Interview: Developers Of Bellwright Plan To Double Down On Players’ Immersion In Future Updates

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Bellwright - via Donkey Crew

Bellwright is a highly detailed open-world survival RPG from Donkey Crew that offers a solid challenge for exploration. The game enables players to embark on a narrative-focused journey across the medieval world and take on any challenge the world offers. 

From extensive resource management, combat, and crafting to unique roleplay elements, Bellwright is meticulously designed for a perfect experience with each playthrough. We interviewed Lukasz Jankowski of Donkey Crew to gain more insights on the design choice and development of Bellwright. 

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Bellwright – via Donkey Crew

Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your role on Bellwright.

Łukasz: My name is Łukasz Jankowski, and I am the Producer in Donkey Crew, although in indie teams of this size, it means that I’m part producer, part HR, part emotional support, and part project manager.

That’s why I like to call myself a problem solver first and foremost – my job is to be the force multiplier for our team and to remove any obstacles.

How does Bellwright differentiate itself from other open-world survival games in terms of storytelling and player involvement in the protagonist's quest to clear their name?

Łukasz: Since the beginning of the project, we wanted the narrative aspect of it to be a strong, unique selling point for our game. The idea of opposing an oppressive ruler, figuring out the problems that the villages of Karvenia have so we could solve them, and also having this ongoing overarching theme of revenge and solving a mystery makes it more personal to the player.

Bellwright - via Donkey Crew
Bellwright – via Donkey Crew

Can you explain how the recruitment system works in Bellwright and how players can strategically utilize villagers with different abilities and professions?

Łukasz: It’s simple – to be able to recruit villagers from neutral settlements, you need their trust. And that’s it! Okay, you probably expected something more in-depth! Helping villagers, doing quests, and fighting bandits that plague the land earns you Trust and Renown, which you can spend like a currency to recruit people from villages to join your cause.

There are various factors in the formula, like the fact that the more villagers you have, the more expensive new ones become to drive the player to progress and expand. Or the fact that each villager is unique with their attributes and traits that make them better at some jobs than others, which affect their recruitment ‘cost’.

Once they join you, though, they can perform multiple roles – they can be Workers that follow the job priority system (and you can set their individual priorities as you see fit!) to partake in production chains, gathering, building, and researching new technologies. They can also be turned into settlement guards, which makes them patrol the vicinity of your settlements in search of threats.

And lastly, there’s the most interactive role – Companions. Those are the ones that follow you around, so you can take them with you to fight enemies or use contextual commands to point them to gather specific resources or hunt an animal you spotted. 

And of course the more they work, the better their attributes get, which in turn makes them more proficient at various tasks (or at fighting!).

We loved the idea of building the clan rather than going all in solo for the optimal playthrough experience. How did this idea originate, and how does it add depth to the player's journey in the game's world?

Łukasz: Co-op always seemed like a perfect fit for our game – this sense of creating and developing a community that you can share with your friends or family just clicks with the idea of a medieval town builder so well! 

Especially with the sandboxy nature of Bellwright, where you can either split up and find separate cooperating settlements that provide each other with specific resources OR manage your main settlement together and split tasks among yourselves so everyone can take care of their respective aspects of town management, exploration, quests, etc.

Expansive Open World
Bellwright – via Donkey Crew

What was your approach in designing a perfect cooperative play to factor into the exploration and combat aspects of Bellwright, and what advantages does it offer to players?

Łukasz: Our rule number one was to make every player equally important. We wanted everyone, regardless of their session size, to feel like the protagonist of the story. This meant that we had to put a lot of effort into making sure that all players could perform all actions, participate in the dialogues, and progress.

We didn’t want to make anyone feel like being just an extra for someone else’s gameplay, and I think we’ve succeeded in that.

This also means that playing in co-op introduces new opportunities to players, adding to Bellwright’s replayability. In battle, the players can split their armies into different squads and execute tactics and strategies that would be hard to do solo.

Add the ability to create separate settlements via outposts and sprinkle it with the difficulty sliders for those that demand greater challenge in their session and it feels like a different game mode, rather than ‘more of the same, but with more people’.

Can you shed light on the major challenges involved in the development of Bellwright?

Łukasz: Immersion, pacing, and difficulty were probably the greatest challenges that we faced during the development. We’ve always wanted to go for absolutely immersive and satisfying gameplay so players can feel like the world around them is a living place, the villagers walk around and take care of their business, etc.

Pacing and difficulty partially go hand in hand – making sure that the player always has something exciting to chase and there’s always some threat to defend from and keeping them balanced was a strong focus for us.

We want Bellwright to be a game that can be enjoyable in the relaxing, town management way but also allow the players to dictate their own tempo and be able to make daring moves and risky decisions for greater rewards and faster progression.

Bellwright - via Donkey Crew
Bellwright – via Donkey Crew

What future updates or features can players look forward to in Bellwright, and how do you envision the game evolving?

Łukasz: More Bellwright. I know how this sounds, but that’s exactly what it is! We’re planning to expand the game in many ways – doubling down on the immersion aspect by adding new behaviors, town decorations, expanding the map, adding new tiers of technology with new architecture… but also improving things like the NPCs’ AI, quality of life improvements, progressing the storyline as players unravel the mysteries (and discover new ones).

We’re in it for the long haul, and we’re set on making Bellwright the perfect medieval game.

How many developers actively worked on Bellwright and how long has it been under development?

Łukasz: This varied between the stages – the concept phase was literally one brave person prototyping various mechanics and crazy ideas. Then, during pre-production, more and more members were taking up tasks to make Bellwright what it is now. In the closing year, we had 30 Donkeys working really hard to deliver a game we are all proud of.

Anything else you would like to share with the readers?

Łukasz: Just one thing – thank you for enjoying Bellwright. We’re overwhelmed with how well the game was received and how nice and involved our community is. We have a lot of new features in the works and we can’t wait to (hopefully soon!) show what exciting stuff we have in store for our players!

Bellwright is an all-new survival RPG, developed by Donkey Crew and published by Snail Games. The game was released on April 23, 2024, for PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC. 

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