Based on the popular miniatures game of the same name, Mage Knight looks to be a fast-paced Diablo-style action role-playing game with a beautiful 3D graphics engine and some interesting tricks up its sleeve. The game isn't due out until next year, so to get the details on Mage Knight we spoke to senior producer Chris Wren.
GameSpot: For our readers who aren't familiar with Mage Knight, could you explain briefly what it is, and why did you decide to make a game about it?
Chris Wren: Mage Knight is a fast-paced tabletop war game involving a techno-fantasy-based universe with several really diverse factions. Players build up their collection of figures and then play head-to-head with other players by setting up their units and then, through a series of dice rolls and strategy, attempt to wipe out their opponent. The universe is mostly a traditional fantasy universe with orcs and elves like you might find in The Lord of the Rings, but it also has a nice mix of steam and gunpowder technology, as well as future technology fused with a healthy dose of magic.
GS: Could you tell us what the story is behind Apocalypse? Who are you? Why are you fighting? And what are you trying to do in the game?
CW: In the current storyline of the tabletop universe of Mage Knight, a magic egg has been stolen by a faction known as the Shyft (a tribal, lizardlike, manipulative culture), and a rise in the chaotic forces in the world has caused this egg to hatch. From the egg was born the Apocalypse Dragon, which is a juggernaut of destructive power. It is growing in strength each day and threatening the security of the whole land.
Our story starts with you as a champion of your people, called forth by a mystical race, the Solonavi, to help put an end to this dragon and the forces of chaos that surround it. A powerful mage of the cursed Apocalypse cult is trying to take control of this dragon to bring about the end of the world; he and his cult will be trying to stop you from accomplishing your mission. Mage Knight lets you choose one of five heroes, which will embark on this quest. Whatever characters you do not choose will end up joining you along your journey as you go from region to region. You will only directly control your hero, and the other members of the party will take care of themselves and will help you out where they can.
GS: So we know that you can play as a dwarf rifleman or a female vampire (among others). What character classes are in the game? What's character creation like? Do you choose a race and then a class, or are you limited to certain templates?
CW: There are five playable characters in the game. Each one has its own disciplines and fighting styles and each one can be developed to fight and evolve in multiple ways. The dwarf rifleman is good with guns, melee weapons, and explosives. The nightblade specializes in necromancy, vampirism, and melee. The elf guardian does protection, ranged combat, and melee weapons. The amazon warrior has speed combat, defensive combat, and ranged combat, and the draconum mage casts earth magic, fire magic, and storm magic.
Character creation at the start of the game is simply choosing one of the heroes, and then choosing from a set of customization options about how you want him or her to look. Some of these options are: hairstyle, hair color, skin color, eye color, as well as a couple race-specific attributes, such as beard shape (if you happen to choose the dwarf). There is further customization, which is dependent on your play style and the choices you make.
GS: Can you tell us more about the gameworld? How large is it? What kind of terrain and places can we expect to explore? Will there be towns that you can go in to trade and get missions?
CW: The gameworld consists of five major regions. Each of these relates to one of the characters in the story--there is a draconum region, a nightblade region, etc. Each region will have a town that is the hub for exploration and questing, as well as the place where you shop, upgrade, train, and receive new missions. Each of the regions will have several main quests to embark on, which move the story along, as well as several side quests, which you can do to acquire new items, more money, advance your character, etc.
In our dwarven region, you will explore abandoned quarries, mountain passes, swamps, as well as the huge dwarven capitol of Silverholt. The amazon region will take you to ancient pyramids nestled in the jungle, cursed temples swarming with zombies, and the grasslands of the Fist where you will fight your way through swarms of orcs. The nightblade region will start out in a cliff dwelling and you will adventure out into the vast desert on your way to a mountain necropolis filled with undead minions. Our draconum region is high in the mountains atop rocky spires and will involve various mountainside crypts and caverns. And the elf region takes place in a snowy ravine complete with ice citadels and caverns.
Once you have your party together and the pieces of the puzzle complete, the story will take you to our final region, the Vurgra Divide, which is where the Apocalypse cult is staging its grand assault on the land.
GS: Mage Knight has an interesting skill system that's quite different from conventional role-playing games. For instance, there aren't "levels" in the game as we know them. Could you explain it for us?
CW: For an action-based game, we thought the process of stopping play to distribute points interrupted the fast-paced nature of these kinds of games, so we took them out. We instead adopted a more natural evolution of the player character using a system we call ACD, or adaptive character development. The idea behind it is that we start you with a broad range of basic skills, and depending on which ones you use the most, you will naturally be granted new statistics and skills, which will further contribute to that play style. By doing this, people will simply play the game how they want to, using the abilities they like the most, and their character will become proficient in a particular discipline over time.
For example, if I was playing the nightblade character and continued to use vampiric attacks to defeat my enemies, my character stats would naturally gravitate toward those which contribute best to that skill set. Likewise, I will unlock new, more powerful vampiric skills and proficiencies as I progress. In addition to skills, stats, and proficiencies, my character will begin to take on a more vampiric appearance as she progresses up this skill tree. Her eyes may begin to glow red, and her skin may become pale. We think this will lead to a great diversity of combinations and play styles, which will not only benefit the single-player experience, but will make for a huge pool of multiplayer options and combinations.
The End of the World as We Know ItGS: Is it true that the game has six campaigns, with each having five to six missions? How do the campaigns work? Are they drastically different from one another? Will you be able to replay campaigns in different ways?
CW: There are six total campaigns in the game. The number of missions per region varies, but an average of three large main missions, with several side missions per region, can be expected.
We have a dynamic monster spawn in the game, which will scale the difficulty of the monsters, the number of monsters, and the quality and number of loot drops each time you enter a level. So if you are playing multiplayer with several people who have advanced characters, you can expect a very different experience than the original run through the game. We are also supporting several missions which will repopulate areas of the game with entirely different monsters depending on particular quests or multiplayer options. This too will add to the replayability of some of the areas you've visited.
GS: Do you plan to have a large inventory of loot in Apocalypse? Can you outfit your hero with different weapons and items? Can you go into towns and purchase better items?
CW: We have a huge system of weapons, armor, and enhancements, which are all interchangeable and modifiable. This will add greatly to the customization of one's character. There are proficiencies, which will be required to wear advanced armors and use advanced weapons, that the player can earn by advancing their character a certain way. We have a drag-and-drop paper-doll system to allow you to easily change up your character's armor and weaponry. There is also a system in the game which will allow you to upgrade armor and weaponry using the various forges found in the towns. The forgemages of Silverholt in the dwarven region even have the ability to imbue items with magestone, making them both magical and powerful.
GS: What sort of beasties will you battle in Mage Knight? We assume that everything is being based on the miniatures game, correct?
CW: All of the characters and creatures found in the game are based on tabletop miniatures. In Apocalypse you will fight over 100 unique baddies varying in size, from the puny shadow magespawn up to the gargantuan orc cyclops (40 feet tall). We tried to get a nice sampling of the creatures in the Mage Knight universe, each with its own unique combat style and behavior. The creatures you come across will vary greatly from region to region and will reflect the nature of the region you find them in.
GS: We know that multiplayer will support up to five players, but not much else beyond that. So could you elaborate a bit on what multiplayer modes there will be?
CW: The game currently supports five people playing cooperatively as a team. It allows for players to embark on quests by themselves or as a group. It is a fairly open-ended multiplayer system. Players may choose to run through the entire campaign from start to finish, or they might jump around from mission to mission. We support both in multiplayer. We think that certain people are going to want to just replay their favorite missions over and over, maybe just fighting big bosses and getting great loot, while others will prefer to stick to the story.
Combo attacks are something that will make team play, both in single and multiplayer, a bit more interesting. There are special moves which become available to your party when two or more characters are adventuring, and these special attacks cause a lot more damage and sometimes have special functions to advancing the game. The way it works is, one player will initiate one of these attacks and it will require another character to synch up with that player to perform the move. An example of this is our cannonball attack, where a member of the party throws the dwarf into a crowd of baddies (kind of like bowling). There are two varieties of these attacks: specific ones, which exist only between two specific players, and general ones, which become available to the whole party when a new member is added.
There are still a couple designs with multiplayer that we are exploring, but the notion of competitive multiplayer has been explored. We know the engine will support a lot more people in a game than just five, so it really comes down to whether it makes sense to the gameplay and we decide if it's fun. There are also several customized versions of multiplayer we are exploring, which will diverge from the story entirely and just be for fun. The number and type of these we are officially supporting has not been decided.
GS: Where are you currently in development, and when do you expect the game to come out? Can we expect console versions of Mage Knight, as well?
CW: We are about halfway into the development of this title. We expect it to wrap up sometime early next year for a spring release. We will be doing more show and tell with the game toward the end of the year as we get some of the remaining systems into the game.
As far as console development, the game was designed with a really simple interface, so I don't see any major technical obstructions to making this game work on console, but we have no current plans to make this a console title. We are dedicated to making this a really great PC title at the moment and I think making it work on the console would involve a lot of consideration for the control schemes and flow of the game to make it a bit more console-friendly. We wouldn't want to just do a direct port of the game without adding a few nice things for the console crowd.
GS: Finally, any final thoughts on Mage Knight that you'd like to share?
CW: The team here is having a really great time developing the story and game mechanics for this title. We have a solid development team (Interserv) who is really doing a fantastic job making this game come to life. Basically, this is a game we all wanted to make because we want to play it, and we're getting the chance to do it the way we want.
GS: Thank you, Chris.