Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is the upcoming first-person action game from Ubisoft and developers Arkane Studios and Kuju Entertainment that promises to deliver intense fantasy combat. In this game, you'll be able to hack apart opponents with a sword, stab them in the back with daggers, riddle them with arrows, and much, much more, like kick them through a blazing bonfire. GameSpot readers recently had a chance to participate in a live chat with some of the key members of the development team, and the edited transcript of the chat is below. Dark Messiah is scheduled to ship in October.
GameSpot: Welcome to the Dark Messiah of Might and Magic developer chat. On today's chat with have Alastair Halsby, lead designer at Kuju; Rich Underhill, producer and project manager at Kuju; and Romain de Waubert de Genlis, producer at Ubisoft.
Temg99: How hard was it to make a game using the Source engine?
Alastair Halsby: Source has been excellent to work with. Having a stable networking platform and well-developed tools has enabled us to get things into the game really quickly and to iterate, change, and adjust things as well. Basically, it meant that we could test things out extremely fast, and we could rely on the networking model, too.
Enlanthirion: Is there going to be a free open beta test?
Rich Underhill: We will open the beta up more soon, yes. Stay tuned for more information.
Dunkelheyt: Here's my question: In the multiplayer crusade mode, every team has 100 points. Will there also be a setting which allows you to increase the points--like 150 or 200?
RU: Yes, we will be providing as many server-side settings as we can. The 100 points is just an estimate for now.
Spongemario: In your opinion, what has been the most difficult part in developing this game?
AH: From my perspective (design) it was first-person networked swordfighting combat. The problem is, like with most multiplayer games, ping time. I've designed it to tolerate around 200ms ping so that sword blows can be transmitted to and from the server, and you'll still be able to duel, but there were several things we'd have liked to do which the network would have made really difficult, so we tended to work around those issues.
Amidamaru_01: Hello. What changes have you made to the Source engine since its use in the Half-Life games?
RU: Arkane, the developers of the single-player game, have made some extensions to the Source engine. We have obviously taken those and brought some network-related optimizations to the party. One area we're concentrated on enhancing for our needs is the particle system--there are a lot of particles floating around.
Korubi: Are there any plans to bring this to Xbox 360?
RU: There are no plans at present, but we'd all love to see it happen.
Noweb_basic: Have you been looking at balancing issues (such as the mages being slightly overpowered) in the beta so you can fix them before release?
AH: Yes, of course. I've been looking at balance issues for several months now, since the closed beta started. The problem here is that, when considering the numbers for balancing, you have to assume that every player is going to use their abilities to the absolute maximum, so in some cases it may appear like things are unbalanced at first look. I'm pretty confident that the classes are quite well balanced at the moment.
Temg99: What is your favorite part of the game?
RU: I think the crusade mode in all its glory is great fun. When you see the progression from map to map based on your success or failure, then it's really rewarding.
JayseR: Will the assassin be less visible with the cloak in the final version of Dark Messiah for multiplayer?
RU: We're releasing a patch very soon that does indeed fix some issues with the assassin to the extent that he is practically invisible when still.
edubuccaneer: I'd like to know how the kicking mechanics are going to be implemented in the final version of multiplayer. Thanks.
AH: Kicking is a problematic issue in multiplayer. We're still looking into it carefully, but the problem is that, unlike in a single-player game, you're not 100 percent sure where your player is, or where the opponent is, so that can cause problems. Also, in single-player it's a very powerful move. We need to look into this one further.
Thom19x: What does it mean for you as producer in person to work on a project in the Might and Magic universe? Do you have former experience with games in the Might and Magic universe?
RU: I am a huge fan of Heroes of Might and Magic but must confess to having been more of an Ultima man when it came to role-playing games. With the multiplayer game, the rules were pretty set in stone, and we have some hard and fast constraints as to what we could do with the characters.
syonin: In the multiplayer beta the melee combat seems to come down to sprinting circles around a player while spamming quick strikes. What thoughts do you guys have on encouraging a slower, more deliberate form of close-range combat?
AH: I'm not sure I agree with you here, certainly not for warrior-on-warrior fights. After all, quick attacks don't work much on warriors, so you'll need to use power strikes, and those are much more balanced. I've personally had fights online that lasted upwards of one to two minutes, with both players canceling sword strikes and looking for their opening.
Amidamaru_01: Would you say that there is a certain combination of classes that would make a team "better" than others?
AH: I seriously hope not. The classes have been designed to complement each other, so there's definitely an advantage to having all of those powers on your team. On the other hand, if you "top load" your team with one class, you'll open up as many weaknesses as you gain advantages. Since people can change class as often as they like, I'm hoping they'll adapt to changing team balances.
Element9261: Would you consider having servers for only one class--that is, if you wanted all warriors fighting each other?
RU: We have indeed considered it, and we are still considering it. I've mentioned in a previous answer that we're going to give you guys as much configuration as possible server-side.
Sparradox: Will you be buffing archers? They are pretty bad.
AH: I'm sorry you think so. Archers play an important role, and I'd say that they can be absolutely lethal (like all the classes can), but you do need to work within their abilities. One of the things I really didn't want to do was have medieval melee mixed with standard first-person shooter "shooters," so there's a reason arrows are realistic in the sense they drop under gravity. That said, when you hit people with the arrow, it's devastating.
kapoilee: Are you thinking about building in voice-chat capability eventually?
RU: We consider the existing voice-chat software sufficient, and even third-party software should work fairly well. It's not something we've concentrated on or even tested, but I'm sure it will come into focus in the near future.
pooq: Will records and leaderboards for multiplayer be kept?
AH: It's under discussion, but at the moment it's not something we're going to be releasing soon. We've tried to keep the game "immediate" and focused on the minute-to-minute gameplay, stretching to an hour or two for the crusade mode. I like the fact that everyone joins in a new crusade as equals. After that, it's up to your skill in that game.
Kingxtreme101: I'm curious...how long did it take to produce this game, given that you already had the source engine to work with?
RU: A little over a year for multiplayer, but there have been lots of changes during the course of development. The single-player team was working for about an additional year before we joined them, I believe.
Ratings GameThom19x: Will there be a modification to avoid the 18+ rating for the European version?
RU: I'm not sure what the rating plans are at the moment. All I know is that we are a lot less visceral than the single-player game.
billyyoda: The magic in the game seems unbalanced. Will that be addressed by tying it to the health bar or requiring rest after spells?
AH: Balance is always a key issue for any multiplayer game, obviously. We're not finalized on the costs of abilities, and things like the arrangement of skill trees can still be changed according to feedback. The mage in particular is more of an artillery unit--devastating long-range damage, but weaker up close. Also, other classes do have counters to mage spells; for example, the warrior can deflect all spells if he prepares in time.
Temg99: Will there be downloadable content for the game?
RU: It's possible. We have lots of plans on the drawing board. We certainly haven't ruled this out
jaybirddog: Who worked on the high dynamic range lighting? How hard was it to implement the HDR? It looks great.
RU: Valve's HDR lighting came in the form of an engine update. Arkane implemented it in the single-player game about the same time we did. I think the hardest part was actually looking at how the effect alters a level that you've already made in regular lighting and altering it to gain the best look.
JLuke360: What have you done so that the noobs won't get destroyed but the pros would still have a rewarding experience?
AH: There are several systems to deal with these issues. One of them is fully working right now; the others are coming. The ones that work are "experience point balancing" and "experience point sharing." If you're a low-level character and you kill (or help to kill) a high-level character, you'll get loads of experience points to get you up a few levels quickly. Equally, a high-level player killing a low-level player doesn't get much experience at all, so to advance they should focus on their peers.
69TriP63: How is the ranking going to be set? It seems ranking up on the beta comes really fast at times.
RU: That's something we have been aware of for some time. The next patch on the open beta is much slower to progress and makes experience-point sharing a lot more valuable for good progression.
69TriP63: What kind of online modes will be available for multiplayer other than the crusades?
RU: I can't confirm the others yet. There's obviously deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag, but we have some others that we love and really want to implement before we ship.
REVRIN: I think a lot of us would like to know if you're planning on co-op multiplayer in the campaign.
AH: At the moment, we don't have plans for in-game artificial intelligence units. We're focusing all the game's resources on providing as large a scale experience as we can, and adding in full AI mechanics in addition to the number of players is a bit too far of a stretch.
tidus_swain: If you had three words to describe this game, what would they be?
AH: Brutal. Enthralling. Fair.
edubuccaneer: How will character leveling work? Will the stats from one battle be carried over to the next? Ranking, perhaps? Level-based matches?
RU: At present, no, but it's another "stretch" goal we have for the future.
69TriP63: Will there be some counterblocks of some sort?
AH: If you mean quick blocking like in arcade-style fighting games, no. That's not planned because it would give too much of an advantage to low-ping players. Instead, we've focused on giving players the tools to block incoming attacks and made those attacks more obvious so they can be blocked. For example, the warrior's shield will protect him from arrows, but if the archer can hit the head or the legs, it will miss the shield.
JeSuS_iS_bLaCk: Is the retail version of the game going to be better optimized for low-end computers than the demo?
RU: We are working on the optimization issues at present. Some machines that should run the game well don't, and some that really shouldn't don't struggle much at all. It's identifying the cause rather than global optimization.
Element9261: Classes such as the priest have no offensive skill at level 1 other than a stick. Would you consider giving them a less-lethal magic attack when you're level 1?
AH: Actually, a level 1 priestess can kill another level 1 enemy with a full mana bar of "corrupt." You just have to keep at it.
Spongemario: Will there be a fee for online play? (I sure hope not.)
RU: No not at all. The only thing you require is a Steam account.
MasterEmil: Do you have any Dark Messiah of Might and Magic 2 planned for now?
RU: I think all involved would like to progress in the franchise, but it's too early to say at present.
cleft5: Do you guys have a favorite character class for the multiplayer?
RU: Me, it's definitely the mage, but that's due to my leanings from World of Warcraft. I can play most classes equally badly though.
Temg99: How difficult was communication between two separate companies working on the different aspects of the game?
AH: It wasn't a problem, I don't think, largely because this project has been creatively led by Arkane and Ubisoft. Kuju has had a lot of creative freedom to create the multiplayer mode, but at every stage we've been trying to stay true to Arkane's vision of the game, the environments, the swordplay, and so on. Where we've changed things it's been due to necessity from the network environment.
edubuccaneer: Will there be more character classes in multiplayer? More races, perhaps?
RU: We're considering lots of elements for expansion. It's important to get the basics right first. Adding new classes would throw that even further out.
Romain de Waubert de Genlis: There is lots of room for extra content, but there is nothing definite yet.
Dunkelheyt: We didn't see many physics in the beta yet. Will there be more included in the finished version of the multiplayer mode?
AH: For a variety of reasons, physics objects have not been the focus of the multiplayer mode. Instead, we've been concentrating on player-player interaction (rag dolls and so forth) and then using our available engine resources to create really big structures and moving objects that multiple characters can use at the same time: bridges, doorways, and turntables, and you might have seen the siege tower in screenshots.
jaanus147: Are you worried about the release date? Because many good games are coming out at almost the same time as Dark Messiah.
RDWDG: Definitely not worried for Dark Messiah. I am more worried about the fact that it means lots of good games to play then.
syonin: What about having an arrow hitting the leg slowing the enemy down?
AH: Well, we already have the upgradeable bramble arrow, which delivers the effects of slow on the target. I thought it would be more appropriate to make the effect of slowing someone an active skill, rather than something that could happen by chance.
VirginFingers: Will you have any equipment changes in multiplayer as you level up? Or is it just skills?
RDWDG: It works pretty much like in single-player. You gain skill points by going up in levels that you can spend in skills, but not in equipment.
eagleeye007: It's been stated that the archer is designed as a single target attacker and the mage as a splash damage attacker, so does this mean the mage is designed to do less damage against each target if you did the breakdown? Or is the possibility of friendly fire enough to keep their spell spamming in check?
RU: There is at least one spell that if you fire at an enemy and it hits a friend causes more grief to your team than the enemy (ball lightning). We do see the mage as a damage-over-area specialist and are adjusting his damage as we see fit. These betas are a chance to see the classes used in anger, and the results will dictate what changes we should make.
Magical Shieldsxeno122: It seems that the assassin cloak is easy to see through. Is anything going to be done to counter/fix this?
RDWDG: We are working on it; it will be improved. Who wants an assassin that can be seen?
edubuccaneer: How is the magic being treated? I mean, how will it be defended? Like arrows? Or will it be unblockable or blockable through counter-magic?
AH: Magic is defended against by using magical shields (which don't stop arrows or priestess spells). All mages can cast magic shields, either on themselves or on the environment, and the warrior can buy a shield upgrade, which will also bounce magic off himself. Again, this is to promote team play and the idea of protecting your teammates being important.
Gnitepracdlo: Are there going to be squads or groups implemented to allow for the healer characters to keep tabs on health and for better teamwork?
RU: Not at present, no. Generally, radio messages from players that need healing are enough for the priestess to focus her attentions. Nice idea, though.
Dunkelheyt: You join a game, level up to level three at the first map. The round is over. Will you lose all your experience on the next map, or will it be saved until the game is over?
RDWDG: Experience stays from one map to the next until the campaign is over. Typically a campaign lasts three to five rounds, each round occurring in a different map.
Thom19x: Will there be a general ranking in the beta or in the final multiplayer, like a hall of fame where all your results get in consideration? That would be a huge motivation to play the multiplayer.
RU: We are talking about such a thing, but we're not sure how best to implement it at present.
jaybirddog: Do you plan on competing directly with the other first-person shooters, or do you want Dark Messiah to be a revolution in the first-person shooter genre?
AH: I really hope that our game appeals to players of current first-person shooter games, but I think it's obvious we're also trying to do things just a little bit differently. I think the market positively benefits from variety in the games available.
MasterEmil: Will you do anything about the computer requirements? Because my computer runs Counter-Strike with 60 frames per second, but it's laggy as hell in the demo.
RDWDG: We are working on it, although you cannot compare the single-player demo to Counter-Strike. As for the open beta, well, it says it all. It is still beta.
music_guru: If there were one feature that you'd like to add that isn't in the game already, in your opinion, what would you like to see?
AH: Oh, that's a difficult one. There's a lot, there always is, and I'm really here to chat about the things you're going to be playing, not about the stuff I didn't get in. That said, there are definitely things I'd love to do in future on a fantasy battlefield like this one.
kittykatz5k: Are there going to be differences between the two teams, other than looks?
RU: We discussed race-specific abilities, but nothing has been decided at present. Maybe something to include in the future.
edubuccaneer: So the classes are going to play like rock-paper-scissors? Won't there be a balanced-out unit?
AH: Heh. I started out with the intention of rock-paper-scissors, that's definitely true, but then I realized there was an important consideration: range. This skews things so that a simple three-way (or five-way) comparison isn't really viable. I've tried to make each class brilliant at their specialty, but with associated weaknesses too.
barkskin: As simply as possible, could you sum up what the plot is?
RDWDG: You play as Sarteh, a young apprentice sent on a quest by his master to retrieve an artifact. He sends you to meet one of his friends, Menelag. But upon your arrival, the city of Stonehelm is under attack by undead troops led by Arantir, a vampire lord. You will then continue your route to recover the skull of shadows to prevent the Dark Messiah from opening the gates to the inferno.
JeSuS_iS_bLaCk: Are the other boss fights as exciting as the cyclops?
RDWDG: Yes, of course.
syonin: With team cooperation being a key part of gameplay when voice over IP is implemented, what are your feelings on a Battlefield 2-style squad comm layer that encourages this style of play?
AH: If you mean extra voice-specific stuff, we considered it but realized that a lot of players don't have headsets. Of course, voice comms is supported in Source, but rather than go down that route for everyone, we've worked on a series of emotion/gesture/team commands which everyone can enjoy and use to coordinate themselves. Also, many of them have cool animations, too.
Spongemario: About how many maps will be initially available for multiplayer?
RU: Initially there are five maps that make up the crusade section, and there are a number of additional maps for the other game modes. (If it sounds like I'm being cagey, it's because I am.)
REVRIN: Can you tell us about what will be included in the retail collector's edition?
RDWDG: Two exclusive multiplayer skins, four exclusive single-player weapons, a CD soundtrack, and a poster representing the multiplayer maps.
xeno122: What was the plan (strengths and weaknesses) for the assassin in multiplayer?
AH: He's the sneaky one. He can go invisible (but not totally "stand in the middle of a sunny field and no one can see you" invisible), he can disguise himself, he can set traps, and, of course, he can instantly kill people from behind. He's probably the least team-orientated character class; he acts as a scout and can disrupt the enemy team by taking out high-powered individuals directly.
Thom19x: Will there be different endings in the single-player campaign?
RDWDG: There are several different endings in the game that are decided by your actions during the game.
Noweb_basic: Will you be able to add a server-side option for players to start with a certain amount of experience points right from the start?
RU: That's something we're keen to do, yes.
Element9261: What is the maximum size of the server, considering the more players in the server it seems more unbalanced and not as fun. Eight-on-eight is the highest it should go I think.
RDWDG: Eight-on-eight is great and very tactical. Although 12-on-12 is a real blast also, the feeling is a bit different. It will be up to the server admin to decide what he wants to be played on his server: tactical fights or epic warfare?
Thom19x: How important was it for you to have a connection to the whole Might and Magic universe so that the Dark Messiah born by Isabel in Heroes V is one main character in Dark Messiah? And how did you ensure that Might and Magic fans can so identify with that game?
RDWDG: We needed to have a universe that could be used as a frame for many kind of games. We concentrated ourselves on the factions, the geography, and the characters in Dark Messiah. Now you will have a real feeling that you live the continuation and conclusion of what started in Heroes V.
GameSpot: That's it! Thank you for participating in the Dark Messiah of Might and Magic developer chat. And a big thanks to our guests from Ubisoft and Kuju Entertainment.