At first glance, there doesn't appear to be much story in Hellgate: London. In the game, you run around a deserted London and battle endless waves of demons, using spells, firearms, or high-tech melee weapons. This is, after all, a game from some of the key developers responsible for Diablo, the most famous of the hack-and-slash action role-playing games. However, there will apparently be a purpose to all the carnage that you'll inflict in the game. To learn more, we turned to Flagship Studios CEO Bill Roper. Hellgate: London will launch later this year.
GameSpot: What's the story behind Hellgate: London? Demons invade London and you kill them, but what caused the demons to appear, who is your character, and where does the story ultimately lead?
Bill Roper: Well, without giving everything away... In its desire to eventually decimate every world, demonkind is drawn to London because it is a center of power. This is the reason they establish a Hellgate there and use it as a center of operations. You play a survivor of the invasion, one of the last representatives of humanity. Your goal is to find some way to stem the tide of the demonic alteration of the earth.
GS: We noticed that there are Hellgate novels available in bookstores. Are they a novelization of the game's story, do they serve as a prequel to the game, or are they something else entirely? How much can you glean of the game's story by reading them?
BR: The novel trilogy serves as a prequel to the events of the game, providing readers with some of the bridge between when the world was more as we know it today to becoming overrun with the forces of hell. The novels introduce the main character factions of the templar, cabalists, and hunters. We also get a closer view into the motivations of the demons themselves, as well as seeing some of the different skills, spells, and weapons of the game in action. Our goal was to create a series of books that would be entertaining in their own right and would not require a previous knowledge of the game or world to enjoy.
GS: How prominent is the story in Hellgate? Is it mainly a pretense to kill lots of demons, or is it deeper and richer than that? Was the story something that was developed first and used to guide the rest of the game's development, or was it something that was molded to fit the gameplay?
BR: The story is definitely a key component in the game, and it was an interactive part of the development process. This means that some of the main components were mapped out in the early stages of development, others were created during the time the game was being created, and others were results of interaction between Ivan Sulic (our story writer for the game) and the quest designers and programmers. The story is easily the most interesting of any we've told in the Diablo series, and we think that players are going to be really surprised at what they get to do in terms of progressing through that story.
GS: What kind of ways do you convey the story to the player? Will everything be told to you through character dialogue, or are there expansive cutscenes that will transmit significant plot details?
BR: We use a combination of prerendered cutscenes, in-game sequences, character dialogue, and quest design to get the story across to the player.
GS: Let's get to the single-player campaign. There seem to be numerous human factions in the game, like the survivors you meet at various London Underground stations. Who are some of the major characters in the game?
BR: We have a variety of characters in the game that the player will interact with across the three main factions. There is Lucious, the insane cabalist, and his darkly comical assistant, Techsmith 314. The templar have everything from their bravest champion, Aeron, to the fanatic zealot, Brandon Lann. There are also several hunters of renown, such as the brash Rorke, head of the hunter operations in the Underground. Then there are others not directly associated with these factions, such as the ever-helpful Murmur, medics and healers like Doctor Salus, and those, such as the merchant Bodger, who find opportunity even in the midst of the darkest situations.
GS: You maintain a reputation with each faction depending on your actions. It's fairly easy to generate goodwill, mainly be pursuing quests for that faction, but will you find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between factions? Is there any advantage to not making friends with a certain faction?
BR: While you can go on missions for different factions in the game to increase your reputation with them, it isn't always easy. Also, you can definitely do things to lower their trust in you, as well as sometimes having multiple options in terms of which faction you gain a reward from when questing. Gaining a level of trust with the differing factions has its benefits, but you will need to make choices as to whom you work with in order to gain the benefits that best suit your character and your style of play.
GS: Generally, how long are you finding the single-player campaign to last? How many difficulty levels are there, and how do they differ? How much replayability is being built into the game?
BR: We haven't timed out the storyline as of yet, but we expect a single run-through to last 30 to 40 hours. As for replayability, that's what our whole game design is about! With all of the dynamically generated content and randomization, you can play through the storyline with a different class and have a vastly different experience. We will also have a higher difficulty level for experienced players that will greatly extend their playtime.
GS: Finally, is there anything else that you'd like to add about Hellgate's single-player campaign or story?
BR: We have spent a huge amount of time and effort in crafting a compelling, challenging, and exciting storyline for players to experience. We all believe that gamers are going to be pleasantly surprised as to what we're able to accomplish with an action RPG in this regard, and especially how inventive some of the associated quests are. It's a blast to play through in test right now, and with more polish time ahead, it's just going to get better.
GS: Thanks, Bill.