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Interview - posted by Saint_Proverbius on Wed 11 December 2002, 19:13:50Tags: Harbinger; Silverback Entertainment
1.) Can you tell us a little bit about Silverback? Why you picked the name, "Silverback"? What experience Silverback developers have had in the past?
Andy Muir: Silverback Entertainment is a small development house created by former members of Running With Scissors. We're a tight-knit group of friends that love games and love to make them. We chose the name Silverback because, co-founder Steve Macomber and I are pretty hefty primates, so the name seemed to fit.
2.) Why did Silverback decide to make a CRPG? What elements of the CRPG genre attracted you to it?
Andy Muir: We just looked at what we were playing, what we were looking forward to playing and where we thought we could best innovate and contribute. When we first started work on this project, there were very few sci-fi RPGs and very, very few on the horizon. We wanted to create a universe without limitations where we could squeeze in all the weirdness we wanted and get away with it. Also, a good number of us were pen-and-paper guys, so it just seemed like a natural direction for us.
3.) How about a little background on the idea of Harbinger? What influences were present in the design of the setting?
Andy Muir: The biggest influence on Harbinger has been Heavy Metal magazine. A couple of us had been collecting them for years. It's just so cool and edgy, and unlike anything else around. We wanted to build a game that would, in a fun way, bring to life a universe as detailed and intricate as those found in Heavy Metal.
4.) Science fiction CRPGs are very rare. Can you tell us why you picked science fiction over traditional fantasy? Do you think the setting will affect the type of people to which CRPGs are typically marketed?
Andy Muir: Honestly, it's because I'm sick to death of traditional fantasy games. I mean, I love them and I play them all, but there's a limit to the number of caves, crypts and cemeteries I can explore before it starts to get old.
I don't think that the Sci-fi people and the fantasy people are necessarily two separate camps. Everyone has their preferences sure, but for the most part, the people that people who enjoy Star Wars also enjoy the Lord of the Rings so I don't really expect this to be a factor when it comes to sales.
5.) Harbinger is an "action" CRPG. Can you tell us why you chose to go with the action route over the old, traditional route? What aspect of this decision do you think will help the game? What do you think might hurt it?
Andy Muir: That decision was based on a combination of personal preference and user accessibility. The majority of the Silverback guys play a lot of shooters and generally prefer the pacing of action games. Also, like most game in this genre, Harbinger has minimal interface manipulation and a shallow learning curve that makes it easier to for casual gamers to pick up and get into. Obviously reaching the maximum number of players is important to us, so the decision was a fairly painless one. I don't anticipate this decision hurting us. We have a deep story set in a beautiful universe that's crammed full surprises, so I don't think anyone's going to be terribly disappointed that we aren't turn-based.
6.) Aside from the combat aspect, what else does Harbinger offer? How is dialogue handled, for example? What types of dealings can we have with NPCs?
Andy Muir: Aside from the combat, probably the biggest difference you'll see in Harbinger, compared to other action / RPGs is the story depth. We have written a tremendous amount of interactive dialog for our NPCs and combined them with in-game scripted sequences and storyline branching to bring the whole universe to life. Since we built this all from scratch, we aren't bound to a lot of pre-conceived trappings. For example, we don't have to worry about keeping an NPC around for the next movie, book or television episode, so we can let anything happen. We can have a major NPC die, betray you or really anything else and you won't see it coming. We're free to surprise our players and after having worked on licensed titles in the past, it's tremendously liberating.
7.) Harbinger sports three different types of characters in the game, with unique abilities. Can you tell us what decisions were made in the ability choices for the three races? Why do humans have an ability another race doesn't have, in terms of background history of the races about these abilities, for example?
Andy Muir: We knew from the start that we wanted each of our characters to provide a different play experience. When we went to pick character abilities, we asked ourselves one question: what would allow this character to survive in this harsh universe? From there, we examined the character's back story and brainstormed ideas that not only sounded fun, but also fit the context of our story. For instance, the human is the only character that can use injectors. In making that decision, we had to determine not only what advantages these would give him, but also how injectors got onto the ship in the first place. Since the humans on board Harbinger (with a few notable exceptions) were a slave race, the injectors were used to increase their productivity. This makes sense and fits tightly into our storyline. We went through this process for pretty much every element in this game, and I think that one of the things players will really appreciate about Harbinger is this attention to detail.
8.) How much differently will the game play given which race you choose? Will race affect anything beyond combat situations? Are NPCs biased towards one type of character over another?
Andy Muir: Every character plays differently. Each character class has its own unique stats, items, strengths, weaknesses, and interfaces. In addition to that, there are also character-specific quests and NPC interactions. Yes, some NPCs have pre-conceived notions about the different character types.
9.) How is advancement and experience handled? How are skills advanced? Are attributes advanced?
Andy Muir: It's pretty straightforward. Experience points are awarded for killing enemies and achieving objectives. Once enough are achieved, the character levels up and gets a handful of skill points to distribute. It's easy to use and the improvements make an immediate and noticeable difference in gameplay.
10.) How are weapons handled in the game? What types and classifications can we expect? How are the ranged weapons handled in terms of balancing them with the melee weapons?
Andy Muir: Each character has its own unique set of weapons that it can use. These generally fall under the categories of ranged, melee and radial. In addition to these weapons, each character has a unique class of gadgets assigned to it. There are three factors that keep the melee and ranged weapons balanced with each other. First of all, every shot fired drains energy from the ranged weapon, so when you find yourself overwhelmed by enemies and waiting for your weapon energy to creep high enough to get a shot off, the melee weapon quickly becomes your best friend. Also, melee weapons generally inflict more damage than ranged weapons, the tradeoff being that they also put your character in harms way. Finally, there are upgrades (injectors for the human, mod chip for the Gladiator) that speed your melee attack rate and make slicing and dicing a very effective means of dispatching enemies.
11.) Likewise, how does the armor system work? Are there damage types? General resistances?
Andy Muir: There are basically four energy types that ranged weapons to fire, and a handful of toxins for the melee weapons. Every enemy in the game has its own strengths and vulnerabilities (we've kept these very intuitive) so smart weapon and armor rigging is crucial to your success. The basic formula is this: the better you know your enemies, the smarter you can rig your weapons, armor and gadgets; which in turn makes defeating those enemies a whole lot easier.
12.) Lastly, can you give us an example of what types of quests are there in the game, in general terms? Are there side quests? What are the benefits of quests, in terms of rewards?
Andy Muir: I don't want to give away too much of the story, but it begins with a character-specific quest. This leads you into the search for a missing comrade, and that search leads you? well? it leads you pretty far. There are side quests and the rewards range from money, gear and experience to bonus quests and story branches.
Big thanks to Andy Muir of Silverback Games and Dreamcatcher for taking the time on this.