger for sure!
Ajido: That game was also a big inspiration, I really liked how each playthrough felt different, and sometimes runs just went bad fast, while other playthroughs could be great ones.
RLC: I agree! I’ve also spent a lot of hours playing FTL. Fun times!
Anyway, we’ve reached the end of our interview. Before we end, do you have any final words or shoutouts?
Ajido: This was a lot of fun, thank you again for taking the time to chat with me about Supernova Tactics. I hope you and your viewers will enjoy the game!
As mentioned in the interview, Supernova Tactics will be launching on August 1, and to hype up the release even further, Ajido has prepared a trailer for the game.