As some of the latest D&D PC games have demonstrated, a few RPGs are starting to blur the lines between the traditional RPG and real-time strategy genres. Gas Powered Games' upcoming RPG, Dungeon Siege, looks as though it will continue to transcend these two categories. But that comes as no surprise since Chris Taylor, the creator of Dungeon Siege, is also responsible for constructing Total Annihilation, an immensely popular real-time strategy game released in 1997. Basic gameplay elements that you might find in real-time strategy games, like customizable group formations, are also found in Dungeon Siege. In addition, you have to pay attention to the skills of the characters in your party and position them in certain areas during battle to make them more effective. Dungeon Siege also features an impressive graphics engine that allows for lush, organic outdoor environments and dark and sinister dungeons. More importantly, the engine also does away with loading time in between zones, making the transition between environments seamless. We recently had a chance to speak with Taylor about the game, and he covered topics like character creation, multiplayer modes, and how development is progressing.
GameSpot: What stage are you at in development?
Chris Taylor: We are in the final stage of development, where we are adding all the little details. Tuning and balancing is starting to become the number-one priority, and a ton of bug fixing!
GS: Was there ever a problem with constantly wanting to add new features to the game, or did the development team stick pretty close to the original plan?
CT: Ha! Stick to the original plan, that's a good one! Seriously, we all know that you can't finish a game unless you stop adding features, and believe me, we all want to finish the game. The complete feature set within Dungeon Siege will make it the best RPG this fall.
GS: A strong part of Dungeon Siege's gameplay is that you can construct a character class by simply reusing specific skills. Is it possible to build up a character with strong magic skills and then train him or her to be a strong melee fighter?
CT: Absolutely. The only thing you need to be careful of here is making a character who is a "jack of all trades." The character design works really well because it challenges players to make a choice and stick to it, but there is nothing stopping them from changing their mind at any time as they play.
GS: As a player progresses through the game, do you think the ability to build an incredibly balanced character takes away from the strategic element that seems to be prevalent in the game?
CT: That's a tough question to answer, because it depends on what you consider to be a balanced character. Some players may decide to balance each character with respect to the whole party. For example, they may decide that creating a bunch of specialists is balance vs. a bunch of well rounded characters. We believe many players will create characters they envision as the perfect design, and with Dungeon Siege, they can have them!
GS: It was mentioned in our previous interview that wind affects projectiles. Are there any other environmental effects that impact gameplay in some way?
CT: Fog is probably the next big one because it impacts the visibility. However, these game elements can change as we tune and balance the game, and even the wind affecting the arrows is something we may [decide to remove] before the game is finished.
GS: Obviously, Dungeon Siege borrows elements from strategy games with its use of formations. What are the benefits of using different types of formations?
CT: A basic wedge formation is useful because it can keep magic wielding characters and archers toward the back. However, this may not always be as effective as a line formation when you want to bring all your firepower to bear on the enemy at the same time. Different formations are there to give the players choices, and some may choose not to use them at all.
GS: How did you come up with the idea to include a pack mule in Dungeon Siege? Can players actually level up their pack animals?
CT: That was the evolution of a basic idea to give the player more room to carry stuff. At first we had hired hands, and then we realized that we wanted a lot more space to carry stuff, not just another party member. Pack mules don't level up, they just get tougher as you play.
GS: We noticed that the pack mule has some rather advanced AI since it knows when to back off from a tough battle. Do any of the other NPC creatures in Dungeon Siege know when to back off from a fight or wait for reinforcements?
CT: Yes, all the characters have access to the same AI--it just depends on whether they are given the brains to act that way. Some monsters will turn and run if they are outnumbered and/or they suffer too much damage and their health gets too low.
GS: There hasn't been much information released on the multiplayer aspects of Dungeon Siege. What kind of multiplayer modes will there be? Can players transport their characters from the single-player game into the multiplayer game?
CT: We have several different multiplayer games you can play. First is playing cooperatively in the single-player world as a team. Second, you can play in a huge multiplayer world we have created specifically for this reason. Third is something we call the short game. This is where players can set goals and play for an hour or two. Players can import characters from their single-player game if they want or start a new character.
GS: We know that the game starts with your character's farm being attacked, but can you shed a little more light on the general storyline?
CT: The story has been written as a mystery. As you play, you learn more about what has happened in the world to bring all these events into play. We thought it would be more interesting than to find out who your archenemy is right from the beginning and just travel across a huge world to destroy him or her, which is somewhat clichéd. This way you have to put all the clues together as you go. We also thought this would be a good story model to follow because those players who don't care about story won't get bombarded with a bunch of stuff that they aren't interested in.
GS: How long will it take someone to complete Dungeon Siege? Are there a large number of side quests?
CT: We don't have any exact number, but we are shooting for anywhere between 30 and 50 hours of gameplay, depending on skill level. It also depends on whether or not players want to explore every little nook and cranny in the world. There are a number of areas to explore that aren't directly related to the main story, but we don't call them quests, they are just cool little areas that you can find some cool stuff in.
GS: What feature are you most proud of in Dungeon Siege?
CT: The continuous world technology that eliminates loading screens. This alone makes the world immersive and huge, and it really helps create that sense of adventure that I have always looked for in an RPG. Imagine exploring a world free of the dreaded monster known as the "load screen." The technology offers gamers a chance to experience a world free of those "monsters" and enjoy every nuance that sets Dungeon Siege apart from the rest.
GS: When do you expect the game to be complete?
CT: Fall 2001.
GS: Thanks, Chris.