Next week, Infogrames will announce a new Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition role-playing game set in the world of Greyhawk, which was extensively documented in pen-and-paper modules released years ago. To produce Greyhawk: The Temple of Elemental Evil, Infogrames called upon an established RPG developer: Troika. Based in Irvine, California, the studio completed Arcanum last year, and several of Troika's core team members were central to creating Fallout, the classic postapocalyptic RPG released in 1997.
We jumped at an early opportunity to speak with Troika's Tim Cain about the new Greyhawk game. He told us in great detail about how the idea for the game came together, about how Troika has adapted Greyhawk to 3rd Edition rules, about the nonlinear story structure, and more. Look for the first images of the game in the coming weeks.
GameSpot: How long has Greyhawk been in the works? Tell us how the project got started.
Tim Cain: We started almost exactly one year ago. We had independently started making a new isometric game engine that used 3D characters and rendered backgrounds, which gave us a great combination of beautiful detail and lots of animations, and we had a demo of the engine when Infogrames contacted us about D&D.
GS: Did Troika approach Infogrames about making a game based on the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules?
TC: Actually, Infogrames called us, and we told them we had an engine ready to go. They came down and liked what they saw, and I told them how big a fan I was of D&D. In fact, I was playing in a D&D campaign at the time, and I thought 3rd Edition was a huge improvement in the mechanics of the game. It was perfect timing.
GS: How did you settle on the Greyhawk setting? What's appealing about it?
TC: I feel nostalgic about some of the original 1st Edition modules, especially The Temple of Elemental Evil (T1-4). We settled on that module because it was epic in scope and supported characters starting at the first level. I debated going with the Against the Giant series (G1-3) since G1 was the first TSR module and because it leads into the whole Drow series as an obvious sequel, but the Giant series required characters to start at level 8.
GS: Describe the story as the game starts out.
TC: The original module has the players arriving at the small village of Hommlet to deal with some unspecified evil. We have decided to run with this a little and make separate starting points (which we call vignettes) depending on the alignment of the player-character party. Each vignette is quite different. Some have the party meeting with a powerful NPC who is sending them on a specific mission, while others have the party roaming through a dungeon and discovering a treasure map. I think making the vignettes for evil parties was the most fun, since we can start the evil parties in very nasty situations.
GS: The original Greyhawk: The Temple of Elemental Evil module was released quite a while ago and was based on the 1st Edition rules. Was it difficult to even find copies of the module?
TC: Yes, it was very difficult. I had the only copy at the office, and it was a mint-condition 1985 printing of T1-4 bound as one module. I had to make the difficult decision to cut it up and rebind it in a spiral binding to use as source material for our team. We eventually found more copies on eBay, and most of the team members now have a personal copy.
GS: What's been involved in converting Greyhawk to the 3rd Edition system? Are there particular elements of the module that have made it into the game and work well in a computer RPG and not others?"We completely support the evil player character!"
-Tim Cain, Troika Games
TC: We have to convert all of the monsters, spells, items, and NPCs to the new system. Fortunately, most of the spells are the same, but skills and feats have had to be selected by hand for each NPC. But the nice part about 3rd Edition is its ability to individualize NPCs and monsters, so many of the exceptional characters in the module who were extending or even breaking rules of 1st Edition were not difficult to translate into 3rd Edition rules.
I'd say the best part of 3rd Edition as translated into a computer RPG is the extensive use we make of the noncombat skills and feats. The dialogue skills such as diplomacy, bluff, and intimidate were easy to incorporate into Troika's dialogue system, which already made use of stats and skills to offer different dialogue options to the player. It feels good to spend skill points in noncombat skills that actually matter during gameplay.
GS: There are a number of Greyhawk modules. Would it interest Troika to base new products on other modules in the setting?
TC: Certainly! I am still eyeing the Against the Giants series as something to tackle next.
GS: Both Fallout and Arcanum are known for letting players choose multiple paths through the main quests of the game. Is this a goal for the new game as well? What are some specific ways that you're working this in?
TC: Yes, Greyhawk is no exception. Every quest has multiple solutions, some through combat and some through dialogue using the various skills you can buy in the game. And in addition to multiple endings based on how you acted throughout the game, a feature we pioneered in Fallout, we have added the concept of multiple-start games, which we call vignettes. Depending on your alignment, your starting location changes, and your ultimate reason for coming to Hommlet and eventually to the Temple of Elemental Evil is different. I think this feature will make replayability of the game even higher, since you can see the difference in the game's plot from the very start of the game.
Digging Into 3rd Edition
GS: Can a player choose to play in an evil fashion or as a goody two-shoes? How do Dungeons & Dragons alignment rules fit into the game?
TC: We completely support the evil player character! I consider this a viable and equally valid way to play the game as compared to good or neutral characters. Evil characters should not be portrayed as merely greedy or selfish but as actively promoting their agenda of self-interest. One of our evil starting vignettes provides an extremely plausible reason for the evil players to explore the Hommlet area and to pursue their diabolical goals.
We use alignment as a means for the player to state, "This is my alignment, this is how I intend to act, so give me the option to act this way." Many role-playing games have tried to do the reverse, by seeing how the player acts and then stating, "What you did was evil. You are now evil." The problem with that method is there is no way to know the player's intent. We support alignment by requiring the player to choose an overall alignment for his party, and subsequently only choosing individual character alignments that are at most one step away from this alignment. So chaotic evil player characters can mix with chaotic neutrals or neutral evil, but not with lawful good characters.
"The graphics engine is all-new. We have added 3D characters and switched to prerendered backgrounds, which are more detailed."
-Tim Cain, Troika Games
While this does prevent a few odd parties from being formed (like an evil group led by a paladin), we chose this method because it lets the player, through his choice of alignment, inform the game of the intent of his characters. For example, if the player makes a lawful evil party, he can still do the quest to rescue the little girl, but he may ask for extra money once he finds her, if he bothers to return her at all (perhaps she'd be better to use as trap fodder, and remember, traps yield experience points in 3rd Edition). Or a good party cannot parley with a demon and ask it to join forces with them, which an evil party can try to do (at their own risk, of course).
GS: Coming from your experience with Fallout and Arcanum, what has it been like to go back to using an established game system like the 3rd Edition D&D rule set?
TC: In many ways, this game feels like a return to my roots. I started playing pen-and-paper role-playing games with AD&D, and originally Fallout was supposed to use the GURPS rule set, so I am no stranger to modifying pen-and-paper rules for a computer game. Having the core D&D books available to everyone on the team also makes sure we all understand the game and its rules and stay close to the pen-and-paper vision of the game.
GS: How closely does the game follow the 3rd Edition rules?
TC: Very closely. I don't change a single rule unless I have to, and then I document the change. I don't want D&D fans to have to learn a whole new set of rules to play our game. If they have a favorite character, they should be able to make it in our game. The only things we have left out are skills and feats that we cannot use in our engine, like the climb or ride skills, or that have so little use in the adventure that it would have been a waste to add it. For example, you never have an opportunity to make fake documents in this adventure, so the forgery skill is out.
GS: How well do you think the 3rd Edition rules work for a computer role-playing game? Is there anything about the system that works particularly well with this game design?
"I think the 3rd Edition rules are the best version yet to convert to the computer."
-Tim Cain, Troika Games
TC: I think the 3rd Edition rules are the best version yet to convert to the computer. Many of the rules have been streamlined and clarified in 3rd Edition, and that made it much easier to code. I particularly like how characters of the same class do not have to be the same. Face it, two 1st Edition fighters of the same level were nearly identical except for their stats and choice of armor and weapons. But 3rd Edition fighters have so many feats to choose from that no two are exactly alike. When you consider the improved multiclassing options, characters become extremely individualized extensions of their players. And that is the heart of role-playing.
GS: Describe the game's combat system.
TC: We have kept turn-based combat, which should make us quite different from most of the other D&D computer games. This one decision lets us avoid changing the myriad of combat rules and feats that are dependent on the concept of turns and rounds. We roll initiative to determine who goes first in combat, and on your turn, you get to make a move action and a standard action, like attacking or throwing a spell. We are supporting all of the attack options such as full attacks and charges, as well as double moves and running, and we support attacks of opportunity too, which lets you make attacks outside your turn as well. We have kept the interface simple so that a novice can easily move his characters and attack, but the advanced user has access to the large variety of combat choices that D&D provides.
GS: Does the game let the player control a party or a single character?
TC: We are supporting a group of player characters, which will let players make up to five characters at the start of the game and pick up additional NPCs during the game. Players can also dismiss a player character and make a new one during gameplay, if they change their mind about the kind of party they want.
GS: Will players be able to hire henchmen or otherwise get NPCs to join their party? Can they be controlled directly in combat?
TC: Yes, there are a large number of NPCs who will offer to join the party. Some ask for a share of the loot, while others have a specific agenda for joining the party. Some will stick around forever, and some will leave after their goal is accomplished. Currently, NPC followers determine their own actions in combat, but we will see how this survives play-testing.
GS: Are there many side quests in addition to the main story quest? Are there any quests that depend on the type of characters a player has chosen or that are unlocked by making certain story choices?
"Every quest has multiple solutions, some through combat and some through dialogue using the various skills you can buy in the game."
-Tim Cain, Troika Games
TC: Yes, we have lots of side quests that are unrelated to the main storyline of the temple. All of these side quests can be solved in multiple ways, but many require a minimum skill to complete or have side effects depending on how you solve them (sometimes killing someone is the easier path, but that can lead to bad events later on). You don't have to do any of the side quests at all, but most people will enjoy doing them to gain the extra experience points or just to explore the area.
GS: Though it's early, we have to ask: How long do you intend the game to be?
TC: That's a good question. It's hard to tell, really. The original module was epic in scope, taking hundreds of hours to play, but that was mostly due to the fact that combat takes a long time in pen-and-paper gaming. Of course, you don't get save games in pen and paper, so people will play some sections multiple times if their characters die or if they want to test alternate paths, and that will make the computer game longer. I guess it will depend on how people play. If you skip the side quests and dialogues, you can probably make it through in 30 hours, but that's just a guess.
GS: The word is that some of Greyhawk's engine is based on technology used in Arcanum. How much of the new game's engine is new? What sorts of new graphical features are in the game?
TC: The graphics engine is all-new. We have added 3D characters to gain animation fluidity and a large number of animations, without devoting four extra CDs to player animations. We switched to prerendered backgrounds, which have more detail than 3D backgrounds but less repetition than tiled backgrounds. And we have added particle systems to support really gorgeous spell and environmental effects. I often throw fireballs just to watch the explosions.
All of the interfaces are new, as well as all of the combat and skill systems, of course. About the only thing from Arcanum that has survived is our underlying object system (we still make weapons, armors, and other items the same way, but they have lots of new data fields on them to support D&D rules) and some of the role-playing support modules, like low-level dialogue, quest, and rumor support.
GS: How does the shift to 3D characters impact how art has been created for the game? What sort of visual impact does this have for the in-game visuals?
"I am still eyeing the Against the Giants series as something to tackle next."
-Tim Cain, Troika Games
TC: We can create a lot more animations than with 2D sprites, and we can support a lot more different types of armor. The end result is more variation among NPCs and monsters (we have over 30 different bugbears!) and more specialized looks for player characters. We even added some jaunty hats.
GS: Are there any plans for multiplayer support? Will Troika release user editing tools as you did with Arcanum?
TC: No, this time around we are focusing all of our effort on a single-player game. There are no plans for either multiplayer support or user-created modules for Greyhawk.
GS: When is the game scheduled to be finished?
TC: June 2003 is our target.
GS: That seems like a fairly aggressive schedule, considering when you started. Has the reuse of some of Arcanum's engine allowed work to progress quickly?
TC: Yes, it helped to not have to re-create basic level functionality. The fact that we already had a working system for handling basic RPG elements, like inventory or quests or even mundane things like doors, meant we had more time to spend on the new D&D elements, like combat and feats.
GS: Compared to recent RPGs, what do you think will be most unique about Greyhawk?
TC: I think Greyhawk captures the essence of a good D&D game--exciting combat, caches of treasure, interesting and detailed NPCs, and lots of ways to customize your character--for both the novice and the hard-core player alike. Most of all, it's fun, and that's what's important.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
TC: Thanks for letting me talk so much about the game. I've been wanting to share this information for months!
GS: Well, thank you, Tim.