Gladius is arguably one of the most ambitious console games to be developed internally by LucasArts in quite some time. In development for a year now, the game is being dubbed a "combat RPG" and will offer gameplay in the vein of the Final Fantasy Tactics and Suikoden series. Gladius' gameplay is aiming to blend RPG elements, such as a strong narrative, strategic turn-based combat, character building, and party gathering, with engaging but accessible gameplay. The game is an ambitious one for an American developer to attempt given the lock that Japanese franchises have on that particular style of game. As if that challenge weren't enough, the game will be released on the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox in February of next year. We had a chance to grill Robert Blackadder, director on the game, about how development is going.
GameSpot: How long has the game been in development?
Robert Blackadder: From initial idea, almost two years. Just one year of production so far.
GS: How big is the team?
RB: It looks like we will peak in the high 50s for the in-house team.
GS: What have they worked on before?
RB: Such a big team covers everything from Star Wars titles to Final Fantasy. There are lots of experienced professionals on this team.
GS: How or why did they decide to make a game like Gladius?
RB: I think we tricked them into doing it! No, as a company we are trying to build our own brands outside of the standard licensed material. The high concept of Gladius struck a chord with people, and we've been running with it ever since.
GS: What games did the team look to for inspiration?
RB: Lots of titles: Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Madden, Mario Party, and lots of RPGs.
GS: What were the key gameplay elements you wanted the game to have?
RB: Building a school of gladiators. Squad-based combat that pushes turn-based gameplay.
GS: How challenging were they to implement?
RB: Very. We are still working on it!
GS: What did you set out to do with Gladius? Did the team want to top Final Fantasy Tactics? What was the motivation behind the game?
RB: It's never been a question of topping another game. It's about creating a fun experience in a genre we enjoy playing.
GS: How do you feel about the game's reception at E3?
RB: Honestly I was very surprised by how well it was received. I was worried no one would notice us!
GS: Has any feedback you received from the show affected the game's development?
RB: At E3 we focused on the combat portion of the demo. Doing that made us realize we weren't as hard-core tactical as we thought.
GS: What have been the biggest challenges in developing the game, in terms of gameplay and making the game what you set out to do?
RB: Not having a road map. This is the first game of this type done at LucasArts, so we have to invent so much as we go.
GS: How challenging has it been developing the game for three platforms?
RB: Very, but I see it as standard procedure going forward. For me it's meant focusing more on the game and not what machine it will be on.
GS: How are you taking advantage of what each of the platforms have to offer?
RB: We have a separate programmer heading platform-specific work. We are looking at taking advantage of different material modes and lighting effects available to each.
GS: How are you approaching the AI?
RB: AIs are scripted on a class-by-class basis by the level designers. We are going to try to make each take advantage of specific skills and tactics available to that class.
GS: Could you take us through the game's modes and give us an idea of what they're going to offer?
RB: Just one basic mode, story. We are looking at adding a series of multiplayer battles to the league system now.
GS:Could you give us an idea of the game's structure?
RB: You take your hero's school from location to location recruiting new gladiators, leveling them up, and sending them into more battles. You must earn a certificate at each location in a region before you can move to the next stage of the game. There's a lot of variety in how you get each certificate. That's a simplified overview.
GS: How much control will you have over your characters' development as they gain experience?
RB: We've assigned more skills to each class than you can earn in a single career. In that way you could build two secutors and not have them exactly the same.
GS: What are you currently working on in the game?
RB: The whole game exists in a giant database. Right now we are working to get all that data out and working in the engine. Once that flow is pat, we begin to bulk content implementation.
GS: Thanks for your time.