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Temple of Elemental Evil interview
Interview - posted by Saint_Proverbius on Mon 13 January 2003, 22:18:26Tags: Temple of Elemental Evil; Tim Cain; Troika Games
Temple of Elemental Evil interview with Tim Cain
1.) You've said you felt nostalgic over the Greyhawk setting. Is this the only reason you picked it over, less conventional D&D settings like Dark Sun or Planescape?
Tim Cain: When the opportunity to do D&D 3E came up, I sat down with my entire collection (100+) of modules and tried to decide which one I wanted to do. The module had to be one I enjoyed playing (of course), but it also had to be big enough to feel "epic". Many of the modules that fit the bill were Greyhawk modules, which I had grown up playing with AD&D. The Temple of Elemental Evil became the obvious choice when I noticed the level range began at level 1, while my next favorite, Against the Giants, started much higher. ToEE is a big, fun adventure, more complex than the standard dungeon fare of the time.
2.) The Temple of Elemental Evil module was fairly hack and slash. Can you tell us some of the additions and alterations to the module you've made to make it less of a dungeon crawl?
Tim Cain: The module begins with the player characters showing up in Hommlet for some vague, unspecified reason, like they "heard about bandits" or "are seeking their fortunes". Our opening vignettes give the player's party a much clearer reason to be in Hommlet, and in some cases, the temple is not their main focus at all. It may be their environment, but they have a more pressing purpose to be there than just checking out the place.
Also, most of the NPC's are described with a couple of lines and a stat block. We expanded the personalities of these characters to make lots of new side quests and more intricate ways through the main quest. The module hinted at all sorts of behind-the-scenes events, which we had to make explicit and figure out exactly how the player could become involved.
Don't misunderstand. If you want to fight your way through the module from start to finish, you can. You don't have to talk to anyone. But it's a lot harder that way, and I think a lot less fun too.
3.) Without giving too much away, for those who haven't played the module, can you tell us a little about the temple and it's surroundings?
Tim Cain: The temple is a ruin from its heyday 10 years before. Then, the evil priests had spread their religion far and wide, and all sorts of evil creatures called the place home. A huge battle between good and evil took place, and evil lost. Fast forward to the present, and the player is introduced to the small village of Hommlet, which has enjoyed peace and prosperity for the last ten years, but is now experiencing some problems: bandits, missing people, and some unsavory behavior in a neighboring village.
4.) Most party based games demand a balanced party because they lay out areas with monsters and traps. Will Temple of Elemental Evil require a balanced party? Or can you use an all similar class party?
Tim Cain: From the very beginning, we have checked our design to make sure we are not requiring any particular class to be in the player's party. This is easier in 3E, since many skills are available to more than just one class. But we also had to make sure we weren't making any bottlenecks in the main story arc that required the use of a particular magical spell or class ability, like turning undead. We realized the player may take a party of all fighters or all bards, and that party should be able to finish the game.
Now just because an all-one-class party is possible doesn't mean it's easy. Six wizards just don't have that many hit points.
5.) Will it be possible to solo your way through Temple of Elemental Evil? If so, how is the player compensated for not having as many people around?
Tim Cain: Yes, in theory you can solo the game. The only compensation would be that, in not sharing experience points, you should level up faster than a full party. Most combats would be more difficult when soloing, so you'd need the extra abilities earlier on.
6.) Currently, NPC's are AI controlled in combat. There are pros and cons to both methods, if you change it so that the player controls them, what steps will be taken to keep the player from "breaking" the NPCs' personality because they have direct control? Do you think this issue is easier or harder than a decent combat AI?
Tim Cain: First, we are only debating letting the player control their NPC followers during combat, so there isn't much of an issue with the NPC "breaking personality". If you force a good NPC to help kill a good creature, he will still leave the group after combat, so it's not a good idea if you are planning any long-term strategy with your NPC followers. No, the biggest problem is how to let the player control the NPC without revealing too much about the NPC's character information. For example, if a multi-classed rogue-fighter joins the group as just a fighter (perhaps planning to rob the party later), how do we prevent the player from seeing the NPC's rogue abilities during combat? It's easy to hide this information if the player doesn't control them, but difficult if we let the player control them and thus select their actions each turn.
7.) Some classes are more role playing classes than others. How is the game balanced to allow for a player that likes the lesser combat classes, like the Bard, as opposed to Fighter?
Tim Cain: Let's take your example of a bard versus a fighter. The bard will have a high charisma and lot more skill points than the fighter (bards get twice as many skill points than a fighter of the same intelligence). So the bard will have more and/or and higher skills than the fighter, so the bard will have more non-combat options to explore. Maybe he can talk his way through a potential combat situation using Diplomacy or Bluff, and bards have their spells and their music to provide even more options. Also, finding decent fighter NPC followers isn't too difficult, so the bard can always pick up a follower or two.
I think people underestimate their non-combat options. In my paper-and-pencil D&D game, the group triggered a trap I'd placed that dropped their bard character into a room with a nasty monster. She thought fast and used her Fascinate music ability to mesmerize the critter while she walked around it and into the exit. Later, the group agreed that probably any other member of the group would have been toast, especially the fighter. They all respected the bard a lot more after that encounter.
8.) Many of your games focus on ethical situations. The Paladin class specializes in ethical issues. Will this be reflected in the game? Will it be possible for a Paladin to fall?
Tim Cain: We hope so. We are making sure we can correctly identify all the situations that would make a paladin fall (it's not as easy as you may think) and that there is a way to avoid (or return from) such a fall from grace. We hope to get this feature in before shipping.
9.) Temple of Elemental Evil is turn based. Does this mean we can expect a wider variety of feats and rules that deal with this since there are issues with doing them in real time? Can you tell us what feats and rules are in the game because of this?
Tim Cain: Because we are turn-based, it was much easier to deal with all of the rules that tied in directly to combat rounds. Feats like Improved Initiative were easy to add, and attacks of opportunity (and related feats like Combat Reflexes and skills like Tumble) could be added in a very straightforward manner, since each character goes at a separate time. Even feats like Cleave and Great Cleave are easier to code because the extra attacks aren't interruptible. But the best thing about turn-based is the fine control it gives of area-of-effect spells like Cone of Cold or fireball. You can aim them precisely, so you can affect exactly the creatures you want and not worry that some friendly character will move in the way and get fried.
Basically, because we are making a turn-based computer version of a turn-based game, we haven't had to fudge a lot of the basic D&D rules. We can use them as they are written in the book.
10.) What level range does Temple of Elemental Evil have? Has the experience system been altered in any way? Will quests provide experience?
Tim Cain: ToEE supports levels 1 thru 10. We haven't changed the experience charts, which are still based on the challenge rating of creatures you encounter (which may change during balancing, of course). And quests provide experience; we simply tag each one with a challenge rating and run it through the same experience system.
11.) What all affects the dialogue in Temple of Elemental Evil? Can we expect NPCs to react to players differently based on things other than the speech skills in 3E? Are reactions tracked like in Arcanum?
Tim Cain: In addition to the speech skills (Bluff, Diplomacy, Gather Information, Intimidate, and Sense Motive), NPC's will also react to the things like class, alignment, and some stats like intelligence and charisma. You will also see changes in some NPC's depending on how you solved certain quests (not just that you solved them, but HOW you chose to solve them).
NPC's will store a running reaction to you, like In Arcanum, so expect to pay more for a Raise Dead if you piss off the town priest.
12.) You say you fully support evil characters. However, with evil actions come consequences. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the consequences for evil actions in Temple of Elemental Evil?
Tim Cain: I really don't want to give too much away. Let's just say some paths are easier to do in an evil fashion, but doing so may make later events more difficult. And as always, the game records what you do for the end slides, so don't be shocked if you see some horrible consequences to your evil ways.
13.) Both Fallout and Arcanum featured multiple endings based on your actions in the game. Will Temple of Elemental Evil have this?
Tim Cain: Yes, that's kind of a Troika trademark thing. The list of possible end slides is ever growing, much to the artists' displeasure.
Thanks, Tim Cain of Troika and Brandon Smith of Infogrames.