When Blueside Studios announced last year that the next games in its Kingdom Under Fire series would be an action-oriented role-playing game rather than a real-time strategy sequel, many fans were quick to express their disappointment on message boards and forums. Of course, very little was known about Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom at that time, but with every new morsel of information that's released, it seems that more of the series' faithful are converted. Blueside Studios takes player feedback very seriously, as director Henry Lee explained to us during a recent interview.
GameSpot: How has development been going since the last time we saw the game?
Henry Lee: We're onto the final brushing-up/composition stage. It's almost literally evolving into a whole new, different game each day. Especially on the visual side, it's become a lot better than how it looked during the early phases.
GS: What did you think of user feedback to your announcement?
HL: Well, the most singular, prominent piece of feedback we received was, "Awww, why can't I command hordes of troops this time?" It was a bit of a shock to realize that there are so many people out there who still enjoy our previous games…more than we imagined, especially "Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders."
Although you don't get to control hordes of troops this time, the game will still keep you on your toes. This time, you will be controlling a single character (in the case of multiplayer mode, up to four players can form a party) who has to face hordes of enemies that rush in to pound you to death. And they will come at you from every possible angle--from the ground, the ceiling, underground. Some will even pop out of walls and shrubs to ambush you, while dozens of enemies will fire arrows and dodge in formations, cast different magic spells to hinder your attacks, and the melee types will rush in quickly to take you down. The massiveness of the previous KUF series is still there; it's just that this time, you will have to face that massiveness with only your own character. Multiplayer games will be a bit easier due to co-op, but it will still be a tough challenge. Oh, and did I mention that with the enemies, it's a fight until the death? They won't be giving up, so in other words, winner is last man standing, and it better be you.
GS: Has development been affected by the initial fan feedback?
HL: Since Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom takes a detour from the KUF franchise's RTS roots, we are focusing on delivering a whole new gaming experience while maintaining the grand scale that has been our signature throughout the series. Of course, some of the fan feedback was much more suited for implementation to a massive RTS, so we decided to use them in our next title, (I'm not sure if I can officially announce its name yet, sorry), which will be a traditional KUF-style RTS. We're really excited by the fact that there has been so much great feedback and suggestions that made a huge impact not just on the development of Circle of Doom, but also on the development of our next title. As always, it's surprising how many innovative ideas the fans can deliver to us and how much of it really does get implemented. So keep on sending those suggestions!
GS: How much have the previous games influenced this one?
HL: Well, it is still a highly magical place, if not more so. Spell-like powers are abundant, and the main characters are all from the previous series (some go way back to the first KUF for the PC). Plus, the storyline for this game is a link from The Crusaders to the next KUF title. Many of the heroes that the fans have loved through the ages (pun intended) will come back--albeit in a slightly changed, different form. They're all trapped in the Dark Dimension, and all will have compelling reasons to return to the Age of Light, where the world of Bersia is about to face the most horrendous fate yet. And this will be directly linked to the next title's story arc and plot, of course. You will be able to play as previous favorites, including Celine the Elf Archer Queen (if you know who this is, you're probably one of the old-timer fans that we love), Kendal the Ecclesian Knight, and others. Players will finally get to know the inner turmoil and challenges that some of their favorite characters face.
GS: How has it been working on the 360 hardware? What benefits has it offered, which have helped the game evolve?
HL: I'm sure everyone working on the Xbox 360 hardware will agree; the Xbox 360 is a fantastic monster. It sometimes gives you headaches and sleepless nights when you try to explore some innovative things for performance. But it also has incredible features that make some parts of game development a walk in the park. We're using as much thread as possible for maximum performance this time, and it's been great--both in terms of game development and learning more about the Xbox 360.
GS: Where have you looked to for inspiration on the gameplay system and story?
HL: I usually get inspiration from famous writings, movies, music, etc. For Crusaders, I drew much of my inspiration from music. However, the inspiration for Circle of Doom came from a totally different viewpoint and taste. This time, I really wanted to create a game where four people can just play and laugh like teenagers at a slumber party, chopping up and slaying hordes of monsters. For the story, I wanted to set the stage to explore the characters' spirits and minds and how they would be viewed according to their different backgrounds. We do have some very intense scenes and story hooks, so fans that have followed our KUF series storyline will enjoy how it all unfolds. For the hardcore fans, there will be some moments of truth that will make them gasp!
However, for those that aren't familiar with the story from the previous games, you can still fully enjoy the game just by teaming up with others or hacking and slashing through mobs of enemies alone.
GS: How has it been tackling and balancing action RPG mechanics as opposed to the RTS systems you know so well?
HL: Circle of Doom is a battle-oriented game, so it is harder to balance the ups and downs of suspense and drama, compared to our previous RTS games. For example, it was difficult to create a mood of suspense by showing cinematic presentation during battles (it was somewhat like trying to capture the massive, spectacular mood and drama of "The Lord of the Rings" or "Blade" movies). Furthermore, the balancing mechanics are widely different from Crusaders, and so is its pacing. If Crusaders needed 10 hours of balancing, COD needs 100 hours of balancing in comparison. We've developed a healthy respect for people who create action RPG games.
GS: Has the game changed much in terms of gameplay and design since we saw it last?
HL: Well, the graphics are much improved, but the core gameplay is still very much the same as it was in our previous presentations. To be truthful, I worried that some of the features we promised in those presentations might not come to fruition, but fortunately, we have been able to complete all of them and even add a few more.
GS: What resolution are you looking to support on the 360? 720p? 1080i/p?
HL: 720p. I'm sure the Xbox 360 has the horsepower to push for more, but we're sticking to 720p because we have to support HD.
GS: How has the orchestral audio score been coming together? Who's doing it? What are you looking to for inspiration?
HL: I really wanted to put in orchestral music this time; I really did. I told myself that this time, we'll go for nice, popular orchestral music. But then, my beast got out of its shackles. So this time, the music is somewhat akin to slow rock sprinkled with a bit of industrial music. It won't be the rough, grinding heavy metal like in our previous series, but it definitely won't be bland and boring either.
GS: How are you working online into the experience? Co-op? Competitive multiplayer? What can you tell us?
HL: It will be co-op. As I mentioned above, the main goal for this game is to have people hang around together and enjoy themselves without too much stress on focusing until your nose bleeds, just for the sake of gaming. It will be like wolfing down some pizza and shooting some pool with your buddies or having a slumber party--except that you'll be slaughtering monsters together in a bloodbath. Of course, there's also the growth and advancement of your character and weapons, but we've put a lot of effort in making even that a bit hilarious and lighthearted in some rare cases. After all, the game itself can be quite challenging and complex, as well as dark and moody, so we've decided to make the gameplay itself as simple and straightforward as possible with some light humor to vent off the steam. This does not mean that Circle of Doom will be all about prancing unicorns and dandelions; far from it. Nor does it mean that the game will be easy in terms of difficulty or balance. But the learning curve for basic gameplay will be short, allowing for more personal customization and specific growth management of your character.
This can be bit of a gamble, but I'm positive that the game has been able to maintain the ideal balance between simplicity and complexity, as well as between heavy storyline and dark humor.
GS: How dependent is the game on the lore from the previous games?
HL: The previous games did help in creating a fan base, but the learning curve was a bit too high for beginners to fully enjoy, especially in terms of controls and system management. So this time, we decided to create a really easy-to-learn game. Want to throw a fireball? Just assign the power to a button and press it. End of story. At the same time, we do have some more advanced features for the serious-minded hardcore players, such as synthesizing every kind of equipment possible and combining different powers. I get butterflies in my stomach wondering if people will like what we will give them.
GS: When will we see more on the game? When are you aiming to have it done?
HL: Well, the end is near, and the development team is all dying and turning into zombies as usual. There's a huge boulder rolling toward us from the back, and we're crawling inch by inch toward the goal of completing the game. The exact release date will be decided by Microsoft, so we have nothing to announce, but we can tell you that it will be coming out sometime during the fall.
GS: Thanks for your time.