Interview with Whale Rock Games on We Are the Dwarves!

In this week’s interview, we spoke with Alice Gurska, the community manager and game screenwriter at Whale Rock Games. She’s a screenwriter by profession, but she decided to switch from TV to games five years ago. As a game designer, she does technical stuff too, including team managing, storyline writing, and level design.

Along with us for the ride are Team Lead, Aleksey Moskovchenko, and Art Director, Pavlo Maksimenko.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us about We Are the Dwarves! For those who have not heard of your Kickstarter campaign, how would you introduce your game?

Alice: We Are the Dwarves is а real-time tactics mixed with an action slasher game. It has a wonderfully unique setting – you can think it’s a classic fantasy, when you look at the dwarves, but then you find that they have a starship, but no magic. They better sneak from their enemies, but fighting is not a problem for them too.

And the world itself is like the inverted Universe we live in: the space void between stars and planets is replaced by unlimited Eternal stone, and life is possible only in the rare hollows. The idea of this world mainly belongs to Pavlo and Aleksey and I remember when I just joined the team and they told me the lore – I immediately fell in love with it.

It was the art that drew me to the game, with those beautifully drawn landscapes and rich animations. Even the early gameplay footage looks good! Where did you get the inspiration for these environments?

Pavel: I always try to look at things from perspective of view that creatures that live in that environment. I try to find answers on questions like: “How can they live without sunlight? How can they exist without gravitation force? How can they count time in the world withount sunrises and sunsets? Maybe they use high and low water? – But there are no moons there! Maybe it’s because of the nearest Stars’ influence or some caves can change their size like human lungs?”

All these questions and answers help us to make some simple logic checks of the universe we have created. If something is too strange to believe and explain it – better avoid that. We try to add details to our Universe that will mix nicely with previous ideas.

Speaking of environments, the Stars are focal points in this Stone Universe. I read that some can change the gravity around them or produce sound waves that can cut through anything. Will our dwarves ever come face to face with one? They sound really dangerous!

Pavel: Sure. Dwarfs will face Stars because it’s one of the main points of our Universe. Everything can exist only around them. Star pieces can be used as some currency or some resource or even some energy source. Some Stars have invisible influence – they can increase regeneration speed and cure you or they can draw your life powers and can cause death. Star pieces have much weaker powers and can be used in amulets, rings, weapons. But it’s a little bit early to fully discuss them. Let the Shadow be the first who can talk about them. Because he is an expert in the Dwarf Astronomy.

Along with the variety of areas, it seems like there will be quite a variety of enemies too. Could you give us an example of one enemy you’re particularly fond of?

Pavel: My favourite monsters are Vultures. These creatures are blind by nature and live in total darkness in the places that have never been lit by stars, where there are no plants.

The Vultures are ugly creatures with pale diseased skin. They are something between straight-walking rats with atrophied wings and large beaks. The Vultures have perfect smell and can target you by your trails. And if you are wounded – there’s no chance to hide from them. It’s hard to hunt in such lifeless areas; only some rare centipedes and slimes can live there so Vultures are always hungry. They can get mad and start to eat each other. I think if he will smell his own blood – he can start to eat himself too.


The gameplay revolves around controlling a band of three dwarves. There’s real-time tactical combat, but also the option to pause and issue a stack of commands. Are you expecting the players to use a combination of both methods, or will individuals gravitate towards one over the other?

Aleksey: In our opinion the action pause and the stack of commands are just a way to make players’ life easier. The point is not to choose the way and there will be no switch for realtime. It’s just up to you. In different situations active pause and command stack will give you an opportunity to synchronize actions of your dwarfs.

Those three dwarves are quite distinct and, from what I can see, have special moves of their own. What happens when you mix their abilities together? Are there combos you can pull off?

Aleksey: We think it will be possible, but right now we only testing some prototypes to find the most interesting combos. The variety of these combos will also depend on the environment – we’ll add interactions with the world around, so the player could feel the game in a full way. Each of the trio is special and is strikingly different from the others.


One of your key features mentions stealth or slasher modes. Does this mean players will have multiple ways of approaching the same area in the game?

Aleksey: Yes. Our game is divided by levels, but this doesn’t mean they are linear. The most interesting part in We Are the Dwarves is many different ways of reaching the same goal. There are some additional hidden paths leading to the point you need, you can chose to sneak, to cut all the enemies in pieces or even to run away and scream :)

I think the coolest part of the enemy design is their sensors. You can sneak around those that use their hearing or eyesight to hunt, but how will you handle the ones that smell you?

Aleksey: They can smell the dwarves mostly when they found out someone is around (we call this “suspect mode”) and smell their trace. There are different ways to manage this problem – you can run on the soul, that has its own strong odor, or you can simply place a trap for your enemy behind you. You also can use this smelling sensor your enemies to confuse them and bring where you want to.

Are there any tricks to exploiting these senses? For example, would it be possible to do something like create a loud echo to mask the sound of your footsteps?

Aleksey: Yep. Right now we can tune sound suppression with walls or different objects. We can also make some sound amplifiers. It can be some piece of the Star which will make all near sound much louder. And of course our dwarves will have the abilities to influence the enemies’ senses.

And of course, before we wrap this up, is there anything you would like to add about We Are the Dwarves! ? Something we’ve missed, perhaps?

Alice: Looking and playing is much better than talking, so please stay with us on our pages. By the way you can also send us a request for the beta test access – maybe we’ll collect the team who’ll help us to make We Are the Dwarves the perfect game.

Thanks again for talking to us! We wish you the best of luck with your campaign, and hope to hear more from your studio.

Alice: Thanks for everyone who support us now and will support in the future!

the author

Executive Editor of ManaPool. A student of game design, Amber is currently writing from the frozen north that is Canada. She has a penchant for tactical team-based games and a particular taste for theorycrafting. Want to discuss community and player experience? Talk to her!