E3 2002: Spellforce unveiled

JoWood shows us the magic in its upcoming 3D real-time strategy game. New screenshots inside.

At the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles today, JoWood took us behind closed doors to give us a demonstration of Spellforce, its upcoming 3D real-time strategy game. The game has been in development at Germany-based Phenomic for approximately two years, and it is being designed by Volker Wertich, who also worked on the early Settlers strategy games.

Wertich began the demonstration with an impressive in-engine cinematic sequence that set the stage for the game. The camera flew through a 3D landscape full of forests and mountains, and eventually a town emerged, full of medieval-style buildings and workers going about their business. The scene then cut to an over-the-shoulder view of a character fighting off a pack of wolves, and then to a group of workers cutting trees and mining. A series of other battles were then shown, including fantasy creatures such as skeletons and creepy snakelike humanoids. The final battle showed off the engine's potential, as we watched scores of units fight in the midst of a town, with swords and other weapons clashing and dozens of colorful particle effects being used simultaneously as various units cast spells. The cinematic sequence ended with a character on a cliff summoning a huge, and complex, red demon creature.

Wertich then jumped into the game itself and walked us through the game's beginning. Players will assume the role of a single magical character charged with protecting the land from invading undead forces. While the game is at heart a real-time strategy game, it features a heavy role-playing influence. As the game progresses, the main character will follow a main quest, as well as a number of side quests, and players will gain levels and increase their skills. Character advancement in the game is classless, so players can choose to build whichever skills they choose, although progressing too far in one skill can prevent the progression of another. Characters will also come across better weapons and spells during the course of the game.

The game begins in a fairly traditional real-time strategy style. Players must build a town to use as a base, but to do so, they must first summon workers from a magical monument and set them to work gathering resources and building structures. In addition to the main character and the worker units, the game includes hero units, which can be summoned from a different magical monument, and military units. These units can be given various orders, including following the main character and attacking enemies. The hero units' artificial intelligence lets them work fairly autonomously, although their spells must be directed by the player. Some basic units will have the ability to cast a single spell, such as heal, and will cast those spells on their own whenever necessary.

After killing some aggressive wolves with the help of a few hero units, Wertich took us to battle a small group of dark elves and show off the game's spell system. Rather than selecting the casting unit, then selecting the spell, and then selecting the target, Spellforce will let players select the desired target first and will then highlight all the possible spells that can be cast by all the friendly units in the area. This system lets the player quickly use multiple magic users in the heat of battle. After a couple nice-looking fireballs, a hypnotism spell, and an electrical shock attack, the dark elves were defeated, the last one collapsing to the ground while still on fire.

The game is based on the 3D engine used in Fishtank's underwater action game AquaNox. Taking full advantage of the engine, Spellforce gives players a wide range of camera options, with an isometric view, an over-the-shoulder third-person view centered on the main character, and a first-person view from the perspective of the main character. This combination makes it possible to manage an entire army while still letting players immerse themselves in the role of the main character.

Overall, the game's colorful 3D graphics and skillful blending of real-time strategy and role-playing elements could make it a good addition to the upcoming crop of games this holiday season. We'll post more information on the game as it becomes available.

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