GameSpot is pleased to announce the demo premiere for The Temple of Elemental Evil, the recently-released role-playing game from Troika Games and Atari, on GameSpot's newly-launched download site, DLX.
The game is based on a classic Dungeons & Dragons adventure module that was released in 1985, but it also features the updated 3.5 Edition rules. We recently sat down with several members of the Troika team, including lead designer Tim Cain, lead programmer Steve Moret, programmer Lee Needham, producer/designer Tom Decker, character animator Corey Pelton, and executive producer John Hight to discuss the game's development, as well as to discuss the details of the demo.
The developers have also graciously contributed to a hints video that walks you through the areas present in the playable demo. Both the movie and the demo are available from the links below. For more information on the game, including our full review, consult our previous coverage.
GameSpot: Thanks for taking the time for this interview. Now that Temple of Elemental Evil is complete, what would you say has been the most challenging aspect of the game's development?
Tim Cain: The most challenging aspect of this game's development was completing it under such a tight schedule. We had a little more than a year and a half to make this game, which is quite surprising given the complexities of the D&D rule set. We wanted all of the classes, spells, feats and skills to work exactly like the rules, so we created extra work for ourselves right there. Some extra features, like the built-in hyper-linked help system, weren't even part of the original design, but people worked extra hard to get these features in the game.
Lee Needham: Actually, there are a lot of places where we tried to get in as much as we could in the short amount of time we were given on this game. There is so much more we wanted to do, and the hardest part is letting go. [It's not so much that the game is] complex to play, but the amount of things the player can specialize in made it a complex game to develop.
Steve Moret: With the short development cycle and full feature set (I think [the game is the most accurate re-creation of] pen and paper D&D ever made), getting all the features we wanted in the game on the tight schedule was the hardest. Especially towards the end, we had to cut a lot of features we really just didn't have time for. That's the heartbreaking part of game development.
Tom Decker: I think our greatest challenge on this project was taking a popular D&D module and bringing it to life on computers, updating all the rules and monsters for 3.5 Edition, and trying to remain as faithful as possible to both 3.5 D&D and the module.
Corey Pelton: For me, I'd have to say just the sheer amount of animation in the game. There are over a 100 unique monsters, each with its own animation set, consisting of anywhere between 25 to 50 animations. Player character animation sets topped out at over 400 animations per character. Mike McCarthy, our lead artist, did the base set of PC animations, walks, runs, and idles. I handled combat and tweaks to animations. Just looking back on it, I can't believe what we were able to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time.
GS: And looking back, what part of the game, or its development, are you most proud of?
Tim Cain: I am very proud of the team. We had very dedicated people who put in long hours to make sure that their favorite features made it into the game. The game is beautiful, rich in features, and fun to play, and that would not have happened with a less-dedicated team.
Lee Needham: I would say implementing a lot of the D&D rules, spells, and monsters, which, for me, made combat feel very diverse.
Steve Moret: While we made ToEE, we played a lot of pen and paper D&D around the office. Anytime we found something frustrating, or confusing we tried to remember it, and focused on making it so the game would abstract out that confusion as much as possible to make the game that much more enjoyable. When I play ToEE, I'm reminded of our gaming sessions, and [I say to myself], this is the way D&D should be played, with all of the fun and fantasy and not too much of the gritty detail getting in the way. It is still there, if you look under the hood (the geek in me enjoys that).
Tom Decker: Two things stand out to me: One is that when I play the game, if I get lost or get curious as to what's ahead, I can pull out the maps from the original module and find my way around. That's really cool. The second thing is that we signed on for a 17-month schedule...and still came in with a great game.
Corey Pelton: I'm proud of the entire game, but of course, I'm biased towards the art. I really think we put together one of the most beautiful RPGs ever. This has been the best group of guys I have ever worked with.
GS: Since the game lets players choose a party of up to five characters from 11 different professions and nine different ethical alignments, balancing the game for different party sizes and compositions must have been pretty challenging. What was the hardest part of making all these different parties work within the game?
Tim Cain: Well, we didn't balance these parties in the sense that we made sure all of them were equally difficult. Instead, we just made sure they were capable of finishing the game. So we couldn't add a main-story quest that required a wizard, because you might not have one the party. But we could add a quest that had a magic-susceptible creature that is much easier to defeat with a wizard. Similarly, it is harder to play the game all of the way through with just a single character party, but it is possible. Playing with a party of five bards is harder than a party of five fighters, but both groups can finish the game.
Lee Needham: I would say testing. We didn't have enough of it. Even near the end of development we were upset about bugs that were found that had been there for over a year, and we ended up spending a lot of time fixing bugs that would ruin save games and make it harder on the testers, and made it harder to spend the time to redesign maps.
Steve Moret: I think the hardest part for me was coming to the conclusion that there was no way that the game would play the same way for all different party collections. While we wanted the game to be balanced and fun for any combination of characters, we finally decided in the end that a party of five halfling monks may have a harder time getting through the game than other parties, but as long as it wasn't impossible, it passed our fun-factor test.
Tom Decker: The hardest part for me was to make sure that each opening vignette had a viable path that would lead the party, if they so desired, through the early parts of the game. It was sort of like writing nine unique stories instead of just one, and then providing enough additional material for the people who prefer a more non-linear path through the game as well.
Corey Pelton: Well, this isn't quite my area of expertise, but I'll say that the parties I've assembled and played through the game with have worked very well together.
GS: And now, the playable demo for the game is here. What can you tell us about what players will find in the demo--how many different areas, what sort of monsters, and what kinds of characters will they find?
Tim Cain: The demo is the first hostile area of the game, an area called the moathouse. It is a ruined fortress in a swamp, so you will explore the area around the fort, the ruined fort itself, and the dungeon below. You will encounter humans of different classes, some undead, some humanoids (alone and in groups), and some monsters as well. There are some nice items to loot too.
Lee Needham: Giant frogs, bugbears, bandits, giant crayfish, ghouls and zombies, slimes, gnolls, and probably some other things that slip my mind.
Steve Moret: Seeing as I was the one who packaged the demo from the original game, I know exactly what's in it. The demo contains a pre-made party (containing a paladin, a monk, a bard, a cleric, and a wizard) that (if you really trolled from random encounters long enough) you could level up to level 10 and probably multiclass into all the other classes (if desired) that starts at the exterior of the moathouse. There are at least four maps and at least a good solid hour of gameplay. All of the spells, skills, and feats are there, and about 29 monster body types (ranging from bears and giant crayfish to willowisps and zombies). There is also plenty of replay opportunity at the moathouse. You may talk your way past some NPCs the first time; other times you may just rush in with your sword.
Tom Decker: There are several different maps, but they all center around the moathouse. There is a nice variety of different monsters to encounter, as well as some bandits and "other" characters as well. I don't want to give away too much here.
Corey Pelton: The moathouse was once an outpost for the temple of elemental evil, but it was destroyed after the temple fell. Players will encounter several different types of enemies from giant frogs, brigands, gnolls, and bugbears. Each of them can be handled with brute force, but that might not be your best bet. I really don't want to go into specifics about the demo, so just play it!
GS: Do you have any specific tips or hints for our readers as they play the demo? (Other than the tips provided in the hints video, linked below.)
Tim Cain: If a creature can go into dialog with you, then there is a way to avoid combat with that creature. You may need a dialog skill (like diplomacy or bluff) or some particular item or some money, but there is a way. Also, while it should go without saying, save your game often. Death is always waiting around the corner.
Lee Needham: Giant frogs will entrap you with their tongues and swallow you. Bugbears will trip-attack spell casters. The Gnolls are tough and will try to flank your characters.
Steve Moret: If you happen to be having trouble in a specific area, try a different route, or get a few random encounters in order to level up. There is a safe place to rest after you kill some foes, but I'll leave it up to you to find out where it is.
Tom Decker: Don't rush into encounters, but explore and approach new areas very slowly and carefully. Use Ariana as your main fighter, as she's quite powerful with that holy longsword. Rest in the tower to regain spells and hit points as much as necessary. Save Grugs for casting spontaneous heals with the Shift key. You may find a set of cloaks that might help you avoid some battles.
Corey Pelton: Be careful not to blindly run through doors in the dungeons. Always be prepared for what's on the other side. If you've used up your spells, or your characters are weak from the previous battle, go rest.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about the Temple of Elemental Evil?
Tim Cain: I have played the game with many different parties and alignments, and I think it's very fun. That's the true test of any game, and I think we have succeeded in providing an enjoyable experience. Try the demo and see for yourself!
Lee Needham: It really is a fun game. I especially love the combat. There is such a wide variety of things you can do with your characters, with all the skills feats items and equipment, you can create a diverse party of characters that can affect the way you play the game.
Steve Moret: Making this game has been my attempt turning my love for D&D into a video game. I hope you all like it. Be sure and try out the demo, and pick up the full game, I've got bills to pay! Oh, and if you buy the game don't forget to replay it. I'm shocked every time I start it up and find a different way of getting through it.
Tom Decker: Putting this game together has been an incredible experience for me, working with a very talented and cohesive team. Tensions are always high at the end of a project and this team held together very well. I can only hope this game sells well enough to warrant a sequel for this team and that everyone who plays it has as much fun as I have had playing it, too.
Corey Pelton: I can't wait until the game hits shelves so everyone can dig in! Have fun!
GS: Could you explain the difference between this demo and the one that has already been released on file-sharing networks? Why did you choose the different distribution methods, and how has it worked out?
John Hight: The demo that we are releasing today is a complete adventure. You can take a party of five characters into the treacherous dungeon beneath the moathouse. You're looking at four or more hours of gameplay.
We really believe in this game. So, we went to the extra effort to produce both a traditional demo, as well as downloadable trial version to give gamers the opportunity to try before they buy.
GS: We understand that the team is working on the patch for the full game. Could you give us an update on the patch, and explain what it fixes?
JH: We are currently validating the patch with our QA department and we hope to release the patch in the next few days. Stay tuned.