Dungeon Lords Q&A

We caught up with creator D.W. Bradley to ask him about his action-packed role-playing game.

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There's usually only one kind of action role-playing game, and that's the Diablo-style adventure where you run around the world slaying monsters, picking up lots of loot, and repeating the process over and over again. But designer D.W. Bradley, whose previous credits include contributions to the classic Wizardry series, hopes to reinvent the genre with Dungeon Lords, which will combine the fast-paced-action role-playing of Diablo with an eye toward providing the depth of a more traditional RPG. We had the opportunity recently to ask Bradley some questions, and we managed to pry quite a few details out of him.

Humans are one of the eight playable races in the game.
Humans are one of the eight playable races in the game.

GameSpot: Thanks for taking the time for this interview. In your own words, what is Dungeon Lords, and what are you trying to accomplish with the game?

D.W. Bradley: Dungeon Lords is the first game to combine a deep 3D RPG with real-time arcade-style fighting action. Everything in the game is based upon using the combined skills and abilities of both the player and his or her character hero. Dungeon Lords puts complete control of all character actions in the world at the player's fingertips. We let the player do the actual fighting, blocking, dodging, and so on, while still offering a rich and extensive world to explore, deep character design and hero development choices, and a huge storyline that provides all the best of what RPG players love.

GS: What can you tell us about the world of Dungeon Lords? There's so much that we don't know about the game's setting, though we do know that the game will take place in forests, towns, and castles, in addition to dungeons.

DWB: Dungeon Lords is set in a world that is fractured by a massive conflict on both the physical and magical levels. This conflict takes place within the kingdom of a lord whose power is quickly slipping away. The kingdom covers a vast region, including towns, dungeons, castles, ruins, mountains, caves, swamps, plains, and, of course, lots of deep wilderness forests where all kinds of beasties like to hide. Every major setting is completely different, and once the player leaves the first town, gameplay progression is nonlinear (i.e. the player may determine his or her own course through the world). Of course, I have no intention of spoiling any of the details of the actual game scenes and settings in advance of release. OK, maybe one: The Shadow Ruins is an ancient reliquary of a fallen order of the Knight Templars, and now it's the fortress and lair of an unholy Shadow Lord. (I'm so weak. Sheesh.)

GS: We've heard that there are eight playable races in the game. What are these races and classes, and how will they impact the way the game is played?

DWB: I'll only tell you six! Three are familiar to all RPG fans: human male and female; elf male and female; and dwarf male and female. The other races are all special subhumans (called the Demigoths), and three of these are Urgoth (big, furry bestial guys), Wylvan (wolfish characters), and Thrall (sneaky mean, little, hairy dudes). The chosen race for the player's hero primarily determines certain tendencies in how that character develops in the game, and it can be a factor in dealing with NPC characters in the world. Racial choice may offer possible opportunities and also offer certain special characteristics that the character may acquire.

GS: We've seen some diabolical monsters, including skeletons and trolls, but what other kinds of creatures can we expect to encounter?

DWB: "Just say 'No!' to spoilers!" (My poorly kept motto.) From giant trolls, to fiery drakes, to supernatural denizens, to crafty wizards, to exotic forest beasts, to marauding militia, the game is loaded. I'll say no more!!

GS: Tell us a bit about the game's magic system. How flexible and powerful will it be, and will every class have some kind of magic ability or just certain ones?

DWB: First, I want to point out that regardless of character class choices the player makes, all characters may still learn magic and other skills that are traditionally limited to specific classes in other RPGs. Class choices (multiple classes are supported) determine how quickly a character is able to learn certain skills associated with that class, but other classes are not necessarily prohibited from learning these skills as well. However, there is a unique skill associated with each of the second- and third-tier classes.

Dungeon Lords is full of spectacular spell effects.
Dungeon Lords is full of spectacular spell effects.

On magic: There are four distinct schools of magic and more than 90 spells in all. (Or maybe there are more than 120. I lose count!) The magic schools are: arcane magic, typically associated with elemental offensive spells like fireball and magic missile; celestial magic, which draws power from the stars for spells like healing and light; nether magic, which focuses on summoning and cursing spells by mixing nether katals; and rune magic, for which combinations of rune stones create spells for protection, buffs, and power-ups. Each type of magic is invoked differently from the other magic schools, and all are predicated on judicious use by the player. So, in Dungeon Lords, there is no big mana pool that allows players to cast the same spells over and over ad nauseam. In Dungeon Lords, once you've used up your fireballs, or mixed your last dried homonculous, or drained the last bit of power out of one of your star crystals, it may be a long while before you can cast these spells again. So use them wisely.

One-Trick Puzzles

GS: How will the quests be in Dungeon Lords? Are we looking at a lot of fetch-style quests where you have to venture out to retrieve an object for someone, or will there be other styles of quests? Can we expect to see puzzle-solving of some kind as well?

There will be many dark dungeons to explore.
There will be many dark dungeons to explore.

DWB: The quests are all unique, cover a wide variety of objectives, and typically fall into two categories--game quests, which a character undertakes to progress in the game, and storyline objectives, which are the personal quests that a character undertakes to obtain special abilities, attributes, classes, guild progressions, or other special personal rewards. There is a bit of puzzle-solving in Dungeon Lords from time to time, more typically in the later, advanced scenes, and all invariably are put there by some nefarious lord or wizard to prevent nosy heroes from uncovering their secret treasures and lairs. Most puzzles in Dungeon Lords become fairly simple once you understand the trick to them, and that's really the key for me in designing puzzles for games these days: Keep them simple--but with a trick. A person might solve one puzzle in a matter of seconds, yet another might stump them for 15 minutes. Each puzzle is different, so it's a matter of how long it takes until you "get it" and realize the trick.

GS: Dungeon Lords seems to play like a fast-paced action game, but the game will also attempt to have the depth of a serious role-playing game? Why the decision to go this direction, and how do you strike a balance?

DWB: Dungeon Lords is a serious role-playing game! And this is what puts Dungeon Lords in a new class of RPG. Dungeon Lords is extraordinarily simple and fun from the very first moment, and yet it's still a deeply involved and well-crafted RPG. In Dungeon Lords, we have created an RPG that engages the player with the excitement and thrills of superior action elements without sacrificing the breadth and detail of a true RPG. It's the game I've always wanted to make, and it represents the culmination of everything I've learned designing both RPG and computer games for the past 25 years. From the very onset of Dungeon Lords, players are immersed in a true-to-life fantasy role-playing universe, and each player progresses in the game in a completely individualized manner, where each moment and every action involves the player's immediate decisions and responses. And best of all, Dungeon Lords is a game totally devoid of the mindless and repetitious point-and-click or turn-based combat or fatiguing micromanagement that--to this day--continues to plague almost all other RPG games.

GS: The game will support up to eight players in multiplayer, but what kind of multiplayer options will be available? We know that you can play cooperatively, but will there be any competitive game modes, like deathmatch?

DWB: One of my primary design objectives in Dungeon Lords was to really immerse the player in the spirit of true dungeon RPG campaigning by capturing the alter-ego/personal-hero experience that lies at the heart of role-playing, regardless of whether it's in a computer game or with paper, pen, and friends. Thus, from a design standpoint, cooperative multiplayer--that is, a gathering of multiple players engaged together in common pursuit to confront the challenges of the world (while simultaneously pursing their own personal goals and objectives)--is the way the game is, in its purest sense, intended to be played. However, of course, for those who feel they can only truly test their mettle against another person's avatar, Dungeon Lords offers a special session mode for player-versus-player gameplay. The deathmatch sessions will still take place within the context of the cooperative gameworld, and I suppose I should point out that death usually has a price.

GS: In cooperative mode, will the game scale in difficulty to accommodate the number of players?

DWB: Yes, absolutely. The game actively considers the party's relative strength and makeup, and so the challenges are weighted accordingly. I should also point out that Dungeon Lords allows players to import their single-player character heroes (presumably already developed to some degree) into the multiplayer campaigns.

GS: It sounds like you've pretty much written most of the game from scratch yourself. The graphics in the game look beautiful, and they're certainly a big leap from your last game, Wizards & Warriors. What are some of the new graphical features in Dungeon Lords, and what challenges did you face in creating the engine?

DWB: Too many to mention! From a gameplay design context, the biggest challenge was getting just the right "feel" of realistic real-time combat in a fantasy RPG with a full 3D environment. This is something that evolved over time, and I probably tried several dozen different mechanisms over the course of a year to distill the "perfect" implementation.

For the graphic engines, the hardest part was spending a week going through the vast assortment of research papers related to state-of-the-art, real-time terrain rendering and generation and then deriving the correct implementation for Dungeon Lords in my brain before doing the actual work. That can give you a headache, for sure! I would like to point out that Ken Lightner was responsible for writing all the beautiful pixel-shader routines for Dungeon Lords, as well as our real-time shadowing routines. I'd also like to thank Ahmed Siddique for writing the underlying networking engine for the game. I have had some extremely talented help in creating this game! Most of all, however, the bulk of outstanding graphics, images, and creatures you see in Dungeon Lords are due to the work of one man, Charles Vinson, who is an extraordinarily talented artist with a tremendous feel for what computer RPG and virtual worlds should look like.

There's a deep magic system with more than 90 spells.
There's a deep magic system with more than 90 spells.

GS: And when can we expect Dungeon Lords to wrap up development so that we can finally play it?

DWB: Dungeon Lords is coming this fall for the PC. We also have big plans for the franchise thereafter! Stay tuned!!

GS: Thanks D.W., we will.

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