Mage Knight: Apocalypse Updated Q&A - Multiplayer Modes and Gameplay

Senior producer David Georgeson reveals many of the multiplayer details to be found in this upcoming action role-playing game.

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Mage Knight: Apocalypse is an upcoming action role-playing game set in the fantasy setting of the popular Mage Knight miniatures game. Your task will be to lead a party of up to five heroes as they battle through a lush and vibrant fantasy world. In addition to the single-player story and campaign, Apocalypse will feature a multiplayer suite that's geared toward getting players to kill monsters together. For greater detail on the game's multiplayer, we turned to senior producer Dave Georgeson. Apocalypse is scheduled to ship later this summer.

Get ready for up fight alongside four other players in cooperative multiplayer.
Get ready for up fight alongside four other players in cooperative multiplayer.

GameSpot: We understand that the game will offer an extensive cooperative multiplayer mode that will let players play through the whole campaign or through single missions. It has been hinted that there might be one or two other modes in the game. Are they still going to make it, or is the team focusing on co-op for now?

Dave Georgeson: The multiplayer system is client-server based, so players can set up their own dedicated servers, if desired. Because the servers can run independently on a 24/7 basis, we've allowed hosts a number of options on how they want the server to run.

You can play the game from start to finish, cooperatively, with up to five players. This is what we call saga mode. Or you can set your server to play a single chapter over and over again, in what we call chapter mode. A chapter is a collection of adventures that comprises about one-sixth of the game (each of the five chapters roughly centers around one of the main characters' backgrounds and the last chapter is the climactic ending of the saga). And lastly, you can also play a single adventure over and over again, if desired. This is adventure mode.

Additionally, hosts can set a hostile flag on/off on their server. The game defaults to "off," which means that players can't hurt other players. This makes using area effect attacks a lot friendlier for players and increases the pace of the action. Changing the setting to "on" means that players will hurt other players. This really ratchets up the difficulty of the game as players have to avoid killing one another during battle. Hosts can also password their servers, limit the number of players, and even limit the power rating of characters allowed on that server.

And, of course, there's a master server list shown to the players when they visit the multiplayer part of the game. This shows all the servers out there, as well as whether they're hostile on/off, how many players are in the game, whether the servers are passworded, and more.

GS: What's the final number of players that will be supported in multiplayer? Why use this number--was there a specific balance or gameplay reason?

DG: Five is the maximum. That limit was set for two reasons.

The first was aesthetic. We wanted the multiplayer co-op experience to be as similar as possible to the experience you get in the single-player version (where you eventually are running a party of you, plus four non-player characters that follow your commands). Of course, the multiplayer co-op experience is often more fun (because other players chat and do truly unpredictable things that the computer-run NPCs might never consider), but the pace and drama of the events, the cutscenes, and the story that unfolds are almost exactly the same between the two modes.

The second reason was gameplay. Whether you're in single-player when you're running a party of five or in multiplayer with five players, we have to throw a lot of bad guys at you to make things fun. That translates into a lot of polygons, physics, and special effects. So, in a nutshell, we have a limit of five players because the game is more fun that way.

GS: We understand that the game will dynamically scale its difficulty level to adjust to different numbers of players in multiplayer. Exactly how does this work--more monsters? Tougher monsters? More or less loot or experience?

This is an enemy nightblade. Unfortunately, you won't be able to play as one of these.
This is an enemy nightblade. Unfortunately, you won't be able to play as one of these.

DG: Your guesses are pretty close to the mark. The monsters do get tougher and hit harder as you get more powerful. They also gain differing abilities as they face tougher opponents. And yes, the loot lists definitely change as the players get more powerful.

The process of determining how to scale the monsters (and loot) up is the tricky bit. The encounters get scaled not only to how tough the players are, but also to how many of them are in the adventure together. Even figuring out how tough the players are is tricky in a non-level-based game like this. Eventually, we came up with a power-rating system that incorporates what rank your skills are at, how many skills you've unlocked, what your character statistics are, and what sort of loot you have equipped. It's a pretty complex calculation but it works.

Loots and Loots of Memories

GS: How will experience points be handled in co-op? Will everything be an even split? How will the game account for players of differing experience levels?

Battlefields will range from lush jungles to frozen rivers.
Battlefields will range from lush jungles to frozen rivers.

DG: We don't do experience in the standard "collect gold, kill monsters" fashion. Instead, everything you do in the game earns you a tiny amount of credit toward advancing your character attributes. Many skills unlock naturally as your character attributes go up. You can unlock other skills by advancing one of your currently unlocked skills beyond rank 1, as well as by further advancing your character stats.

In other words, you don't need to "share" monster experience. Just cast spells, use swords, throw grenades, or whatever. Once you do enough to raise your characteristics, you'll begin to unlock your skills.

Loot drops are tailored to the individual. In other words, you don't see the sparkling "loot" special effect unless the loot on the monster is already yours. You can't loot someone else's stuff, because you can't see their loot. Period. This also means that you won't be picking up stuff that isn't useful for your character. If it drops, and you can see it, then you can use it. Otherwise, it's not there.

GS: If you need an extra player but don't have one, can you enlist the artificial intelligence to play as a character alongside you in multiplayer? If you have a single-player saved game, will you be able to enlist one of your existing sidekick characters for online play?

DG: Due to dynamic scaling, there usually isn't a time when you need an extra player but don't have one. The encounters will scale to your party's toughness. It's possible that someone might want to fight the Apocalypse dragon with five players on "hard" setting so they can play the toughest fight in the game with the best loot drops. So there is a time when you might want a full party, but the situation won't come up that often.

However, no, we don't allow NPCs in multiplayer. We didn't want to have to make any one particular player "in charge" of commanding those NPCs all the time (nor did we want players to have to fight over who got, or had, to do it).

GS: Is multiplayer best balanced for a varied group of fighters, wizards, and healers, or will team composition not be as important as having a bunch of characters pounding on monsters at once?

DG: It should be about as varied as the personalities in your group, really. Some folks like the "most damage in one place as possible" tactic because it reduces the number of attacks incoming to the party. That's a smart tactic, but crowd control spells (that freeze, stun, or disable opponents) or debuffs (that weaken opponents) can affect many enemies at once, so there are folks that think those tactics can be better than direct damage all the time. Still, you need damage dealers, or the enemies will just be stunned but still alive.

So where's the balancing point? That's part of the fun of the co-op multiplayer, finding those balancing points and enjoying the experience. Let's just say that I'm sure there will be more than one "perfect party" scheme proposed by players after we launch the game, but that "perfect scheme" will change as players figure out new things to do with their characters, just like with almost every other multiplayer game that's ever launched. The truth is that there's a lot of room for experimentation.

GS: Will there be any content that's exclusive to multiplayer, like unique dungeons or loot? Could you give us some examples?

DG: There is no exclusive multiplayer content. Perhaps we should jump on the bandwagon and release downloadable content for the game after launch? That would be fun, but we'll wait for the fans to demand it, I think.

GS: What sort of community support is planned for the game after launch? How open will the engine be to modmakers? Will you release any kind of editors or tools to let people create their own levels?

DG: We never intended mod support for this game, mostly because we originally envisioned it as a largely single-player experience. It wasn't until we began to experiment with co-op multiplayer concepts that we decided cooperative would be as much fun, or even more fun, than the single-player experience. By that time, the scenario-building tools had already been created, and while they are powerful, let's just say that they are spectacularly unfriendly to the uninitiated. So, no, we're not supporting modding of the game.

What we do after launch will be almost completely decided by the size of the community that sticks with the product. We've got lots of ideas (and even an expansion pack outlined), but how much of that gets done is mostly based on the success of this first game in the franchise. So we're focusing on Apocalypse first, and then more will come.

Apocalypse is on course to ship later this summer.
Apocalypse is on course to ship later this summer.

GS: Finally, give us your take on Apocalypse's multiplayer gameplay. What's one of the best and most unexpected moments that you've encountered while playing multiplayer?

DG: Because of the feel of the free camera and our flexible movement systems, the game makes me immersed in the world in much the same way I experience in larger online role-playing games. But with Apocalypse, the scripts are tight, the action is paced along with the story, the characters have more personality, I'm not burdened with the complexity of an online RPG, and I don't have to level grind against lowly monsters.

I like that aspect quite a bit. It's the fantasy action and huge world combined with a multiplayer experience that I always wanted in an online RPG but never quite got. And there's no camping.

GS: Thank you.

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