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Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga Interview
Interview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Tue 30 November 2010, 22:05:54Tags: Divinity 2; Larian Studios
Interview with Swen Vincke of Larian Studios
Borrowing a page from CDProjekt, you just released The Dragon Knight Saga, the "Enhanced Edition" for Divinity 2: Ego Draconis + Flames of Vengeance so to speak. Why was such an edition neccessary or even desirable, what has been enhanced specifically and why should gamers opt for DKS instead of just sticking to ED+FoV?
Frankly, we were a bit frustrated by Ego Draconis. It was released before we thought it was ready in the middle of one of the deepest recessions I’ve ever witnessed in this industry and it was very hard at that time to make the business case for the “we need more time” speech, in a climate where all around us companies were going under, you couldn’t be sure of anybody paying you anymore and everybody was extremely nervous. We realized what potential was being lost by releasing the game prematurely, but since we hadn’t been able to stop it from being released, we had to watch helplessly as some reviewers started butchering Ego Draconis and suffered in silence.
But we had put quite a large part of our lives into this game, and so after we recovered from the initial punches thrown at us by critics, we did the insane and we continued working on the game just as if it wasn’t released yet, not even knowing if we were ever going to get it released. We rationalized it by calling it expansion pack work whereas in reality we were just moving forward with improving the game, our intent being releasing the improvements as patches, and bring it at the level where we wanted it to be. Somewhere along the line we also planned on actually delivering the expansion pack, but our primary intent was just setting the wrongs right, and releasing the game we had initially envisioned, well kind of Wink
Then it turned out that releasing those patches wasn’t possible for a variety of reasons, some of them incredibly stupid, and that frustrated the hell out of us, especially given the amount of work we put in and that’s when we decided on doing The Dragon Knight Saga, something we actually had to fight very hard for to make it a reality.
To answer the second part of your question, DKS was intended for people who didn’t play ED yet, and FOV was intended for those who already had ED. There are still differences between ED+FOV and DKS, and for existing ED players who want access to that, we’ll be releasing an ED+FOV 2 DKS patch. It’s taking longer than we had hoped, but we have a small development team, and need to take into account a myriad of ED versions, which might or might not have FOV installed, a whole bunch of languages, different platforms, and together it’s enough to drive the man responsible for our builds completely bananas. But we’re getting there.
Having played ED and FoV I had a feeling that with FoV you were pouring more R into your ARPG, considering that the questing/combat ratio was shifted a bit in favor of questing, quests had some choices or multiple solutions, combat areas were intense but rather short and less tedious. Do you plan to continue down this path?
The formula of any Divinity has always been to mix various gameplay styles with one another, and in ED this was no different. You got RPG intensive parts mixed with action intensive parts mixed with the occasional puzzle or platform bit. We thought there was already sufficient action in ED, and that’s how we came to putting a very RPG intensive part in there, which is what we thought was missing there.
To be perfectly honest, we actually wanted to put in another area that featured more action, but during production figured out that it would take us too long, so we cancelled that. One of the things we also did in DKS was make the combat part in the middle shorter, at least for those who rushed through the game, because we felt that for them the action bit might be a bit too much without too much interesting things happening. But in the same breath I have to say that the middle part can be quite rewarding for those that really explore – there’s a lot to be discovered there and I think that the lesser focus on action there encourages that exploration.
As to what we want to do in the future – we have a nifty little plan that we’re putting to execution now, but it’s a bit too soon to talk about it. The team is quite excited about the design, and I hope all the ideas in there will work, but we’re taking some risks with certain things, so I hope they’ll pay off in the end.
The sequences of Dragon combat in ED have been criticised frequently, there was no character advancement for your Dragon form to speak of plus it all felt very actiony which in turn felt a bit out of place at times considering we're talking an RPG here. After all it was not much more than moving around constantly and waiting for the fireball cooldown to expire. Other skills like Dragon's Wrath had a lengthy animation and staying at the same place for the 2 or 3 seconds the animation played out would most likely get you killed, rendering the whole skill rather useless. What has been done to improve the Dragon gameplay with DKS?
We’ve had mixed reactions to the dragon gameplay, and I guess we’ll continue to see mixed reactions as there are always going to be a group of players for whom it feels not action oriented enough and another group of players who think it’s too action oriented. The dragon was a big gamble, but I was glad to see certain player posts in our forums where they really appreciated the feeling of power that came with it, which in the end was the intention. In DKS we changed the dragon focussed combat areas to be more accessible by for instance removing most of the anti-dragon devices and changing the gameplay in the flying fortresses, and we also tweaked some of the dragon related settings. The feedback we’ve been getting looks more positive than for Ego Draconis, so I guess we did something right, though I’ll be the first to admit that we didn’t exploit the dragon gameplay mechanic as much as we had originally envisioned.
Playing ED I recognized that the character system had been streamlined in comparison to Divine Divinity, which is not neccessarily a good thing in my book. There are less skills, spells can't be acquired from reading spell tomes, and given the balancing of spells and skills you're pretty much forced to dedicate yourself to only a handful of skills to keep them effective against the progressively inflated hitpoints of enemies and then happily spam the same few skills throughout the whole, rather large, game. Which gets boring eventually. To give an example, of course in DD it was better to have the lightning spell at level 5 instead of 1 too, but against lightning-vulnerable creatures like Trolls it was a good help nontheless, even if you hadn't the spell maxed out. The same applies for other spells, like the Frost spell for instance. So what's the reasoning behind this design choice of cutting down a lot of abilities and then force the player to stick to only a handful of them? More options in combat certainly don't hurt.
I agree with you in parts – I think in DKS you’ll find that combat in general is improved, especially on the Xbox360, because of a whole bunch of usability improvements and some better balancing, but we didn’t necessarily make the best design decisions when it came to things like specific types of damages or resistances. We actually wanted to change that when we were busy with DKS and had quite some design/coding meetings about it, but just didn’t have enough time/resources to do it. That said, judging from the player profiles we see, people are coming up with quite some varied builds and strategies, so it’s not as if the system doesn’t have depth. But less so than the original game and we’ll try to fix that in future games.
Well, Divinity 2 combat had one property that kind of stood out in a positive manner: it was rather difficult, at least on the highest difficulty level. And with difficult I mean it was a real pain in the ass sometimes, which certainly was refreshing in times of Fable-like button-mashing combat "goodness". Now I've read that DKS did significantly decrease the challenge of the game. So, what has been done to the combat difficulty in DKS specifically, and why do you think it was neccessary?
If there’s one thing we learnt is that there’s a lot of people out there who don’t necessarily want combat to be challenging – they just want to go through the experience. Ever since we included a casual mode, we’ve been getting a lot of good feedback, but, predictably, we’ve also been getting feedback that some experienced players now found certain parts too easy, even when the difficulty was set to hard. That’s why we now included a nightmare mode in the next patch, which should give those that want it a real real challenge.
Another point that has been mentioned frequently in a negative manner was the influence of the level (on offense as well as defense) in Divinity 2, making it an all-powerful stat that kind of overrides most other stats in the game. For example if you're a few levels above the enemies you could literally strip naked and still be invulnerable while if it was the other way around you could hardly deal any damage whatsoever plus it didn't matter what your armor stats or resistances were, even if maxed out they wouldn't protect you. Why this design decision? Who thought that was a good idea? Did DKS change something regarding this problem?
Yes, this has been removed completely, and it was a terrible idea. We already knew when ED was shipped but in the months leading up to release, there’s little opportunity for changing things, so regrettably we couldn’t fix it anymore. It was really a stupid thing to do.
Another rather nifty idea in Divinity 2 was the mindreading. In my opinion the *thank god no one knows the location of mah trezure*-kind of application was a bit overused and in FoV it was a bit too expensive XP cost-wise but it was a nifty mechanic nontheless and enabled some nice unique quest solutions. Can we expect to see this or a similar mechanic in future games or was it an one time thing for Divinity 2 only?
I’m glad that one received so much positive attention. It was quite a lot of development work to put it in there, and I’m pretty sure many people in QA wished it wasn’t there. I remember when introducing it, the team looked at me as if I’d been taking drugs. Already they were overloaded with work to get all of the content in, and here was this madman telling them that every single dialog should get a mindread path because of this new cool skill. Considering the amount of dialogues in the game, that really added a lot of work to their plate, so you can understand that on occasion they took a shortcut, but there really are some very cool mindreads in there. And yes, we’re thinking of similar ”small” things when it comes to our next RPGs.
An area where Divinity 2 excelled, exactly like DD before, was certainly the soundtrack, featuring some of the best music in videogames. Who is this guy who composed it, where did you find him and what's his secret? Also, is it true that he leaves chaos in the kitchen?
Kirill Pokrovski is his name, and he’s an incredibly talented composer with a slight tendency towards increasing entropy wherever he goes, hence the kitchen story:-) His secret is that he’s just very good at what he does and on this project he received all the room he needed to do the thing he does best. He actually created over 480 songs for Divinity 2 from which we picked the ones we thought fit best.
There was word that you're already planning your next RPG. Can you tell a bit about that? Action RPG or full RPG? Will it be another Divinity game and take place in Rivellon again or are you aiming for something completely new? Spoil us.
No spoilers yet unfortunately. All I can tell you is that the design for it got the team excited and that at a lot of levels we’re going back to our roots, with the added advantage of our accumulated experience. It features some things that weren’t done before, and I’m quite curious if they’ll actually work in-game.
No Codex interview is complete without a question on the basics of RPG design. If I'd ask some Obsidian folks they would probably start telling stories about choices & consequences, whereas Bethesda would probably just stick to their proven motto that RPGs are all about running around and killing things. Now, what's the Larian Studios RPG design philosophy in a nutshell?
The player is the star – his or her actions should matter, there has to be an opportunity of becoming very powerful, exploration should be rewarded, everything within the game world should be tailored so
that it entertains the player, and the player should feel in full control. Easier said than done of course.
Some time ago we named the top RPGs of the last decade and some wellknown, not-so-wellknown and more or less unknown developers contributed with a paragraph on their own choice of RPG of the decade. Now here's your chance for your own entry, what's your favorite RPG of the last decade and why?
TBH, no RPG released this decade gave me the feeling I got when playing the Ultima series, so I’ll have to pass. I don’t have a favourite RPG this decade – I enjoyed a lot of them a lot, but I’m still waiting for that single RPG that’ll give me that feeling of “OMG, how cool is that !”. It’s of course possible that’s because the Ultima series were my introduction to the genre, in which case I’m in trouble, but I can’t get rid of the feeling that it could’ve been made by now. My ambition is to keep on trying making that RPG ourselves, and I hope at some point we’ll manage to convince the powers that be to give us the cash we need so we can go ahead and make it.
One last thing, do you plan to offer the newest Divine Divinity patch to all owners of the game, not just to GOG customers?
The big problem here is that we don't control all the versions of Divine Divinity that were released and so have no clue as to what is out where, mainly because the original publisher doesn't exist anymore. I keep on hoping that we'll find the time somewhere to do an upgraded version of Divine Divinity, but that hasn't happened yet.
Thanks for your time and good luck with your next projects, Swen.