Though Hellgate: London represents the debut game from Flagship Studios, the developers certainly have a lot of game-making experience under their belt. The studio was founded by the creators of Blizzard's famed Diablo series, and Hellgate: London takes some of the core concepts of Diablo (randomly generated levels and nonstop action) and transplants them into a new action game that's set in the gutted remains of a futuristic London overrun by a demonic invasion. The game, which can be played from a first-person or third-person perspective, will let you hack the demons apart with futuristic swords as a templar, which is a type of knight. Or, you can blast them with spells as a cabalist, which is a spellcaster. The company also recently revealed a third faction, the hunter, which lets you shoot the demons with high-tech weapons. To get the details about this new faction, we caught up with Flagship CEO Bill Roper. Hellgate: London is scheduled to ship sometime next year.
GameSpot: First, it seems like we've been waiting a while for Hellgate: London. Can you tell us where the game is currently in development, what's left to do, and what's the current window for release?
Bill Roper: We're in the final push for getting physical content into the game. This means that while we don't really have more systems or tools to code, we are still putting in as much character, monster, item, and environmental art as possible. Choosing some number to represent the percentage of the game that is done is very difficult for us since we don't design to a concrete list of features. The iterative nature of our development process makes for the best games possible but also means we may be 100-percent done in some areas and then realize that we need to add one more element to make it what it needs to be. It also means we may cut back on a section that works better as is, rather than adding on extemporaneous design. If you want a number to use, though, we'd say it is in the 75 to 80 percent completion range.
As for release, we do not have a window yet. We will be entering into our "friends and family" beta at the very end of this year or early 2007. This will then move into a closed beta, followed by larger and larger numbers of players until we end up at an open beta very close to the launch date. Basically, how well our beta program goes will be determining our ship date.
GS: The big news over the past couple of weeks is, of course, the introduction of the new hunter faction. Could you tell us a bit more about the class specifically? How does it compare to the existing cabalist and templar classes?
BR: The hunter faction is designed to appeal to the first-person shooter-style player--someone that wants to be fully immersed in the world and battle demons with high-tech weaponry and gadgets. While the templars focus mainly on melee combat and holy rituals and the cabalists use the powers of the demons against them through magical rites, the hunters use bleeding-edge tech to fight for mankind's freedom.
The hunter faction appeals to FPS players in several ways. First and foremost, since they primarily use all ranged weapons, they are best played in first-person mode. Secondly, player skill is a factor as we eliminate the autolock and soft-targeting features that the templar and cabalist use. Hellgate: London is a role-playing game, however, so level, skills, and equipment do matter. The player who chooses a hunter, however, will gain benefits from having a degree of personal FPS skills.
GS: Was the hunter always designed into the game and kept secret all this time? What was the reasoning behind the class?
BR: As a matter of fact, all three factions were in the basic game design from the beginning. As with the cabalist, players were looking for this type of experience and it made for a great synergy between our design and their desires.
We introduced the templar first, as it was the easiest faction to "understand" while we were laying out our new world and game ideas. The cabalist came next because players were asking, "What about a mage class?" The hunter followed as the third style of gameplay mechanic within the game and also happily coincided with gamers' interests.
GS: What about the hunter's skills? The templar, for instance, focuses on special auras, while the cabalist's skills are in various schools of sorcery. What kind of skills can the hunter unlock?
BR: The hunter classes will focus on the use of tactics, weapons, and gadgetry to battle against the demons. We'll be getting into more detail as time goes by, but at the GStar show in South Korea, players were doing things as diverse as using positioning tactics such as crouching and banking shots off of walls and constructing robotic drones out of weapons.
GS: The templar looks sort of like a futuristic knight, while the cabalist is a bit more like a wizard inspired by the Mad Max movies. How do you describe the look of the hunter, and why did you go in that direction?
BR: The design for the hunter would be best described as a cross between [Splinter Cell's] Sam Fisher, the marines from Aliens, and the anime Jin-Roh. We wanted to have a faction that was firmly set in the technological side of our near-future world but had the edge of the mercenary and the mystery of the ninja.
From HellGS: The hunter seems like a very technology-heavy class, and we know the class is suspicious of magic. It's sometimes said that advanced technology could be mistaken for magic. Will that be the case with the hunter, or will the class actually use some sort of actual magic?
BR: Arthur C. Clarke did indeed say that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This is certainly the case with the hunters and is how they are able to battle against the resilient demons. They do not cast spells, but rather use Area 51-esque tech to their great advantage.
GS: With auto-aiming and target-locking turned off for the hunter, it sounds like this is going to be the class for fans of shooters. Will you play primarily through first-person when handling guns, or can you switch to third-person? And does this essentially transform the game into a shooter?
BR: We allow players to experience Hellgate: London from either first- or third-person viewpoints, and the game is designed to play equally well no matter how you want to look at it. The hunter's weapons definitely lend themselves to being played in first-person mode, and we do expect this to be a very appealing faction for FPS players.
It is important to point out that while the hunter does have many FPS gameplay components, Hellgate is still an RPG. The fundamental aspects of the game do not change in so much as you are still gaining experience, going up in levels, learning new skills, finding new weapons and armor and equipment, completing quests, and so forth. The mechanics of this, however, are very much driven from an FPS perspective when you play a hunter. While I don't know if it "transforms" the game into a shooter, we've had incredibly positive feedback from hardcore FPS players who have tried out the hunter.
GS: What sorts of guns will the hunter have access to? We see some fearsome-looking rifles and such in some of the early screenshots, including what looked like a shotgun and perhaps some kind of flame weapon. And what about melee weapons, especially since the hunter seems like it can also be played as some kind of high-tech swordsman?
BR: The hunter is focused on being a long-range weapons master who can use pistols, rifles, and heavy weapons. These all require a level of player skill to use and have a great many different types of effects. From more conventional-style weapons to Tesla tech-enabled volt rifles to massive HEAP launchers to flame bolt pistols, the list of possible weapons is large and the tactics involved quite varied.
We don't see the hunter as being a melee combatant. The templar, though steeped in ancient traditions, are swordsmen with access to some amazing technology themselves. Don't let the design of their armor fool you. With nanodyne servo systems and microfusion hydrolic systems, they are faster and stronger than you would expect.
GS: How are the system requirements looking right now? Hellgate was used to demonstrate the last generation of graphics processors, and it'll obviously run well on the latest hardware, but what about gamers with older systems?
BR: We are pushing in both directions in regards to the graphics and system requirements in Hellgate: London. We are a part of the Games for Windows, Vista, and DirectX 10 programs, so we're working closely with both Microsoft and Nvidia to make Hellgate: London as cutting edge as possible in that regard. At the same time, we are creating low-polygon versions of every art asset in the game and tuning our engine specifically to be able to support lower-end machines. We want as many people as possible to be able to experience Hellgate: London, whether they have a brand-new, state-of-the-art rig or an older computer.
GS: Finally, is the hunter the third and final class in the game, or do you have any other surprises in store for us later on? If not new classes, then new gameplay features or enemies?
BR: The templar, cabalist, and hunter are actually factions. This means that they each represent different philosophies and beliefs, not to mention ways of combating the demonic threat, in the world of Hellgate: London. Within each faction will be different classes. This means that within the hunter faction there will be characters that focus on different aspects of their varied abilities. A way of thinking of this is if writer was a faction and novelist, poet, and journalist were its classes. All of them have a similar background and basic set of learning and skills, but their specialties are vastly different. The same will go for the classes within our factions.
We'll be revealing the individual classes in the upcoming months, as well as all the other gameplay features, enemies, and other tricks up our sleeves.
GS: Thank you, Bill.