Back in 1996, computer game players everywhere became hooked on Diablo, a simple action role-playing game in which you played as a fantasy warrior and defeated your diabolical enemies by repeatedly clicking your mouse button to attack. One sequel and countless destroyed computer mice later, the creative forces behind the original Diablo games have reunited as Flagship Studios to create the soon-to-be-released Hellgate: London, a futuristic hack-and-slash game in which you'll fight against a demonic invasion in a postapocalyptic version of London, England. Over the course of the game, your character will amass huge piles of randomly generated loot, much of which can be crafted together to assemble powerful weapons and armor. However, you'll also be hacking your way through many areas that will be randomly generated themselves, and populated with random squads of hellish beasts. We sat down with chief visionary officer David Brevik for more details.
GameSpot: We understand that randomization will play a key role in adding variety to Hellgate: London's gameplay. For instance, tell us about the role it will play in creating adventure environments for players, with different types of monsters scaling to players' experience levels. How will the game offer a new experience each time without disrupting the experience (such as by having a key enemy spawn inside of a wall, or having the entrance and exit too close to each other)?
David Brevik: The monsters do not scale to the players' experience levels. They are a set level range for that particular section of the game. We just try and track your level with theirs to keep an even difficulty.
That being said, we spent a lot of time designing and implementing random level generation in the game. We have designed it in such a way that we create rules to govern the look. These rules are run in an order to ensure that the level is a size we like. We can run rules a variable amount of times and loop and skip and all sorts of stuff. We can design exits and entrances to be right next to each other or start by placing it at the beginning, and then grow it, then add the exit at the end. It is an extremely flexible system--one that I believe could create any random level you could imagine.
As far as making sure the level is playable, we stick quest set pieces in the level generation, as well as many other layout props and nodes to ensure that things can look OK. Many of those layouts have random levels associated with them as well. There are layers and layers of randomness associated with the way we generate the levels.
GS: We understand that random loot will play a huge role in what should be the addictive pastime of treasure hunting. What kind of item variety should players expect to see in-game? Will it be possible for players to randomly find items that are much more powerful than regular items suited for their current level? How will players avoid looking like motley clowns if they're wearing armor from 12 different sets?
DB: Random items are the bread and butter of our game. The whole game is designed around the addictiveness that the random items systems possess. There are many looks associated with the different armors that you can find; each class has several complete sets of armor.
It will always be possible to find random items that will increase your power. That is the most exciting aspect of what you are doing. Trying to find that one magic item that makes you a little overpowered is always a blast.
As for the clown suits, we don't have any. Instead of a particular item having a particular color, each item has a color set associated with it. You can right-click on any item you are wearing and set your suit of armor to use that particular dye. We also have a slot that you can put rare dyes into and have suit colors that are difficult to obtain.
GS: Tell us about how randomization affects the type of creatures you'll face in the game. How in-depth will the game go in terms of matching enemies to your character? Will the game automatically spawn enemies with ranged attacks if you're playing a templar character who's more likely to get into close combat, for instance?
DB: Many of the monsters in the game are set to appear in specific areas of the game, so it has nothing to do with your class or your character.
As for the randomness, we have "named" rare and legendary monsters in the game. These are more powerful than your normal monster. They have random attributes assigned to them to give them more powers. They can have unusual skills, crazy artificial intelligence behavior, healing, and a variety of other things. When you encounter these random monsters, you will get a much different experience than [with] other monsters of the same type.
GS: Can we expect to see a kind of in-game ecology with respect to how environments relate to monsters? Will there be a species of zombie that favors subway tunnels, or a species of demon that favors graveyards, for instance? If so, how well will players be able to change or adapt their weapon loadouts and strategies if they know they're in for a skirmish against a certain enemy type?
DB: We don't really go as far as "this particular monster type is at this location all the time." The replay value really takes a hit when you go through a level for the 10th time, fighting the same monsters you have always fought there. We like to spice it up a bit more than that. There are monster types in certain sections of the game, but you can have rare spawn types in levels and get a radically different monster grouping.
There will be certain sections of the game that focus on a particular resistance and damage type. You will have to take that into consideration when donning your gear.
GS: How well will different enemies work in unison? Can we expect to see different enemy types working together? How will monsters' abilities and strengths otherwise complement each other on the battlefield?
DB: When laying out which monsters go where, we did try and complement and mix the types of monsters you get. There are monsters that work together in different ways. Some have powers that will wear you down with "curse" abilities, while others will take advantage of that. We often put melee [enemies] with ranged [enemies], and many other combinations.
We also have "monster masters" that work with their minions. For example, there are zombie summoners that heal and "buff" (strengthen) zombies in the area, an imp shaman that can spawn up monsters...and many others.
Lastly, we have monsters like the "orbile," which can pair with any monster and work together. They suck the energy out of dead monsters to buff themselves.
We also have templar non-player characters with AIs that let them work together and run around killing monsters. There are some levels where you will see them wandering around helping out.
GS: Give us an update on the game's ongoing beta. How is the final round of balancing and tweaking coming along? What have players seemed to respond to most?
DB: The beta is going incredibly well! We have had over 150,000 people sign up on our Web site. There is a lot of interest in the game. We are still making some significant but controlled changes to the balance. People seem to be having a really good time playing and we have a fantastic group helping us out! We are incredibly lucky that we have such passionate players.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about randomization, environments, loot, or monsters in Hellgate: London?
DB: I think that randomization is the soul of Hellgate. It really makes such an incredible difference in the gameplay. Not knowing where to go, what beasts are coming next, or what magic items are going to drop for you--it adds a level of excitement and addiction that lasts a long time. It has always been a major part of what makes our games fun and unique.
GS: Thank you.