By Al Giovetti
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Drakan Order of the Flame Interview with Alan Patmore
Alfred C. Giovetti (AG): We welcome to the computer show, Alan Patmore, CEO of Surreal Software and designer of Drakan Order of the Flame from Psygnosis.Thanks for being with us and sharing with us this great information on a brand new game
Q: What is the vision upon which Drakan is based? What are you seeking to achieve as a software developer with this project?
A: We wanted to create an epic 3D fantasy world with an emphasis on action, story and character development.
Q: How many levels (environments) will the player get to explore?
A: There are 10 levels. The term 'level' is fairly irrelevant because the game takes place in one massive, seamless world. There are four distinct regions of this world which offer the player different looks. Each of these regions blends into the next area, heightening the feeling of one large world. >
Q: What kinds of enemies will Rynn and Arokh face? And how many? Can you describe the personalities of the various denizens, and some of their behavioral traits?
A: There are 18 different enemies, with five Bosses. There are also a total of 15 Cut-scene NPCS (NPC's you can interact with). Our tools allow each to be tweaked with individually. Each enemy has set AI for his type of character. Example: Wartoks use wartok AI, Giants use Giant AI. These parameters allow the designers to customize the behaviors of each creature in the game environment. I can make one troll flee when he notice the dragon. Another may run to a ballista when he sees the dragon, or yet another will run and alert other wartoks when he detects the player. The coolest AI so far has to be the primitive giant. He picks up anything and everything around him and throws it at the player. This includes any creatures or body parts that get within the giant's reach. >
Q: How do Rynn and Arokh team up to best combat these enemies? Does >Arokh > actually duel with his own enemies while Rynn is off on some land-based > mission? Can both their actions result in a mission being >accomplished?
A: The dragon will defend himself when separated from Rynn. He will bite any creature that comes within X distance of him. Arokh does not act independently of Rynn to solve quests. Rynn and Arokh do separate, but Arokh doesn't actually fly around killing things and solving puzzles. SeT >
Q: > There are quests and subquests that are part of the >story > progression, as we've heard. Can you describe a typical quest and how long will it take to > accomplish? Are the subquests a mandatory part of your central missions?
A: Example: The farmer will tell Rynn that he will give her a map to a magic sword if she kills all the spiders in his cave. Rynn must then enter the cave and figure out how to kill all the spiders. To do this she may need to solve a couple of puzzles and engage in a lot of combat. A typical subquest such as this would take the average player around 15 minutes to 30 minutes to complete. There are as many as six or seven different subquests in some levels. >
Q: How does Rynn get hints about the solutions to problems or puzzles in >the game? Can you describe the STOMP technology as used to play out the script?
A: STOMP is our sequencing technology. It allows the designer to take control of anything in the game environment. This includes all characters and the camera. This is how we introduce all of the main quests of the game. Sub-quests can be given by an NPC, but they can also be stumbled upon. Ex: The player finds a locked chest hidden a remote area of a level. Rynn's quest log will then contain "Find key for chest in Wartok base". Sub-quests also come in the form of books, scrolls and maps that the player can find and read. At one point, Rynn will find the map to an ancient sword inside a thief's base in the tropical world. To get the sword, Rynn must find the island where it is hidden then overcome a series of traps and puzzles to gain the item. Books and scrolls are also used for hints and foreshadowing.
Q: Technically speaking, Drakan utilizes an engine with properties never before seen in the industry. Can you explain a bit about some of the innovations present in this new system?
And then regarding that very technical edge: what elements of plot and character will help to flesh the engine out into a product with appeal for a broad range of players? In other words, what will set Drakan apart from the average simple fantasy-action hybrid?
A: There are several key technologies that separate Drakan from other games. The Surreal Engine's Layer technology allows us to create massive worlds with seamless indoor/outdoor environments. This provides the player with a level of gameplay continuity never-before-seen in a 3D game.
Our single skin hierarchical animation system, combined with our massive outdoor environments allows us to combine two distinctly different styles of gameplay (air and ground) intuitively.
Our STOMP (real-time cut-scene technology, see above) allows us to tell a complex story without pulling the player away from the game.
Q: Obviously, the key focus here is on the thrill of dragon riding in pure, unchained 3D. Other than obvious combat scenarios, what effects will this have on the flow of play? How will the levels and quest goals be achieved through use of the dragon mount as an element of game design?
A: The player's ability to jump on the dragon and fly around anywhere at anytime was a very difficult design obstacle. Most of the puzzle-based environmental interaction occurs when separated from the dragon. We needed a logical way to get the player off the dragon. We accomplished this by creating what we call "plugs", natural 3d obstacles that prevent the dragon from entering certain areas. Plugs usually come in the form of doors, cracks in walls, or gates that the dragon can not physically penetrate. Rynn is obviously much smaller, and can enter these areas.
We have done the reverse to emphasize using the dragon. The dragon will be needed to access some key areas. The separation of the dragon and Rynn plays a prominent role in the story and game flow. About ¾ of the way through the game, Succubi will capture Arokh. The player must retrace their steps on foot. They'll pass through areas that they have already explored in the sky, in order to infiltrate the Succubi's lair. Play balancing is incredibly important.
Q: Further, how will the dual-level combat system in Drakan affect the detail in each conflict? Aerial and melee models both require a great deal of focus; what level of variety will we see in the maneuvers that Rynn and Arokh perform in battle?
A: Balancing combat is another tough design issue. We have four types of combat scenarios: ground to ground, air to ground, ground to air, and air to air. We design certain areas of the environment specifically for one of these given combat scenarios. Example: In level 2, the player will fly down a canyon that is specifically designed for air to ground combat.
We first tackled and perfected the dragon flight model. We created the flight model to be highly intuitive, so that first time players would feel comfortable flying. But the engine retains tremendous potential for depth. We successfully achieved this through extensive play testing and tweaking. It is easy to fly the dragon, but difficult to master. So, the flight model will appeal to a wide range of gamers.
Rynn was the second challenge. We wanted to use the same controls as the dragon so that the transition from ground to air was as seamless as possible. For ground combat we wanted to focus on Rynn's speed, dexterity and weapon skill. This is accomplished by providing her with a wide array of defensive moves (back flips, cartwheels and rolls). We wanted the hand-to-hand combat to be both fast and intricate. That depth is accomplished by adding combo moves and special attacks.
Q: Please, give us a brief rundown on how the average session of Drakan progresses. What type of gaming experience is the player likely to have, upon running the title for the first time? How are challenges presented, and by what means does the player conquer them?
A: The game is played and progresses like a movie or novel. The more you play, the more story is opened up to you. You start the game after the intro cutscene which depicts your town being pillaged by wartoks and your brother being kidnapped. You confront the village elder who tells you (mysteriously) about Arokh and that to save your brother you must find him. This sets up the main plot and quest of the game.
From that point on, the story unfolds during actual gameplay. As the player progresses and interacts with NPCs, more quests and subquests will be revealed to the player. Rynn will write her tasks down in her quest book, which also contains a detailed map of each area of the world. When Rynn completes an objective, she will cross it off her quest book.
We are trying to keep the player focused at all times on the central goal which is finding and rescuing Rynn's brother. Many subquests will come up during Rynn's adventures, however. Some subquests are required to progress while others simply reward Rynn for exploring. These mini-plots come in many forms. Rynn will have to battle, puzzle-solve and explore to finish most of them.
Q: Visually speaking, Drakan appears to be a next-generation 3D title. What will we see in terms of graphical effects under new hardware support? Will the 2nd Gen 3D boards be utilized to their full potential here?
A: Drakan is a hardware-only title, meaning that our minimum spec is a Voodoo 1 card or one with similar performance. Focusing on hardware allows us to concentrate on implementing next generation technologies for 2nd generation cards. Multipass texturing and bump mapping will be supported for cards that can handle it. Obviously, the 2nd generation cards can handle many more polygons than 1st generation cards. We are taking advantage of this by making the engine scalable. This means that you can customize your graphics settings according to your machines CPU speed and hardware configuration. If you have a P500 with 2 Voodoo 2's you will be able to increase the viewable area and set texture and model detail to the highest.
Q: Rynn and Arokh make a striking pair, but many titles within the action sphere tend to place less emphasis on character and more on technology. Will Drakan be different? Will their personalities and abilities develop along with an evident plot?
A: Drakan has from the start been designed to be a character-based game. The story and character development is an vital part of gameplay. Each character has been carefully designed to evolve through the course of the game. Both Rynn and Arokh manifest this evolution in actual increases of power. They're present for the purpose of gameplay, and explained by dialog in the story.
Q: What is the scale of the play environment? Given the ability to fly, one would assume that the player covers a fair amount of distance in very little time, if necessary. How much of your fantasy world will the player explore in Drakan?
The scale of our worlds is large. One of the most difficult design challenges was to make areas of interest present nearly everywhere in the environment. Since there is a chance that the player could fly or walk to any given section of the world, we had to spend time fleshing it out. That is, adding detail to spots that the player may never actually go. While time consuming to design, it offers the player a much richer, epic game environment. Exploration is a large part of this game, and players will be rewarded for experimenting. Special subquests, as well as some cool areas all occur outside the game's main flow.
Q: And finally, to what audience will Drakan appeal? While it is clearly an action-oriented title, the elements of story and quest involvement suggest streaks of adventure between battles. This granted, what type of gamer will enjoy Drakan?
A: Drakan is truly a genre bender. It incorporates elements of action, adventure and even has a role-playing feel. Because of this, I think Drakan has a potentially huge market. Action players will enjoy it because of the hand-to-hand and projectile combat. Adventure gamers will play it because of the puzzles and story. Roleplayers will appreciate it for the fantasy theme, NPC interaction, and quest-based gameplay.
For More Information about DRAKAN Order of the Flame, call Psygnosis at (650) 287-6500
ReferencesDrakan Order of the Flame Interview with Stuart Denmore