Ancient sorcerers wearing pointy hats. Damsels in distress. Guys with swords hitting dragons, skeletons, and other guys with swords. High fantasy has been slowly but surely sneaking into mainstream culture--it even took box offices by storm in the recent The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring motion picture. But it's been a mainstay of computer games for years, especially in role-playing games.
We're going to see a slightly different kind of fantasy from Lionheart, a role-playing game from California-based developer Reflexive and veteran RPG creator Black Isle Studios. Lionheart won't be based on Tolkien's works, or on the chronicles of the Dungeons & Dragons world--instead, it will draw inspiration from classical European mythology and history. The game takes place in an intriguing alternate reality that dates back to the religious wars known as the Crusades. King Richard the Lionheart of England, in his final campaign against the Muslim armies led by the legendary Saladin, gathers a collection of holy relics and performs a rite that he hopes will help him win the war, once and for all. Instead, the ritual causes the Disjunction, a cataclysm that unleashes unnatural spirits and sorcery into the world. Rather than remain at war, Richard and Saladin declare a truce, divvy up the artifacts, and head home to their respective kingdoms to battle the new breed of menacing creatures that have begun to appear in the world.
Lionheart takes place a few centuries after this alternate resolution to the Crusades, during what would've been the European Renaissance. But instead of giving rise to one of history's first industrial revolutions, the world of Lionheart is instead witness to a rise in sorcery--and an intense hatred of sorcery on the part of organized religion. Over the course of the game, players will explore this alternate version of 16th-century Europe, which will be populated by creatures branded with the mark of sorcery, as well as by famous historical figures, such as Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci.
As if this unusual premise weren't intriguing enough, Lionheart will also feature the SPECIAL (strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, luck) character system, which Black Isle created for and made popular with its highly acclaimed 1997 RPG Fallout--a game that most RPG fans consider to be a bona fide classic. This open-ended system helped make Fallout one of the most interesting RPGs to play through, and play through, and play through again. Could Lionheart be the next Fallout? We checked in with Reflexive Entertainment's Eric Dallaire, designer on the Lionheart project, to find out.
GameSpot: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Before we delve into some of the finer details of Lionheart, why don't you tell us a little bit about your role in the game's development?
Eric Dallaire: Well, in addition to designing levels, I'm the lead writer for Lionheart, responsible for the story, character dialogue, and scripting some of the game's levels.
GS: Lionheart's basis in actual European history is an interesting break from the traditional high fantasy we usually see in role-playing games. Could you explain why you chose this setting for the game?
ED: Many months ago, Black Isle Studios and Reflexive agreed to create a new RPG using the SPECIAL character system. Black Isle pitched the idea of doing a game with some ties to real history, but altered and somehow different. Black Isle and Reflexive brainstormed some ideas and worked out the broad premise together. Reflexive then wrote up more of the specific story in our design document.
The idea of a historical setting is appealing because there is a sense of familiarity with the environments. It allows us to weave in real historical locations and figures into the game. The game's story is alternate history, so not everything you will encounter is the same as normal history. The alternate timeline gives us tremendous freedom to create a world that is at times familiar and sometimes strikingly different.
A Special Kind of Adventure
GS: Could you describe how the SPECIAL system that Black Isle created for Fallout will work in Lionheart? Will the game have the same sorts of character traits and perks that Fallout did?
ED: Lionheart's rule system will be very similar to the SPECIAL system in Fallout, although we've had to modify some of the rules for the conversion to real time and the addition of a magic system. At the start of the game, you will be able to generate a character. When you first make your character, you will be able to manipulate the character's primary statistics: strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, and luck. Like in Fallout, there are no classes, because SPECIAL is a skill-based system. You will be able to choose traits to differentiate your character and add some personality. As you progress, you will earn skill points to improve your character, and every third level you will be able to gain a perk. Also, you will be able to pick tag skills--basically skills that you are more proficient at that will increase at a more dramatic rate.
Another new addition to the Lionheart SPECIAL system is the introduction of new player races. You will be able to choose from the following races: human, sylvant, feralkin, and demokin. All of these races have different starting statistics, and they have some race-specific perks and traits that you can acquire. Sylvants, for instance, are among the most magical of the races. They are descendents of parents with magical spirits, usually elementals, so they possess physical traits like metallic-colored hair or skin. The demokins are tainted with a fiendish ancestry and usually have telltale physical traits like pointed ears or sharp teeth, but they are often clever enough to blend in very well with pure-blooded humans. The feralkins display obvious signs of a magic ancestry passed down from some bestial spirit. Their physically larger stature, pointed teeth, and clawed hands easily give them away in a crowd. We added these new races to give players a chance to differentiate their characters and to also allow NPCs to react differently depending on your choice of race. For instance, you will have a more difficult time speaking with the Inquisition if you are not a pure-blooded human--especially if you're a feralkin--but these disadvantages are balanced with other abilities.
|"Like in Fallout, there are no classes, because SPECIAL is a skill-based system."|
ED: The background for our magic system is a bit different from traditional fantasy RPGs. When the Disjunction occurred, spirits and powerful beings from various planes entered the world. While on Earth, these magical spirits were powerless without a vessel, so many of them sought out suitable hosts.
The binding of a spirit to a human host created a symbiosis where both gained power, since humans have no innate potential to wield magic. Those who could control their spirit became wizards and could channel magical energies and weave spells.
When you make your character, you will be able to decide which kind of spirit you would like--currently there are three spirit types you can choose from. Although the choice does not prevent you from pursuing any kind of magic, the spirits all have their own personalities and will occasionally converse with you during certain situations.
We've had to make some modifications to the SPECIAL system, since magic did not exist in Fallout. Magic will be a skill-based system divided into three classes of magic: thought, divine, and tribal. Within each of these classes is a skill tree of specific spells. As you gain skill points by leveling, you can improve the power of a certain spell by adding skill points to it. By placing skill points into spells, you'll be able to access other spells within the magic class, since many of the more powerful spells have skill rank requirements.
To cast magic, you will need to spend mana. Unlike in other fantasy RPGs, mana in Lionheart is not based on intelligence, since your spirit generates your magic power. We are going to be using other statistics to determine your mana statistics. The current model to determine mana uses your perception and charisma stats--perception allows you to attune yourself to the spirit, while charisma allows you to better impose your will on the spirit to tap its magical energy--although we are also considering tying endurance into the mana formula.
An Orc-Free Zone
GS: We've also heard that Lionheart will have "classical European" monsters in place, rather than any inspired by independent works of literature like Tolkien's novels. Since we won't see any orcs, what kind of enemies can we look forward to fighting in Lionheart?
ED: There will be a mixture of creatures from European mythology, although slightly different because of the effects of the Disjunction. For instance, in and around the city of Nueva Barcelona, there is a pack of lycanthropes and other "were creatures" doomed to prey on humans. These creatures have melded into the political atmosphere of the city and have become a faction within Nueva Barcelona. There will also be a unique tribe of goblinkind, uncommonly intelligent creatures dedicated to the spread of absolute chaos and disorder. In addition to other mythological creatures, the Disjunction released many new, never-before-seen horrors into the world. The monsters will reflect the many environments types you'll be exploring, including coastal areas, mountains, plains, and forests. In addition to monsters, you'll be also encountering enemies from different factions--some human and some not--depending on the factions you choose to ally yourself with.
GS: We've heard that Lionheart's adventuring parties won't be traditional either--that the game will use a system similar to Fallout's party system. Could you describe how recruiting and adventuring with companions will work? Why did you decide to use this system for parties?
ED: The game revolves around you and your character, so you will not have a permanent party of characters. You will be able to recruit non-player characters to join with you for some quests. Some of these quests are far-reaching and thus the character might stay with you for a time. Other NPCs will approach you for a quest and only stay with you for its completion. Basically we're scripting these characters to have their own personalities and agendas. Some of these characters are not interested in your adventure and only want to join you for their own ends, while others will be more helpful. Also, depending on your choices during the game, you may or may not be able to join or even meet some of these characters. We did this system to focus on the main character's story in the game and create the feel that the different characters in the game all have their own purposes and goals. Currently, the plan is to emulate the Fallout system of controls for NPCs, where you give them some basic commands that they carry out, so you will not need to directly manipulate them.
GS: We've already heard that some famous real-world historical figures will make an appearance in the game, such as Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci. What other historical figures can we expect to meet in Lionheart? How important will they be to the game's story?
ED: There will be many historical figures in the game, ranging from some very recognizable figures to others of medium to minor historical significance. Nueva Barcelona has become one of the major cultural centers of Europe, attracting many of the brightest minds of the time. You will meet famous scholars, artists, conquistadors, and politicians of the time. One example of someone you could meet from real history is the Duke of Medina Sidonia, the historical commander of the Spanish Armada. If you join the Inquisition and earn the trust of the Inquisitors, you could gain an audience with the Grand Inquisitor himself. In addition to da Vinci and Galileo, you will also be able to meet Machiavelli, the Italian philosopher, and Cervantes, the Spanish author. All these characters are being scripted to reflect their historical personalities in some ways, but they will also be different because of the alternate timeline. The introduction of magic into the world has allowed some of these historical figures to live longer than their real historical counterparts. Also, there are some historical figures you can meet that will give you quests or join you for a time on your journey.
A Tale of King and Country
GS: Could you discuss Lionheart's story? Who is your character, and what role does your character play in the game?
ED: In the year 1192, Richard the Lionheart, King of England, ventured across Europe during the Third Crusade. Taking the counsel of a trusted advisor, Richard gathered together several holy relics while the Middle Eastern city of Acre was under siege. When Richard took Acre from the Muslims, he was advised to bring the relics and put 3,000 captured Muslims to death. Unaware of the consequences, Richard complied, believing his actions would help his cause. Instead of bringing down the divine power he was promised, Richard's actions invoked the Disjunction, a ritual that brought magic into the world. The fabric of reality was briefly torn, allowing a short but devastating influx of magic and spiritkind to be unleashed across the Earth. Richard turned to his former enemies and made a pact with them to battle the oncoming hordes of dark creatures. Although Richard and the Muslim leader Saladin succeeded in stopping the Disjunction, magic had already escaped into the world. The two great leaders decided to divide the relics and each entrust their respective knight orders to protect them for all time.
Now, some 400 years later, an alternate yet hauntingly familiar history has evolved. The game begins in the year AD 1588, and much has changed since Richard's time. The Inquisition has seized power throughout much of Europe, attempting to suppress the use of all magic. Creatures unleashed from the Disjunction still walk the land, and factions like the Knights Templar and the Inquisition protect the people during these dark times.
|"Dialogue will also play an important role in the game."|
GS: How important will dialogue be in Lionheart? Can we expect to see the same kinds of conversations with other characters as we did in Baldur's Gate II or Planescape: Torment? How will your character's skills and traits affect dialogue in the game?
ED: Dialogue will also play an important role in the game. Like previous Black Isle RPGs, you will have the chance to drive the story with your character and choose your own path. It will be possible to pick dialogue options that will let you choose an evil path, a good path, or a path somewhere in between. If you acquire speech-related skills or perks, it might be possible to use diplomacy instead of combat for some situations, although other people might still prefer to do battle. Not all encounters will be avoidable through diplomacy, as there are creatures in the world that are unable or unwilling to speak with you. But the skill will be prevalent enough that it will be very useful to those people looking to explore more of the story and to role-play situations differently.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about Lionheart?
ED: I'd like to add that Black Isle has given a tremendous amount of support for this title. It's been fantastic to draw on their considerable RPG design and storytelling experience. Both Reflexive and Black Isle are very excited to be working on an original RPG with a new setting and story. And thanks for giving us the chance to tell you more about Lionheart!
GS: Thanks for your time, Eric.