Mage Knight Apocalypse Q&A - Gameplay, Items, and Final Thoughts on Development
The development of action role-playing game Mage Knight Apocalypse is almost complete, and senior producer Dave Georgeson reflects on what a long, strange journey it's been.
Action role-playing games, like the groundbreaking 1996 game Diablo, try to combine the character advancement and hoarding of magic items from traditional role-playing games with the hacking and slashing of an action game. It just so happens that Namco Bandai games is putting the finishing touches on a brand-new action RPG based on the colorful, high-fantasy world of the Mage Knight tabletop game. Senior producer Dave Georgeson explains how development on the soon-to-be-released game is wrapping up and what players can expect from the final game when it ships later this year.
GameSpot: Mage Knight is getting very close to its release date. Could you give us a quick update on the game's development? What's left to do?
Dave Georgeson: Mostly just squashing bugs. We've refined the combat interface, set up the mission flows, and the game is getting closer and closer to the goal of being "balanced." But there are still bugs on the pile, and we keep tweaking the game for a better fun factor.
GS: By now you've had a chance to play with a nearly complete version of the game. Has anything surprised you thus far? For example, do you find yourself experiencing cool moments that you didn't originally envision? If so, can you give an example?
DG: Surprises happen all the time. Part of that has to do with the large number of patrol paths that we use in Mage Knight Apocalypse to keep it much more active than other games of this type. Our enemies don't just stand around and wait for you to show up. Many of them wander through the area on guard for intruders or just go about their own business. This often creates situations that aren't entirely predictable. Players sometimes choose to rest where monsters will wander, and that catches you off guard. Or encounters may suddenly become larger because a patrol stumbles upon you from behind while you're busy with other things.
Most surprising moment: I'm personally pretty intimately familiar with the storyline and the way the missions flow. However, I still get a huge kick out of watching the sidekicks fight in combat. There's something very natural about moving through the world with friends at your side. It's kind of like a little pocket massively multiplayer shard on my desk running through a really cool, unusual fantasy world. I like it. (And there's no monthly fee!) GS: How long does it take to get through Mage Knight's single-player game? How much replay value is there? And can you describe some of the different ways you can play through the game?
DG: Originally, we envisioned the single-player game taking about 25 hours of gameplay to get through. Well...we were wrong. It appears that we overshot the mark by quite a bit for what we consider the "average" player. (By average, we mean someone who talks to some of the non-player characters, loots corpses, visits stores to buy and sell, as well as someone who fights through the various battles in the game.)
We're not precisely certain how many hours of gameplay there really are in Mage Knight Apocalypse, but we know there are at least 25 hours of completely original gameplay in the box (that estimate is for only one run-through of the single-player campaign) and probably more like about 40 hours. Let's put it this way...with cheats on that instantly destroy all monsters touched, skipping through the cutscenes and dialogue when they occur, bypassing all looting opportunities, and never visiting a store to buy/sell, it still takes more than eight hours for one person to complete the game from end-to-end...so let's just agree that 25 hours of gameplay is conservative.
Onto that estimate, you can also tack on the time you spend playing the multiplayer, as well as all the different character classes and skill tree explorations. Added all together, well...there's a lot of gameplay and replay value in this little box.
Mage Knight Apocalypse is meant to be played either as a single-player game (where you run a party of yourself, plus some computer-controlled, artificial-intelligence buddies that accompany your travels) or as a multiplayer cooperative game (where it's the same epic experience, but now your AI buddies are played by other players, instead).
GS: Does the inventory system feature randomly generated items, is everything "hand-built" by the designers themselves, or is it a combination of the two? Approximately how many items are there in the game, and what are some of the cooler ones that players will strive for?
DG: It's a combination of the two. The item system goes hand in hand with our "dynamic scaling" game systems. As you get more powerful, the loot that you find in chests or from destroying monsters also becomes more powerful.
So initially, we created lots of sets of items that are more powerful and cooler looking as you progress. But there are "prefix" and "suffix" tags that get stuck onto the basic item names that change the abilities of those items, and that very quickly adds a huge amount of unique items that players can find each time they play.
We also have a host of "epic" items that are hand-crafted special items that can be gained only once the character has become quite powerful and only from special encounters within the missions. These are "named" items with cool powers and histories.
And, of course, the players can modify their own weapons and armor through the forging system by adding magestones to them in different combinations. This takes a system where there were already tons of possible items and moves it into a territory where there are 10s of thousands of possibilities.
It will be very unusual, if not impossible, for you to run into a character with the same inventory as your own character when you play multiplayer.
Forging Your Destiny
GS: Could you explain Mage Knight Apocalypse's "forging" feature? We've heard it's similar to the socket system in Diablo II, where you can enhance items by combining them with other items, but just how versatile is the system? Will you have to hunt for certain parts to "complete" sets of armor, for instance?
DG: The "mageforging" system lets you use magestones to power up your items (usually weapons and armor). Magestones can only be found by adventuring out in the world. (They are never available at vendors.) As the player travels through the quests, they will naturally begin accumulating flawed or tainted magestones of various elemental persuasions (earth, air, water, fire, holy, and death).
You can put up to three different magestones into each item you possess, and the combination of magestones used will affect the powers of the weapon or armor differently. For instance, you might put two death magestones into a sword and it would add plus-two points of death damage to the sword and lower the death resistance of the target by one percent. However, if you add a third magestone of the Earth persuasion, you would also add plus-one points of earth damage and get a special power on the sword that activates a small percentage of the time when you swing the weapon at a target. What power that is depends on what combinations of stones you put into the sword. Two deaths plus a fire will result in a different minor power than two deaths and an earth.
Make sense so far?
But wait! There's more! You can also purify the magestones you find in the field. Take several magestones of the same poor quality, and you can combine several of them together to make a higher-quality magestone. What does that do? You guessed it...the higher the quality of the magestone, the larger the bonuses you get by combining them together into your item through mageforging.
Don't like the way the item plays after you've used it for a while? That's okay. You can "unmake" the item at any time, reclaiming all magestones so that you can use them in another item instead.
So as you adventure, you'll spend plenty of time playing with the forging system and checking out all the possibilities available to you.
GS: Can you describe what the multiplayer tests have been like so far? Is it easy to coordinate with other players, or does everyone run around on their own?
DG: Multiplayer games are set up so that the party can disperse to the four corners of the world, if so desired. Different characters can be in completely different areas (a couple in the mission, a couple more at one town, a fifth player in a different town, etc.) while playing so that they aren't forced to "pack" together all the time, moving from one mission to another as a forced group.
However, while playing together in a mission, yes...players tend to still clump together. Why? Mostly for self-preservation reasons. We realized quickly that people playing together are going to be a lot smarter about tactics than when that same group is run by someone playing the single-player game...so the monsters in multiplayer are scaled up to be deadlier in multiplayer than they are in single-player.
As far as coordination within the game goes...yes, that's quite simple. Even if you're not using a voice-over-IP package, the chat system within Mage Knight Apocalypse is global so that you can speak with other players, regardless of what part of the game they are in, and it's very easy to see the positions of other players on the minimap feature on your screen.
GS: The game looks great, but what kind of computer will players need to run the game at its highest settings? Any other technical information we should know about?
DG: Mage Knight Apocalypse is very friendly to lower-spec systems. Here are the minimum, suggested, and "robust" specs for the game. (And the minimum-spec system runs the game just fine. It's not a slideshow like many "min spec" definitions can be.) By the way, this is the first time we've released these minimum specifications so...it's a scoop for you!
Minimum System Requirements
Intel Pentium® III 1.8GHz or equivalent AMD Athlon XP processor
6.5GB free hard drive space
64MB 3D graphics card (run at 800x600 resolution)
Recommended System Specifications
Intel PentiumIII 2.4GHz or equivalent AMD Athlon XP processor 512MB RAM
256MB 3D graphics card (run at 1024x768 resolution)
Optimal System Specifications
Intel PentiumIII 3.0GHz or equivalent AMD Athlon XP processor 1GB RAM
512MB 3D graphics card (run at 1280x1024 resolution)
GS: Finally, the game is just weeks from shipping at this point, so do you have any final thoughts about the project? Will we see more of the Mage Knight universe in the future on the PC or other video game platforms?
DG: Would we like to make more Mage Knight games? Heck yeah! The background of this universe is a lot of fun to work within, the licensor (WizKids) is easy to work with, and you can't ask for a more varied fantasy universe than the Mage Knight world. Will we make more Mage Knight games? The honest answer is...we'll see how the first one is received by players. If they like it...then we'll make more.
GS: Thanks, Dave. Looking forward to playing the game.
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