A Sharp has been working for four years on Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind, the sequel to its cult hit King of Dragon Pass. It finally released the followup on iOS devices in June, and now it’s partnered with developer and publisher Kitfox Games to bring the game to PC in 2019.
Like its predecessor, Six Ages is a strategy role-playing game set in the fantasy world of Glorantha, which revolves heavily around mythology. It’s a realm ruled by many gods, and it’s the player’s job to lead their clan through times both challenging and glorious. Six Ages winds the clock back to before King of Dragon Pass, exploring what lead developer David Dunham calls the “early mythic questions.”
It bears many similarities to the previous game, including its storybook illustrations and its text-heavy events. Players will have to resource management, navigate politics, explore the wilderness, and make decisions that will have far-reaching consequences. Though most of the core gameplay is the same, Six Ages also brings in other dynamics that better fit its narrative. And if the game does well, A Sharp has five more games in mind, which will cover a swathe of thousands of years.
“We’ve certainly dropped things that weren’t relevant. For example, the warrior/farmer conflict is part of the King of Dragon Pass story, but it isn’t part of the story we’re trying to tell in the first Ride Like the Wind chapter,” said Dunham in a phone call with GamesBeat. “Instead, we introduce this system of having all of your advisors belong to a family, so now there’s a potential for family politics as well. We’re certainly doubling down on, just as a design thing, having advisors comment on other advisors. I always thought that was one of the funnier things in King of Dragon Pass, when that occurred.”
Six Ages has over 468,000 words of text, and Dunham says that in a playthrough, someone may get through only a fourth of that. Some descriptions are procedurally generated as well, and the game features random events. All this points to the replayability of the title, but on top of that, Dunham says that Robin Laws, the other lead designer on the team, has crafted tricky and alluring decisions for players to make.
“In a branching narrative, you don’t want to go down the path of certain doom. Instead, you’re making tradeoffs that often affect the economic model, and by that I also mean the political model,” said Dunham. “A lot of choices in both King of Dragon Pass and Six Ages, you’re deciding, which clan do I want to annoy? Which clan do I want to befriend? Am I going to make my own people happy or am I going to deal with these outsiders and make the outsiders happy? Is it the farmers or the warriors who’ll win from this decision? I don’t think either one is ever wrong. It’s a question of, what consequences am I willing to live with in the future?”
Game designer Greg Stafford created Glorantha, and the classic tabletop game RuneQuest enables players to explore that world. It’s been around for 43 years, and Dunham and his team have taken special care to make sure that its rich world can be appreciated by all players.
When the studio re-released King of Dragon Pass on iOS, it included accessibility features for blind players. The game was successful, and so was that feature, so A Sharp included it in the plans for Six Ages from the beginning. Dunham says that iOS has a native toolkit that makes it easy to add these kinds of features to their game. Unfortunately, he can’t promise that the team will be able to add something similar to the PC version, but it’s working on improving what’s already there on iOS.
A Sharp is adding more descriptions to Six Ages’ illustrations to flesh out what’s already there. Some are minimalist, maybe just one sentence or a phrase, while others are missing a description altogether. The team is working on making sure everything has at least a short bit of text, because its blind playtesters have said that having something is better than nothing.
Dunham says that one player sent in a lot of bug reports, usually typos that sighted readers might gloss over, like repeated “and”s in a sentence. He hired the player on to help with QA on Six Ages.
“King of Dragon Pass has been accessible for blind players, and one of them once wrote to me and said, ‘This is the first game I’ve ever played where I feel like I’m a member of the game-playing community. I can play it in exactly the same way as everyone else in the world,'” said Dunham. “I really wanted to do that again. I think we’ve improved the accessibility a little bit. Certainly the exploration map is easier to use now. We’re also trying to add descriptions for some of the illustrations. That work isn’t done yet, but we’re adding more in future updates. It just felt like a good thing to do, to make more people who can’t usually play a lot of games able to play a game.”