The call was with three developers from Namco Bandai Games America; Dave Georgeson - Senior Producer, Chris Wren - Senior Producer, and Kristin Calcagno - PR Manager. Dave started by giving us all an overview of the game. Mage Knight Apocalypse is an action RPG, fast paced, with big rewards, and “darn big battles in this game”. The storyline and characters in the game are based on Mage Knights miniatures, delving in to the fiction of that world, not necessarily the rule sets. Dave stressed often throughout talking about the game that it is a heavily story driven game.
But Mage Knight Apocalypse is more than just combat after combat. Dave also mentioned that they have added limited tradeskills to the game, with the ability to forge elements into armor, collect herbs and make potions, and turn some looted items into useful items. An interesting element to the loot system that Dave mentioned is that whether you are playing in the single player or multiplayer game, you will only get drops that are usable for the character you are playing. The intention of the designers is not to fill your packs with useless stuff that only is there to be sold for coin. As you make your way through the game, the armor and weapons which drop are ones that your character would find useful. In multiplayer if a group defeats an enemy, you won't even see drops which aren't useful to your character when you go to loot, as I understand it. This would be great for preventing loot hoarding just to 'twink' your alt.
What impressed me the most as Dave was talking was how he kept repeating that the focus of the game is on the rich storyline, with lots of dialogue, lots of drama in the game, not just a kill as many monsters as you can to get more loot. The developers have built in ambushes and surprises to the game to keep the players involved in the world of Mage Knights. It really sounds as though with this game it truly is the journey, not the destination, which is the focus. The game has been in development for close to 2 years now, with much of that time being spent build base of pyramid well. Dave likened this beta period that they are in now to being near the top of the pyramid. Personally I can't wait to see them reach the pinnacle of said pyramid so that the game is released and we can all play it.
After giving us a solid overview of the game in general, Dave and Chris focused this first call on the single player campaign. In the single player game you play as one of 5 main characters. You choose the one you want to play and as you go through the story, the other 4 you didn't select become part of your party. These party members are AI, but you can tell them to do basic commands without having to micromanage them. If you've chosen to play as the main tank in the party, for example, you can tell your healer to stay back from the front line of combat and be passive. They will still keep the party member healed, but won't use secondary abilities they might have to join in combat as well.
When you pick up a sidekick, you can decide what sort of character it is. Your sidekicks then level up with you. When you go shopping, all your sidekicks go shopping as well. You go out and chose the other characters to build your party as you want. How do you want to configure your your party vs how do you want to play your character allows for replayability, every sidekick you have has skills that change up over time and develop over time.
The storyline of the game itself is divided into six chapters in the game, with each one that revolves around the background of each of the characters. Each of these first five chapters then rolls together in to one big plot for a last chapter. Chris said that there is at least 25 hours of gameplay for one play through the saga, closer to 40 hours of gameplay for most people on the single play through. He referred to the game as “An epic movie you're taking place in”. The game includes about 2 hours worth of cut scenes spread out through the story, but they are giving you important information, not just a movie to entertain.
The other characters in your group also give you information. And Chris stressed how the NPC's you meet also add flavor to the game, providing more than just a means of telling the story. The background of the universe is rich with details that can excite the player's imaginations. Dave put it like this: (We took the) “best of the Mage Knight universe and presented it in the best way possible,” drawing very heavily from the tabletop characters, the factions, the storylines, to build the game. This does not mean at all that you need to already know the Mage Knight universe, however.
When asked if they had taken the rulesets as well as background from the Mage Knights game, the answer was basically “not really”. They started with the miniatures and brought them to life. “We've based a lot of what is in the game on the miniatures.” For example in the miniatures game, the Dark Crusade are undead with a wide variety of powers. Rather than giving all these powers to every undead you meet, these powers are distilled in to different mobs in the game, to make them iconic representations of their backgrounds. Its all very based on the tabletop game, having drawn heavily from the abilities and levels that are similar in ratio to the tabletop game, but without having just coded the tabletop game into a computer game.
Another question asked during the call is whether gamepads or other types of input devices be supported. Chris answered that question. “Yes. We've hooked up a MS gamepad and played around with it. They are pretty easy to support if you want to, but the tricky part is making it interface with the UI.”
In describing how characters advance in the game, they had talked about how much of the skill tree is automatic, certain skills aren't available without having other skills or abilities. This led to a question about whether min/maxing when creating a character would be possible, or if characters would be rather “cookie cutter” as they advanced. The answer was that min/maxing would absolutely be possible. “What you do increases your attributes by a little bit. As those attributes raise, you unlock skills on the tree. So if you do a lot of STR skills, you'll unlock skills based on STR. Unlock a skill at rank one, use it to raise the rank. What actions increase the stats to let you raise your character as you want to get to the kinds of skills you want. Prerequisites for some skills are in multiple stats and other skills to unlock later ones in the tree, but it makes sense what branches off what.
Another question asked was: “dSonic was responsible for handling Mage's audio. Why were they chosen, and what was expected of the studio once they came on board? Did you work with them throughout the development process? They joined the project really early on. They'd done a fantasy RPG game before, so we were familiar with their work. They've done all the composing, all the music, sound effects. We brought them in to the whole story of the game. As you go through the game, you'll be able to see how they really got in to the game. How each race has their own theme, different battles of their own theme. They want this to be a show piece for the company, not just from the composition side, but from the technical side too. All the actor's voices really convey a wide range of different characters. Dave described it this way: (This has been) “clearly been a labor of love for these guys”.
After answering these questions which had been sent in before the call, they opened the call up for other questions. I was able to ask a few, and pleased with the answers I got for each.
Gamersinfo.net: Early on in the call you mentioned that most RPGs use the “top down” style of camera. Is that the style camera used in Mage Knight Apocalypse, or can players use a first or third person camera typical of MMORPG's?
Chris: The camera is a free camera rotation, similar to an MMO game, so you can see behind your character. Or look around with your camera in a way that you can't do with a top down point of view. What this allowed us to do is provide scale to the game that you can't have with just a 'top down' style camera. For example, we could make enormously large monsters. One particular monster is HUGE, your character will be about as big as the toenail. With the free camera, you can see stuff like that. And scale like this makes for a more immersive fantasy environment. You get a real sense of awe for the environments that you can't get from a top down camera, and it lets you see the real details on the characters and creatures.
Gamersinfo.net: How customizable is your keyboard/mouse?
Gamersinfo.net: I know that we're focused mostly on the single player game with this call, and that the next one will talk more about the multiplayer game, but I'm very curious. Will newbies and more exp players be able to work together in multiplayer?
Chris: The game revolves around dynamically scaling encounters. You can play on easy, medium or hard setting. If you play it on medium, that's how we've designed and balanced the game. If you play on easy, then you'll find the game, well, easy. If you play on hard, woe be it to you. As you go through the game, though, it will adjust to your play style dynamically. The game adjusts to your power rating. That allows you to go from single player to multiplayer with the same characters. It will inflate a new character's skills up to the higher level player's character (though not number of skills, just how they act), like a temporary mentoring system. The loot drops will be specific to each character, though. They will be things you can use to upgrade your character no matter what level you are when you go in to multiplayer. You won't advance faster this way, there is no real advantage or disadvantaged to playing with players of varying experience. You don't pick up stuff that is not useful to you. You won't even see loot that isn't useful to you when you open the loot window. We want the drops to be significant to you, not just stuff to fill up your inventory and go back to town and sell.
Dave: Yes... you can drag and drop through secure trading and swap things between classes. There are no restrictions on it. Twinking is difficult, though, because most of the items have attribute limitations on them. This limits twinking, so trading is better done with people who are your peers. The game is built around stats and skills, but we've allowed for free trading, as the multiplayer game is more coop, not competitive.
Gamersinfo.net: I remember my son collecting Mage Knights a few years back. He still has his collection, in fact. We're wondering, is the game world the same map that we're familiar with from the Mage Knight game?
Dave: Yup. That's one of the elements from the background fiction that is completely unaltered. We travel all over the northern half of that map in this game.
Gamersinfo.net: So with the game being so storyline driven, is the single-player campaign basically a series of quests that you complete? How linear is the storyline? Are there side "tangents" that you can take?
Dave: Because we focused on making a dramatic storyline with lots of pace and drama involved, the storyline is necessarily pretty linear. We don't think you'll feel too much "on rails" during the game, but there aren't a large number of sidequests.
We feel that the richness of the storyline experience should compensate for this more linear approach.
Gamersinfo.net: When you were talking about building your party, I started wondering, can you create a "bad" character combination with your sidekicks? In other words, since the game scales, can you get to the point where you really can't progress any further in the game if you don't have a healer, for example?
Dave: It's pretty tough (heck…I think it's impossible) to create a bad character. There are lots of ways to compensate for your character's lack of skills. If you need health more often, you can create or buy potions for that. Your sidekicks will buff and heal you as needed also. Other than healing, there really isn't much of a way to "lack" stuff, especially with your other party members helping you out as you go.
Gamersinfo.net: I think I've picked up that when you create your character you chose a race, and that race determines your basic role as a character. For example, dwarves are fighters. Does the race you pick at creation determine what skill tree is available to you, and from there it branches? Or can you have, for example, a dwarven healer?
Dave: The race *does* determine strengths/weaknesses for you, but it's a pretty wide range of things you can do still. For example: The dwarf character (Janos) has martial, ranged, and gadgetry skill trees. The martial tree lets him explore close-up combat, the ranged tree is (obviously) ranged weaponry, and the gadgets are things like bombs, grenades, booby traps, etc.
You always have basic melee (and for most characters) basic ranged skills to fall back upon, and your other skills are widely varied so that you definitely won't feel pigeon-holed at all.
Plus, you're not constrained to a single skill tree. If you'd like, you can progress up all three skill trees at the same time (progression would be slower that way, of course), but you can make a very balanced and adaptable character in that fashion…and you won't be "gimping" yourself either. Lots of "low in the skill tree" skills are still very useful even after you unlock the highest skills. You won't be "obsoleting" a lot of skills as you climb, so you can feel free to experiment rather than feeling you "have to" climb all the way to the top of a specific skill tree.
Gamersinfo.net: I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with the you of Mage Knight Apocalypse. As a note to our readers, the second call will focus more on the multiplayer aspects of the game.
The “glory days” of computer gaming for me were when games like Spectre Supreme, Pirate’s Gold, the Might and Magic series, the original Prince of Persia… those sorts of games were coming out on a regular basis. Back then I owned a Macintosh and was a die hard Mac fan. I was one of the first in my area to buy an iMac and on it learned the joy of playing games on the internet like daily crossword puzzle and “mind bender” type puzzles. My first online RPG was given to me for Christmas the year EQ was released, and I was hooked from day one. I played EQ for about a year. I started playing DaoC during late alpha testing, and was hooked on it.. well, to be honest I still am. I’ve tried pretty much every MMORPG I can get my hands on, from big names like EQ, to more obscure ones such as Underlight. I’ve been writing for IMGS since the first DaoC guide, and find I love the challenge of learning a game and presenting what I’ve learned (and sometimes my opinions), to other players.
I’m not a very strong player as far as learning PvE or quick reaction times, so I tend to stay away from games where I’m pitted against someone else in a way that requires physical (rather than mental) response. I still enjoy story and puzzle games, and in a way that’s how I still approach online games. I would much rather spend hours working through a quest than 5 minutes in combat against another player. I still get lost in simulation type games, obsessing over them until I’ve gotten them beaten. And I like being able to sit down at the computer when I’ve got less than half an hour and playing through a few levels of a puzzle game. I tend not to like first-person shooter type games, or anything with person to person violence, so I steer away from them unless they are fantasy based settings. All in all, I enjoy computer gaming so much that my life feels incomplete somehow when my computer is down.