We talk to Simon Woodroffe, head of design at Headfirst Productions, about the upcoming PC role-playing game set in the Old West.
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UK-based game developer Headfirst Productions, the studio that is developing the upcoming Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, is also working on a game based on Pinnacle Entertainment Group's Old West tabletop role-playing game, Deadlands. The game is set in an alternative past in 1877 during the American Civil War. A huge earthquake devastated California in 1868, leaving behind a network of sea canyons and uncovering a mysterious superfuel known as ghost rock. The new fuel creates a boomtown atmosphere in the Old West and inspires a number of new inventions, but strange supernatural beings called the Reckoners are frightening the people. A secret deal releases the Reckoners from their ancient prison, and evil beings spread through the land. Players must try to free the world by killing these monsters.
GameSpot talked to Simon Woodroffe, the head of design at Headfirst, about the upcoming game. Woodroffe described some of history behind the project, the game's features, and how the Old West setting will set the game apart.
GameSpot: First, can you tell us how the Deadlands project came about? What got Headfirst interested in the Deadlands tabletop game?
Simon Woodroffe: We have always adopted the policy of searching for interesting licenses to use in making computer games, since this gives us an edge over our competitors in terms of attracting publisher attention. When we first heard about Deadlands, we were so inspired by the wonderful Weird West and the vast quantities of top-quality source material, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that it would make a fantastic game. We'd always fancied doing a more action-based role-playing style of game as well. Also, the nature of the role-playing game means that our imaginations can run riot--giving us more creative freedom that we had with Cthulhu, for example.
GS: What makes the game special? Are there any unique aspects of the role-playing game system that will carry through to the PC game?
SW: The combination of horror/spaghetti Western and steam technology makes for a very interesting gaming environment where most anything goes. The fact that the world is affected by "fear" and this has a visible effect on the graphics and sounds the player will be experiencing--turning from good to bad depending on their actions. The game is also "infinite"--containing a built-in piece of AI that creates levels from complicated 3D pieces and writes extra quests to create a unique experience. It's playable online and one of the first action RPGs to do this on the PC. It's also far more accessible than EverQuest or Ultima Online in terms of its interface. The RPG contains a substance called ghost rock--a fuel 100 times more powerful than coal--that powers huge machines that defy the laws of physics and make for some interesting weapons (a Gatling pistol, for example).
GS: There aren't very many PC games that use the Old West as a setting. Why do you think that is?
SW: I think that most game companies do not want to step out of the "rooms and corridors" approach to 3D gaming due to engine limitations. As the ability to do vast outdoor areas (inherent to the Old West) becomes more commonplace among teams, I'm sure there will be more games like this. Plus, companies like to stick to proven genres (futuristic stuff), for which they have a big library of textures and funky "laser" effects.
GS: Aside from the basic visual setting, how will the Old West environment affect the gameplay?
SW: The game itself is an action RPG. Gameplay could be likened as to falling somewhere between Phantasy Star Online and CounterStrike but with Final Fantasy-style offline elements as well. This is quite different for a genre anyway. The Wild West lets us do horse riding sections, for example. The weapons selection is totally different from most action games, featuring ghost-rock-powered guns and steam technology, as well as magic and Red Indian religious spells. You'll be able to form "posses" with other players and enter into High Noon duels or compete team vs. team in game levels. You'll also be able to get your mates together and go and take on the Reckoners creatures firsthand to gain experience, find new items, or brush up your skills.
GS: How far along is the Deadlands game at this point?
SW: Deadlands is just reaching the end of concept. Artwork styles have been set and the game is in the process of being designed in detail. Full production should start in the next few weeks, although most of our core technology to get it up and running will come from the Cthulhu game engine.
GS: How many people are working on the project?
SW: Including Headfirst's Core Technology Group, there will be about 25 full-time staff and half a dozen freelancers.
GS: Deadlands will use the same game engine that is being used in Call of Cthulhu, right? Can you tell us a little about the game engine? Will you be making any significant changes to the engine for Deadlands?
SW: Essentially, Call of Cthulhu is largely built on the work of the Core Technology Group. This system will work for any type of game and provides classes containing common game elements such as doorways, AI, culling, lighting, special FX, animation blending, water, physics, collision detection, control systems, and so on. At least 75 percent of Cthulhu is based on this, and we expect a similar quantity of Deadlands work to come from the CTG. They will be constantly working to refine and enhance the game engine to make is easier for designers to add new features to the games. Deadlands has some major differences, of course--a third-person camera, a modular game environment, and a large online element being the major ones that will go into the core technology that can be used on all our products. Things like the customizable character designer will be created specially for Deadlands, however.
GS: Can you describe some of Deadlands' gameplay?
SW: The game is an action RPG played in third- and first-person. Players create a character from eight different classes (either male or female) and then either play through the game story offline or with their friends online. The character can be taken online and used to take part in loads of specially created quests with friends. These quests will result in more special items, cash, or experience. Also, quests can be downloaded to play offline on your own, and these downloads will be very small because of the modular nature of the levels and the depth of the character creator (which will give us more than 1 million different appearances). The overall goal of all players is to fight the Reckoners and their abominations in all their various incantations. As I said, it's best described as CounterStrike meets Phantasy Star Online. Or Final Fantaquake.
GS: How closely will the game be based on the pen-and-paper role-playing game?
SW: The world the game is set in will be almost identical to the one in the paper game, although we are changing some of the role-playing game system to allow for the differences in the media. By and large, most of the principals that make the game what it is will be present.
GS: Will the game incorporate other types of gameplay, such as action, adventure, or strategy?
SW: Both action and adventure. And strategy on a small posse-based scale.
GS: What sort of character development will the game include?
SW: Characters will be able to gain "legend" (levels), as well as special items and unique "horses." They will also be able to customize their appearance in terms of hair and clothes by spending money in game shops as required. Even weapons can be customized to a degree. Gaining levels will improve skills and abilities--meaning further areas of the game can be explored.
GS: What kinds of different characters and monsters will appear in the game?
SW: There are eight character classes: gunslingers, rowdies, hucksters, blessed (preachers and nuns), shamans, Indian braves, scouts, and mad scientists. There are also 40 different small monsters, 10 larger ones, and four huge ones. And a final game boss as well. Monsters have different powers in different areas of the game because of "fear." As a monster terrorizes an area, it becomes visually and sonically more scary, which increases the power of the monsters. So therefore it may be possible for players to run into a fairly low-level monster that kicks their ass constantly. The player will need to mop up all the low-level monsters around it first to reduce the fear in the area and thus weaken the monster. The appearance of the monsters will also change as fear levels increase.
GS: Will the game's weapons and equipment be limited to what was available in the Old West?
SW: As I mentioned before, the Deadlands world features "ghost rock," which is a basically a superfuel. The discovery of this led to crazed scientists using it to power insane machinery and weapons, most of which were as unpredictable as they were deadly. So Deadlands will feature your "standard" Western weaponry, but also ghost-rock-modified kit too--picture a steam-powered nail gun that spits a thousand nails a minute but is prone to overheating and, occasionally, explosion. It'll be funny watching players running about leaving clouds of black smoke behind them as their overmodified weapon threatens to blow up and take everyone with it.
GS: Will there be horses in Deadlands? If so, will you be able to ride them?
SW: Yes. And the peak of them will be the ghost-rock-powered iron stallion. Certain quests will take place on horseback. All players have a horse (even if it's a lowly mule at the beginning), and they are essential for travel in the West.
GS: How about stagecoaches?
SW: Yes. And huge steam trains. Huge ghost-rock-powered devices such as airships and "underground crawlers" may turn up later.
GS: Have you had any luck finding a publisher for the game?
SW: Right now we haven't really tried to find one, although we are talking to several that have found us.
GS: When do you expect the game to be complete?
SW: Q2 2003.
GS: Does Headfirst have any plans to pick up other tabletop role-playing game licenses?
SW: Yes. Although I cannot tell you what they are until they're in the bag. Stay tuned.
GS: Thanks for your time, Simon.
For more information about the Deadlands tabletop role-playing game, visit the official Pinnacle Entertainment Group Web site.