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Drakensang interview

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Drakensang interview

Interview - posted by Vault Dweller on Wed 8 November 2006, 17:23:17

Tags: Drakensang

We present you our Drakensang interview with Jan Lechner, Project Lead, and Bernd Beyreuther, Creative Director.

1. Since you are making an RPG, what's your definition of a role-playing game? What features are important to you and why?

Jan Lechner: My understanding of an RPG is that it presents a world to the player, in which he can take on a certain role that he can act out accordingly. What’s important is that any restrictions and options are grounded in the logic of the game world and are not left unexplained.

Even if I decide to play a mage, the game should allow me to take a powerful sword in hand and try to use it. And such options need to lead to logical consequences, so ideally my mage can hurt himself with a warrior’s broadsword or at least have serious problems when it comes to a fight.
In a role-playing game, the player should always have the opportunity to define his role himself, within a certain framework. That means, I need to be able to behave in different ways with regard my character as well as my surroundings. And again here, it is important that the restrictions that I’m subject to are explained logically within the game world.

Such different behavior should also elicit different reactions from the environment and thus in turn influence my decisions.

I don’t expect a role-playing game to allow me to anything and everything I can think up – a good RPG prevents me from thinking up impossible things to do in the first place.

2. In several interviews you've described Drakensang as "something like Baldur's Gate in 3D". I'm curious, why Baldur's Gate? Why not "another DSA game!" or "something like the well loved and influental Realms of Arkania games"?

Bernd Beyreuther: When we arrived at the description “Baldur’s Gate in 3D”, this was at the end of a long and intensive game design process. At no time, did we think “we’re gonna make a clone of this or that game”. In fact, we spent several months, collecting and reviewing the game design aspects for – what we consider – a *proper* role-playing game. We asked fans and gamers for their opinions and played many different RPGs.

We found a number of features that were – and still are – very important to us: a party, dynamic combat with a round-based ruleset, a certain complexity in skills, strong and memorable characters, dynamic dialogues and a whole bunch more.

The old RoA games were not homogeneous in terms of the gameplay, which was a consequence of the technical restrictions of the time: We moved through 3D-cities that were bereft of people. Everything was displayed from the first-person perspective, but you never got to see your party. For combat, it switched over to a rigid isometric perspective etc.

Therefore our objective can hardly be described as “Realms of Arkania in 3D”. Our project is just better described as a “Baldur’s Gate in 3D”. But this does not mean, that we took more inspiration from one than the other.

3. When the game was announced, many North American and European gamers were very enthusiastic, expecting nothing less but a game similar in style to the Realms of Arkania games. Needless to say, they were disappointed when a very different direction was taken. What would you say to these people? How would you sell them the concept of Drakensang?

Bernd Beyreuther: You already answered the question yourself J - we consider it very important to recreate the STYLE of the old games. We asked gamers, what really stuck in their minds about the old games. And that were the travel segments, the music and above everything, the special atmosphere of Aventuria. The old games have strong roots in Germany’s very large The Dark Eye pen & paper community (The Dark Eye – or Das Schwarze Auge – is the leading pen & paper system in Germany) which we are very familiar with. Above everything, we’re trying to capture the sentiment that prevails there and its unique, characteristic world in Drakensang.

4. Speaking of the Realms of Arkania games, what's your opinion of them? Have you played the series when you started the development, to see what's been accomplished, what other developers did with the license, what they did right and what they did wrong? Should we expect any RoA trademark features like the travel system, for example?

Bernd Beyreuther: Myself and many other members of the Drakensang team played the trilogy very intensively back in the day and I count them among the personal highlight of my “gaming history”. In addition, I’ve been playing the pen & paper original for decades and have enjoyed close contact with the licensors (the authors and editorial staff of The Dark Eye) as well as the creators of the old trilogy.
Both the pen & paper game as well as the RoA trilogy are very close to my heart and have formed the way I think about RPGs. And to answer the question about the travel system: yes, we will have this great element in Drakensang.

5. You've also mentioned that you feel that a "purely turn-based system only addresses a minority of today's RPG audience". Even though I agree with you 100%, unfortunately, here is a simple question: why? Do you feel that the era of turn-based RPGs is over and no TB game, no matter how successful it is, can bring it back? Or do you feel that a TB game simply can not be successful these days, at least not the way a Baldur's Gate-like game can?

Bernd Beyreuther: That is a good and very interesting question. I don’t think that a round-based RPG can not be a success, quite the opposite, I played “Advance Wars” obsessively for several weeks on my DS not long ago. I do believe that you can still make turn-based games that reach the masses. In fact, we are working on several concepts in this direction, especially with the new portable systems in mind.

It is another question, whether an RPG that aims to captivate and entertain – which needs to have cinematic, dramatic, emotional aspects in addition to the rules and combat system – is well served by interruptions. I believe that the intellectual, pondering chess-like style of a TB game does not mix well with atmospheric elements, story and emotion, as it breaks the player’s immersion.

Jan Lechner: One problem of the question is the assumption that real-time systems are an evolutionary advance over turn-based systems. I think that is wrong. That the one came after the other – chronologically speaking – is a result of technical developments and not advances in gameplay concepts.

Similar discussions are prevalent about 2D and 3D and I regard them as similarly nonsensical. Just because we have certain technical possibilities today, doesn’t mean that we have to use them at any cost. But if a concept works best as part of a certain system, it should be done regardless of what’s currently en vogue.

The idea of “bringing TB games back” is already thinking in the wrong categories, I feel. Every game has its own, unique demand and the question shouldn’t be what the contemporary method is, but what delivers the best result, the best game.

6. Tell us, if you can, about the combat system. I've read that you are planning to make it a "special experience with brilliant animations, crisp sounds and graphics effects". That sounds great, of course. Would the tactical aspects be a special experience too?

Jan Lechner: Indeed they will. Of course we’re trying to attain high quality in the graphical presentation of combat, but that is just one side of it. It reads great in a press release though! ;)

The best graphics won’t make combat exciting, if the system itself is no good.

Our combat system considers not only attributes and talents of the individual combatants, but also factors such as their position regarding each other. Different situations can create advantages and disadvantages for certain actions. If I’m aiming at an enemy with my bowman and he is surrounded by my allies, this is a greater challenge than without such obstructions. And if my potential target is only being attacked by one ally, this handicap is obviously dependent on the direction you’re shooting from.

Another aspect is the implementation of time and energy. Spells can be cast using different amounts of enetgy, which naturally leads to different results. So the player not only has a number of spells to choose from, but he can also decide how to use them, depending on the situation.

Here’s another area where the graphics come into play, because we want to give visual feedback for many of the things that happen during combat. Attacking different hitzones is easily distinguishable by different animations, for example.

7. One more combat question: you said that you want to "upgrade and modernize" the Baldur's Gate combat system. No arguing here, as that system had many flaws. I think it would be easier for us to visualize your system if you tells us what aspects you liked and wanted to improve, what aspects didn't work very well (for you), and what aspects simply weren't there?

Bernd Beyreuther: For one, there are substantial graphical improvements. When 15 orcs (animated with motion-capturing and modelled realistically) go at your party in real time, with detailed particle effects, uproarious battle noise and booming sound FX, it makes for really visceral combat. In addition, we tried to have the system give more feedback (making it clear what exactly happens when and for what reason), implement more tactical decisions and design the combat to be more accessible and dynamic.

What we absolutely wanted to keep was the pause function. The player will be able to pause combat at any time, so he is able to analyze the situation and make a decision.

8. Let's talk about what we think is one of the strongest parts of the game - the dialogue system that "reacts dynamically to your abilities". Can you tell us more about the dialogue system? Some examples you've given previously indicate that different races would get different reaction and different dialogue options. What about differently developed characters of the same race?

Jan Lechner: There are three factors that influence the dialogues: race/culture, attributes, and talents. A dwarf will experience different reactions when talking to another dwarf than an elf would in the same situation. The player obviously has limited active influence on this of course, only in choosing his character. But should the player be in the situation of being an elf trying to get something from a dwarf (which in Aventuria, is not an easy feat at all), he might have the option of lying to the dwarf in order to get at the desired information. For example by claiming: “I’m a dwarf in disguise.” Whether he succeeds and what the consequence are is then determined by his attributes and the level of the abilities that are concerned.

9. What role do the dialogues play? How much can you change and affect by talking to people instead of fighting them? Are you planning to have any dialogue skills like The Social Talents skills?

Jan Lechner: The dialogues are maybe the most important element of Drakensang. Our focus has always been on presenting a vivid game world and telling a great story. Dialogues are the most important means to achieve this. They offer the potential to not just be told about the world and the story, but to be a part of and interact with it.

There are various talents that the player can use in dialogues to influence them according to his wishes. One classic example would be persuasion.

10. It's been stated that "fighting will be just one way for your characters to gain experience" and that "there are loads of options for the player to get through the game". That's another highly praised feature where I come from. How does that work? Can I really play the game without resorting to violence?

Jan Lechner: Combat is an essential gameplay element, but it’s not the only one. There is some fighting that you can’t avoid, but generally we are not forcing the player to resort to violence.

In many situations he will be able to choose whether he wants to achieve his aims by fighting or by applying other talents, for example the skilled use of a lie or by picking a lock. This gives the players alternative ways which also offer experience rewards, so that he is not indirectly forced to concentrate on combat either.

11. Speaking about highly praised features, what's your "choices & consequences" design philosophy? Are there real non-cosmetic choices and do they come with things-will-never-be-the-same consequences?

Jan Lechner: Drakensang is a linear game in so far that eventually, all players will experience the same ending. But the path that leads will offer different possibilities to progress again and again. A decision made at one point can have far-reaching consequences, opening up avenues at another point or closing them. Partly you will be able to make up for past decisions or to compensate for them through your actions.

We consider it an essential design principle to only invest time in features and game elements that will actually generate gameplay value for the player. The moment we confront the player with a decision, he must be able to experience the consequences of his actions.

12. Tell us about the character system. For the novice players, can you briefly explain the difference between Baldur's Gate DnD character system and Drakensang DSA system? What players should expect in terms of races, classes, and skills? Any chance to see Lore talents, Languages, Nature talents?

Bernd Beyreuther: Both character systems offer a classic fantasy RPG array of warriors, mages, dwarves and elves. These archetypes are a must for an RPG and you will find them in Drakensang.

What’s special about the character generation in The Dark Eye is that the differences of the characters are deeply rooted in the regional and historical makeup of Aventuria. Race, regional origin, ancestry or school of magic of your hero all play a role in the process. It all determines the potential of a character and whether as a warrior he will favour swords or axes, whether he learns healing spells or whether he uses his magical abilities offensively in combat.

13. Last question. What kind of players Drakensang is aimed at and why? On one hand, you talk about "appealing to traditional RPG gamers", on the other hand, the game's gone real time because only a minority of today's RPG audience digs turn-based; you promise a great dialogue system and quickly add that dialogues are short because players shouldn't be forced to read; and you adapting a rather complex PnP character system "into modern gameplay - and not to torture players with columns of numbers and figures". So, are we talking about traditional gamers or the infamous new generation that can't read, confused by numbers, and likes anything shiny?

Jan Lechner: If you contrast these points in isolation, I can see how confusion about our target audience can arise. In fact, a narrowly defined target audience is not what drives our development process. We count both hardcore RPG gamers as well as casual RPG fans among our team, so we naturally take our inspiration from both camps, trying to address the wishes of both.

Of course this is not an easy task, but I’m convinced that a well thought-out game design concept can go beyond just one segment of gamers – ideally, a good game creates a whole new audience category.

Since a part of the question goes back to something I said that was easily misunderstood, I want to go into detail about the amount of dialogue in the game.

We want to create a structure that gives players access to important information without requiring them to read large amounts of text. We do however want to fill all dialogues with lots of additional information about the world, its inhabitants and their relation to each other. In addition, there will be a multitude of optional dialogues and information in the form of books and scrolls which open additional quests and additional paths to the more “diligent” gamer.

This is a good example of how we approach these game design decisions: we want the player to have the choice, whether he wants to listen an NPC’s life story of whether he just wants a quick answer. That’s the philosophy that governs the whole project.

Thanks for giving us the chance to tell the readers of RPG Codex about Drakensang: The Dark Eye. I hope they enjoy reading our thoughts and look forward to the game, coming at the end of 2007 from Radon Labs and ANACONDA!

We'd like to thank Jan and Bernd for answering our questions, and Claas Paletta, the PR manager, for his assistance and translation.

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