GameSpot talks with designer Tom Hall about the challenges his team's faced in developing the RPG Anachronox, and what gamers can expect once the game finally ships later this year.
GameSpot: What's been the greatest challenge in developing Anachronox?
Tom Hall: The greatest challenge has been to give all of the different aspects of the game a fair share of time. You can do a lot in Anachronox: Talk to folks, interact with the environment, use World Skills, play minigames, solve mysteries, fight monsters - all in an adventure that crosses six planets. It's pretty huge, and we're trying to do with 15 people what Square does with 80-100 people! But it's getting done, and it's turning out very cool.
GS: Anachronox uses the Quake II engine, but looks quite different than a first-person shooter. Can you talk about some of the changes and enhancements you've made to the engine?
TH: Well, there's some Quake II engine left, but we've done a lot to it. It has 32 bit graphics (8 bits RGB, and 8 bits alpha), Ralph Barbagallo's cool editable particle effects, lipsynching and facial deformation for expressions (super cool), nice shaded models, and a programming language to let you make 2D or even 3D minigames/interfaces called APE, that Squirrel did. On top of all this is the wonderful 3D spline-based camera system called Planet. It allows us to do incredibly fluid in-engine cinematics with relative ease. Jake, Seneca, and Jay have done some amazing stuff. We'll be showing a cool lipsynched scene at the show, and some massive destruction sequences. Plus a rather unique minigame....
GS: Anachronox has an unusual science-fiction setting and style. Which games and other media have most greatly influenced the game's design?
TH: The initial inspiration was Chrono Trigger - a really fun, amazing SNES RPG with 13 different endings. I recommend it to anyone, and people joining the team have to play it. Other influences: books are Gateway, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Battlefield Earth (not looking forward to the movie); in movies, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Aliens, Usual Suspects, Princess Bride, and films of Spielberg, Hitchcock, Scorsese; in games, Chrono Trigger, FF7, Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Super Mario 64, and most recently Ape Escape. I tend to swirl everything in my life into the game somehow. I like having all sorts of disparate influences and eclectic info being stirred into a rich batter.
GS: The game's hero is the gumshoe Sly Boots. Can you talk about some of the companions he'll meet on his quest? TH: Some of the other characters are:
-Grumpos Matavastros, a crotchety old guy that offers him a protection job.
-Stiletto Anyway,a mercenary. They used to work on cases together.
-Dr. Rho Bowman, a heretical scientist with wild theories about MysTech.
-Paco "El Puño" Estrella, a dejected superhero.
And some others....
GS: Without spoiling anything, can you describe the game's story? Why is down-on-his-luck Boots caught in the middle of everything?
TH: He's sort of fallen into dire straits financially, owes a lot of money, and needs a job. He gets a small bodyguard job, which soon plops him in the middle of a grand galactic mystery. He begins to get suspicious something is going on when the planet he is standing on splits in half.
GS: How will combat be treated in Anachronox? Will there be random encounters in addition to scripted battles? What will Boots gain from combat, such as money or experience points?
TH: All the battles will be predefined, but some may feel random, as they won't always get triggered. Party members will get money and items, as well as experience tailored to their performance. If they used their might more, they will get experience accordingly. If they use MysTech, related statistics will increase. The players also get experience for using Battle Skills, World Skills, finding secrets, and doing cool things. So experience isn't totally inside of battle.
GS: The game begins with Sly Boots getting a beating from a nasty thug. Who is this guy? Who're some of the other villains Boots will encounter?
TH: The thug is a representative of the guy Boots owes a lot of money too. They are not happy with him.
The big villains are a bit of a mystery. But they're dumping gigantic amounts of dark matter into our universe, so looking into that would be a good idea.
Other enemies in the game are creatures contextual to the areas you visit, ranging from robot guards to cavern inhabitants to thirty foot-tall stone creatures to energy beings and more!
GS: Allegedly, the game's original story turned out to be too long, and as such, you've already planned an Anachronox sequel to wrap things up. How do you think gamers will respond to this? Will Anachronox's ending will be satisfying in itself?
TH: It is much better than rushing through tons of places without getting to enjoy them. And don't worry - gamers will definitely get a "Death Star blows up" ending that is satisfying. But the story of Anachronox will not end with part two. There are a lot of stories to tell in this universe....
GS: To what extent will gameplay involve puzzle-solving and character interaction in addition to combat and exploration? Will there the game have a difficulty toggle?
TH: You will have quite a variety. I want the places you visit to be touchable, so if something is functioning, you can go up to the control panel and affect it. This ranges from getting local news to controlling huge machinery to flying a shuttle. I love the minigames found in other games, as long as they make sense. Difficulty settings will mainly affect the difficulty of the battles.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about Anachronox?
TH: Everyone is doing an amazing job bringing Anachronox into reality. It's going to be a fun, amazing interactive world you explore. And I hope other folks take the tools available when the game ships and make their own planets. 'Cause I want to play Anachronox too!
GS: Thanks, Tom.
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