InterviewGods and Heroes Interview with Stieg Hedlund, Design Director

Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising

Developer: Perpetual Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment


Setting: historic
One of the most anticipated MMO's of next year is Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising. Since our first look at it at E3 2005, we've been watching the development of this game closely. Our lucky writer SeanMike recently had an opportunity to talk with Stieg Hedlund, Design Director at Perpetual Entertainment about the game and its development. The game has been described as more “mythological” than “fantasy”. Can you elaborate on that, and how do you plan on making that distinction clear to gamers?

Stieg Hedlund: Certainly, the fantasy settings borrow considerably from mythology, but what we’ve created is a world that distinctly embodies the Roman mythos as well as their history. Of course we've made some changes for the sake of entertainment, such as the marrying of myth and history and a few anachronisms, but at the same time we’ve done a tremendous amount of research and remain quite faithful to our source material.

Really, I think what a setting like this presents is what fantasy settings always have tried to present: a consistent and rich world that’s believable. What fantasy settings have become for the most part is derivative; you see the same elves dwarves and orcs in every case, and that if nothing else our setting should distinguish our game from them. What has been the biggest hurdle so far in development?

Stieg Hedlund: I think it’s just the sheer scope of it. Working on the Diablo games, I was prepared for this to some extent, but there’s more of everything, and we’re trying to do it in less time! Certainly our squad combat is quite new, and we’ve been working hard on making the interface for it as intuitive as it possibly can be. What other games have you worked on, and how did working on them help prepare you for Gods & Heroes?

Stieg Hedlund: I’ve worked on many games in my career, and the majority of my experiences in developing them transfers directly to what were doing with Gods & Heroes. Certainly my best-known title is Diablo II, and a lot of the action/ RPG style of G&H comes from there. The visceral, high-payoff combat owes something to my experience on Die Hard Arcade and finally the squad-based combat draws on my work both on Starcraft, and on the Tom Clancy games I worked on. Even way back when I was working at Koei on games like Romance of the Three Kingdoms (I II & III), Liberty or Death and Inindo, there were a lot of similar elements—just delivered in a completely different way. What is the biggest “neat feature” you think will draw players to Gods & Heroes in the crowded MMO field? What’s the elevator speech – the quick draw that will make someone interested in Gods & Heroes over, say, a more traditionally fantasy game?

Stieg Hedlund: I think that Gods & Heroes presents a new approach to the MMO genre. We have a combat system that I think is much more dynamic and gratifying for the player. I also think that the backdrop of Ancient Rome and Roman mythology – worshipping Gods and making use of their powers in battle – makes Gods & Heroes stand out from other MMO games. Above all else, I think that the ability to command a squad of minions in battle is the feature that folks will really warm up to, especially when grouping for big raids. When last I saw the game, you mentioned expansions featuring new cultures, and introducing PvP. What’s the schedule for these expansions look like? Will they be separate purchases or free? Will PvP become a central part of the game, or remain something to do “on the side”?

Stieg Hedlund: While the expansions will need to be purchased to play, we are equally committed to bringing the players a significant amount of free content on a regular basis. Even though our plans for PvP tie in to our expansion plans--namely by allowing us to introduce new nations for Rome to be at war with--players should never feel that they are forced to participate. We will be shipping with a free-for-all based PvP server at launch, and as time goes on we will be encouraging a healthy arena-based PvP system, but right now PvP is something that we haven't talked about too extensively at this point. It definitely is an aspect of the game we really want to explore and expand after the game launches. End-game content- when your character hits maximum level, what else is there to do? Will characters be able to change their skills/feats/etc. on a regular basis to fight new content, or will it be static?

Stieg Hedlund: One of the big challenges is creating content for players of every level, including max level. It's easy to focus all your energies in to the content that gets players to max level and then kind of tack on some stuff at the end to keep people occupied until you can ship the next expansion. With Gods & Heroes, the whole point is the culmination of a story that keeps changing and growing as players embark on their epic travels. Content at the higher-levels is geared towards progressing the story.

Players have to get through the upper-echelons of content so that we can start introducing the next phases of the story. It's not a simple "find-the-head-guy-and-kill-him-50-times" kind of thing either. I think that players will be very involved at higher levels since their actions are going to help push Gods & Heroes forward. How will characters be balanced between classes? In particular, how do you balance between magic and melee?

Stieg Hedlund: Balance is always a tricky question because “balance” is actually not desirable—instead what we want is characters that have unique strengths and weaknesses that influence their style of play and make teamwork rewarding. What do you consider the coolest monster attack against a player? I was partial to the footage of the Cerberus throwing the player character around between his heads, myself.

Stieg Hedlund: It’s gotta be the Centaurus move where they grab a character, toss him into the air and then hurl a spear though them before they fall—that’ll leave a mark! What would be the culturally appropriate adult beverage to consume while playing Gods & Heroes? What’s the favorite for the developers?

Stieg Hedlund: Caecuban wine, clearly—Falernian wine is not as smooth and it’s more full-bodied than Alban wine—but that vintage is pretty hard to find these days. You could simulate it with a modern wine from the slopes of Vesuvius such as Lacryma Cristi Mastroberardino—2001 is a good year.

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About the Author, Sean Michael Whipkey (A.K.A SeanMike)

I'm a 29 year old senior network and systems engineer for a consulting firm in the DC area. I'm mostly into MMOs and FPSes (on the console), and I'm a big pro football fan. In my other spare time I like to write and tend to read copious amounts of history and military sci-fi. I'm also into cooking and bad action movies.