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GINX TV > Interview > Enshrouded

Enshrouded Creative Director: 'Player Freedom Is Our Core Principle'

Enshrouded Creative Director Antony Christoulakis discusses the importance of player freedom, finding the right gameplay balance, and listening to community feedback.
Enshrouded Creative Director: 'Player Freedom Is Our Core Principle'
GINX/Keen Games

Less than one month after being released for early access, thousands of players continue to dive into the world of Enshrouded and embrace being Flameborn. Despite stiff competition at the time of launch, the popularity of Enshrouded surged with a peak of 160,405 players in only a few days and still pulls 100,000+ players on weekends.

Survival games remain a favorite for many, and Enshrouded is already carving out their own place amongst a packed genre. We had the opportunity to speak to Enshrouded Creative Director Antony Christoulakis about how player freedom affected development decisions and the ways community feedback has already influenced future updates.

Enshrouded Creative Director on player freedom and building

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While the team at Keen Games has been busy working on hotfixes and future patch updates, they've also been amazed by the "meticulously built" creations players are sharing since Enshrouded hit early access. Player freedom was always a focus during development, and Enshrouded Creative Director Antony Christoulakis discussed how the game's building system came together.

“We had these three elements: props, terrain, and square-ish building blocks. At the same time, the game looked more realistic. There was also a bit of an aim to make it look more like a traditional open-world game. It was a bit tough to demand players to build block by block from the start, because the blocks are basically half the size of the blocks in Portal Knights or Minecraft,” he explained. “So we tried to come up with a good blend between props-based building systems, like in Ark or other games that have predefined structures, but keeping them modifiable. Getting this whole interface right was a bit of a struggle. We played around with a lot of approaches, to be honest, until we landed on the current interface.”

“The core principle for us is really giving the player as much freedom as we can and still keep up the fun without breaking gameplay completely. I’m curious how many even bigger things [players] are going to build in larger groups. They are building stuff on levels that we haven’t put in the game, like the quality of detail of buildings is really amazing. I expect people are going to go even further, like in Minecraft and other games where they build whole cities."

Balancing the shroud mechanic with safer areas

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Christoulakis explained that the shroud mechanic itself was an idea that came up before development on this game even began. As the pieces came together, they mixed elements from several genres in search of the right balance between comfort and peril.

“We had the rough idea for the split world having the shroud and this being being the mysterious and dark part, and the rest of the world still being devastated but a bit more friendly. Typically in survival games you start with nothing, and then you overcome some basic challenges and you’re better equipped as new problems kick in. Getting this pacing right that the player constantly grows but also new challenges come into play and it feels right, that was certainly one of the challenges.” 

"I mean, in the end you can say it’s a bit like diving. You will go down in there and try to get treasures, but in a different context and it’s a bit more three-dimensional as you can also have these pockets of shroud or fog in other places," he said. "Our aim was definitely to be a survival game first and then have elements from action RPGs and open-world games as an addition, because we also feel it’s very hard to compete with big open-world games. Obviously, we are not Ubisoft or something.” 

As our conversation continued, Christoulakis also discussed how Elixer Wells ramp the tension up within the shroud. Keeping many of the largest Enshrouded regions at a lower elevation also harkened back to giving players the freedom to explore every inch of the map in their own unique way.

“People can decide if they wanna make a journey into [the shroud]. They can prepare. It’s not always on, and there are areas in the world that are less deadly, less pressing on you. That’s where survival games come from, but we felt like having some more safe spaces," he said. "Having a place in the world to really feel that danger was [also] important to us. You go deeper into these [Elixer Wells] and it opens up. You don’t know exactly how long the journey is going to be and how much time you still have to actually return safely. [This] felt like a really cool thing to put the pressure on in certain areas.”

"With the shroud itself, you’re standing on higher ground looking across this sea of fog. You see different points of interest in the distance, but you have to find a safe passage. Even if it’s a mountain high up in the distance, there’s always a way to get there," he continued. "If you don’t maybe directly offer a way to it, maybe that’s because there might not be gameplay yet for example in some areas. But we didn’t want to prevent players from getting there and building their way up to it or building around obstacles we put in the world. If they want to find creative ways to deal with situations, then that’s a good thing. Having this intrinsic motivation to do stuff is a key thing to drive the player, and it’s less about hand-holding and having this one great threat that pulls you through the game as in a more traditional action-adventure game.”

Crefting a flexible class and skill system

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While the environment around you plays a huge role in Enshrouded, the other big factor to consider is creating the best build by choosing the right class and skills for your style. Christoulakis discussed their decision to keep the skill system versatile and allow players to respec their Enshrouded character regularly.

“Again coming back to the point of player freedom and agency, typically in survival games you start with nothing, so being class neutral was a natural step for us. In Portal Knights, you had to select a class upfront but typically you don’t know how that plays when you start the game,” he said. “The idea [was] that you can specialize in roughly the Warrior/Mage/Ranger direction, and then we split it up a bit further. You can gain enough skill points to complete more than one branch obviously, so you can combine specialties."

"Although there’s still stuff that we need to rebalance for sure, I think overall it seems to be working quite well already that people can mix and match playstyles and find their perfect match for them, to give players agency to design their own class in a certain way. I think it’s also a fun way to experiment and support the sandbox nature of the game to some degree," he said. “We only wanted to have some slight cost [to respec], or the need to go back home, so that people don’t constantly respec while they’re around in a dungeon with their friends, which can get annoying. So that was the main thing that there’s a slight cost attached to it so you make choices, but we definitely wanted people to be able to experiment.” 

Community feedback is informing future updates

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Finally, Enshrouded Creative Director Antony Christoulakis discussed the plethora of player feedback they've already received in early access. With future updates, new content, and an eventual console release on the table, they're paying close attention to suggestions and requests from the community.

“We’ve released a good bunch of hotfixes and patches as quick as possible to make sure everyone can play in a smooth way. One thing that came up that we didn’t expect to be such a strong demand, but we’ll try to improve nonetheless, was that people complained about the multiplayer progression. If you play in a group and others play more than you do, they can complete quests while you’re absent," he explained. “A bigger chunk than I would’ve expected didn’t like that, but it’s totally understandable. We’ll make sure that you can complete every quest on your own, and also that you have a different visibility and can also basically opt out of this group-based progression.” 

“What we can’t do instantly is people also wanted to play really separately on a single server, like having different groups more like in other multiplayer games where you typically also have then PVP scenarios and things like this where multiple groups are essential. Not that I would say we won’t do that, but that’s just more complicated and also a bit more questionable on a 16-player server to have X amount of groups that can all do the same thing," he said "There are also some technical things we want to be careful about. We have a limitation on the amount of bases you can create, one for gameplay reasons but also for technical reasons. We want people to have a good time, even on a mid-spec PC, and if you do change the world too much for example things slow down or you even can crash. Having 16-times the amount of bases might be a problem, so we would have to look into that more carefully for sure.” 

As our conversation wrapped up, Christoulakis wanted to stress how helpful the community has already been. If players have suggestions or requests for the developers at Keen Games, they want to hear from you.

“We’re super happy with the community we have so far, and we hope to get more feedback from people. We have the suggestions board which has blown up quite a bit with more than a thousand suggestions already. It will take some time to go through all of them. We’re definitely reading all of them already,” he said. “It’s good if people can join in and voice their concerns or what they wish for so we are better informed moving forward. We definitely want to move forward during early access to take in what people like about the game or what they don’t like yet and try to match that with our own plans. Obviously we have an agenda of where we want to go with it, but there’s a sweet spot to make it the best game that people can enjoy. I hope people wanna participate or join our Discord and voice their thoughts.” 

Players can find the Enshrouded Discord server at this link, and you can view user suggestions or make your own on the player feedback board linked here.